I have been a journalist for 15 years today.
On this date in 1998 the first issue of the Mind’s Eye, a youth newspaper in my hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia, was published. I was part of the youth collective that planned and launched a monthly newspaper where youth could express their thoughts and opinions on the issues relevant to their lives.
The Mind’s Eye was created as part of the Primus III Project which was a youth program sponsored by the federal government and Nanaimo Youth Services Association. The four Primus III staff members, Jessica Brochu, Julie Chadwick, Mike Roberts, and Ronit Siegel formed the initial editorial board. I quickly joined them as the first youth volunteer.
Our first meeting took place in 1997 at the Old Firehall Coffee and Roasterie which was in the bottom level of Nanaimo’s old fire hall. I was a penniless 16 year old so Ronit kindly purchased me a muffin. I don’t remember what we discussed but I do recall a sense of exhilaration as though I was living out an episode of “My So-Called Life”. I thought the Mind’s Eye staff were the most interesting and intelligent people who had ever set foot in Nanaimo and I could not get over the fact that that I was chilling with them in a trendy coffee shop.
At the Mind’s Eye we were free to write and publish almost anything we wanted. Although we targeted the paper to youth it was circulated as an insert in the Nanaimo Daily News which meant that a wide variety of people in our community could get a better understanding of issues facing youth.
We appreciated that opportunity and never shied away from covering sensitive topics with candour and sincerity. In my two years there contributors addressed issues such as the long-term effects of child abuse, eating disorders, growing up in foster care as well as other subjects that are sometimes best described by the people with first-hand experience.
That was a rather tumultuous time in my life. I was transitioning from foster care into an independent living arrangement with my eyes firmly set on graduating and then moving to Vancouver for college or university. While I addressed many topics in my articles I was especially interested in writing about gay and lesbian issues as I experienced a lot of homophobic harassment in Nanaimo.
I was a very thin and effeminate teenager. I wore bright orange clothes and spiked up my dyed-blond hair with a ton of gel and while I loved exploring my own style I soon discovered that I was easily read as gay by people who would hurl insults, rocks, spit, and bottles at me from their cars.
The Nanaimo RCMP didn’t seem too concerned about the issue so in May, 1999 I told my editor Ronit that I intended to interview local politicians and ask them what they were doing to protect and support gay and lesbian youth. Here’s a scan of the article. Unfortunately I don’t have the second page:
I count this article as my most important contribution to the Mind’s Eye. There weren’t many gay and lesbian stories in the local papers and this article, as well as my personal “coming out” story that followed that October, started a local conversation about the plight of Nanaimo’s gay and lesbian youth. After these articles came out I was approached by many supportive adults in the community who affirmed their commitment to supporting gay youth.
We received a lot of letters including this one which was written by Dawn Thompson – a professor at the local university-college. It was published in the May 31, 1999 edition of the Nanaimo Daily News:
I moved on from Nanaimo and the Mind’s Eye in January, 2000 but I still recall my years there as one of the best times of my life. The training and experience I earned at the Mind’s Eye helped me secure jobs in the non-profit sector and journalism. More importantly, it ignited my long-standing passion for journalism and solidified my resolve to follow that path.