By Matt Watson
The Denver Press Club holds its annual Damon Runyon Award Banquet to honor a distinguished figure in the field of journalism and student journalists from universities across Colorado.
The headlining honoree of the 2018 event was Marty Baron, editor of the Washington Post, who gained fame as the editor of the Boston Globe during its investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The Globe’s efforts under Baron’s leadership resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service and portrayal in the Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight.”
As Baron accepted the Runyon Award in Denver in April, he implored the room full of journalists to tell the stories of the overlooked and to have empathy for marginalized populations. He also shared a story of an elderly man who wrote him after “Spotlight” came out to thank him for his work; the man had been abused by a priest more than 60 years earlier and never told anyone until after he saw the movie.
For one of the students on hand to accept a scholarship from the Press Club, Baron’s story carried great significance.
“That was so impactful to hear as a survivor myself,” said Miriam “Mimi” Madrid, a graduating convergent journalism major from Metropolitan State University of Denver. “You never know whose life you’re changing by just telling the truth.”
Madrid, who received not just a Runyon Scholarship but the Press Club’s John C. Ensslin Scholarship as the top overall student journalist, says the domestic violence that she endured growing up, which also touched her mother and two of her siblings, is “a small part” of her personal story. The truth, on the other hand, is a large part of what defines her.
Being true to herself is what led her to leave behind a decade of nonprofit work to go back to school to pursue journalism. Sharing the truth of underserved members of society is what drives her to report on the gentrification of the Five Points neighborhood, the preservation of indigenous culture through art and the pursuit of higher education by undocumented students.
“Journalism was always my passion. During that dark moment in my life and for my family, what really kept me alive at that time and what was my coping mechanism was writing, taking pictures and creating. Not necessarily about the abuse and trauma my family was going through, but about the world,” Madrid said.
Madrid’s passion for storytelling originates from her grandmother, who could not read or write but would entertain the children in the poor El Paso neighborhood Madrid grew up in with magical tales on moonlit nights.
Madrid’s work ethic comes from her mother, Norma Puga, who worked her way up from custodian to senior loan processor at a mortgage company in the Denver area. Inspired by Madrid’s achievements, Puga soon plans to work on a new kind of application, one to get into MSU Denver herself to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
Puga can hopefully take advantage of the Prior Learning Assessment, which grants students credit for college-level knowledge gained through work and life experiences. Madrid had professional experience in videography, photojournalism and design from her 10 years in the workforce, which helped her earn credits. Prior learning specialist Danielle Forrest said Madrid’s portfolio was the best she has seen at MSU Denver.
“I wouldn’t have been as motivated to finish if it weren’t for (Forrest),” Madrid said. “For her to legitimize my 10 years of work in the nonprofit sector really ignited me to finish my degree. It means a lot for a university to validate the work that you’ve already done as what they teach on campus.”
Count Shaun Schafer, chair of the Journalism and Technical Communication Department, among those impressed by Madrid’s work. Schafer taught Madrid in his journalism fundamentals class and later a news media leadership course. After tracking her work in his classes and in the Metropolitan student newspaper as a writer, photographer and features editor, Schafer was the one to encourage Madrid to apply for the Damon Runyon Scholarships.
“You feel like things are in good hands with Mimi, that she’s really found a path that’s a good fit for her, and that she’s doing the sort of work that’s good for all of us,” Schafer said.
That path wasn’t always straightforward, as Madrid spent a year at what was then Metropolitan State College a decade ago before returning to MSU Denver in 2016.
“The campus changed a lot since I started, but I changed a lot as well,” Madrid said. “That’s what being a Roadrunner means to me – you can be anywhere in your life at any stage, and this university is always willing to welcome you back.”
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