John W. Fountain biography

A native son of Chicago’s West Side, John W. Fountain is an award-winning journalist, professor, and author of the memoir True Vine: A Young Black …Read More

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A church language that heals

I can still hear their earnest prayers inside one small storefront church or another, rising above a rickety space heater. The church mothers kneel in a circle, over folding chairs. They groan at times. Speak in a language I cannot understand. Most often, they cry …

Life lessons from my grandfather


Basketball gave a ghetto boy hope

JOHN W. FOUNTAIN: Basketball was cool, like a pair of white Chuck Taylors. Exhilarating — like the thrill of nailing a shot from deep with a defender in your face. Basketball gave us status. It was our stairway to heaven. Our worship. Our escape. In the early ’70s on the West Side, we played all day. Intoxicating was basketball’s lure: glory, fame and the potential promise of NBA contracts someday for some. Except playing basketball was never really about money.

Winters have been even harsher

It has been a cold, cold winter. But I’ve known colder. In January 1979, snow blanketed the prairie, piled up like icy, white mountains. I was a freshman at the University of Illinois in Champaign. The blizzard forced the cancellation of classes, ushered our world …

Faith can win where government fails

JOHN W. FOUNTAIN: Some enemies and issues must be confronted not only in the natural sense but also spiritually, and that the murder and gun violence that plague black and brown communities across this nation are among these.

‘DC’ inspired many, and still will

For Duane L. Conway, his daughters were his little princesses. His little boys were his joy. And family and true friends were for making precious memories that always return like the breath of spring. For him, life was worth living. Each day a gift. And …

How society offends black women

Dear Sister, I know that you are not a female dog or a “ho.” Not a “hood rat,” “chicken head,” “trick” or any of the other derogatory names I have heard roll publicly and freely off the tongues of some brothers — and also sisters. …

Talking BrotherMan to SisterGirl

This is a fictional dialogue that grew out of a real conversation between myself and my friend Lisa Maria Carroll. SisterGirl: You’re supposed to be a man and lead. Why won’t you stand up and occupy your rightful place . . . BrotherMan: You’re right, …

  • What I would do if I were the pastor

    If I were a pastor, I would tear down these walls. Move beyond the warm sanctuary of brick, glass and mortar. Into the cold streets and dark subterranean spaces where humans dwell on life’s fringes, more in despair than in hope. I would discard the …Read More

  • What was lost over a cup of coffee

    JOHN W. FOUNTAIN: The “Roundtable” is dead. Dead like leaves fallen from brown, barren trees that now stand naked in the cold. Dead is the place for me that once represented a community of brothers who found camaraderie, solace and laughter over a cup of joe at a south suburban coffee shop.

  • Cut from ‘frosty cloth’ of Chicago

    This is the Windy City. In the wintertime, the howling wind licks that icy lake, and on some especially frigid days whips across the city like an invisible twister, frosting everything in its path, turning mustaches and eyebrows into white ice. There is no escaping …Read More

  • Charge: She gave life, he gave death

    In the warmth of her womb, she carried him. An umbilical cord connected mother to son, nourishing him for months from the substance of her very being, her heart and soul. Life. Life is what Yolanda Holmes gave her baby boy. He gave her death. …

    What gift could I give a good kid?

    The boy set us up good. My wife and I sat in my office at home talking one evening when our son, 11, appeared at the door, bearing gifts a week before Christmas. “Here Mom and Dad,” he said, handing each of us a booklet …

    The truth about what real men do

    A male reader writes in response to my recent reflections on real men, “…For whatever reason, you have joined the Terry McMillan club, where all men are trifling and dogs. Brother, you could not be further from the truth.” Truth, my brother? You want truth? …

    Every deck has its aces and kings

    A female reader writes in response to last week’s column, “I read your article in Thursday’s paper and I must say that I was deeply moved. I am at a point in my life that love (real/true) just isn’t in my deck of cards. Everything …

    Look for a real man, my daughter

    JOHN W. FOUNTAIN: These are a few lessons on life written to my daughter. Some of them are rooted in the wisdom of my dearly departed grandmother. Some rinsed with humor. Some stem from my own experience — and even my mistakes — as a man.

    On this day, poverty took a holiday

    Pineapple upside-down cake was Mama’s specialty. I can still smell the brown sugar wafting through our apartment on Thanksgiving. I see Mama, wearing that contented half-smile of hers, moving gracefully, with a sense of purpose and pride, laying the finishing touches on dinner. I hated …