Social Justice

Data accounting for prison COVID-19 cases projects 100,000 death increase

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

The ACLU of Indiana released findings Wednesday stating that a new data model projects the national COVID-19 death toll could be 100,000 deaths higher than previously projected.

“We are likely facing massive loss of life — both in Indiana jails and in our communities — if dramatic steps aren’t taken to reduce our incarcerated population,” said Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana Executive Director.

According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, over 200 inmates and 100 staff in Indiana prisons have tested positive for COVID-19. Three inmates have died from the virus.

The ACLU of Indiana has written open letters to Gov. Holcomb and other local officials in Indiana’s 10 largest cities asking them to reduce the number of Hoosiers who are incarcerated during the pandemic. Afterwards, the organization submitted an emergency petition to the Indiana Supreme Court requesting immediate action to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state’s correctional facilities but the petition was denied.

Now the ACLU of Indiana is asking Hoosiers to sign a call to action urging Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-IN) to take steps to reduce Indiana’s prison population.

“We called on people and continue to call on people to contact Gov. Holcomb to urge him to take statewide action,” Henegar said. “After we heard from the state Supreme Court, we started calling for people to contact the governor so we could have them share their stories and their perspective. We know that a majority of Americans believe that reducing the jail and prison population is the right thing to do in the time of this crisis.”

Photo at top: Social distancing on a spring evening in Downtown Indianapolis. (Samone Blair/MEDILL).

South Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution limited by lack of computer literacy, access

By Amy Sokolow
Medill Reports

Thabo Malatji, 29, commutes an hour from Alexandra, a township north of Johannesburg, to Tembisa, another township even farther north, every day for work. His office is inside a cluster of vibrant blue, green and orange converted shipping containers, which pop against their dusty surroundings. The neighborhood is dotted with trees and situated in a community of modest, tightly packed houses with tin roofs. Malatji works at the Tembisa location of the Youth Employment Services, or YES, on their marketing team, and is mostly in charge of their social media presence. He is guaranteed employment for at least the next couple weeks, since he has been working with them for almost a year as part of a career training program, where he also learns computer and business skills.

His real passion, though, is fashion. “I actually made this top that I’m wearing,” he said, pulling at the hem of its blue-and-white-striped fabric to show it off. It’s perfectly tailored to his thin frame. Malatji has been trying to get his fashion business, Solexxx Threads, off the ground through social media, but he can’t always get his work done because he can’t get online at home. “I just need the financial backing because what I use here is Wi-Fi, and when I’m out of the range, I don’t have internet access,” he said.

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Then and now: The legacy of Bantu education in South Africa

By Briana Garrett
Medill Reports

For most of the twentieth century, South Africa functioned under the system of apartheid, a system that segregated South African peoples in every aspect of life, privileging whiteness above all. Through a series of laws, apartheid created deep economic disparities,  immense political disenfranchisement and social divides with rippling effects across generations.

Under apartheid, Bantu education was law permitting the use of race to dictate the quality of the curriculum and resources. Segregation was cemented in the education system and modern public education still grapples with rectifying its past. In an audio piece that explores the past and present of public education in South Africa, South African leaders in education lend their voices to narrate the future thereof.

Photo at top: Students gather after classes at City Deep Adult Learning Center (Briana Garrett/MEDILL)

Environmental racism and the fight against it

By Briana Garrett
Medill Reports

Environmental justice and food justice may seem mutually exclusive. But the two go hand in hand.

In Cook County, one in seven people are food insecure. That means nearly 750,000 children and adults in the county go hungry during parts of the year and often lack access to nutritious foods, according to the Hunger in America reports for the City of Chicago. In Chicago, the reports show that the most food insecure areas are concentrated in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods where environmental problems add to hazards of hunger.

While access to food is a human right, these rights are often violated and linked to a  long legacy of segregationist practices in the Chicago. “Environmental racism” is a term used to describe issues of environmental inequity that marginalizes certain groups of people.

Chicago is seeing a renaissance of farming in the urban sector, and many areas plagued with food insecurity offer a home for urban farms that grow and harvest local produce, transforming vacant lots into lush gardens.

There are also new technologies that create resource-efficient ways to grow food, and many of people involved view their work as a necessary site for activism.

Listen to this podcast for an exploration of the racism involving food access and how it ties into environmentalism.

Photo at top: Food insecurity and lack of access to food are concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago, according to the Hunger in America reports. (Feeding America)

Microbrew with a macro vision: New Haymarket honey ale highlights industry’s need for diversity

By Beth Stewart
Medill Reports

A love letter to Chicago from two of its native sons — the soon-to-be-released Harold’s ’83 Honey Ale from Haymarket Brewing hopes to spark an important conversation about a thriving industry severely lacking in diversity.

Two independent brewers, Jay Westbrook and Samuel Ross III, are the brains behind the brew which Ross characterizes as “unapologetically Chicago and unapologetically black.”

The name is a nod to the election of Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983 and a wink to another beloved Chicago institution.

“Our target audience eats Harold’s chicken at least twice a week,” Ross explained.

The well-rounded honey ale goes down easy with a subtle sweetness throughout and smooth finish. Continue reading

The fight for affordability: Woodlawn’s demands for the Mayor’s housing plan

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

“I am writing to personally and directly share with you the City’s proposals to take advantage of this historic moment, reflect what we heard and partner with you to transform Woodlawn into an even stronger, safer, and more equitable place to call home.”

These are the words of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, penned in a Feb. 25 letter addressed to the entire Woodlawn community. 

Earlier this year, the Department of Housing released a draft ordinance addressing affordable housing protection in the neighborhood after months of stakeholder meetings and public outcry from Woodlawn residents. According to DOH Commissioner Marisa Novara, the aims of the ordinance are to “protect existing residents from displacement and to promote housing options to support equitable and inclusive income diversity in Woodlawn.” 

While it has been nearly a month since the draft was released, there are no announced next steps on the horizon. During a community meeting at Hyde Park High School, where DOH officials discussed the draft plan with residents, Deputy Commissioner Anthony Simpkins said that the plan will not move to a City Council vote until “it has the support of the community.” Continue reading

Alderman Taylor gets candid about Chicago politics during podcast taping

By Sidnee King
Medill Reports

“I hate City Hall, it’s the devil’s den,” said 20th Ward Ald.  Jeanette Taylor at a recent live podcast taping.

As election season ramps up, the conversation on what ideas, policies, and people are truly electable becomes more critical at national and local levels. This discussion was the central component of the first taping of a live podcast series, Unelectable, the product of a partnership between Black Youth Project 100 and Chicago-based podcast AirGo Radio. 

Taylor laid it on the line for the series aimed to engage Chicago voters in deep-dive candor about Chicago politics and the electoral process by inviting city leaders who have made waves in the political sphere. The inaugural taping featured two women behind organizing efforts that captured the entire city’s attention over the last year: Taylor and Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacey Davis Gates.

Taylor took on City Hall and the fight for a Woodlawn community housing agreement as she spoke to attendees that packed out The Silver Room, a black-owned boutique at the corner of East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue.

AirGo hosts Daniel Kisslinger and Damon Williams began the meeting by inviting the crowd to grab a mic and share policies they believe would be beneficial to Chicago’s population but seem ‘unelectable.’ Williams said the hope for events such as this is to create community forums to flush out their thoughts on “impactful issues dismissed as being too big or unrealistic by mainstream media.” 

The conversation touched on a range of controversies from universal healthcare to housing as a human right, something Taylor spoke about passionately as her ward is presently battling with the city for more affordable housing protections. 

Taylor criticized fellow aldermen for their inactivity on ordinances for low-income housing proposed by community organizers last year. She cited her own experience before she entered the political arena. As a Woodlawn resident, she said she felt underappreciated by the officials that represented her neighborhood and has vowed to engage 20th Ward residents in a way that respects their concerns and their tax dollars.

An example of this is the weekly open office hours that Taylor hosts at the aldermanic office on South Wentworth Avenue every Thursday. She also gives her constituents her personal cell phone number– which she shared with attendees at the end of the event. 

The rookie alderman is a professed “organizer first,” who never saw herself as an elected official. But now that she has a seat in city hall, she says she’s fighting for people in Woodlawn to be able to stay because she doesn’t see herself as any different from the low-income residents in her community. 

Gates also touched on affordable housing, which was a controversial topic during the CTU’s strike negotiations between the Chicago Board of Education and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Last year, critics admonished CTU leadership for requesting resources for homeless students in its list of demands, but union leadership didn’t back down on the issue.

During the panel discussion, Gates was adamant that a student’s housing-security is directly related to education, and educators should not be told that it’s not in their job description to be concerned. 

“Don’t apologize for it,” she said. 

Gates also encouraged the attendees to continue to organize around the changes that they had earlier expressed they’d like to see in Chicago. 

This wasn’t Black Youth Project 100’s first time partnering with Taylor or Gates. The organization aligned itself with Taylor and the coalition sponsoring the proposed community benefits agreement with the Obama Foundation in hopes of preventing rent and property tax hikes that could displace close to 40% of Woodlawn’s residents when the Obama Presidential Library opens. BYP100 also supported CTU in its teachers strike last fall. 

Photo at top: AirGo hosts Damon Williams (left) and Daniel Kisslinger (right) open the floor to discuss electoral politics in Chicago at the first taping of their ‘Unelectable’ series. (Sidnee King/MEDILL)

Boystown business group to tap security firm tied to cop with racist past

By Adam Rhodes
Medill Reports

The Northalsted Business Alliance (NHBA), a business group in the North Side queer enclave of Boystown, plans to tap Walsh Security as its summer security provider, just weeks after a local community center ousted the firm amid activist pressure over its owner’s racist and violent past.

Jennifer Gordon, a representative for the NHBA, told Medill Reports in an email on Friday that the group planned to hire Walsh Security to provide private security from May through the end of October.

The disclosure comes just weeks after local LGBT community center, Center on Halsted, replaced Walsh Security after pressure from local activists. Medill Reports reported in late January that Center on Halsted awarded a new security contract to Quantum Security, which has a track record of providing security to LGBT organizations in Chicago.

“The Center on Halsted’s move has not affected our plans to move forward with Walsh Security,” Gordon said in her email.

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Q&A: Center on Halsted’s new security firm sits down with Medill Reports

By Adam Rhodes
Medill Reports

Center on Halsted, an LGBT community center in Boystown, chose a new security firm in late January in response to a months-long series of protests, letters and activism from the community about the previous security firm owner’s racist past.

Following a bidding processing that kicked off late last year, Quantum Security beat out 10 other firms to become Center on Halsted’s new security firm and is now tasked with maintaining peace at the largest LGBT community center in the Midwest.

Company owners Laquita Franklin and Phylon Moore, who founded the family-run firm in April 2018 and run the company out of the couple’s Woodlawn home, sat down with Medill Reports earlier this month to talk about how they plan to serve Center on Halsted patrons and the allegations of racism and profiling that plagued Walsh Security, the community center’s previous security provider.

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