Henry W. “Hank” De Zutter was a journalist, activist, university professor and provocateur, with a deep desire to promote racial equality and a practitioner’s ability to communicate his ideas clearly.
A longtime instructor and lecturer at Malcolm X College in Chicago who, early in his career, served as an education reporter for the Chicago Daily News, De Zutter co-founded both the Chicago Journalism Review and the Community Media Workshop. .
“Like Studs Terkel, Hank knew how to listen to sources in a way that made them feel comfortable to better tell their story,” said Thom Clark, who co-founded the Community Media Workshop with De Zutter in 1989.
De Zutter, 80, died July 14 of complications from a fall he suffered July 10 at his Lincoln Park apartment, his daughter, Amanda Kotlyar, said.
Born Henry Wayne De Zutter in Chicago, De Zutter grew up in Skokie and Northbrook and graduated in 1959 from Glenbrook High School, where he was captain of the golf team, editor of the school newspaper and valedictorian. promotion. He studied at Williams College in Massachusetts before earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1963.
De Zutter worked as a reporter for the Lerner Newspapers while earning a master’s degree in journalism in 1965 from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
De Zutter and his first wife, Janet Jonjack, enlisted in the federal Volunteer Serving America, or VISTA, program, trained in the South Bronx, and then worked as community organizers in Baltimore.
In the spring of 1967, the Chicago Daily News hired De Zutter as an education reporter. The following year, he helped found the Chicago Journalism Review, a short-lived but influential publication born in response to what he and other journalists saw as heavily pro-police coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
In 1970 De Zutter joined the staff of Malcolm X College, working for several decades as an English and journalism teacher while occasionally teaching classes at Truman College and Columbia College.
“I think his most significant accomplishment was being a mentor to so many second-chance students and the tireless support he provided to aspiring journalists of color,” Clark said.
In 1989, De Zutter and Clark formed the Community Media Workshop, a foundation-funded effort to help community organizations get better press and tell their stories directly to a wider audience.
Under their leadership, the organization, now called Public Narrative, helped community groups write press releases and deal with the media and published a comprehensive directory of Chicago journalists and media organizations.
For years, De Zutter freelanced for the Chicago Reader, writing long stories for its “Neighborhood News” column. From 1991 to 1996, De Zutter and Clark interviewed and photographed people on the streets for their weekly “Snap Judgments” column.
“During his years with the Reader, we often covered the same stories – planning for the 1992 World’s Fair that never happened, public housing demolitions, major urban renewal projects,” recalled the former journalist and Tribune columnist John McCarron. “Hank took a bottom-up approach — how does that affect people who already live (in a community) — but with empathy, not the town hall complacency so common with the neighborhood left.”
In 1995, De Zutter wrote a cover story for the Reader titled “What Makes Obama Run?”, which was the first in-depth look at future President Barack Obama as he ran for state senate.
“Hank introduced a stranger to me and a lot of other people in Chicago,” said Michael Miner, retired editor of the Chicago Reader. “It put (Obama) on the map.”
In 1978 De Zutter wrote a 30-minute television documentary that aired on WBBM-Ch. 2 about young people playing basketball on the streets of the South Side in the late 1970s. Titled “Going Up Easy, Coming Down Hard,” the documentary included insight into the early careers of streetball stars and future professional basketball players Billy Harris and Sonny Parker.
In 1992, De Zutter and his second wife, Pamela Little De Zutter, who collaborated on articles for the Reader several times, were featured in Terkel’s book “Race: What Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession due to the fact that theirs was an interracial marriage.
“I don’t even see dirty looks being given to us. When we go out together, people seem happy to see us,” De Zutter told Terkel in the book. “I feel like people see us as a beacon of change and hope, especially when we have our blended family.”
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A jazz enthusiast, De Zutter reviewed the 10th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival at Grant Park in the Tribune in September 1988. Five years later, De Zutter wrote a children’s book, “Who Says a Dog Goes Bow- Wow?”, which explored how animal sounds are expressed in different languages.
“What we see is so often determined by what we say or what we learn to hear,” De Zutter told the Tribune at the book launch.
De Zutter retired from Malcolm X College in 2002 and the Community Media Workshop in 2004.
De Zutter’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Besides his daughter, De Zutter is survived by his third wife, Barbara Belletini Fields; two sons, Max and Chris; a stepson, Agward “Eddie” Turner; two stepdaughters, Jayne Mattson and Ana Boyer Davis; two sisters, Joyce Mooneyham and Wendy Callahan; five grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.
A private memorial service is planned.
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance journalist.
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