Sierra Jenkins Deserved Better – Atlanta Magazine

Sierra makes a peace sign during brunch at Sun in My Belly.

Photo courtesy of Khoa Tran

We learned of the loss of one of our own from the news feeds.

Sierra Jenkins, Atlanta former magazine editorial intern turned fact checker and researcher, was caught in the crossfire during a shooting in downtown Norfolk, Va.where she worked as full-time journalist for Virginien-Pilot and Daily Press.

The shooting, which happened just as Chicho’s Pizza Backstage restaurant and bar closed for the night of March 18, left three injured and two dead, including Sierra, who later died at Sentara Norfolk Hospital, confirmed his father, Maurice Jenkins.. Devon M. Harris, a 25-year-old Portsmouth, Virginia resident, was pronounced dead at the scene, police say.

If Sierra hadn’t been there at the time shortly after midnight, if she hadn’t come through the door at the wrong time, she would have been tasked with covering the shooting in daylight. It was her turn to take over the breaking news this weekend, but her editor’s repeated attempts to reach her went unanswered.

• • •

A week ago, on March 13, Sierra turned 25– the age when we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. If a person reaches the age of 25, they have survived the perils of adolescence and the potential setbacks of young adulthood and, all things being equal, have acquired many of the tools necessary to embark on the life.

A graduate of Georgia State University, she joined Atlanta magazine as an editorial intern in 2019 and quickly rose to fact-checker status, with editors shamelessly arguing over her insight and meticulous eye.

Interns usually stay at the magazine for a semester, but as Sierra’s time was coming to an end, she told editor Heather Buckner, who had overseen Sierra’s internship, that she wasn’t ready to leave. to leave. “We didn’t want her to leave either, so she stayed all summer as an intern and then three years later as an independent auditor,” says Heather.

Heather told me they bonded over coffee and talking politics. Sierra’s go-to then was a triple grande caramel latte. “She was an impossible combination of beautiful and smart and funny and ambitious and kind. She had a bright future ahead of her; she was meant to move on to bigger and better things and live an amazing life – and we got to see the beginnings of that,” Heather says. “It’s hard to believe that’s all we have to see. She deserved better. »

When Sierra was hired at Virginien-Pilot in her hometown of Norfolk, she told Heather she had “almost shed a tear” when she read his offer letter for her “job as a reporter”.

“She was thrilled with her very first front-page story,” Heather says. “She sent me a text in all caps – ‘I MADE FRONT PAGE TODAY!!’ – with a live photo of her holding the newspaper laughing.”

Sierra Jenkins
Sierra proudly shows her first signature on the front page for the Virginian-Pilot.

Photo courtesy of Heather Buckner

Betsy Riley, Atlanta‘s editor, says Sierra’s enthusiasm and passion for journalism inspired the editorial team.

“When she was an intern, her bright smile made everyone’s day better. And when she became a researcher and fact-checker, I always breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that she had been assigned an important story. Even after moving to Virginia, Sierra still felt like a part of our team,” says Betsy. “We’ve heard and written about so many losses over the past two years, but I don’t think we’ll ever get over the loss of Sierra.”

Steve Fennessy, Atlanta’s former editor and editor, remembers Sierra as being “incredibly earnest and outspoken”.

“She really believed in this craft for the reasons that I think get a lot of us, but what happens to a lot of us is that we become jaded,” he says. “So to meet someone like her, with such enthusiasm for what we do and the calling that it can be, was really encouraging.”

From the start, Sierra was clear about her strong beliefs in the power of journalism. In a short introductory email to Atlanta when she began her internship, she wrote, “I am passionate about storytelling because of its ability to educate and inspire others. Inspire others to live authentically, take risks, challenge the status quo, and unlearn the ideologies that society has conditioned some to believe.

“I think she probably did more for us than we did for her, in the end,” Steve says.

In Khoa Tran, from Atlanta former art director, Sierra was an amazing friend, full of good energy. “She was always ready to receive me, to hear me,” writes Khoa, who often invited Sierra to photo shoots with the art department. “We discussed our dreams and plans for the future [and] she said: ‘Khoa, you have that!’ »

• • •

I said as much—you have this!—in Sierra during our last telephone conversation a short time ago.

“Sierra, do you have time for a quick five minute chat?” I texted him at 10:01 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I wanted to go over some details with her about the latest fact-checking mission for the April issue – a file on the first anniversary of the Atlanta Spa shootings – but I also wanted to touch base, as we were doing. from time to time.

“Sure!” she replied less than a minute later.

Five minutes passed in well over an hour.

At that time, Sierra had just been assigned the pace of education at the Virginien-Pilot and felt both the pressure of the role and the pivot of breaking news –a bit like when she worked with from Atlanta former deputy editor Mara Shalhoup whether she should stay at CNN after her internship in 2020, or forge a new path in her hometown.

We talked about navigating the bureaucracy and the politics of education pace: how to create your sources, how to respond to public information officers, how to center students…children— in his report. I put her in touch with Eric Stirgus, a veteran education journalist at AJCwho hastened to take her under his wing.

But it’s the last part of our conversation that lingers for me. I distinctly remember how the mid-morning sun hit my plants. I hosed them down one by one as we talked and noticed that talking to Sierra was light and warm, like I was in the presence of the future.

She gushed about her brand new apartment and how she finally felt like she was “grown up” enough: paying bills, saving money, buying nice things. She talked about her decorating projects, her morning routine that she was still tweaking and perfecting, the quiet moments of solitude she took to pause, reflect and plot. She planned to continue her work as a journalist but, deep down, she eventually wanted to do more research. She had an eye on public policy — something she said she didn’t say out loud much. She spoke then and often about the support of her family as she settled into her day-to-day life, like her father and mother, who both built this shining star from the ground up.

• • •

We’re not supposed to have to dig through text threads and call logs and social media posts to piece together the final moments of a life truncated by gun violence.

Sierra’s last public Facebook post was a photo, without comment, of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old medical worker in Louisville, Ky., who just after midnight on March 13, 2020, was riddled with bullets that killed her while she slept.

That the shooting took place on March 13, Sierra’s birthday, probably didn’t escape his notice. Nothing was.

Several posts before that, Sierra had a lot to say, this time about the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017. “I need to see more of my peers, in my age bracket, show more interest in what’s going on. Not just on social media, but just in general,” she wrote. “One thing I’ve been hearing lately is that if you’re not personally affected , it doesn’t matter, and you’re wrong… Nothing about it is correct.

Sierra was a kind and bright young woman on point, at first. . . at his start.

Nothing about this is correct.