Nominee Jon Ross eyes the prize at Saturday’s Emmys

Saturday’s sold out 56th annual Chicago/Midwest Emmy celebration at the Radisson Blu Aqua will be the biggest and best awards ceremony yet. A record 700 guests will attend, including actors from the TV series filming here, and the ceremony will be telecast after a 25 year hiatus.

Winners will be announced in 83 categories (up from 72 last year) and among the many hopeful nominees is director/ producer Jon Ross, whose 32-minute doc, “Mound Bayou: Jewel of the Delta,” is up for best Historical Documentary. 

Unlike his fellow nominees, Ross, a Columbia College graduate, isn’t currently working in production.

Ross had spent five years as producer/director of visual media for Urban Ministries, Inc. of Calumet City, the US’ largest publisher of church materials.  UMI’s downsizing in 2011 eliminated Ross’ job.

He segued into producing his own Indiegogo-funded documentary about a little known but courageous Civil Rights leader for 18 months.  But when those funds were exhausted, he got a job in Macy’s stockroom “to sustain my family until I can return to production,” he says. 

Ross originally produced “Mound Bayou” as a 7-minute piece for UMI’s “Heritage Focus” discussion program, about African Americans who had positively impacted their communities.  He worked under the direction of Carole Cartwright, UMI’s VP/GM, who has 20 years of network television and 23 Emmys to her credit.

Discovering Mound Bayou’s 149 year heritage

Cartwright suggested the Heritage Focus program should be broadened to include African American communities. So four years ago, while visiting his family in the small town of Cleveland, Mississippi, an hour’s drive south of Memphis, Ross stumbled across the tiny historical town of Mound Bayou. What he learned intrigued him.

Doc producer Jon Ross“It was the first African American town that was founded and incorporated after the Civil War. Its present population of 3,100 is 99.99% African American and its major industry is a pottery company. It was ideal to document for our program,” Ross says.

After leaving UMI in 2011, Cartwright encouraged him to expand the original 7-minute piece into a longer documentary.  Ross pursued the Mound Bayou project for the next four years. 

“My cameraman, Joel McGinty, and I drove down to Mound Bayou whenever we could, to interview its residents about the community they had maintained for the past 149 years,” he says.

When it was finished in mid-2013, religious outlet WJYS picked up “Mound Bayou” for airing from October through last February. Cartwright submitted it to the Emmys.

The journey from the start, Ross says, “was educational and enlightening.  Not only did I learn about my cultural heritage and family history, but the experience taught me that anything is possible if you stick with it.”

“Mound Bayou” coproducers are Cartwright and John Rogers, a business executive.

PBS station WYCC/20 is producing the Emmys telecast, 7-10 p.m., and distributing it to PBS outlets in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. The also can be watched online from 7-10 p.m.

Co-hosts for the ceremonies are “Good Morning America’s” Ginger Zee, “The Today Show’s” Tamron Hall and actor Lorenz Tate.  R&B singer El LaBarge headlines the entertainment. 

Breaking news!  Marus Riley, in his second year Chicago/Midwest chapter president,, lost his NBC/5 job as content produceralledgedly for making errors in news stories post on the station’s website.  A British-born Canadian, riley joined NBC in 2004.