All posts by peterjones2017

“Odysseo” combines equestrian and acrobatic skills in Chicago run

By Peter Jones

Sam Alvarez is one of 48 human cast members in the world’s largest touring production. A trained aerialist and coach, Alvarez works alongside 65 horses in “Odysseo,” which has been produced by the Montreal-based company Cavalia since 2011.

More than two million people in Canada, the United States and Mexico have seen the show so far, according to Cavalia. “Odysseo” began its run in Chicago April 1 and will run through May 21.

Photo at top: Sam Alvarez, an aerialist and coach for “Odysseo,” shows off his acrobatic skills. (Peter Jones/MEDILL)

Basketball brings opportunity to West Side high schooler

By Lauren Baker and Peter Jones

Basketball is everything for Michael Flenory. The West Side native started playing in the sixth grade. Since then, the sport has given him structure, introduced him to new people and allowed him to travel across the country.

Now 16, Michael plays for Uplift Community High School and the Chicago Raptors, an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team. Like many young Chicago basketball players, Michael has big dreams for the future. His goal is to attend the University of Iowa on a basketball scholarship. Michael’s mom Cassandra Bernard hopes he can even make it to the NBA.

Photo at top: Michael Flenory dribbles the ball at his AAU team practice. (Lauren Baker/MEDILL)

Chicagoans preserve their Cambodian heritage

By Peter Jones

Khemarey Khoeun will become the first Cambodian-American woman to hold office in the U.S. after being elected to the Skokie Park District Board last Tuesday.

Cambodians first began arriving in Chicago as refugees escaping the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. Years later, the Cambodian community in Chicago continues to maintain its traditions and culture.

In Uptown, the Watt Khmer Metta Temple provides a peaceful place for Cambodians to gather and pray. The National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial preserves the turbulent history of Cambodians and ensures that future generations will not forget their heritage.

Photo at top: Cambodian monks pray at the Watt Khmer Metta Temple in Uptown. (Peter Jones/MEDILL)

Disability Intersects Muslim Identity for Chicagoans

By Peter Jones

Aziza Nassar and Muhammed S. Ullah are two American Muslims living with disabilities. Although President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees and travelers from seven mainly Muslim countries has left Muslims in the U.S. feeling marginalized, Muslims with disabilities are feeling even more isolated.

The U.S. Religion Census estimated that the Muslim population of Illinois was 35,000 in 2010. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, approximately 10.7 percent of people in the state are living with a disability. That means an estimated 3,700 Muslims with disabilities live in Illinois. Despite their sizeable population, Muslims with disabilities often avoid attending mosques because they are not accessible to the disabled.

Aziza Nassar has not had such an easy time merging her faith with a disability. After losing her father and starting to use a wheelchair at age 15, Nassar and her family turned to their local mosque for support. But accessing that mosque proved difficult.

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Wheels of Change: Dating for Gay Men with Disabilities

By Peter Jones

Peter Vishneski was 20 years old when a car accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. The Oak Park native was attending college at St. Louis University but had to take a year off to recover. Four years later, Vishneski has adapted to life as a wheelchair user and plans to return to St. Louis to start a master’s program in the fall.

Aaron Anderson started experiencing numbness in his feet in May 2014, which then spread to his arms and chest. He was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a condition where the body’s immune system attacks its nerves. Now 40, Anderson has regained some upper body mobility, but his legs are paralyzed. He lives in Uptown with his dog Buddy.

Vishneski and Anderson comprise a unique demographic. Both are gay and had boyfriends when they became disabled. They are now single and looking to date as members of the LGBTQ community with physical disabilities, presenting them with challenges from either or both identities.

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