Morgan State University School of Global Journalism & Communication awarded the 2017 Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence to Mensah M. Dean, a reporter for the Philadelphia Media Network for his series of articles on Arthur Johnson, an African-American male, kept in solitary confinement for 37 years. Dean’s articles “provided a haunting glimpse of how the state buries people inside the prison system without the regard to the immense psychological toll it takes on them and their families,” said Bret Grote, Legal Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, who nominated Dean for the award.
The Vernon Jarrett Medal is awarded to a journalist who has published or broadcast stories that are of significant importance or had a significant impact on some aspect of black life in America. The journalist must be nominated by an individual who was directly affected by the reporting cited in the nomination.
Dean was presented the Vernon Jarrett Medal and a check for $10,000 at a ceremony held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Sept 21. Presenting the award, MSU Provost Gloria Gibson said, “In putting a media spotlight on the nearly four decades that Arthur Johnson was held in solitary confinement, Mensah Dean humanized the convicted murderer – and exposed a system of injustice within the correctional system to which he had been sent for the rest of his life.”
Dean, a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia Media Network, is part of the Justice and Injustice team that focuses on corruption and wrongdoing in the public and private sectors. His stories appear in thePhiladelphia Daily News, the Inquirer and Philly.com. He is a native of Washington, DC and graduated from Bowie State University where he majored in journalism and served as the school’s student newspaper editor for two years.
“I am honored to be the recipient of the 2017 Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence. As a graduate of a historically black university in Maryland, I am humbled that this award is being bestowed by Morgan State University, a fellow Maryland HBCU. In his career and lifetime, Vernon Jarrett used journalism to examine race relations and to uplift African Americans, which are goals that I share. This honor will inspire me to continue striving to live up to the example set by Mr. Jarrett,” said Dean.
Arthur Johnson was convicted to life in prison and was place in solitary confinement in a 7 by 12 feet cell for two escape attempts in 1979. “I done forgot how it feels to touch another person,” Johnson told Dean last year, when the reporter visited him at the Pennsylvania prison where he was being held in solitary confinement.
“Prisons are places where people are disappeared to and transformed into stereotypes, dehumanized and labeled with inmate numbers and subject to a million petty and arbitrary restrictions. Reporting that cuts through this and establishes an in-person connection to those behind the barbed wire sets a high and necessary standard if the true toll that the government’s obsession with caging poor, black and brown people is to be understood and challenged,” Grote wrote of Dean’s reporting.
“In offering this Medal and prize, we hope to inspire journalists to do more in-depth reporting on issues of importance to this nation’s black community – which the media have too often ignored,” said DeWayne Wickham, the SGJC dean. “We honor Vernon Jarrett’s memory by encouraging exemplary reporting on black life in America.”
The award is named for the late Vernon Jarrett, a pioneering African American columnist. The award is given annually to a deserving journalist. Jarret wrote for the Chicago Defender, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. In the late 1940s, he partnered with composer Oscar Brown, Jr., to produce “Negro Newsfront” the first radio news broadcast in the United States created by African Americans. He also NAACP’s Act-So program, which encourages academic excellence among black youth, and he a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists.
For the first time, a finalist was named for the Vernon Jarrett Medal. Kerry Charles, a reporter with WGHP-TV, Greensboro, NC, was nominated by Deena Keeling, a counselor in the Greensboro school system, for his series “Class Act” that often focuses on African American students and the challenges they face. One story focused on a Muslim refugee middle schooler who was a target of Islamophobia. Charles’ reporting helped to break down some of the stereotypes that this and other Muslim students face. Charles will receive a check for $1,000.
Previous Medal winners are Kirsten West Savali, a writer, cultural critic and associate editor of The Root, (2016) and Dr. Stacey Patton, a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Vernon Jarrett for Journalist Excellence is funded by a grant from the Open Society Foundations.
The School of Global Journalism & Communication, created in July 2013, is led by founding dean DeWayne Wickham, a former columnist for USA TODAY and a founding member and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. The school is dedicated to giving voice to people who struggle to contribute to the public discourse that shapes the nation and the world through innovative teaching, cutting-edge research and exemplary service to Maryland, the nation and the world. The school seeks to instill students with the skills, knowledge and training necessary to become effective communicators and to add to the diversity of thought in the media.
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is celebrating its 150th year of excellence in higher education. A Carnegie-classified doctoral research institution, Morgan offers more than 100 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s designated Public Urban Research University, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit www.morgan.edu.