At the whiteboard, Jon is demanding answers. Six months ago, he came up with an idea: to tell the untold stories of Baylor, using a podcast.
In the time that followed, Jonathon Platt, currently a journalism graduate student at Baylor, developed a team for this pursuit. I joined Behind The Bear in February 2017 as one of the researchers. Together, we searched high and low for the pivotal periods and people of Baylor’s history. Now, it was coming together, being laid out like a map.
“What goes here?” Jon asked, again, pointing to an empty space on our outline.
On a given weekday, Jon is dressed formally, with his shirt tucked in and a matching pocket square poking out of his sports coat. He carries a leather briefcase on his shoulder. His green glasses make him stand out in a crowd of people. It’s his storytelling, though, that makes him stand out to an audience.
“Jon is a very avid researcher,” said Shehan Jeyarajah, a close friend from Jon’s time as an undergraduate at Baylor. “He really likes to get down to the bottom of things. He really loves the idea of telling stories and trying to understand how things are. He loves history and trying to understand why things are the way they are. I think he does this through building relationships with people and trying to search out people who have answers to the questions that he wants to know.”
Being equally curious and observant allows for Jon to ask the questions that matter. If you can’t ask the right questions, you can’t find the right story.
“He can find little nuggets of history that have been examined before, then he delves into them,” Maleesa Smith added. “I think he loves the discovery. It is almost like he is solving something.”
Jon wanted to create a way for Baylor graduates to reconnect with their university. He decided the best medium for this was a podcast. One day, the name came to him: Behind The Bear.
Jon’s plan is to find the most pivotal periods in Baylor’s history. The ones that helped make the university what it is today.
Each episode has a different, but interconnected story, Jon said. The theme for season one is the path of Baylor’s decision to desegregate. Ultimately, Jon’s goal is that you will meet a Baylor you never knew.
“The way he has formatted it, it is for alumni who still want to connect with Baylor. And that is kind of a challenge after you graduate.” Smith said, “I’m a recent graduate and I go back for the football games, but apart for that, I don’t really have a connection with Baylor anymore. And it is hard because that is where your first steps as an adult happen. So I think he is helping you get back to that community, without having to make that trip to Waco.”
The idea for Behind The Bear stems from Jon’s desire to tell the stories of those who cannot tell their own.
When people hear the episodes, it will begin a conversation about a place many people believe they already know so well.
What sparked Jon’s feeling to tell these stories, specifically?
“He had a real heart for civil rights and justice issues,” said Professor Robert Darden, Jon’s mentor at Baylor.
Darden has been one of the most influential figures since Jon’s freshman year of Baylor. In 2017, Darden was working on a story and came across Dr. Vivienne Malone-Mayes’ grave. She was the first African American professor at Baylor, and one of the first women in the nation to earn a doctorate degree in mathematics. She was involved in the civil rights movement and worked to make Baylor a home for all students.
The grave Darden found had been vandalized. He was upset. He took Jon to witness it for himself. Together they stood, sad, angry, and confused.
“I [didn’t] know, at the time, that I felt like I was passing it on,” Darden said. “But, if I was, I hope at some point he passes it on too.”
Ultimately, Jon hopes Behind The Bear will start conversations between generations of Baylor Bears. It will not only help reconnect those who have already left, and those who are just receiving their Baylor Line jerseys, but also the Bear Cubs who are to come.
“This is the story that was given to me,” Jon said. “I’m now responsible for it. How dare I not tell it?”
Behind the Bear is a podcast that will be available in the Fall of 2018. Episodes can be found on iTunes, or by visiting behindthebear.com.