Winter 2020

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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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, 1 in 7 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)

Entertainer Cyril Rabbath juggles his priorities

By Amy Sokolow
Medill Reports

With low-slung string lights, posters of 20th-century French vixens on the exposed brick walls, tiny, expensive drinks with their names printed on tarot cards, and wait times up to two hours, The Drifter is buzzing with chatter on a Friday night but falls silent as Cyril Rabbath takes the stage. Dressed in trousers and a tank top, with a small man-bun perched on his head, the 39-year-old wows the rapt crowd as he gracefully rolls balls across his arms, balances them on his head, and maintains complete control over his body. “I improvise all these little gigs,” he said after the five-minute show. Judging by the audience’s generous applause, no one could tell.

Rabbath said he was never suited to Paris, where he was raised by artist parents. He’s always found the city’s environment too stressful, and its people too rushed. “They don’t have time to just be,” he said. At 13, he accompanied his musician father to a summer music festival in eastern France, where he saw a small circus troupe, Cirque Ephémère (“ephemeral circus”), that showed him a pathway to a different lifestyle. “You’re in your home in a trailer, and … you open the door, outside, it’s different,” he said. “Because one day you’re in a ski station, and one day you’re in a big city, and one day you’re by the ocean.” That’s the lifestyle teenage Rabbath wanted. He had found a more authentic way to live, untethered to the hustle of the city, or to an apartment. He decided that summer to join the circus.

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NFL teams are tackling injuries with acupuncture and cupping

By Emine Yücel
Medill Reports

Ifeadi Odenigbo, a defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings, limps into the treatment room following a Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears. He just pulled his hamstring, but he needs to be out on the field, ready to go in less than 48 hours. “You’re just always trying to get on the field as soon as possible,” he said. “So, you’re in an ‘I’m doing whatever I can to feel better’ state of mind.”

Hilary Patzer, the sports acupuncturist for the Vikings, asks Odenigbo to lie down on the padded treatment table. After finding out he hurt his hamstring in the game, Patzer starts inserting 10, two-inch-long, thin needles into the injured area. Odenigbo lies facedown with needles sticking out of his hamstring.

Then, she takes a cotton ball soaked in alcohol and sets it on fire with a match. She inserts the fire ball into a glass cup, takes it out and quickly places the cup onto Odenigbo’s hamstring. This creates a vacuum. Immediately, the skin is sucked upward, into the cup. Patzer continues to cup different spots on Odenigbo’s leg. She leaves them in place, occasionally sliding them on his skin without releasing the suction. After 10 minutes, she removes all the cups, leaving perfectly circular, red and purple marks on his hamstring. About half an hour later, Patzer also removes the needles.

“I go to my session, and she works her magic,” Odenigbo said. “Now, I’m feeling looser and less sore. I’ll be ready to go.” What Odenigbo describes as “magic” is Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Eastern medicine practice, which includes cupping, acupuncture, electroacupuncture, manual therapy, dietary therapy and stretching, techniques Patzer often uses in combinations.

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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

Melinda Gates is making a big investment in gender equality in tech in Chicago

By Camille Galles
Medill Reports

Melinda Gates is pouring $50 million towards an effort to get more women in tech, and Chicago is on the top of her list. Chicago is the first of three cities to be selected by the Gender Equality in Tech Cities initiative, or GET Cities.

Plans for the initiative aren’t finalized, but women in Chicago’s tech scene know what they want. Listen below to hear from  students, entrepreneurs, and tech workers about what they think an investment in gender equality should look like and what they’re expecting from GET Cities.

Photo at top: On the wall of the Women in Computer Science Lounge at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the club’s leadership team has displayed pictures of members, event flyers, and inspiring posters. UIC is the official academic partner of GET Cities, due to its robust technology curriculum. (Camille Galles/MEDILL)

Brexit spells uncertain future for London’s financial services industry

By Carolina Gonzalez and Jake Holland
Medill Reports

Well before the word “Brexit” went from idea to reality, some of the world’s biggest banks began to loosen their ties with London, once one of the unquestioned leaders in finance. But now that Brexit is a reality, will the city of Shakespeare, Big Ben and, yes, global finance, also lose its coveted status in Europe?

Brexit, the messy divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union, has cast a shadow of uncertainty on pretty much every industry since the 2016 referendum. Financial services is no exception, and many banks operating in London moved sections of their business elsewhere to mitigate risk — even before the UK formally began its uncoupling from the EU in January 2020.

As of January 2019, these shifts accounted for at least 800 million pounds in assets, or about 10% of the United Kingdom’s total banking sector assets, according to a report by Ernst & Young. The firm said this was a “conservative estimate” based on already announced plans; some banks have not yet revealed what they are going to do.

The Global Financial Centres Index, a semi-annual report compiled by think tanks in China and the United Kingdom, lists New York as the most competitive global financial center. London came in second, with Zurich, Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin each rising in the rankings because of Brexit, according to the September 2019 report.

New York extended its lead over London from the previous rankings cycle some six months earlier, and other European cities like Paris and Luxembourg made large gains. Analysts from the study warn that if Paris were to make similar gains and London were to make similar declines, the City of Light could eventually overtake the British capital.

For many years leading up to Brexit, large banks like Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase had set up offices in London to be able to conduct business in other EU countries relatively easily.

That’s because of something called passporting, which allows firms authorized in one EU country to operate freely in another EU country. Until Brexit, a bank with a passporting stamp in London was able to conduct business in, say, Athens or Lisbon without much additional work, said Phil Levy, chief economist for freight forwarder company Flexport.

“Financial services are huge for the UK, and the City of London, it’s what they do” Levy said. “This financial passporting idea meant [banks] could go set up offices in the City of London and serve all of the European Union very easily. You didn’t need to have headquarters also in Frankfurt, or in Paris, or in Dublin.”

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J.B. Smoove: Actor, comedian, basketball fanatic

By Keith Giagnorio
Medill Reports

You can learn a lot about J.B. Smoove from watching him portray Leon Black on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the hit HBO comedy series he stars in alongside Larry David. Both Smoove and the fictional Leon share the same high energy, quick-witted, and simply hilarious personality. Both are incredibly engaging and command the attention of any room they enter. Both have unique (albeit in very different ways) fashion senses. But what you might not be able to glean from watching Smoove perform is his deep burning love for the game of basketball.

Smoove, whose real name is Jerry Angelo Brooks, started his relationship with basketball in the Levister Towers housing projects of New York suburb Mount Vernon when he was just 3 years old, shooting on flimsy hoops he and his brother fashioned out of wire hangers.

These days, Smoove’s personality and his passion for the game have made him a recurring character in the NBA universe, particularly during the league’s annual All-Star Weekend festivities. After making an impression for several years as one of the more vocal and animated of the many celebrity attendees of All-Star Weekend, Smoove got his chance to step onto the court during the 2019 Celebrity All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Smoove was even more prevalent during the 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago, talking basketball with Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” and cracking jokes at the same program’s first ever NBA All-Star Roast. Though not a participant, Smoove was courtside for this year’s Celebrity Game and attended several other All-Star events, always dressed to the nines in a fresh suit, overcoat, and of course his signature sunglasses and black fedora.

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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

Women executives lead six Chicagoland breweries

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

Chicago might be known for harsh winters, hot dogs, sports teams and deep dish pizza. But the city is becoming a hot spot for craft breweries as well.

A 2018 study from the Brewers Association found that the Chicago area led the nation in the number of breweries with 167 and counting, an honor owing to the proliferation of craft breweries across the metro area.

As Chicago builds that beer city status, those working in the industry see the town’s booming new industry as becoming more “diverse” while  “exploding,” said Emily Kwansy at Temperance Beer Co. in Evanston. Continue reading