Ashley Shannon said she didn't choose to attend Illinois State University. The school chose her.
“I had no real formal process where I said, ‘I always wanted to go school here.’ It kind of just hit me in the face one day and I ended up here,” said Shannon.
In-state tuition and proximity to her home in suburban Glen Ellyn were the deciding factors over Missouri and Alabama State. It didn’t hurt that a number of classmates from Glen Ellyn were future Redbirds.
It's been a good match. Shannon's fortuitous choice led her to student government, where she was voted vice president. She also made history with Jaylon Joyner; the two became the first black couple be crowned homecoming queen and king at ISU.
“I think for anyone to be crowned king and queen it’s a big deal,” said Shannon. “The people from our community that graduated in the 1960s were literally coming up to us and saying, ‘You’re changing things, we thank you, we love you.’ To hear that from strangers you’ve never met … it’s obviously a big deal to our community even though it’s just homecoming. But it wasn’t just that to us.”
Shannon also found a home to hone her interest in journalism.
That interest came at a young age.
“I remember at 10 years old sitting with my parents and copying what they’re doing off TV. You’d think during commercials you’d go get a snack, but I would make my parents sit there and listen to me talk about the news, and what I thought about it,” said Shannon.
She dove into journalism head-first when she found TV-10 News on campus. Shannon took turns as a reporter, anchor and producer. She also co-founded “What’s Happening,” TV-10’s first all-black talk show. She said it gave her an outlet for pet topics including systematic oppression and entertainment. She considers her last show, what she called “the Kanye incident,” to be her defining one.
“We talked about Kanye West and how he attempted to say slavery was a choice,” said Shannon. “At the table, none of us actually agreed it was a choice, but it was a debate on, have we been talking about slavery too long or should the conversation continue? It’s an ongoing debate even within our own community, but it was unique hearing other people’s ideas (on TV-10).”
Shannon said she’s now headed to the University Of Illinois Law School to work on a master of studies in law. She doesn’t want to be a lawyer, but wants to incorporate law with what she has already learned in journalism to tackle her interest in the U.S. prison system.
“I’ve always had an interest in inmates and the prison system,” said Shannon. “I want to dig deep into those stories and talk about systematic oppression and talk about how we don’t return humanity to those inmates during or after incarceration.”
She’s aiming to produce documentaries that tell stories from inmate’s point of view. Shannon said her interest in social justice came from home.
“My father grew up under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. That was his pastor growing up,” said Shannon. “My father was also an activist. He worked in fair housing. From a very young age we would go to Alabama and my parents made sure we were instilled in the values of civil rights.”
Shannon is a Lambda Pi Eta National Honor Society student in the School of Communication. She will be graduating this weekend from Illinois State University.
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