Social Justice

Black girls perceived, often treated as older and less innocent, study finds

By Giulia Petroni
Medill Reports

In the summer of 2012, a 15-year-old black girl was arrested by police for using her student MetroCard in Harlem, New York. Officers questioned her age – they thought she was too old to use a card valid only for youths under 19 – and kept her in costudy until they got her birth certificate.

After being treated at a hospital for the damage caused by handcuffs on her wrists, Alexis Sumpter said she would have never gone to the same station again.

African-American females are perceived less innocent and more adult-like than white females, reveals the report “Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood” published last year by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality.

“This is the evidence of what we call adultification,” said Thalia Gonzales, professor at Occidental College and co-author of the research.

Continue reading

In Evanston, a group creates quilts as a form of resistance — and therapy

By Vangmayi Parakala
Medill Reports

Over two days in February, about 20 people gathered to sew names of women, girls, and babies who died due to gun violence between 2016-2017.

Led by Melissa Blount, an Evanston-based clinical psychologist, the attendees sewed the victim’s name and age, accompanied by a motif on each of the sewing squares.

The event, held at 1100 Florence, an art gallery in Evanston, was to result in the squares making their way onto a remembrance quilt. This is the second quilt that Blount is leading, after her Black Lives Matter Witness Quilt last year, inspired by an exhibit at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art.

Continue reading

Pilsen Garden looks to grow beyond stalled plans for the El Paseo Trail

By Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

As the weather warms, greenery already can be seen in some of the garden plots. (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)

The raised plant beds that dot the wood chip-covered pathways of Pilsen’s El Paseo Community Garden begin sprouting vegetation in early spring.. These community and volunteer-run growing stations are not merely an aesthetic choice but  a necessity.

Years of lead smelting and other industrial usage has left the soil of the Sangamon Corridor – a section of land running south from 16th Street along Sangamon Street to 21st – inundated with various heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. The El Paseo garden’s use of raised beds responds to their proximity along the corridor and  prevents the leaching of toxins from the soil to the growing vegetation.

The El Paseo Community Garden’s raised beds were  installed to prevent plantings from leeching up any toxins that may still be present in the soil. (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)

“That’s why we have raised beds,” said Antonio Acevedo, community garden co-director. “There are some areas that did not have to be remediated, since they were below the EPA’s safety levels. However, we take safety precautions like using agricultural cloth barriers, wood chips and raised beds with fresh soil for edible plants and food.  There is no danger with the food grown. The possible danger is if the soil in the ground is disturbed (in the unremediated areas) and ingested”

BNSF railway no longer utilizes the tracks along its Sangamon right-of-way; Loewenthal Metals Corporation had ceased lead and zinc smelting at their former industrial site on Cullerton Street in the 1950’s before a fire razed the facility. Land restoration gained little attention in Pilsen until 2016 when the city broke ground on the El Paseo Trail, a bike path that would lead from Pilsen to Little Village along the abandoned BNSF right-of-way which the railroad still owns.

Continue reading

Local boxing gym takes fighting off the streets

By Giulia Petroni
Medill Reports

For the last two and a half years, Juliana Hirales has been training at Little Village’s youth boxing gym 20 hours per week.

One hundred and twenty-five pounds, 5’2″, and not afraid to punch. She was only 14 when she started fighting on the streets, a teenager dealing with her dad’s substances-abuse problem and her peers’ bad influences. Today, she is the only female boxer among a group of amateur and professional youths practicing boxing on the neighborhood’s west side.

Boxing is a form of prevention, said Paulino Vargas, mentor and coach at Urban Life Skills, a local organization counseling and advocating for youths in Little Village.

“It’s a way to keep children off the streets,” said Vargas.

Continue reading

The House of Burritos that Feels Like Home

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

Just west of Wrigley Field at the intersection of Lincoln and Addison sits one of Chicago’s little-known treasures of the city, the original Burrito House. 3545 N Lincoln Ave is the address of where “x marks the spot” for this family run institution.

Now expanded into three locations, Luis Salinas and his family have made fast-Mexican lunches and dinners for the Chicago community while helping those who also came from Mexico.

Every family has their story of how they made it in America. This restaurant is still giving opportunities to other families from Mexico to do the same.

Continue reading

Poised for the prowl: Black Panther’s box office attack continues

By DeForest Mapp
Medill Reports

Superhero King T’Challa led the multitudes  to “Black Panther” for two consecutive weekends. The blockbuster topped attendance at any other movie with a domestic gross of $400 million and shattered previous earnings records for a film that showcased a majority African American cast.

“Black Panther” made gold for a Marvel gamble that debuted on 4,020 screens at midnight, Friday, Feb. 15.  Many theaters nationwide sold out screening the film with a production price tag north of $150 million.

“[Black Panther] was really a story about a family and a monarch that had to make a big decision whether to bring his country into the greater part of the world or not,” said Gary Hardwick, filmmaker of Deliver Us From Eva and The Brothers.  “I was really surprised that they went with that story as opposed to all the other things they could have done.”

“Black Panther” brought us to the home of  King T’Challa, who sought to keep his country cloaked from the outside world.  And in doing so, he learned he could never protect those who mattered to him most without building strong alliances.

“[Chadwick Boseman] was the only choice [for T’Challa],” Marvel President Kevin Feige said during the film’s official press conference held in Beverly Hills, California.  “We were sitting around the table.  We were coming up for the story for [Captain America] Civil War.  Nate Moore, the executive producer, had … suggested bringing in Black Panther because we were looking for sort of a third party who wouldn’t necessarily side with [Captain America] or side with Iron Man.  And almost instantly we all said, ‘Chadwick.’”

King T’Challa’s Royal Talon Fighter, descending upon Wakanda in “Black Panther.” PHOTO: MARVEL STUDIOS/DISNEY

Director Ryan Coogler subtly tied the film to Oakland, California. Since the actual Black Panther Party  was founded in Oakland in 1966, the ties between Wakanda (created with special effects) and Oakland were intentional but clever.

“Wakanda was built in a room with Ryan [Coogler] and the incredible design team.  And so, to see it alive, it’s almost unimaginable,” said Lupita Nyong’o during the press conference for Black Panther.

Wakanda, on the surface, connected to many rural areas of Africa.  But T’Challa took the audience beyond a barrier  hidden to the naked-eye. “Black Panther” revealed a sense of community in Wakanda that the regular world may have found inconceivable.  Leaving the  world we know for this imagined world felt real.

“I think that [Black Panther] reveals that there is far greater potential in this world that we sometimes see every day,” said Chicago non-profit executive Ruth-Anne Renaud, 53, after seeing “Black Panther” at the Arclight Cinema in Chicago with her husband Tom.

Lupita Nyong’o, (left), and Chadwick Boseman (right) in “Black Panther.” PHOTO: MARVEL STUDIOS-DISNEY

King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) shared  good chemistry but the timeliness and  the importance of love could have been called into question when Nakia felt the gravity of what was at stake.

“In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen,” said Angela Bassett, Queen Mother in the film,  during Marvel’s press conference of the film.  “I was so proud to have my daughter and my son there last night because in their faces, in their spirit… they were feeling themselves.  They stood taller” during the official press conference.

Simple factors as well as great filmmaking contributed to  Black Panther’s  triumphant success.  First, it’s in the Marvel cinematic universe, which has a loyal fan base.  Second, African American films have always done well at the box office relative to their  often modest budgets.  African American romantic comedies from 1995 to 2008 had budgets between $6 million and $30 million, while generating total domestic revenues of approximately $1 billion, according to The Numbers, Imdb and Box Office Mojo.

“I did have high expectations [for Black Panther] but I went into it with a very open mind, knowing that it would be different than other Marvel movies and stories, but really not sure what to expect,” said Chicago sales and marketing executive Tom Renaud, after seeing “Black Panther” at the Arclight Cinema.  “So, I went into it with a very open mind knowing that the production value was going to be very high.”

King T’Challa / Black Panther in “Black Panther.” Photo:  MARVEL STUDIOS-DISNEY

Add to the  Marvel-recipe the Disney Co.’s global marketing, its distribution partners and a well-written story.  The result was a high-concept superhero who keeps his people safe by literally hiding them from the rest of the world.  An intuitive audience used this as an opportunity to explore its curiosity.

“Sky’s the limit now that they’ve brought X-Men and they’ve brought Spiderman back into the [current Marvel] family,” Hardwick said.  “So, [Marvel] can do anything now if they wanted to.”

If there was any power to draw from the story of “Black Panther” it might be for Hollywood executives to exert more commitment  to connect with segmented audiences.  Though “Black Panther” came from the Marvel universe, there are other science fiction stories to be told.  Disney’s “A Wrinkle In Time” is but one due to be released in March.

“Make more stories that show the full spectrum of humanity and capability and possibility,” is what Ruth-Anne Renaud said she would say to Disney Studios Chairman, Alan Horn, if he were standing at the Arclight theater.

Infographic: BLACK PANTHER. Data sources: WSJ, Imdb Pro and Box Office Mojo.
Photo at top: Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther.”Photo at top: MARVELSTUDIOS/DISNEY

Deportation threatens American dreams

By Viola Du
Medill Reports

Living with a loving wife, two daughters, a cat and a dog in a house he owns in Berwyn, Donald Ortega achieved all the dreams he could imagine when he first crossed the border and came to the United States.

Ortega, 34, is Salvadoran and a beneficiary of the Temporary Protected Status program. He arrived in America when he was 16, learned English and worked multiple jobs over the years. In 2007, Ortega married Karol, a Mexican American and she gave birth to their daughters Michelle and Emily.

“I’m living as an American,” Ortega said. “Just living the American dream until –  until just now, I would say.”

On January 8, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it will end the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, of about 200,000 Salvadorans who have come to the United States since 2001.

Continue reading

More jail time won’t stop crime, fair-sentencing advocate argues

By Giulia Petroni
Medill Reports

On the day of his 17th birthday, Xavier McElrath-Bey was standing in a walkway of Cook County Jail, when he heard a very loud voice screaming:

“Welcome to Division 1. If you wanna survive in this place, keep your mouth shut and mind your own business.”

McElrath-Bey was waiting for a judge to decide if he would be transferred from the juvenile system to the adult system. He had been only 13 when convicted for involvement in gang-related murder and sentenced to 25 years of prison,

Raised in the Back of the Yards in Chicago’s Southside, McElrath-Bey’s childhood was marked by family abuse, foster care and street life. Only the support he received from his public offender, his GED instructor, and later on by college professors and mentors, allowed him to embrace a significant change.

“I stand here as a free man. And I urge all of you to ensure the same opportunity that was given to me, to other men,” said McElrath-Bey in front of a large audience at the Chicago Cultural Center. He has been free for 15 years.

Continue reading

Meet the woman behind Chicago’s ghost bikes

Katherine Braden
Medill Reports

You’ve seen them. Leaning against a street-light, they seem to almost glow, plastic flowers hung around their painted white frames. A small plaque with a stark name serves as a haunting reminder.

There are 30 ghost bikes in and surrounding Cook County, but the bikes aren’t unique to Chicago. Originating in St. Louis in the early 2000’s, the bikes have become an international symbol, a memorial constructed after a cyclist’s death by a motorist.

What is unique is the support system Kristen Green, 30, provides local families of the bereaved.

Continue reading

Pilsen residents demand rent controls at Town Hall meeting

Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

Demands for rent control and affordable housing took center stage, Monday, in the St. Pius V Church basement, as residents of Pilsen and Little Village rose one by one to voice concerns at Pilsen’s Community Town Hall on Rent Control and Property Taxes.

The Town Hall, conducted both in Spanish and English, focused on lifting the statewide ban on rent controls as residents fight to stay in their homes.  The presence of State Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss (D-9) and State Representative Theresa Mah (D-2), co-sponsors of SB2310, Repeals the Rent Control Preemptive Act bill, gave community members the opportunity to meet with their elected officials. 

Continue reading Pilsen residents demand rent controls at Town Hall meeting