All posts by luzhao2019

Chasing the ghost – The struggle to stay drug-free

By Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

When Ryan Ali looks back on his teenage years, he wishes he had been “the biggest nerd in the school.” He wasn’t. He was easily influenced by what he calls “peer pressure.”

There was a party night back in high school in Chicago. A friend called Ali into the bathroom. He opened some foil with white powder inside and chopped it up with a card. He gave Ali one-third of it.
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Water contamination threat continues for the Navajo Nation

By Lily Qi and Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

Uranium, arsenic, lead … have you ever thought about these metals contaminating the water you use and drink every day? Once they reach a certain level, these elements can cause illness and even endanger your life. This is what has been happening in the Navajo Nation with its centuries old history and culture.

Spread across portions of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the Navajo Nation possesses the largest land among Indigenous tribes. The territory encompasses spectacular scenery across vast areas but that makes it harder to test and address the water contamination problem on this land.

How severe is the contamination? Earlier this month, we took a reporting trip to the Navajo Nation to observe and inquire. Listen to the podcast and see what we found out about the water there.

Podcast by Lily Qi and Lu Zhao/Medill

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The journey from homelessness to finding a home

By Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

The single room occupancy (SRO) residence on Kenmore Avenue occupies a clean, quiet and lovely part of Uptown, dotted with a chain of Vietnamese and Chinese shops.

The building is close to the Argyle station on the Red Line, only a three-minute walk away.

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I wasn’t sure whether I could find Mary at the SRO. She doesn’t have a phone and often goes out panhandling. Luckily, I ran across her at the elevator as she was heading to find her boyfriend Tom. They hadn’t seen each other for three days.

Mary, 30, came from St. Louis with him last June. Hoping to find more job opportunities in Chicago, they didn’t make it and then ran out of money. Panhandling on the street and living in a small shack became their life. Then Mary’s heart condition and an amputated finger made her eligible to move into the SRO, one of the 168 rooms in the dwelling, in January. Continue reading

Self-identification or tribal membership: Different paths to your heritage

By Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

It was a surprise for the 8-year-old girl when she first learned she is a Native American many years ago. Pamala Silas still remembers that day. She had transferred to a new school. Huddling in the chair, sitting beside her younger sister, Pam was introduced by the teacher as an “American Indian.” She couldn’t believe what she heard.

“What? Why did she say that?” Pam, in her 50s and proud of her heritage, said she harbored as a child stereotypes of Native Americans that, all too often, people saw on TV. “They’re all naked and crazy!”

Pam went home and asked her foster mother why they called her an Indian at school.

“Well, you are,” her foster mother said. She took out an encyclopedia, went to the American Indian section and showed Pam a picture of a man with a headdress on a horse. “You’re an Indian.” Continue reading

Every night out in the cold: Volunteers count the city’s homeless


By Lu Zhao and Kimberly Jin
Medill Reports

Shivering in the icy wind, he stood alone on the refuge island at the crossroad of West Cermak Road and South Clark Street. Out in the pitch darkness, the middle-aged man became visible under a dim streetlight.

Being first-time volunteers for the annual Homeless Count, we hesitated. How should we politely approach him? But on a quiet winter night with little traffic, he easily noticed us and ran across the street towards us.

The dusky streetlight shed light on his gray thick beard and the wrinkled face hidden under his dark blue hood. We explained how we were here collecting information about homeless people for the city. But he seemed perplexed, making a hoarse sound. He raised a hand to point at his ear and slowly shook his head.

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Never had a food allergy? You may develop one in adulthood

By Lu Zhao
Medill Reports

Tree nuts used to be a healthy snack for Jill Marks Yamane  – until last year. She snacked on a pack of Almond Pocky Sticks as usual while waiting for an appointment. Suddenly, she felt terrible.

“My tongue started going numb,” Yamane recalled. “And my mouth felt inflamed.”

Breathing became difficult while she was driving back home. She called Emergency Medical Services. They determined she would be okay.

Yet symptoms here can be much more severe and even life-threatening. Yamane had developed a food allergy to tree nuts at 54 and nuts cause severe allergy symptoms that can seal your throat shut and prevent breathing.

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