Before Tremain Prioleau II ever knew he would be named the 2021 Ida B. Wells scholar at the Newmark J-School, he was inspired by the work of the late 19th/early 20th century investigative journalist and social crusader. He even cited his favorite Wells quote in his 2020 application essay: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
It is a creed that will guide Tremain, 23, as he completes his master’s degree studies this year and launches into his journalism career.
Where Tremain grew up, in the small town of Moncks Corner, SC, about 30 miles from Charleston, journalism was not a familiar calling. His dad was a military man who gave up that path after Tremain’s older sister came down with an illness that left her severely disabled. The close-knit family that included Tremain’s parents and younger brother and sister rallied around the oldest child to make sure she would never be any place but in their loving care.
The circumstances pushed Tremain, the second in birth order, into the role of the eldest. He said it instilled in him compassion for others as he was “reminded that life is short.” At Clemson University, where he majored in political science and minored in English, he began writing for various campus publications and saw he could make a difference by telling people’s stories.
At Clemson, too, he found a passion for politics. So, in the spring of 2020 before he started J-School, Tremain joined the campaign of Democrat Jaime Harrison in his bid to topple longtime South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. (Harrison was just elected chair of the Democratic National Committee.)
Tremain would now like to combine both interests by using a political lens to cover stories in his chosen subject concentration, arts and culture. He was off to a good start in the first semester with a video piece on the Sankofa Aban Bed and Breakfast, a Brooklyn jazz collective that has supported musicians during the pandemic by sponsoring live outdoor concerts.
Tremain has tried to make the best of the crazy pandemic year. Unlike students in the Class of 2020 who had eight months to bond in person before lockdown, Tremain and his 2021 classmates have had purely remote relationships from Day 1. Breakout sessions on Zoom replaced coffee breaks in the campus café.
But despite the certainty of a second semester online and the possibility of a distant summer internship, things are looking up. “We’re in a unique position where we started remote,” Tremain said, “and will hopefully end our time together in person in the fall.”