Remembering King in Chicago, and much more

Growing up in Englewood, Martha Jones remembers her mother praying for Martin Luther King’s safety during his Chicago open housing campaign in 1966 – as well as the riots that followed his assassination two years later.

Her story is one of dozens captured by the Southwest Neighborhood Youth Writers Project and available at their Young Defenders website.

The project trained recent high school graduates to produce stories about their neighborhoods and oral histories of its residents.  Project participants have given us a broad view of the hopeful and determined people who make up Southwest Side neighborhoods that are often neglected.

Ben Polk recalls the security of Englewood when he was growing up there – and tells of a blood-covered man recently knocking on his door after he’d been held up.  Liliana Celis writes of rushing to the site of a shooting and finding that a 13-year-old boy had been shot dead.  Nineteen-year Englewood resident Jamesetta Harris talks about volunteering with CAPS, and Morgan Park High School teacher Alvin James talks about making an impact on his students.

There’s a profile of Hubert Newkirk, a retired Streets and San superintendent who established a “litter-free zone” on Halsted from 75th to 83rd, with ex-offenders hired to keep the street clean.

There are stories of recent immigrants like Dionicia Celis, Tania Velazquez, Marcela Orozco and Jaime Espinosa. Carolina Rivera, a community leader and a parent mentor at Talman Elementary, says the Southwest Organizing Project has had “a huge impact in my life,” and Rebecca Shi, a young Chinese immigrant, helps people with computer skills as technology organizer at SWOP.

There are pieces on Southwest Side institutions:  St. Sabina Church, the Southwest News Herald, the Chicago Lawn YMCA, Palermo’s restaurant – and the 20-foot-tall Indian statue at 63rd and Pulaski.  Also Marquette Park (along with a meditation on “empty swings” in playgrounds where children no longer feel safe to play).

And did you know that Ashburn got its name from coal ash waste from steel mills that was dumped there?

Disability and freedom

In the final installment of their series on Disability in Chicago, the Neighborhood Writing Alliance highlights Tuesday’s settlement of the final lawsuit charging state policies violate the rights of people to choose to live outside institutions and nursing homes with the story of one man who made the transition.

With the help of Access Living’s deinstitutionalization program, Nathaniel Allen recently found a two-bedroom apartment in Englewood and moved out of a nursing home.  He’s a retired security guard who has osteoarthritis.

Through Access Living, Allen got a housing voucher to help cover rent, and the group also provided furniture, household items, and other help.  Now he’s taking classes at Kennedy-King College.

Access Living was one of several groups that sued Illinois on behalf of three groups of people living in institutions, charging that state policies did not offer the choice of living in a community setting as required by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1999 Olmstead decision.

Last week NWA reported on the issue of domestic violence and people with disabilities.  That community is “an invisible group in terms of domestic violence,” said Linda Miller, director of the domestic violence program at the Schwab Rehabilition Center.

On health reform, many remain uninformed

While health care providers prepare for national health care reform – or worry about their capacity to meet an upsurge in demand – many Chicago residents who will benefit have little idea about changes that are coming.

In the final installment of the Neighborhood Stories series at Illinois Health Matters, Judith Graham talks about health care reform with South and West Side residents, many with serious health issues who have had trouble accessing care.  Many are uniformed, and some are skeptical, she reports.

There’s a “gaping chasm” between policymakers implementing reform and low-income residents, and it demands stepped-up outreach and education, Graham writes.

Many don’t know about the expansion of Medicaid – income standards will be raised, and adults without dependent children will become eligible, giving an additional 500,000 to 800,000 Illinois residents coverage.

Meanwhile, with budget pressures on Medicaid growing, private clinics turning away Medicaid patients, and expected funding for an expansion of community health clinics yet to materialize, providers worry about meeting increased demand.

Another challenge: the Cook County Health Service faces a “struggle to redefine itself” as the number of uninsured people declines, and those who are left are increasingly undocumented residents ineligible for Medicaid.

An additional 300,000 Illinois residents are expected to purchase insurance on a new insurance exchange under the individual mandate. In many cases they’ll be eligible for government subsidies for coverage.

On the South and West Sides, meanwhile, hospitals and clinics are banding together to provide “medical homes” and more comprehensive care  for Medicaid patients and others, a development that health reform will continue to encourage.

Illinois Health Matters is a one-stop online resource for information on health care reform, managed by Health and Disability Advocates in partnership with a number of community organizations.   Consumers can subscribe to the Illinois Health Matters newsletter at the site, or follow the project on Facebook or Twitter.

Focus on Auburn Gresham

WBEZ is currently featuring Bill Healy’s photo-journalism series on Auburn Gresham.  In the introduction to the series, vivid photos of neighborhood residents — working, playing, worshipping, hanging out — accompany an audio piece with BGA’s Alden Loury discussing growing up in the South Side neighborhood.

“It gave me a firm foundation of the mix of African American life in Chicago:  it’s not completely a tale of poverty and disfunction, and not completely a tale of success and excellence,” he says.

Chicagoans tend not to distinguish South Side neighborhoods the way they do neighborhoods on the North Side, Loury says.  “But communities have character, and it’s important to give the communities an identity.”

In an interview with 848, Healy says one goal of the project is to counter that tendency: to “put a face” on the neighborhood, and to bring Auburn Gresham alive through the stories of its residents.

The first installment – the story of DJ Farley Jackmaster Funk, one of the creators of house music – is up this week, with more to come.

[Further episodes feature a local entrepreneur, a young gay man, and a teenager and his pastor.]

Entre Nosotras

Entre Nosotras, a multimedia blog by Radio Arte, has been publishing posts on Latina youth artists, activists and issues since September, focusing on news from Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, and Brighton Park.   Portions have also appeared in Hoy and Extra, and several programs have been broadcast on WRTE.

Topics covered range widely.  There are interviews with artists like young painter Angelica Atzin and photographer Jackie Oroczo, videos of local artists and musicians participating in Little Village’s Villapalooza, and a report on young designers in the Latino Fashion Show.  There’s a report on El Cilantro, a blog for young environmental activists, and an interview with educator and activist Veronica Arreola, producer of the Viva La Feminista blog.

There’s an interview with a survivor of domestic violence, discussing her new-found freedom, and a piece with members of the Vida Fidei youth group discussing spirituality.  There are pieces on STDs and how fast food industry marketing targets young Latinos.

The series is produced by a team of young women from Radio Arte’s media training program, which gives the basics of journalism and radio production to hundreds of local youth each year.  Broadcast on 90.5 WRTE FM since 1997, Radio Arte is currently transitioning to digital broadcasting and programming; it will be one of the first Latino media centers in the nation.

Entres Nostros plans further coverage of a range of health isssues – from breast cancer and obesity to teen pregnancy and mental health – as well as efforts to encourage girls to enter the sciences, and a feature on young Latina bloggers (and how to blog).  So stay tuned.


Thanks for Diana Pando of Community Media Workshop for translation assistance.

TIFs increase inequality, reinforce blight

Increased attention on “policies that increase economic inequality” has meant greater public concern over the city’s TIF program, which residents see “helping the prosperous downtown at the expense of their neighborhoods,” according to a new report from Grassroots Collaborative.

A program intended to help low-income “blighted” areas has seen 55 percent of its spending from 2004 to 2008 going to the Loop and Near South, writes Eric Tellez.  That’s despite the fact that average incomes in the Loop ($62,000 to $77,000 a year) are much higher than in neighborhoods like Brighton Park ($21,000 to $27,000).

A Grassroots Collaborative analysis showed that while TIF subsidies created thousands of downtown jobs over recent years, they created zero jobs in Brighton Park.  Indeed, from 2002 to 2009, Brighton Park’s share of downtown jobs decreased by nearly 15 percent.

(Earlier this year the Chicago Reporter found that much of downtown TIF spending was actually creating jobs for suburban residents.)

Thus “a program meant to address blight in fact reinforces it,” Tellez reports.

A posting of the article at Progress Illinois includes data tables and interviews with two residents of Brighton Park (it’s also been published in the Back of the Yards newspaper, The Gate; the article breaks out data on Back of the Yards, Brighton Park, and Englewood).

David Uriostegui, a young Brighton Park resident who works three minimum-wage jobs to support his family, talks about getting home at midnight and getting up at 5 a.m. – and still worrying every day about how he’s going to cover his family’s expenses.  “I hate having to have a calculator in my head every day, trying to see if I’m going to have enough.”

Rosalba Guzman talks about the need to taxpayer subsidies to come back to communities.  She describes a downward spiral, with businesses closing because their customers are losing jobs.  Taxpayer money “should come back to the community, not to the corporates, because they’re making their own money,” she says.

Youth unemployment and violence

Does youth unemployment lead to violence?  Charles Jefferson, a journalism student at Columbia College and member of the youth advisory board of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, talks to staff members at Street-Level Youth Media who believe it does.

In a new article at North Lawndale Community News – part of a series on youth violence issues coordinated by the Illinois African American Coalition for Prevention – Jefferson surveys neighborhood and global youth unemployment levels as well as state and federal efforts to address the problem.

And he identifies one new reason for higher levels of youth unemployment: adults taking jobs traditionally held by teens.

A look at poverty on the West Side

Poverty rates in Chicago are nearly twice the statewide rate – and in Lawndale they’re more than three times the state average.  That’s one revelation from a multimedia investigation of the impact of poverty on the West Side by the North Lawndale Community News.  The series talks to experts, examines nonprofits working on the problem, and tells the stories of individual struggles.

Poverty in North Lawndale is now estimated at 42 percent, and unemployment has doubled there in the past decade, from 13 to 26 percent, says community development consultant Valerie F. Leonard in an interview with Nicholas Short.

Leonard worked on a 2005 survey of community organizations in North Lawndale that identified 325 organizations, 40 percent of which provide youth, family, or job services.  After learning that an estimated 80,000 Chicagoans are eligible for public benefits but don’t access them, she developed a guide to community resources.

Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute tells Short that the U.S. has the highest poverty rate of any developed nation.  “And it’s not that these other countries…are richer than we are, it’s that they devote more of their resources to fighting poverty,” Austin says.  He emphasizes the need for more economic stimulus from the federal government, particularly on job creation and assistance to states and localities.

Research by the Center for American Progress shows that higher poverty levels are a drag on the nation’s economy, with lost workforce productivity and increased public expenditures due to poor health and high crime rates, Short reports.  Economist Mark Witte of Northwestern University explains that higher poverty levels add to the lack of demand that is stifling the economic recovery.

Nonprofits respond

West Side organizations are doing what they can.  Tali Bahkit reports on PEP-U, a job readiness program for juvenile offenders created five years ago by “concerned probation officers who wanted to make a difference.”

La Risa Lynch reports on West Side groups that were funded by a federal anti-violence program two years ago – and have continued the work despite the dollars drying up.  “In communities like ours, resources are few and far between, but challenges are always present,” says Tracie Worthy, director of the New Communities Program at Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.  LCDC has found new resources to expand its Hoops in the Hood program.

A community arts center located in the old firehouse which is also home to Tha House Hip Hop Church is continuing its youth video production program.  “You’ve got to find something that competes with the streets,” says Pastor Phil Jackson.  He’s hoping that local movie theaters will add to their preview lineups a short youth-produced video addressing negative stereotypes of urban youth.

And the Lawndale Amachi Mentoring Program is continuing its program hiring youth to do beautification projects – designed to build self-worth and community pride along with job experience for young people.  The organization mentors children whose parents are in the criminal justice system, and Dr.Betty Green says many suffer emotional trauma and anger which makes school more difficult for them.

Bill’s story

Nicholas Short and Guillermo Martinez tell the story of Bill, a 41-year-old former tatoo artist who’s lived on the streets for ten years after 15 years in prison.  His teeth are “falling apart,” he has Hepatitis B and C and sores on his body, he’s not allowed in restaurants or stores, and he says he’s used an indoor bathroom once in the past two weeks and had one shower this year.

But he’s “a gentle giant” who blames no one but himself for his situation.

Bill has tried repeatedly to break his drug habit, and discusses the difficulties of getting help:  he recently got a copy of his birth certificate and now needs a Social Security card so he can get a state ID – “You need ID to get an ID,” he says – with the goal of getting into an inpatient drug program.

His girlfriend and the mother of his son once ran the streets with him, but she managed to get clean and now manages a restaurant.  “I want to be a dad again,” Bill says.

Tali Bahkit talks with Donald Dukes, a 52-year-old man who’s survived a history of drugs and prison and now struggles to build a new life providing for his family.  He’s frustrated over the lack of support from – and the difficulty communicating with – elected officials who represent the community.

Bahkit also talks to young people who are stopped by the police, handcuffed and thoroughly searched simply because they walk past an area designated as a “hot spot.”  A young mother tells him this happens every day:  “They handcuff any African American male who walks in the neighborhood, without probable cause, and they totally violate these young people by checking them from head to toe.”

Young people are psychologically harmed an “feel as if the police are there to hurt them,” Bahkit comments.  And he asks whether police are acting as part of a system that is trying to remove black people from the West Side in order to make room for development.

Cyberbullying, and bullying and disability

A recent study found that young people of color use media significantly more extensively – averaging 13 hours a day, 4.5 hours more than white youth.  But their experiences with cyberbullying get little attention.

Chain of Change reports on the stories told by black and Latino teens during discussions following screenings of the new video, Your Social Life.

“Youth learn what is acceptable and safe face-to-face behavior, but as our society is relying more and more on digital technology as our main form of communication, it is imperative we start adapting and teaching these skills for online interactions and to educate youth about the emotional, social, and legal repercussions of digital behavior,” writes Lynda Lopez.

Students with disabilities are often targeted for bullying at higher rates, according to an article from the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.

One Humboldt Park teen who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair tells of being ridiculed and threatened.  Her grandmother says she’s spoken with school authorities, but administrators sometimes suggest the girl should just ignore verbal attacks.

Latina Teens and Suicide

Rates of suicide attempts among young Latinas are startlingly higher than other youth in the U.S., according to a new report from Latina Voices and Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Part 1 and Part 2).

Added to the usual stresses of adolescence are additional issues over ethnic identity and acculturation.  And for immigrant families, parents have often had very different experiences growing up than their children, according to the report.

Some of these issues will be explored at at panel discussion tomorrow, as youth and community organizers join researchers and practitioners to explore the unique mental health challenges faced by young people whose careers and dreams are thwarted by their immigration status.  It takes place Tuesday, November 1, at 3:30 p.m. at the Adler School of Psychology, 17 N. Dearborn.

Among the presenters is Dr. Roberto Gonzalez of the University of Chicago, who was recently interviewed in another Local Reporting Initiative project, a report on the state of undocumented youth by The Gate newspaper in Back of the Yards.

By the way, don’t miss the video created by The Gate along with the community newspaper report posted here earlier.