In my favorite Bellboy sweatshirt from Westside Storey, rocking Baldwin denim and Jeremy Scott Adidas. Kansas City loyal. Timothy Williams Facebook
In my favorite Bellboy sweatshirt from Westside Storey, rocking Baldwin denim and Jeremy Scott Adidas. Kansas City loyal. Timothy Williams Facebook

Jeneé Osterheldt

Goodbye, for now, Kansas City: I will take my T-shirts and memories to rep at Harvard

By Jeneé Osterheldt

July 29, 2016 08:09 AM

I never thought this place could be home.

When I took the job at The Star in summer 2002, I said, “Kansas City? It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Fourteen years later, I am sitting in my closet, atop a staggering pile of clothes, sorting through KC shirt after KC shirt: There’s my favorite Bellboy sweatshirt from Westside Storey that captures our city spirit with a flag. A Baldwin KC logo tee to complement my hat. I’ve got my Shuttlecock KC tee from Raygun. All kinds of Royals tees. A Chiefs hoodie and custom peplum, too. Local music tees (Les Izmore and Ces Cru are my faves). An assortment of Charlie Hustle KC heart tees. I have enough Cowtown tees to fill up an entire drawer in my dresser. It’s hard to believe my first KC shirt said, “Put me out of my Missouri.”

It’s harder to believe I’m leaving the city that helped me reach my level. Thanks to Kansas City and this royal team at The Star, I’m headed to Harvard for a year to level up some more. In April, I was named one of 24 journalists to join the 2017 class of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism’s program at Harvard University.

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There, I will delve deeper into feminism, racism and diversity in journalism. But I laid the foundation for my studies here at The Star.

As I pack up my life into boxes and plastic storage bins, it’s very clear to me: I rep Kansas City. From the clothes on my back to the art on my walls (Scribe, Lucid, Sike, Van Sneed, Fried Pixels, Two Tone Press, Angel Hands Art) to the food in my belly, the city is all over me.

This isn’t just my home. I have a family here. Not by blood, but through the gifts God gave me. This newsroom raised me. At 22, you’re only legally grown. If you know anything, it’s that you know nothing at all. And if you’re lucky enough to surround yourself with the right people, they help you grow up. They help you realize that the learning is never-ending.

Over here at 18th and Grand, I didn’t just find my voice as a writer, I found myself. Here, people believed in me. They pushed me, challenged me and taught me. Here is where I learned not to be content with simply making it out of the hood, getting a college degree and a good job. Here is where I was taught to dream bigger, bolder and louder. Here, I was empowered not just to speak up for myself but to speak up for people, period.

When you start writing about your life experiences, you realize they are not singular. You are not alone. People from all over the map, from dirt paths, perfect pavement and winding roads, connect to you.

Earlier this year, I met a young woman named Grace when I was speaking to a room of young women studying journalism at Mizzou. She was from Kansas City. Ivory skin, hair the color of caramel. But she was an engineering student. Her loving girlfriend was the journo in the couple.

But Grace grew up reading my work. We may not share the same background, but we are alike in that we are different. So she connected to me. And back when she wrote her college entrance essay on someone who influenced her life, that person was me.

As she told me her story, I nearly cried. I am not a 20-year-old. I don’t know what it’s like to be a lesbian in the conservative Midwest. My brain isn’t wired to be a brilliant engineer. But I know what it’s like to not fit in and to come from a disenfranchised community. To be both black and white, a woman, from the lower middle class. I know what it’s like to be a human with a heart.

And at The Star my humanity was allowed to be a fierce and free spirit. I’ve been allowed to speak for everyone who has been oppressed and made to feel less than, for everyone who wants joy in the little things and healing through the darkness. My words allowed me to connect with Grace and the little old ladies who sign their emails “Old and Jewish in Johnson County” or “Your other nana.” The men who say, “I’m an old white guy.” The students at UMKC in Steve Kraske’s journalism classes. The English students at Blue Valley Northwest. The feminist groups, the LGBTQ community, the arts scene, the #blackgirlmagic growing like sunflowers all over the city.

Here, at The Kansas City Star, one of my biggest fans is the silver-haired Republican mermaid who hugs me with tears in her blue eyes before I pack up 14 years of a career and head to Harvard.

“I just want you to know how much you are loved by people here,” she says.

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As it turns out, Kansas City is in the middle of everything, and its beautiful soul leads to everywhere. I can pack up the house, the dogs and head back to the coast I came from, but this place has become my home.

KC, I love you, too.