Last week was one of the greatest weeks of my life.
Flying down to my old hometown in Florida, I enjoyed a much-needed vacation, which featured a first-ever family reunion, multiple trips to beautiful and colorful Miami, incredible food that added 10 pounds to belly and concluded with my birthday as I began my Jesus year on July 17th.
The end of every vacation is a crashing reminder that it’s back to reality. Back to the grind. Back to the bills. Back to work. However, things are different this time around, as I will not be returning to present, but preparing for the future.
July 25 will mark my final day as a resident as a North Dakota resident. In early June, I accepted a position with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn. My time with the Dickinson Press came to an end on Friday, July 19.
My exit is nearly two years to the day of my arrival, an arrival which came with plenty of questions.
Up until 2017, I lived all of my years on the east coast of the country. In fact, the furthest west I traveled was to Atlanta. To be frank, I had no idea what I was getting into when I accepted a position on the Press writing staff.
To be even franker, on my side of the country, North Dakota isn’t a state that anyone thinks about. So, you can only imagine my surprise when googling the area and realizing that I was about to embark on some small-town living.
A trip to Best Buy is really 90 minutes away?
I got to go just as far to get a slice of N.Y. pizza?
You’re telling me the closest Chick-Fil-A is on the other side of the state?
Beyond that, I’ll address the elephant in the room: as a Haitian-American, how would I adjust from the diversity in my previous locations to statistically the whitest state in the United States, especially during a time when race relations in this country only seem to be getting worse?
To my relief, this change was fairly smooth one. I never felt unsafe or that I was a target of any hatred; that’s not to be confused with racism being totally absent or that bad people don’t exist.
While picking up a to-go order at a restaurant in town that will remain unnamed, I was greeted by a server who had a swastika tattooed on their finger (with that, I imagine my burger was cooked over a tiki torch).
Aside from that, I was always approached with kindness and respect. “North Dakota Nice” is the real deal and it was greatly appreciated. The food options were enough to keep me satisfied, from local options like Jack’s, Los Cabos and Dakota Diner to national staples like Buffalo Wild Wings and Qdoba. As for Best Buy, well, there’s always Amazon.
The most meaningful questions came internally, though.
My journey to the Dickinson Press presented itself after six years grinding as a freelancer. To that point, a failed, three-month stint as a staff writer for a weekly newspaper back home was my only full-time gig in this business. Despite 95 percent of my experience coming in sports, I was hired to the Press as an education reporter.
Basically, how is this going to work? I’ve dreamed of being a journalist since I was in junior high, and while I was granted this opportunity, I didn’t approach it with much confidence. I constantly thought, “regardless of the locker rooms I’ve been in or the stories I’ve covered, sooner or later, the truth will come out and the public will see me as a fraud.”
Fortunately, whether it was my local circle, my coworkers at the Press or the people of Southwest North Dakota, you guys didn’t allow that to happen.
I soaked in every criticism and let it drive me to get better. I cherished every compliment, yet I never allowed myself to get comfortable. Every comment was a valuable tool to my growth, but nothing carried more weight than the people.
Thank you Harvey Brock. Without you taking a chance on me, I really don’t know where I would be. You were the best leader an employee can have.
Thank you Joy Schoch. From the moment I drove up to from Port St. Lucie, you eased my transition by making sure my living and work circumstances were all set. Whether it was the millions of times I came to you when I forgot to punch out or the moments you provided motherly advice and concern, your help meant the world to me.
Thank you Shelby Reardon. We were both new to the sports beat and had our stumbles, but by the end of our tenure as teammates, we were crushing it. Best of luck in Colorado, your potential is endless.
Thank you Kari Moch. I still laugh about how we met. Shortly after having emergency surgery on my appendix, I laid asleep in my hospital room when you walked in. You woke me up from my drugged-up slumber. I also wasn’t wearing pants. From there, you were a selfless, cool-(expletive) friend, whose generosity could never be repaid.
Thank you Rod Kleinjan and Jim Daul. You two are the voices of Dickinson. You’ve provided me with so much information on the area with thoughtful discussion and some laughs mixed in.
Thank you to every single person who worked at the Dickinson Press. I'm pretty quiet and shy by nature, but you guys welcomed me with open arms. Thousands of miles away from home, I quickly found a second home in the office.
Thank you to the coaches in Southwest North Dakota. From stats to interviews, the coaches were always accessible while being honest and fair in the process. I appreciated the chance to learn from some of the best chances in the country.
Lastly, thank you to the players. Without you, I wouldn’t have anything to cover. I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I wouldn’t have a job. It was my honor to cover every athlete as you guys provided me with endless memories.
As I shift to the future, I’ll never forget my past. The Dickinson Press saved me. And everyone who had a role in my journey up here will be in my heart, forever.