Knitting for a cause: Tempestry Project fuses art and science to illustrate climate change

By Jake Holland
Medill Reports

Dappled light streams through the wide windows of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston. Streaks of sunshine stretch along light wood-paneled floors speckled with paint.

Four women sit around a low plastic picnic table, chatting about their families and the recent stretch of nice weather. They’re bent over needles and wool yarn, each creating a prismatic stretch of cloth. They chat without slowing their pace, fingers moving as if second nature.

Three are knitting — and one is crocheting — banners for the Tempestry project and exhibit, which aims to visualize climate change. At the nexus of art and science, each Tempestry blends fiber art with climate data to create a yearly snapshot of temperature in a given location. (The project’s name is a portmanteau: “temperature” plus “tapestry” equals “Tempestry”.) 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)

The challenges when lesser known athletes speak out on societal issues

By Jake Meister
Medill Reports

Athletes are bringing candid and influential voices to social concerns as barriers denying them the opportunity to speak out vanish.

Within the past five years, players from multiple sports in addition to the big four (men’s basketball & hockey, football and baseball) are more willing to voice their stands on gender equality, movements including Black Lives Matter and police brutality.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a class-action lawsuit in pursuit of earning pay equal to their male counterparts last year and players in the WNBA protested in multiple demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter in 2016.

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Taxes make Chicago real estate hard to sell

By Jackson Elliott
Medill Reports

Chicago’s high real estate prices and the lack of buyers might indicate a housing market bubble, one real estate agent said.

Anthony Zammit, a 17-year industry veteran and the CEO of Lofty Real Estate, said that the slow market might be a sign of over-inflated real estate prices, especially given that half of Illinois residents want to leave the state, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. Continue reading

From China to the US: Tracking 14 days in exile

By Henry Ren
Medill Reports

Two days after Xu Wu retrieved his passport in Shanghai, the Silicon Valley software engineer boarded a plane to Cancún after a 21-hour overnight layover at Frankfurt Airport. It was Feb. 18, just over two weeks after the Trump administration barred the entry of foreign citizens who had visited mainland China in the 14 days prior to the travel ban.

On the same day, Mrs. Li, who asked we identify her by the last name only,  went to the U.S. Embassy in Barbados to renew her visa. The 30-year-old Chinese woman works in Miami. Yida Yao, a research assistant at the University of California, Berkeley, was anxiously waiting for his Thai visa to be issued. Steven Li, a visiting undergraduate student who now studies in Boston, asked multiple airline companies whether he could travel with a passport issued in Hubei, the center of the coronavirus outbreak.

Thousands of Chinese nationals who planned to travel to the U.S. for work or school were stuck in China due to the travel restriction and these four were among them. To circumvent the restriction, they would have to travel and stay in a third country for 14 days to qualify for entering the U.S

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Dance fitness studios across Chicago aim to empower with rhythm and exercise

By Michaela Schirra
Medill Reports

Dance means different things to different people.

For some, it’s pure expression and, for others, it’s simply a way to stay active. Now that dance has become a popular mode of exercise, studios across the Chicago area encourage participants to leave class feeling proud of themselves.

“I want them to feel accomplished,” Ashley Rockwood, owner of Free Mvmt Shop, said. “I want them to feel like they can do anything.”

While all studios want their patrons to leave feeling happy and energized, each instructor hopes to make an impact on their students’ lives. Here is a sampling of the studios that  inspire students daily.

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Meet Joe McKeown, who rebuilds programs by day and is the glue of his family by night

By Tony Garcia
Medill Reports

A casserole breakfast with assorted fruit on each of their laps, Joe McKeown, his wife Laura, and his daughters Meghan and Ally gathered around the television.

Laura poured over the handful of spreadsheets she’d created, breaking down every possible scenario as they watched the final Big Ten game of the season, trying to figure out what seed Northwestern would receive in the Big Ten Tournament.

“At first they all made fun of me for making these,” Laura joked. “But now whenever they want to know who plays who, or what would happen if a certain team won, guess who they come to?”

Most families aren’t so integrally involved in a parent’s job. But most families aren’t the McKeowns

This was less than 24 hours after McKeown stood on the court at Welsh-Ryan Arena with purple and white confetti cascading down on him. That was a 75-58 victory over Illinois on senior night as the Wildcats won the Big Ten Championship — the team’s first in 30 years.

McKeown is the architect of the team and coaching staff who made that possible, something he acknowledged as one of many crowning achievements in an illustrious career.

But even while taking in the sights and sounds of a championship 12 years in the making, embracing his assistant coaches, bear-hugging his players and pumping his fists in the air, he was scanning the crowd before he finally locked eyes on his target.

Laura, Meghan and Ally worked their way toward him as quickly as possible, eager to hug their favorite coach.

The next day at home, everybody dressed in Northwestern gear, the jovial atmosphere continued.

Even though the euphoric feeling following a championship hasn’t happened in a while in the McKeown household — none of the rest of the scene was out of the norm.

“This is what we do,” Joe said. “We watch basketball.”

‘A Family Affair’

Joe and Laura met in the mid-1980s at an Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State football game when Joe was an assistant coach for the Sooners’ women’s basketball team.

They soon married and in 1986 moved to New Mexico after Joe took the first head coaching job of his career at New Mexico State. Three seasons later, he’d turned the Aggies – previously a bottom-dweller in the High County Athletic Conference — into back-to-back champions of the league, earning two NCAA tournament berths in the process.

Correction. As Joe puts it, “we” turned the Aggies into a winner.

“It really is ‘we’,” Joe said. “Laura has done it all with me at every stop.”

In 1989, they agreed to move 2,000 miles east and take on another reclamation project closer to his hometown of Philadelphia, at George Washington University.

This was Joe’s fourth program in 11 years, dating back to his time at Kent State where he was an assistant. Not unusual for a high Division I coach. But three years later, the couple gave birth to their eldest child, Meghan, who quickly became part of the program and changed Joe’s perspective.

“When I was really little, I got to sit with the cheerleaders at the games and they would [throw] me,” Meghan recalled.

“The program had a little George Washington cheerleading outfit made for her and everything,” Laura said.

That’s when it became clear to Joe that he wouldn’t want to just bounce around from job to job even if a more prominent position came open. He wanted stability for his family.

The McKeowns enjoy brunch while watching the final Big Ten regular-season game of the year in their living room. (Tony Garcia/MEDILL)

“We loved GW,” Joe said. “We were very comfortable there…[My family] all got to be around the program, which was important to us. So I was pretty set.”

That family-work connection continued into the height of George Washington’s rise. From 1994-98, the Colonials made it to the second round or further in each NCAA tournament including a Sweet 16 and an Elite 8.

All the while, Meghan would attend games – both home and away. While some parents might question their child missing school, the McKeown’s felt it was a no-brainer.

“I had the mentality of Meghan can miss a day of school here and there in elementary school, it’s not tragic if she missed,” Laura said. “What she got out of the environment we were putting her in, the life experiences … where else would you want your children to be raised than around these great, fabulous athletes?

“So it’s always been a family affair with us.”

But in 1995, the McKeowns gave birth to their second child, Joey, who was diagnosed with a severe form of autism as a young boy, and their lives were turned upside down.

The next chapter

By the time Joey was 10, he’d been kicked out of multiple schools. He struggled to behave in a manner consistent with what was necessary in school and the McKeowns hadn’t found anywhere in the Greater D.C. area that could handle what they needed.

“We were dealing with lawyers and school districts and doctors,” Joe recalled. “Just not a lot of great things were happening for him. We were really struggling.”

The McKeown’s had seemingly exhausted every option. At one point in the mid-2000s they were so desperate they floated the idea of a plan to temporarily split the family, which now had a third child in the picture, Ally.

Laura found a school in Maryland that would accept Joey. So the plan was, Laura, Joey, Ally and Laura’s mother – who has lived with the McKeown’s the past 25 years and was Joey’s caretaker — would move there while Meghan stayed with Joe in D.C. and finished high school.

Around that time in the Spring of 2008, Northwestern had hired a new athletic director, Jim Phillips. He knew about McKeown’s pedigree and targeted him as a potential candidate for Northwestern’s opening.

“I came first by myself to see Northwestern,” Joe said. “Then [Phillips] brought out our family and we saw that we’d have what we needed here.”

A program that could help Joey. Excellent schools for Meghan and Ally. A supportive community for his family. And the word from Phillips that he would give Joe the time and resources to build the program in the way he felt was best.

And that was that.

McKeown left a team coming off back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. One that was set to return nearly its entire starting lineup including future WNBA player on the roster.

He gave up all that to take over a Northwestern program which hadn’t won more than eight games in nearly a decade. For so long, Joe didn’t want to move because he didn’t want to uproot his family. This was the ultimate Catch 22 – he felt he needed to move to help his family.

“We thought it was best for us,” Joe said he remembers thinking about why he took the position. “We’ve only lived two places in 31 years. A lot of people in this business go four or five places in that time.

“But I didn’t want us to have to move our family around … I’m proud of that.”

A slow climb

It was a slow climb to the top for the McKeowns and Northwestern.

The Wildcats finished 8th or lower in the conference in each of his first six years. However, there was improvement, finishing better than .500 overall in three of those seasons; something the program hadn’t done in a dozen years.

During that time Meghan had the ultimate chance to connect with her father, playing under him for four years and serving as a captain her senior year. She has seen both sides of her dad and said she loved that she got to play for him, but also appreciated his ability to keep them separate.

“He’s always left his work at work,” Meghan said. “And he’s always been present with us at home, so that’s been really great.”

The year after she graduated, in 2015, the Wildcats made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years. It felt as if the program was on an upward trajectory, but a plethora of factors slowed down growth the next few seasons.

Welsh-Ryan Arena underwent major renovations, so the women’s team had to play the 2017-18 season at Evanston High School. Not only did that throw the team off-balance, it made recruiting more difficult.

“We did our best to go on and keep everything as normal as possible, but the truth is that hurt us,” Joe said. “It disrupted all the momentum we had.”

Still, he was able to convince some of the best players in the country he had a vision for how to turn the program around.

“He knew that I wanted to be a part of something that could become great, I didn’t want to just do something easy,” said All-Big Ten guard Lindsay Pulliam. “He knew me since I was a little girl because my aunt worked at George Washington, so I knew he’d treat me right.”

“Joe told me he would treat my daughter like his second daughter,” he said in the bowels of Welsh-Ryan arena just moments after his daughter’s team was crowned Big Ten Champions. “He’s done exactly that.”

With the help of athletes like Pulliam, that once-lost momentum was recaptured this season.

Northwestern was expected to host an NCAA tournament game at the end of this month, a tournament that never happened after it was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Wildcats would have been the favorite to win their opening round game and had a genuine opportunity to make the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.

On top of that, Joe was named one of four National Coach of the Year finalists.

He was honored for the recognition and extremely proud of the success his team had this season, but those are secondary to what truly matters to him.

“I’ve had a great career… but the best part is that we do it with our whole family,” Joe said. “It’s special.”

Photo at top: Joe McKeown (gray suit, second from the right) and the Northwestern women’s basketball team pose with the Big Ten Championship trophy after defeating Illinois 75-58 on Feb. 29, 2020. It was the program’s first conference title in 30 years. Tony Garcia/MEDILL)

Tokyo can still reap benefits of hosting Olympics by modeling successes of London Games

By Sally Ehrmann
Medill Reports

With COVID-19 continuing to spread across the world, the legacy of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics could be the first canceled games due to a pandemic rather than war. If that happens, many wonder whether the estimated $29 billion price tag will have been worth it.

But looking at past successful games shows that economics may not be the only way to measure the success of hosting the Olympics. Eight years after London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games, for example, the city still reaps benefits from a complete transformation of a formerly blighted neighborhood.

“You can look to a qualitative or quantitative legacy. Quantitative, you can capture all that. Job creation, money generated,” said Charles Runcie, a former sports journalist with the BBC. “Then, you must count the qualitative stuff, the feel-good factor. Are more events coming here? Has the city benefited overall?”

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Private sector hops on COVID-19 testing as the nation lags behind

By Yun Hao
Medill Reports

After President Trump declared a national emergency Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of Roche Diagnostics, Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and some other private sector companies stood together behind the president, and each addressed their decisions of confronting the coronavirus collaboratively.

Normally you view us as competitors, but today we’re focused on a common competitor, and that’s defeating the spread of coronavirus,” said Brian Cornell, CEO of Target Corp., during the press conference held by the President. “We look forward to work with the administration to do our fair share to alleviate this growing threat.”

FDA also sped up its approval process for tests developed by commercial labs. Roche Diagnostics, a Swiss-based multinational healthcare company, was the first beneficiary, as the test method they developed was approved within only “a few hours” after they submitted their application. Dr. Deborah L. Birx, U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, said that this expedited process sets a “record time.” Continue reading Private sector hops on COVID-19 testing as the nation lags behind

Upcycling meets charity at Mount Sinai Resale Shop

By Briana Garrett
Medill Reports

After the hip hop song “Thrift Shop” hit the mainstream, the idea of thrifting and upcycling became edgy and avant garde, marking a shift in the paradigm surrounding eco-fashion and the demographic at local thrift stores.

Mount Sinai Resale Shop, 2902 N. Clark St., has a large stock of vintage furniture, clothes and linens and their items have seen new life because of their younger customer demographic. As 100% of Mount Sinai Resale Shop’s earnings benefit Mount Sinai Hospital, employees and volunteers say they are ecstatic about how their work also does the planet some good.

“It’s a fun job and you get to turn around and do projects for a hospital that helps people regardless of ability to have access to healthcare,” said Melissa Masek, president of the Mount Sinai Women’s Board and a resale shop volunteer. Continue reading