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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

Illinois Poet Laureate Shares Mission And Personal Story During Virtual Conversation

Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson.

The newest Illinois poet laureate shared her early years and upcoming goals for the position on Thursday in a virtual conversation. 

Angela Jackson interlaced poetry and dialogue during the “Understanding Our New World” live stream discussion with Paul Simon Public Policy Institute director John Shaw.

She talked about her early years in Illinois as well as the Chicago native who inspired her.   

“I had seen a film in high school of Gwendolyn Brooks,” she explained. “And I still remember first seeing her and thinking, ‘she's a Negro like me. She lives in Chicago like me,’ so I remember that made an impression upon me.” 

Jackson said Brooks used language in the same way Billie Holiday sang: "Every note meant something. Every word meant something."

Jackson said she plans to have her ambassador poet laureates go to schools, rehab centers, prisons, and other places. 

“And do short term residencies of two to five days," she explained. "And do communal poems or competitions, poetry slams -- whatever gets the people stirred up and fired up.”

Jackson said a book will be the result of whatever poems are created from this.  

She also mentioned that inaugural poet Amanda Gorman’s performance brought more attention to poetry.

Jackson stated that the nightmare of the pandemic stifled her desire to write and she only wrote a few poems. She said she couldn’t articulate much about the disease.

“The only thing I could say about COVID was, ‘Something so small, we cannot see, brought the world to its knees.’ And I couldn't say anything else. Yes, is too much,” she shared.

Jackson is suggesting that poetry is here to keep us alive and to clarify things when they are murky.  

She was appointed the fifth poet laureate of Illinois last November. This discussion between Jackson and Shaw can be found on the institute’s YouTube channel later this week.  

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.