People With Passion: Kimbriell Kelly

People With Passion: Kimbriell Kelly

A People With Passion series

Chicago journalism

September 13, 2011: Kimbriell Kelly, Chicago Reporter

In the seventh installment of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People With Passion series, Chicago Reporter editor Kimbriell Kelly talks about her introduction to journalism and why housing issues are so important to her.

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I’ve always loved writing, and asking people about their lives and their stories. Most people wouldn’t believe this about me, but I used to be very shy. So that journalist deflection where you don’t really talk about yourself but you ask people a lot of questions? That was me. It wasn’t until high school that I started getting into journalism. I had a lot of questions about how our school district was run. I remember one of my first stories that I really struggled with was writing about our school district’s referendum. And you know, what 15-year-old understands what a referendum is and a tax raid and levying? I just remember calling, I think it was the mayor of South Holland. My high school newspaper adviser was sitting there, trying to help me, and I just remember asking these questions and not understanding what the story was about. (Laughs.) I was able to cobble something together in working with another writer. But I think that kind of exemplified my early years of trying to understand the world around me and how things operated. Being very particular about trying to get to the bottom of things.

My big issue that I’m really interested in is housing. I think anybody here could tell you that. My sister and I joked the other day – and I’ll show you this text message between she and I – my sister and her fiancé are having a conversation, and she’s asking me “How many places did we live in growing up?” And I added it up and said, “Six.” I named all the towns and how long we lived in each. “Six places in just 18 years. That’s like a new place every three years.”

I feel like the way I grew up, housing was unstable – it was stable, but unstable, because who moves around that much? You don’t think about it as a kid. You’re like, New friends! But as an adult, you think about that. And I think for us, we moved around a lot because of our circumstances. It was about affordability. I was raised by my mom as a single mom, and I think it’s hard on parents whether you’re in a duel-headed household or a single-parent household. In retrospect, I think that really fuels my interest in housing.

A lot of people say that housing isn’t a human right. People are entitled to say that. But for me, it is. I think everybody should have a place to be covered when it’s raining outside, and to call home. For me, I think because of that abrupt structure, I’m really interested in it. That really spurred me in a lot of the housing work that we’ve done here, particularly the work that led to – I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Countrywide settlement...

So one of the biggest projects that I did here was about unequal mortgage lending. Basically banks discriminating against people based off of race. You have black people who were earning six figures, over $100,000, and they were getting these subprime mortgages. It was more likely for someone who was white earning $30,000 a year to get a loan than the black person who is earning 100,000. We did this report that ended up on the desk of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She got very, very interested, and we had several meetings with her. Ultimately that led her to file a lawsuit against Countrywide as well as subsequently Wells Fargo. It ended up being this national 8.9 billion dollar settlement, and it started here with the reporting that we did. (Smiles.) So that makes you feel good.

Jack M Silverstein is an oral historian working in Chicago. His non-fiction novella Our President about Barack Obama's inauguration is available at Amazon. Say hey on Twitter @ReadJack.

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Enjoy this interview? Click here for a longer version, as Kimbriell discusses the story behind her award-winning 2006 piece "51 cents an hour" about human trafficking in the Midwest.

Check back every Wednesday at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up next week: Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune.

PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:

(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)

August 26, 2011: Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist

August 17, 2011: Clayton Hauck, photographer

August 18, 2011: Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

August 15, 2011: Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader

December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)

August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

August 4, 2011: Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune

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