A Proviso Grad’s Obama Experience Brings British News Legend from London to Maywood


Kelauni Cook is interviewed in her home last week by legendary Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow. | Photo courtesy Channel 4 News

image2Saturday, October 22, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Nanette van der Laan, a producer, waited by a rental car that was parked near the 11th Ave. intersection of the Prairie Path in Maywood last Sunday as her co-worker, camerawoman Clementine Malpas, shot B-roll footage of two women jogging.

This wasn’t Hollywood enough to draw people out of their homes, but the curiosity prompted stares. During the scene, several cars whizzed by, with some drivers peering to see what was happening.

Van der Laan and Malpas work for Channel 4 News — Britain’s equivalent of ABC or CBS. The scene they were working on will air in that country in the days leading up to America’s Nov. 8 election.

“We’re the only hour-long, prime-time news program on British TV,” said van der Laan. “Jon Snow is our main anchor.”

Snow, it should be said, is Britain’s Tom Brokaw. He’s a sort of a big deal.

“Whenever I’m filming with Jon in England, it’s a real problem,” said van der Laan. “We were filming in a cafe in London once and there was a line with like 20 people waiting for selfies.”

Maywood native Kelauni Cook, however, didn’t have to wait in line and she did more than just take a selfie with the news legend, described on his station’s website as the face of Channel 4 News since 1989.

Last Saturday, she was interviewed by Snow, who, along with his camerawoman and producer, traveled here from London to see Cook.

The Proviso East grad sometimes jogs the Prairie Path with her mother Charmene. When the two told van der Laan and Malpas about their habit, the media professionals suggested that the mother and daughter be filmed running.


Snow, who left for London before production wrapped up on Sunday, interviewed Cook the previous day — eight years after he first spoke to her on election night in 2008, when Cook was a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. 

“We were watching the returns on CNN during a viewing party inside of this big room,” Cook, who currently lives in Pittsburgh and works as in computer coding, recalled of the historic night in 2008.

“Twenty seconds after they called the race for Obama, I jumped on a chair and was heaving crying,” she said. “I couldn’t catch my breath and the next thing I know, this bright light and a camera were in my face and this guy was asking me how I felt and what it was like.”

Cook said she was in such a state of euphoria that the moment barely registered with her, until she saw the video eight years later, when Snow and his producers decided to follow-up with her and another Howard student who was interviewed that night; however, Channel 4 encountered one problem.

“Nobody wrote down you guys’ names,” said van der Laan. “Jon went there and had to rush back to the hotel quickly and put a piece together that went out that night.”

Van der Laan said trying to identify Cook was “like searching for a needle in a haystack.” They called Howard University, but in vain. They searched the university’s website for clues, scouring thousands of faces in online yearbooks.

“About two months ago, one of my really good friends, who lives in New York and is part of a Howard email group, said [Channel 4] was looking for me,” Cook said. “Somebody recognized me and sent a message to my best friend, who told me. After that, I reached out to the producer looking for me and worked out a time they could come.”

Snow interviewed Cook at her family’s Maywood home and even took in lunch with the Howard alum in Chicago, where he got his first taste of Chicago Chicken and Waffles.”

“He is so cool and down to earth,” said Charmene (pictured below far left, taking direction from Malpas, far right, and van der Laan). “You wouldn’t think he was this huge TV star.”

As to her feelings on Obama two terms out, Kelauni said people will just have to watch the Channel 4 News telecast when it airs. Like Donald Trump, she’s keeping us in suspense.

And speaking of Trump.


“We’re watching this election with as much interest as anyone else in the world,” said Van der Laan, who said she spent her formative years in the United States, living in Washington, D.C., Texas and New Mexico. “Whoever is in the White House has a bearing everyone in the world. People feel very invested and interested.”

“I relate to America and almost feel American in a certain sense,” she said. “It’s frustrating that I’m not allowed to vote. I absolutely love it here and I want America to be a great place.”

Van der Laan noted that the surge of nationalism in Britain, which most recently voted to withdraw from the European Union (a process commonly known as Brexit), “isn’t anything like it is in America.”

“There are segregated neighborhoods in Europe and Britain, but here in America, it’s like times a thousand,” she said. “You can be in a part of Chicago where you wouldn’t see a white person for days.

“London is unlike any other big city in Europe. Hundreds of years ago, politicians actually thought rich people and poor people should be side-by-side. So, you can be in a neighborhood where there’s a house worth $5 million down the block from [low-income housing].”

Kelauni, who’s still an Obama fan, noted that, although the president’s election is a milestone in the country’s history, there’s still some way to go.

“I think Obama is the first black president and he knows the black experience,” she said. “But he’s also half-white and very diplomatic and not a descendant of slaves. The true test [of America’s racial progress] is if a dark-skinned president got in.” VFP

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