Do you hear it? There is something in the trees, the rivers…They are asking something, pleading something. They are making a request. They are relentless.
They scream at 52 year-old Olawale Idreez to write. “Write!” And write he does.
The good-natured Nigerian publisher of Africa Today newspaper explained this drive in a poem he wrote that says, “If death did not proclaim me tomorrow, I will write. Why? Because everything around me is just begging me to write.”
It is this passion that fuels Olawale Idreez to write, laboring to sustain the struggling Africa Today newspaper in the face of adversity and delay.
Idreez moved to Chicago from Nigeria in 1980. He began his studies right away at Illinois Central College in Peoria, where he went to school for accounting before earning his Masters degree in political science from Northeastern University.
Finding His Voice in Chicago
It was during his time at Northeastern, about ’86-’87, that Idreez heard Harold Washington speak to the students during his run for re-election as mayor. Idreez found himself captivated by the political nature of Washington’s words and how well he spoke English. This experience is what motivated Idreez to switch from continuing his education in accounting to political science.
Although Idreez imagined himself as a well-to-do politician, it was this academic path that steered his love towards writing through the work he put into his thesis. He fell in love with the craft of writing and followed his heart forward from there.
Idreez is a smartly dressed man, who chuckles easily and speaks pointedly about what he believes in. He was involved with the production of two papers post-college: The African Voice and Afrik. He also took a job at The Celebrity International magazine. Although he enjoyed freelancing for these publications, he hoped that instead of writing for other people he could begin his own publication, and one day would.
Idreez’s family in Nigeria used to tease him about wanting to be a journalist, because his English has never been very good. People also told him he would make more money pursuing a career in accounting. But Idreez had his mind set on being a writer- nothing else.
He compares this experience to a Bible passage that says a prophet is not without honor except in his own house or hometown. Although initially his family didn’t agree with his decision, they’ve not only grown to support him- but also write him letters requesting that Idreez write letters to the government of their state in Nigeria, and focus more of his work on African happenings.
Idreez says he just laughs. “Whatever you do in life, if you persevere- then people have no choice to see that and respect what you’re doing.”
The most difficult aspect of what he does is struggling to overcome the financial woes that threaten his journalism dream.
Idreez admits that when he started Africa Today, which prints and distributes about 2000 copies per issue throughout various Chicago neighborhoods, he zealously believed in what he was doing. So much so, he was shortsighted about financial planning. He funded the paper with all of his own money, which he realizes now, was a mistake.
A Struggle To Survive
And since Africa Today is a free monthly newspaper, it relies on advertisers to provide the primary funding. If Idreez does not come up with the money personally, or advertisers do not pay him- then publishing is interrupted. This has been a recurrent problem for the paper, sometimes delaying publication by 3-4 months.
What Idreez lacks in financial support, he makes up for with unrivaled ardor and inspiration. In addition to his vision of financial emancipation and one day turning the paper into a daily, he also has plans to publish a book about his various life experiences and observations.
“My vision is very, very big but people have already told me that I should take one day at a time…I know it’s going to take a lot of work, but the good news is my brain is like a computer brain. Everything in brain is like writing, writing, writing- I just want to write.”
Angela Evans is a Community Media Workshop Intern