Dear James Foley:

An open letter remembering the journalist and humanitarian, one year later

Dear James Foley:

Thank you for saving my life. No, we haven’t met. Yet, I consider you a friend and a mentor.

I’m a journalist and a Marquette University student, too. At one point, I was an eager twenty-something without a purpose, perhaps like you. The linear route of degree-job-family left me feeling empty. I wanted something more.

Because of you, that is no longer the case. In job interviews or when I’m asked why journalism, my story starts with a date: August 19, 2014.

The sad reality is that the day I learned your name was the day you left this world. As time passed, I learned not only about you but also from you.

You taught me that between the words of every law and amid the actions of every government are real people. There are no faceless stories. Instead, real people — future friends and forever strangers, alike — are forced to face the consequences of our choices.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Or, as author Mitch Albom writes in his book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,”:

“…the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect.”

In ways that will never be understood, our lives intersected, James. Sure, the headlines caught my attention but your life’s mission changed mine.

Most of the people in my life do not understand the notion that you ‘saved’ me. They see that you show up on my website and in my tweets but they don’t see the late nights spent watching you talk about being captured in Libya or reading the letter you wrote about your captivity.

“If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.” (Excerpt from “Phone call home,” 2011)

Those words have gotten me through more than I have time to share. Senseless violence and ignorance hurt so many, James. But I guess you knew that. It’s why you gave your life shining light on injustice and showing that real people suffer from the geopolitical games world powers play.

Your life was a testament to the power of love.

Instead of shying away from the dangers of conflict reporting, you accepted assignments head-on. When the media depicted the Middle East as something the U.S. should fear, you exposed our shared humanity. When the darkness of captivity clouded your world, your faith remained strong.

Your work has not gone unnoticed. Your influence on me becoming a human rights journalist is one testament to the countless lives you touched. The continual outpouring of appreciation on RememberingJim proves that. Thank you, James, for teaching us a genuine love, one that cannot be conquered by violence, or even death.

A year has passed since we lost you. Hardly a day passes that I do not think of you; crazy, considering that we’re strangers. We will be thinking of you, James; all of us. To finish, though, I want to tell you something directly.

I pray that you were never discouraged by the lack of change. I hope that you know the real difference you’ve made in lives around the world. Nothing you did was in vain. Your mission did not end the day your life was taken. It will continue through the pens and notebooks, the video cameras and photo lenses of the generation you inspired. I’m proud to say your name. You are my hero; and I’m thankful that God brought us together. Thank you, James.


Wyatt Massey

I also talked about James Foley in my commencement address. You can read and watch it here.

Wyatt Massey is a human rights and social justice reporter. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Special thanks to Tyler Tucky for editing.