Chicago Radio Host Encourages North Park University Students to Make a Difference

Jerome McDonennell
Jerome McDonnell spoke at North Park University Nov. 4 as part of the 2011 Campus Theme Lecture Series.

Find your 'guerrilla garden,' says WBEZ's Jerome McDonnell

CHICAGO (November 8, 2011) – The host of a popular radio series in Chicago told a North Park University audience that there is much to gain by working together with others for the common good. Jerome McDonnell of WBEZ-FM, Chicago Public Radio, also said radio is a powerful tool for keeping a community resilient and strong.

"The ultimate thing here is we want to make a difference in our community," he said.

McDonnell appeared at the University as part of the 2011 Campus Theme Lecture Series with the theme, "What is Community?" McDonnell hosts the station's WorldView program which focuses on global issues. "I wanted to do a show where we care about people. We care about all people, and we wanted to put people's rights first," he said. McDonnell said on Thursdays, his show features a segment on "global activism," featuring ordinary local people who volunteer their time and money to help people in other parts of the world.

McDonnell urged North Park University students to become active in their own communities and start by doing simple things. For example, McDonnell said he rides a commuter train from his home in Arlington Heights, Ill., to work each day. He noticed an area outside the station that was filled with trash and weeds. He picked up the trash himself and spread some spare seeds on the ground hoping flowers will grow in the spring. McDonnell said he'd like more people to do the same, including some of his friends who are gardeners. "I'd like to get them involved and be 'guerrilla gardeners,'" he said. He told the students to "look for your guerrilla garden. Find the things that spark you." McDonnell expanded on the idea, charging students to do something beyond their local neighborhoods.

McDonnell, who began working for WBEZ as an intern in 1984, said stories of ordinary people have inspired him. He has interviewed a Zambian man who lives in Chicago and supports a community hospital in Zambia with money from his car parts business; a Chicago woman who collects shoes and sends them to people in need throughout the world; a local woman with terminal cervical cancer raising funds to support treatment of the disease in India, where cervical cancer rates are high; a Chicago-area university student who is helping more than 73,000 farmers in Kenya with farm tools and fertilizer; a retired Wisconsin firefighter who built a library and started a computer school in Cameroon; and a Michigan man supplying oxen to African farmers.

"It is intimidating to be around these people who are so good all the time," McDonnell said. "We're trying to grow this 'nut' of people who will help each other and do the right thing. It became the best part of my job to hang out with some of these (people) and go to their events.  The power of community is enormous. We're making a terrific difference."

A few years ago McDonnell and the station initiated an annual "Global Activism Expo" which brings Chicago-area individuals and groups working throughout the world together with listeners. The goal of each expo is to encourage people to join the global activism community, he said. "With radio, we're shaping the community in the world we want to create," McDonnell said. The next expo is April 28, 2012 in Chicago.

The radio host also said it is important to work with others to achieve success in local and global initiatives. "We really lose something when we go it alone," McDonnell said. "We lose resilience as a society. We can't solve problems if we are alone. We've got to join with others to solve problems." Global activism, he said, responds to attempts to divide people over matters related to race, class, technology, media, energy policy, and nationalism. "It pushes back against the divisive aspects of race, class, or nationalism. We've got to bring people together," he said.

McDonnell encouraged students to stick with their global activism passions "in the hope and the knowledge that you're going to have a breakthrough and you are going to make a difference at the end of the day."

McDonnell remains at WBEZ, despite his early intentions to stay only briefly and go to graduate school. The power of radio to inspire others made him stay. "I've been able to make a bigger difference in the world than I could ever imagine. Just to be a part of a connection that has made all these changes all over is enormously gratifying. I'm so glad I went down this road," he concluded.


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