Tag Archives: Chicago

The Silver Van: How one local organization is fighting the opioid crisis

By Kaisha Young
Medill Reports

In recent years, opioid-related deaths have spiked nationwide. Since 2001, the Chicago Recovery Alliance has been working to combat the opioid crisis by utilizing a harm reduction approach with users across the city.

Photo at top: The Chicago Recovery Alliance van is parked at an outreach location. (Kaisha Young/MEDILL)

Recovery Behind Bars: Cook County Jail’s Opioid Treatment Program

By Paige Tortorelli
Medill Reports

Every year, 5,000 detainees in Chicago’s Cook County Jail are treated for an opioid addiction. With such a large portion of its population using opioids, effective treatment has been a priority for this jail.

Much debate has arisen in the past few years about medical-assisted treatment in jail. In jails where this treatment is offered, detainees are usually given a medication called suboxone, which is a prescription narcotic that reduces opioid cravings. But the medication is very controversial. Suboxone itself is an opioid, so many people believe it replaces one addiction with another. Advocates say that it helps users stay clean both during and after their time in jail.

Fewer than one percent of U.S. jails offer opioid users medical-assisted treatment like suboxone, but Cook County Jail is in that one percent. Find out how treatment in this jail is creating more opportunities for detainees to stay opioid-free once they are released.

Photo at top: Looking into Cook County Jail from the wire fence. (Paige Totorelli/MEDILL)

Out, but not in: Examining barriers to reentry

By Kaisha Young

Medill Reports

Approximately 11,000 people are released from Illinois prisons each year. In this edition of Medill Newsmakers, we take a look at the challenges returning citizens face when trying to reenter society.

Photo at top: A man walks on the sidewalk outside Cook County Jail. (Kaisha Young/MEDILL)

Family in Football: the story of Edgewater Castle FC

By Drake Hills
Medill Reports

Soccer in Chicago has a new team. With the lack of soccer clubs in the city, many youth players and aspiring professionals seek the suburban neighborhoods to better their skills and play for nationally-recognized clubs. Not only that, the pay-to-play model has left thousands of potential stars in the shadows as the wealthy represent the local grassroots soccer community.

Edgewater Castle FC is committed to changing both, the locale and financial restrictions to include the heavily diverse neighborhoods it represents and the underrepresented players that live within them. Based in Edgewater, Uptown and Rogers Park, general manager and founder Andrew Swanson has teamed up with director of soccer operations James Kitia and head coach Wojtek Piotrowski to ensure collegiate and professional opportunity for all.

Photo at top: Edgewater Castle FC sideline (Drake Hills/MEDILL)

Glencoe-native transfers home to play tennis for Northwestern

By Neel Madhavan
Medill Reports

When she was 8-years old, Carol Finke played her first tennis tournament in an event hosted by Northwestern University. Since then, she’s dreamed of playing for the Wildcats.

The Glencoe-native caught the eye of Northwestern women’s tennis head coach Claire Pollard at a young age.

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Traffic never jams at Chicago’s busiest internet intersection

By Tyler Sonnemaker
Medill Reports

Remember when you used to order DVDs from Netflix and discs would arrive within a week or two? When you added a movie to your queue, Netflix would locate a physical copy in one of its distribution centers, load the DVD on a truck and then ship it to your house in a signature red envelope.

Most people stream movies now, but that data still gets delivered to your device from somewhere else. It has a physical address, and that address might not be as far away as you think. Continue reading

Misdemeanor court tackles fast-paced flow of cases

By Chris Schulz
Medill Reports

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Robert Kuzas considered 88 misdemeanor cases over the course of two hours at a recent 9 a.m. hearing. That is considered a moderately slow session in Branch 43, as the county’s misdemeanor court at 3150 W. Flournoy St. is known. Two more sessions filled that day with 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. court calls.

“Efficiency is the priority in most courtrooms,” said Joy Tull, one of the public defenders working at Branch 43.

To get through all those cases in the time allotted, the courtroom runs like a well-oiled machine. Assistant state’s attorneys and prosecutors stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the judge’s bench and consider case after case.

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“More than coaches” – A Chicago West Side high school is turning players into men

By Chris Cadeau
Medill Reports

He knows violent gangs offer his West Side players a pass as they trek through bullet-riddled cityscape hauling their football pads to and from practice, while they dream of a life outside of Chicago.

D’Angelo Dereef and his coaching staff at Al Raby high school on the city’s West Side are more than coaches. Their players say their leadership means everything to their chances of educational and life success. The program’s impact has resulted in scholar athletes going to college and top talent drafted into the NFL.

Senior, NIU commit, Romel Goston lining up on offense. (Chris Cadeau / Medill Reports)

“Some kids don’t even have a choice,” said senior cornerback Romel Goston. “For most, we’re the man of the house at 16 [years old]. We don’t have a father figure or role model at home. So, we come here for three to four hours [a day], and this is the only time we get grown men telling us, ‘Do this right. Do that right. No backtalk.’ Teaching us respect.”

Dereef, coach at Al Raby since 2004, believes if his program builds successful young men first, the product on the field will take care of itself.

“I want them to see that they can be different,” Dereef said. “They don’t have to [stay in Chicago]. They don’t have to be on the block. They can get a degree.”

Al Raby wide receiver goes deep. (Chris Cadeau / Medill Reports)

In 2018, Al Raby’s staff watched proudly as one of their own not only played for and graduated from the University of Indiana, but also was selected in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

“That’s where it all started for me, and I don’t know where I’d be without Al Raby,” said Dallas Cowboys linebacker, Chris Covington. “They were like brothers – fathers – everything they could be to me – and I appreciate every man that’s at Al Raby because they’ve impacted me in such a positive way.”

In 2017, Dereef marched his program to a 12-2 record and to its first state semi-final appearance. More impressive though, 68 college recruiters came to visit Al Raby players that year, the coach said, and seven out of 11 seniors signed college intent letters to play football.

As many as 11 of 17 of Al Raby seniors this past 2018 season will go to college to play football on some level, with two commitments to Division I programs already despite a down year at 5-6, said Dereef.

Al Raby football ‘breaks down’ practice. (Chris Cadeau / Medill Reports)

What makes this even more impressive is that less than 400 students are enrolled at Al Raby, and the team only fields an average of 24 to 30 players each season. The average Chicago Public Schools high school has an enrollment of almost 900 students, according to the CPS website.

“I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for Al Raby,” Covington said.

Al Raby players doing pushups because they failed to execute a play correctly. (Chris Cadeau / Medill Reports)

This scholastic and athletic feat is accomplished with “unwavering discipline,” players explained. Not just the hard stuff, either, but discipline coupled with love, acceptance and consistency according to Dereef.

Each player is expected to achieve a point total derived from off-season program participation like weights, team meetings and academic requirements. Failure to do so means a player does not dress in the fall.

The team also can’t afford to go to spring and summer camps, so the coaches bring the experience to them. Every training camp starts with the “lock in.” The team spends a week sealed inside the school, living in the gymnasium, bonding together and earning the final points needed to make the team.

“The lock in is where we become family,” Goston said. “It’s here we share all our life struggles and bond, become brothers.”

Dereef also has a special eye on academics to help ensure his team is achieving his expectations.

“[Players] know I’m also the dean of students, so they can’t get away with trouble,” Dereef said. “I push grades and attendance. I check every Sunday. So if [they] follow that little blue print and [they’re] a halfway decent athlete, [they’re] going to school.”

Defensive coordinator Jordan Dornbush (left) and Head Coach D’Angelo Dereef (right) look on as team practices. (Chris Cadeau / Medill Reports)

Part of the success is also attributed to the partnership and consistent presence of its coaching staff, especially from one former Wheaton College football player who adds experience coupled with ministry, said Dereef.

Jordan Dornbush, defensive coordinator and the West Side’s representative for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is in his fourth season volunteering at Al Raby. His dedication is enormous for a student population who expect men to come and go in their lives, according to Dereef.

“As you start to get close to these kids, you start hearing what they go through on a daily basis,” said Dornbush. “Most of them don’t have any male figure in their life that’s doing right. So, we’re coaches, teachers and mentors to them in school, and then like father figures after [school] to teach them things like how to cook and change a tire. Things they’d never learn from anybody else.”

The consistent presence of male role models inside the football program, to include some of its players, can be unusual for the area in which it operates, according to Dereef.

“I try to talk to them about stuff they don’t see everyday– happily married, not cheating on the wife, fearing God and putting people of different races into their lives,” Dereef said.

Students described their community as less fortunate and overlooked, but assure their situation gives them hope.

Senior, scholar athlete, Dontay Givens (4.6 GPA) talks strategy with Coach Dereef during fall practice. (Chris Cadeau / Medill Reports)

“It’s not just this narrative, it’s the truth,” said senior defensive back Dontay Givens. “When you put a bunch of people in a community with lack of education, lack of economics and no jobs, what do you expect to happen? You’re going to create the ‘have’ and ‘have-not’s’ You’re either going to use drugs, sell drugs or [make] music to ease the pain – and us that turn to sports, we get this gateway.”

Dereef and his staff are proud to be paving that road to success and breaking down misconceptions.

“They said it couldn’t be done on the West Side,” Dereef said. “You just have to make them believe. My number one goal is that these kids have an opportunity to get out of Chicago and see something different.”

Photo at top: Al Raby football helmet (Chris Cadeau/MEDILL)

ComEd’s green energy innovation is partnering with historic Bronzeville

By Jillian Melero
Medill Reports

Bronzeville, the South Side home of Chicago’s Black Renaissance and the birthplace of Black History Month, hopes to launch its next Golden Age with support from a smart microgrid being installed by utility ComEd. The microgrid will tap green energy to help power the community.

Once completed in 2019, the grid will have a load, or active consumption capacity of 7 megawatts, installed over two phases with the energy generated from its own resources including solar panels.

That’s enough generating capacity for the grid to serve approximately 1,060 residential, commercial, and industrial customers. Previous microgrids have served military bases or hospitals and the Illinois Institute of Technology operates on one as well. But the Bronzeville and IIT microgrid cluster will be the first of its kind to serve a community within a metropolitan area, giving the community a more resilient power grid to help withstand outages.

Representatives from ComEd, the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Siemens Digital Grid North America met Dec. 4, to discuss the microgrid coming to Bronzeville.

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Partnership between ComEd and Bronzeville creates new opportunities on the South Side

by Jillian Melero
Medill Reports

Paula Robinson has been president of Bronzeville’s Community Development Partnership, a neighborhood advisory group, for 29 years. She co-founded the Urban Innovation Center, a business incubator focused on tourism, technology, and transportation, with Bruce Montgomery in 2006.

Between her roles in community development and technology innovation, Robinson has been a key figure, advising on pilot projects that utility company ComEd is launching in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. The Community of the Future initiative is integrating smart city data collection, monitoring, and response technology throughout Bronzeville. And ComEd is installing a new microgrid, a community-based power grid, that will give the area more energy flexibility and security, providing opportunities to collect, store and transmit solar and wind energy.

Medill Reports spoke with Robinson about the community’s awareness of these initiatives, the opportunities they may offer, and how they are being received. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Paula Robinson addresses visitors at Bronzeville’s recent microgrid showcase and job fair, sponsored by ComEd, and held on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology. (courtesy of ComEd)

Q: As far as the microgrid, is there an awareness in the community that this project is happening?

A: There’s an awareness on a variety of different levels. We have a whole effort around education and community engagement. And so, that engagement is showing through this advisory group meeting. I don’t even know how many people are on that team, it’s probably about 25-50 people, and they are very much the ambassadors and oversee this with community interest.

So, this is one example of outreach, where these meetings happen throughout the community. It’s community-based, education, faith-based, leadership, all the folks are involved and able to integrate their ideas and their self-interest.

There’s kind of a collaborative self-interest that’s going on here, and that’s a lot to navigate. In my capacity with the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership, I’m a part of that advisory group, but I’m also a consultant. Sometimes I might even be at the meeting trying to see what’s in it for my church.

Q: – You just got out of a meeting before this interview?

A: Yes, our advisory group meeting for “Bronzeville, Community of the Future” was well attended. It was held over at my community church, Quinn Chapel, which is a very historic church here in Bronzeville. It’s Chicago’s oldest African American church. It was built before the city was incorporated.

Our pastor comes and attends those meetings. He’s making sure that that’s coming back to his congregation, and all of the other networks that he’s also involved in.

We have another pastor, for example, that’s also the president for the local school council. So, there’s never a meeting that is gonna go by that he’s not going to say, ‘What else can we do for young people, or youth, or STEM or STEAM?’ So that’s happening.

Q: It seems like there’s a lot of community involvement on the front end and some cutting-edge initiatives involved in all of this.

A: Absolutely. And that’s probably where ComEd gets a lot of engagement as well as grief from my organization because we are in some new territory. We are looking at opportunities where the community, beyond advising, can also be innovators. Where we’re co-creating in this new space as well.

This whole net-zero economy is very new. In this area of smart tech and sustainability, so many of the jobs that are going to be created don’t even have names yet. So as we are trying to do more to involve our schools and [initiate] programs for STEM and STEAM, we also have to recognize that many of these new opportunities have yet to be developed.

Q: What are some of these science, technology, engineering, and math initiatives?

A: We have something going on at one of our local high schools that’s called the Dunbar Energy Academy. We just kicked this off. This is brand new, it just started in September, and we have 23 freshmen students that are participating in this energy academy.

This is where we are developing and piloting a whole new curriculum.

The teachers had to attend workshops and conferences Dunbar has identified a number of industry speakers who are addressing these students. We’ve been going on field trips. The students that are involved are really excited, and I’m excited because a very nice number of these students are young African American girls who, you know, think this is great and fun, and they’re excited about it.

“This is creating that net-zero tech talent pipeline. It’s not about saying, ‘Well, how are you going to do this? Are the teachers trained? How can you start with a group of students and then they can integrate into their curriculum places?’ — we stepped right in. We started.” Paula Robinson

Something we’re doing again that we tried for the first time last year was really successful. We call it an Ideathon. Basically, we’re looking for mentors to work with all of the high schools involved in Bronzeville.

Initially, ComEd said, ‘We’ve got X number of science and math schools that might be interested in this type of Ideathon,’ but the community said ‘No, we want it to be in all the schools.’ This is another area where the community has to push. There were over 12 high schools present, so all of the high schools were involved.

The winners from last year ended up being from [King College Prep High School]. King has a strong curriculum in these basic math and science curriculum, but it’s not necessarily a specific tech or STEM school. So, I think that proves the point too, they won, they had never done anything like that. Really did not necessarily have any exposure to it, beyond this.

They also had to learn how to really do a pitch. And so, their skills, of being able to stand up, communicate, answer questions, communicate their whole project in the same way that you see professionals do it at these pitch contests — they were so excellent in their presentation. But it was really a sidebar of them being introduced to the science, to trying something new, saying now they think even want to look at these kinds of careers.

Q: What are some of the other components of this initiative that people can benefit from?

A: The city is doing smart lights. They’re on these polls that have a little solar panel and wind turbine as well [to power them]. And we began testing some of these around State Street off the IIT campus and some other housing developments and all kinds of data sets to make decisions on where these smart lights, with wind and solar can go. Then we realize, we can also add some sensors, for environmental and health data. Our community, we are dealing with issues like asthma. Recently someone was telling me, ‘Look, we had to move out of the city because my kids’ asthma does so much better in the suburbs.’ And I certainly know people who have asthma, but I hadn’t thought about that.

And then, as much work as we have done on the data set, figuring out where to place these polls or for testing, something that came up in terms of the deployment, is that we realized, ‘Oh, we’re doing this and we see this sign and this is actually one of the walking paths for school safe zones.’ So where we’re putting these polls that have wind and sensors and all of this is also along a [Chicago Public School] safety zone.

I think that now, the community is starting to recognize how all of these things can integrate and becoming more interested in the data collection and results for other uses. Yet to be determined in some cases.

Q: From the community’s perspective, is there a perception that the microgrid, or smart grid, or clean energy is going to lower their bills or raise their bills?

A: I would say, in honesty, what people probably understand the best, and not just from ComEd, but from a variety of things, is that  solar as a backup source and potentially [for energy] savings, a cheaper source. They get that.

When we say, “Oh, they’re deploying the microgrid.” It’s like, well where is it? Is it in the ground? Where is the controller switch? What does this ‘resilience’ mean?’ What people can see, is solar panels on roofs, people having jobs to install panels, understanding solar as clean energy.

The broad majority has an expectation from the standpoint of solar energy, that whole sense of this is something that’s an investment that’s going to, make available a clean, renewable energy source, I think that that is really our strongest point of entry.

Q: What do you think ComEd’s responsibility is to the community and how can they meet that responsibility?

A: As a public utility, I think that they are meeting that responsibility and I think that they are doing something that we don’t necessarily — I didn’t have an appreciation for what they were doing until I attended a microgrid conference.

I went to the microgrid knowledge conference, this year out in Rosemont. I was on a panel talking about the Bronzeville microgrid, and a number of people came up and said, ‘We are really watching this, you know, this is so unusual for a utility company to be doing this.’ And I don’t think that I had an appreciation for that. It wasn’t until several people, and I sat in on some other panels, that I had an appreciation that this really hasn’t been done this way. Not only is this Department of Energy contract for having a clustered microgrid new, the fact that a utility company is focusing in on this pioneering aspect is different as well.

I’m in a session with, [National Renewable Energy Laboratory] NREL, and they throw up this map of all the microgrids around the country. And on the map, I would say there was like eight of them. There’s only eight microgrids? I’m thinking, ‘That can’t be right.’

From Microgrid Cost Study: Data Collection and Analysis of Microgrid Costs in the United States. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NREL/TP-5D00-67821. Oct. 2018

They’re like, “Well, there may be some energy [storage sites, some research sites.] But there’s two full microgrids in Illinois and this is one of them.” I’m thinking there’s hundreds of microgrids. But again, we’re in Bronzeville, we’re in between two major research universities. IIT [Illinois Institute of Technology] has had a microgrid. We have a Bronzeville sustainability tour, which showcases the IIT microgrid, and smart homes. So sometimes you don’t have an appreciation for it.

“I didn’t see it as all that until I got to the microgrid conference, and people outside of Chicago started making me appreciate how closely they were watching this to make a case. It’s a case study in itself, not just being the nation’s first clustered microgrid, but that a utility company is saying, ‘Yeah, this is for off-the-grid strategies, and yes, we’re investing in that.’” Paula Robinson

So I think that what is happening that we’re not appreciating, is that is not necessarily a utility’s responsibility. It’s not legislated or mandated, ComEd is seeing the future, saying ‘Hey, here is our responsibility as a public utility company, to be a part of innovating these alternatives and to educate, and engage the public.’ So, I think, in fairness, that ComEd has gone above and beyond.

For more information on the organizations and initiatives mentioned visit:
Bronzeville Community Development Partnership
Dunbar Vocational Career Academy
ComEd Ideathon

Photo at top: Ashton Mitchell and Breshaiya Kelly of King College Preparatory High School showcase their winning innovation at ComEd’s 2017 Ideathon. (Courtesy ComEd)