Photo by Safiya Schaub

Cherrie Hanson, managing editor of Wisconsin Muslim Journal, celebrates her one-year anniversary with Milwaukee Muslim Wonmen’s Coalition.

In its first five years, Wisconsin Muslim Journal has become the leading news source about Wisconsin’s vibrant Muslim community to an audience of not only Muslims but Wisconsinites of various faiths and beliefs. It records the development of the state’s Muslim community, creating the first records of its history in articles published online twice a week.

Yet it is just one of many projects of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and one of many MMWC’s president Janan Najeeb managed alone—until now.

In January 2022, Najeeb hired Cherrie Hanson of Milwaukee as Special Projects Manager and assigned the Wisconsin Muslim Journal as her primary project. As managing editor, Hanson oversees the editorial production of WMJ from idea generation to publication. She works with writers and photographers to create timely news stories, which she posts in the online platform for publication every Tuesday and Friday, and distributes through social media.

While the job requires an in-depth knowledge of news operations and policy, Hanson’s experience had been in creative and opinion writing. (She has a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in film and photography.) She had published creative writing in the Cream City Review, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s literary journal, and opinion pieces in the Milwaukee Independent and on her personal blog. She had no experience in newsroom management or editing.

Photo by Safiya Schaub

Her job also requires an understanding of Muslim values and customs in order to ensure the appropriateness of stories and photos for a Muslim publication. Hanson is not Muslim.

What Hanson brought to the job was an ability to write well, a background in Milwaukee’s interfaith community and, most important, an eagerness to learn, Najeeb said.

At Hanson’s first anniversary in her post this month, WMJ talks with Najeeb and Hanson about how Hanson has grown into her role as managing editor and how the publication is evolving.

How did Hanson come to work for the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition?

Najeeb: I needed someone who could take the big responsibility of Wisconsin Muslim Journal off my lap. From WMJ’s beginning, I had worked with a number of reporters who were strong journalists but did not have in-depth knowledge of the community. I was linking them with people to interview, carefully monitoring what they wrote to make sure it was culturally appropriate, sensitive and accurate. I was looking for someone with good writing skills who either already knew or was very open to learning about the Muslim community.

Hanson: I worked from 2019 to 2022 for the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and Janan was chair of the Committee for Interfaith Understanding. The committee created programs and activities to bring the 22 member faiths together. As Interfaith’s part-time program director in 2020-2022, I worked directly with Janan.

Cherrie Hanson organized the Interfaith Conference of Milwaukee’s Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues. Pictured above is the dinner dialogue held in March 2020 at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Milwaukee.

When Janan won the Interfaith Conference’s Frank Zeidler Award (for involving faith communities in social issues), I helped write the verbiage for the program. In the process, I saw her cv and I was absolutely stunned! I was stunned by how many committees she served on, that she raised five children, her level of achievement and professionalism. I wondered why she was not a household name in Milwaukee. I knew then that I wanted to work with her for who she is. I saw what MMWC was doing about the Afghan crisis. I wanted to roll up my sleeves and get involved.

Hanson joined MMWC part time in October 2021.

Hanson: I told Janan I was interested in working for MMWC. I was part-time at Interfaith and had lost my salon of 33 years (Hanson was a hairstylist and salon owner) during the pandemic. She said, ‘Let’s try it out. The film festival is starting and I could use your help.’ I jumped on board part-time. 

I just did not know until I started the magnitude of what was going on there. The many programs, the Wisconsin Muslim Journal … I saw there was plenty to do.

Hanson moved to a full-time position in January of 2022.

Najeeb: When Cherrie applied for the full-time job with us, I was a little bit concerned because I work very closely with the Interfaith Conference. I definitely did not want to take their main employee. I asked her to go back and speak with them about it, and I also spoke with the executive director. They were not planning to hire another person full time and Cherrie needed a full-time position.

From left to right, Cherrie Hanson with former colleagues from the Interfaith Conference of Great Milwaukee, executive director Pardeep Singh Kaleka, Katie Heinen and former executive director Tom Heinen.

I knew she had worked on their newsletter and website. I also knew, because I had worked with her for years, that she is very pleasant and comfortable meeting new people. She enjoys sitting down with others and being part of conversations, really talking with them and getting to know them. Whether it’s encouraging people to be interviewed for WMJ or contacting potential speakers for MMWC’s Networking Brunch, or other special projects and events, her ability to make other people feel comfortable is very helpful.

Also, Cherrie was very eager and enthusiastic for the position.

Hanson: I loved my time with Interfaith because I got to know people from all different faiths and backgrounds. I was such a shy kid, painfully shy. But through being a business owner for 33 years and working with Interfaith, my social skills developed. It is such a pleasure getting to know all the pillars in the faith communities.

I knew that working with MMWC was going to be dynamic and fast-paced. I knew I was going to learn from an organization that is functioning at such a high level. And Janan knows how to put somebody in a role where maybe they don’t know everything or have the exact skills from the beginning, but they can blossom in that role. That’s what happened to me.

Hanson’s first year at the helm of WMJ

Najeeb: Jumping into the managing editor role definitely had a learning curve, learning the platform and techniques, and the community. But Cherrie is very meticulous and eager that everything be done right. As she was training for the position, a number of staff members jumped in and helped. Gradually, she has become familiar with all the ins and outs of producing WMJ and it has been going well.

She’s really taken it to heart. She has a lot of pride in what she’s doing and she’s taken a load off of me. We can talk about potential stories and I can suggest sources about a particular topic, then give it to her and she takes it from there. She coordinates with journalists and photographers, and sometimes with the individuals to be interviewed. I have been able to step back without worry.

Another quality she has I consider very positive is her willingness to ask questions. She is very comfortable about confirming what needs to be done. She is very meticulous and goes through projects step by step. She will spend time preparing before launching into something. 

Hanson: I had to develop some technical skills, using WordPress and Canva. I had used Google Docs a bit but learned much more. And there are the social aspects of working with Muslims, learning the culturally appropriate ways of communicating and showing respect.

In many ways, I fit in. I’m not a drinker. I’m a coffee and ginger ale kind of gal. I’m eager to learn. I am always interested in bettering myself. I have learned so much from every single person at MMWC who helps me understand Islam. 

Another thing I’m doing is creating an archive, going through years of MMWC’s emails to save information and photos. I realized when I was at Interfaith and we needed information for a 50th anniversary video how important having an archive is. It’s a way of working—when you see something that needs to be done, do it.

I’ve never identified so much with a job. When Monday morning comes around, I can’t wait to get there. I think that says it all. 

Hanson is also responsible for MMWC Networking Brunches and some special events.

Najeeb: She has been able to expand the types of programs we do at our monthly networking brunches simply because she has been in the Milwaukee community and in its artistic community. She has made connections over the years that broaden the types of programs we offer. The topics, like self-empowerment and forgiveness, are very popular and uplifting.

Attendees of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition’s August 2022 Networking Bruch with featured speakers family support specialist Steve Ohly (front left) and community health worker Bahader Hotak (front right) from Aurora’s Walkers Point Clinic.

With the brunches and other programs, Cherrie knows how to take something from A to Z, thinking through all the steps in the process, making sure nothing is overlooked. That is something that comes with experience. 

Hanson: One of my favorite brunches was the one about bees. I did not know there was a chapter in the Quran on bees. I brought my friend Charlie (a beekeeper and educator) in and, the next thing you know, the program expanded to include Masjid Al Qur’an Imam Hafiz Muhammad Shafiq, also a beekeeper. The two men have become friends and collaborators around bees and beekeeping.

Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you’d like to say?

Hanson: I hope I am valuable. It’s not like how long you stay somewhere, it’s what you do while you’re there. Do you leave a place better than you found it? Do you leave people better than you found them? In that regard, I’m most proud of the work I have done together with the WMJ team. 

Najeeb: I want to give a shout out to Lee Matz, managing editor of Milwaukee Independent. We had been thinking of starting the Wisconsin Muslim Journal for a number of years. Lee interviewed me for the Milwaukee Independent and we became friends afterwards. He agreed to come on as a consultant in late 2017 to help us kind of create this publication and build the website. He still drops in and does some photography of a special event or just to see how we are doing and to help us out. 

WMJ proved to be one of our more expensive projects and it is not grant-funded. It is completely funded by donations. With Lee’s help, we were able to create a virtual platform that is accessible to everyone. It is so important to our mission and vision as a bridge of understanding with the broader community. 

For us to have something like this, that has consistently twice a week for five years, been producing stories, I think that’s amazing. Especially when you think about the very small staff that we have working on it. 

We have created an accessible resource—when you search Google for news about Wisconsin and Muslims, our stories come up. They counter the xenophobic and Islamophobic messages people often hear from other sources. That has been MMWC’s mission from the beginning.