Journey to the Newsroom – Q & A with Boettcher Scholar, JJ McKinney

Photo courtesy of JJ

Jevon “JJ” McKinney grew up in the tight-knit community of Widefield in southern Colorado Springs. In high school he discovered his passion for building community and giving back. Now a third-year journalism and media communications major at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, JJ continues to forge strong connections and use his talents to support and uplift others. Keep your eyes out for JJ; you’ll probably see him breaking news or reporting in-depth on community issues before long. Following are excerpts from our conversation.

Tell us about how your experiences growing up in Widefield shaped you.

Widefield is a relatively small community in southern Colorado Springs. It’s not the wealthiest area, but it’s very community focused. I knew almost everyone there and I felt part of a very supportive community. I was very involved in my high school as senior class president, and I participated in clubs and activities like wrestling, choir, and band. I was also a youth leader in my church. I was taught from a young age the value and importance of community. Community is quite literally the thing that keeps me moving. It keeps me pushing, especially my love for Colorado. I really love this state. I know that whatever I’m doing, my first priority should be to give back to the community that raised me.

How did you decide to attend CSU, and how has your experience there been?

Being a Boettcher Scholar really opened up a lot of opportunities about where I could go to college. This was of course a blessing, but also a curse because suddenly I had all these choices and I didn’t want to screw it up. I was choosing a college in 2020, in the middle of COVID. So most of my tours of campuses were very informal and COVID limited what I was able to see at each school. I really had to take responsibility for figuring out which college was best for me. My choice of CSU came down to those community principles I mentioned. There is a real community of kindness here that I didn’t see as clearly anywhere else. 

When I visited CSU I met some incredible people. I felt welcomed and that people genuinely cared about me as a person. The people I met at CSU weren’t just trying to get me to go to school here; they wanted me to be happy wherever I ended up. I feel like I truly belong here, and that this community accepts me with open arms. Also, CSU offered some great opportunities for me as a journalism and media communications major. I work at the college news station as a news anchor and I have had a number of other great opportunities and internships.

Photo courtesy of JJ

How does your passion for journalism and media communication align with your drive to build community?

I have always had a passion for writing and for creative media and creative arts. I consider myself an activist, and I became especially focused in 2020 with the protests about George Floyd’s murder and all the Asian American hate that we saw. I saw how the world was in chaos, and I realized that I could help document this so that it doesn’t happen again. I also realized that finally some voices of people who historically had been marginalized and unheard were coming into the limelight. That is what had led to so much frustration. 

People had felt for the longest time that their voices had not been heard because they never had a platform. So that’s where I found my focus: I can use my writing, photography, and videography skills to create and build those platforms for people who never had one. I believe I can use my skills to help this community and other communities use their voices. I have covered topics like systemic racism in Fort Collins and I interviewed Bobby Seale, a founder of the Black Panthers. I have found a passion and a calling for using the journalistic arts to uplift people and make sure that their voices are never marginalized again. 

Where do you see your interests taking you in the next few years?

I would very much enjoy being a news anchor. I would love to stay in Colorado and hopefully do that in Denver. I am also open to working in public media, like for Rocky Mountain PBS or Colorado Public Radio. I feel like the state has invested so much in me, and I would really love to invest some of that back. That’s my ultimate goal. I know that these are big challenges and that I am going to have to push myself to work hard, but I believe I can do it. I will always be grateful to the Boettcher Foundation for all they have done for me, and for enabling me to work hard on behalf of my family and my community.

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