Orland Park’s only Black owned business benefits from Black Lives Matter movement

By Cheyanne M. Daniels
Medill Reports

Driving down La Grange Road through Orland Park, the Black-owned restaurant Vegan T’ease is easy to miss. Inside the small space, there’s room only for an order window and a cramped waiting alcove. As one customer walked out, another soon took their place. The parking lot, fit for only six cars at a time, is filled.

Tee Scott, the owner and namesake of Vegan T’ease, stood at the head of the kitchen, holding a spatula and barking out orders from behind a black face mask, a new norm in the era of COVID-19. She took a short pause to greet a new customer and encouraged her to try the vegan Gyros sandwich or the Chicago style hotdog.

“The Black Lives Matter movement brought a surge (of customers),” said Scott. She added that the movement has mainly brought more Black customers to her restaurant.

Black-owned businesses are doing better than ever despite the COVID-19 pandemic because of intentional efforts to support them amid the Black Lives Matter protests. Even in a conservative town like Orland Park, whose residents are overwhelmingly white, Vegan T’ease has been reaping the benefits.

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Pandemic amplifies mental health struggles in already vulnerable young athletes

By Dan Moberger
Medill Reports

At 5:30 p.m. on a muggy Tuesday in mid-July, parents dropped off their teenage daughters at Fleet Fields, a parking lot converted to basketball courts in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. Flanked by industrial-looking brick buildings on three sides, the blacktop has afforded an attractive, open-air training grounds for Flow Basketball Academy during the pandemic.

The thermometer read 83 degrees when practice began, and sparse, wispy clouds decorated the otherwise clear blue sky, leaving the sun an unimpeded lane to the young athletes. Not long after coach and co-owner Korie Hlede started running the team through drills, sweat beaded up on the brows and arms of players. None of them wore a mask.

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Group feeds Chicago’s neighborhoods one fridge at a time

By Marisa Sloan
Medill Reports

Hidden in the alley behind a used bookstore in Humboldt Park is a fully stocked refrigerator. Giant fruit and vegetables are painted on its doors alongside the phrase “free food” and its Spanish translation, “comida gratis,” in red and pink.

A piece of cardboard reading “I AM NOT TRASH!” sags against its side.

The refrigerator, one of seven throughout Chicago’s South and West Sides, is part of a grassroots effort called The Love Fridge that combats food insecurity and food waste in the city. Founded less than two months ago by music producer Ramon Norwood, better known as Radius, the collective encourages community members to take what food they need and leave what they can.

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California students receiving free, reduced-price meals face accessibility challenges during pandemic

By Hannah Schoenbaum
Medill Reports 

Jesus Garcia, 17, depended on the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s free and reduced-price meals program during his time at Back Bay High School in Costa Mesa, California. When the school closed in the spring of his senior year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Garcia struggled to find stable internet connection for his online classes and had trouble balancing his busy home life with the added responsibility of picking up meals.

Garcia said he was unaware that the district was providing free breakfasts and lunches during remote learning, until he received a call from his school informing him of a drive-thru meal service. The incoming Orange Coast College culinary arts student said he picked up meals at Costa Mesa High School for about two weeks but grew frustrated when he could no longer find a ride.

“My stepfather and stepbrother wouldn’t get off work until the afternoon, and they were the only ones with cars,” Garcia said. “By the time they finished and could give me a ride, the schools had already packed up everything, and I couldn’t get food.”

As NMUSD prepares for an entirely virtual start to the upcoming school year, students who rely on the free and reduced-price meals program, like Garcia did, are navigating a less accessible system to obtain the food they have been promised.

Nutrition Services Assistant Sarah Garcia de Calderon and Nutrition Supervisor Celeste Alion place four pre-packaged meals on a cart outside Costa Mesa High School for their first drive-thru meals recipient of the day on Aug. 7, 2020. The summer meals service is contact-free and will continue through Aug. 14 at seven locations around Costa Mesa, California. (Hannah Schoenbaum/MEDILL)

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Medill Newsmakers: Reporting on-air amid COVID-19 (Ep. 2)

By Samone Blair, Michael Thomas, and Yilin Xie
Medill Reports

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the way many of us work.

Medill Reports spoke with three alumni of Northwestern University’s Medill School — Ashley Graham of WLNS-TV in Lansing, Michigan, Shiba Russel of 11Alive in Atlanta, and Peter Alexander of NBC News and the “Today” show — on how they’ve adapted to reporting during this unprecedented time.

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Medill Newsmakers: Reporting on-air amid COVID-19 (Ep. 1)

By Anika Exum, Briana Garrett and Jennifer Ly
Medill Reports

The spread of this year’s ongoing pandemic came with necessary but unexpected and unprecedented modifications to both the television news industry and the lives of those working in it.

Rick Sallinger of CBS4 Denver, Brandis Friedman of WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” and Medill School alumna Sheinelle Jones of NBC’s “Today” show shared with Medill Reports on how they’ve had to shift life and work amid COVID-19.

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Amidst pandemic, rural New York teachers struggle to access high-speed internet

By Sidnee King and Emine Yücel
Medill Reports

On a snowy day in mid-March, Sandra Wilkins had a meltdown in the parking lot of the Saranac Lake Free Library. Bundled in hats and mittens and cramped in a grey 2009 Honda Accord, Wilkins and her two children were racing to finish the day’s work while they still had reliable internet access. It had been weeks of sitting in the parking lot for WiFi, and Wilkins became overwhelmed as she helped her son and daughter with their online classes, all while trying to support her own students.

“I remember thinking this is not a professional work environment, and not conducive to my children’s learning,” Wilkins said. “I’m just trying to do my job and be a mom at the same time.”

Weeks later, they’ve traded their winter coats for t-shirts and sunglasses. The family still sits outside of the library three times a week, wondering how long they can sustain working from their car. Wilkins said she never expected the pandemic would keep her out of the classroom for so long.

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Startups show resilience as the pandemic continues

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in late March, Matt Morfopoulos wasn’t too worried.

As co-founder and chief marketing officer of the Oklahoma text message communications startup Respond Flow, Morfopoulos knew that his business model would survive a socially-distant world because of its emphasis on remote marketing.

However, not every startup was expected to be so lucky.

Four out of 10 of startups had only enough cash on hand to sustain operations for three more months, according to research company Startup Genome’s April 21 global report on the impact of COVID-19 on the worldwide startup environment. This is up from less than three in 10 companies with only three months of runway in December.

Nearly two months after the report was released, it appears to be flat out wrong, said David Beazley, a managing partner with venture capital firm Purple Arch Ventures, which invests in startups within Northwestern University’s alumni network. He estimated that a maximum of a quarter of startups might actually be facing financial failure before the summer is over.

Startup Genome did not respond to a request for comment.

The startup and venture capital industries have taken many steps to ensure as many businesses as possible remain successful during the pandemic, Beazley said. This means focusing on startups that are capable of surviving in a post-COVID world where digital and touchless technologies will have an advantage.

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Women’s professional sports leagues utilize social media to continue pre-pandemic growth

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stands against the blue backdrop of a team-themed blanket, staring into a camera to address nearly 1,000 fans sitting in front of their screens on the other end of a Zoom call on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

It’s the annual unveiling of the new team’s jerseys, called a, “Kit Launch,” and it was supposed to be the largest ever jersey unveiling event, where 250 fans would gather at Pinstripes on Chicago’s riverfront raising their signature cocktails to toast what should’ve been the start of the most exciting season of the National Women’s Soccer League yet. While the in-person event would’ve been more fun, the online version of it attracted more fans from across the country.

The room for growth in women’s sports exceeds men’s. Before the pandemic’s impact, Deloitte projected that the rise of women’s sports in 2020 would dominate the sports industry and that “sponsors should consider getting involved now to capitalize on the new opportunities and avenues for engagement that this growth area may create.”

On March 12, that dream of a record-breaking season came to a halt when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, making the NBA the first domino to fall in what was a chain of professional sports postponements and cancellations. The pandemic’s impact was especially disheartening for women’s professional sports, where teams were anxious to continue their pre-pandemic growth.

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COVID-19: Stories from across America

By Bre’onna Richardson
Medill Reports

In this June 15-22 special report, COVID-19: Stories from across America, Medill Reports examines the rising unemployment rate, celebrates nurses and educators and talks to business owners who are worried about the increasing number of coronavirus cases across the country.

From Illinois to California, Michigan to Florida and everywhere in between, we find out how the coronavirus is changing the way we live.

Photo at top: A group of nurses, who work with sick coronavirus patients, in Los Angeles, California. (Michael Thomas Gonzales/MEDILL)