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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.

Chicago Music Award Nominee Shares His Evolution With Hopes Of Inspiring Others

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Dwarf Planet Media
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Dantès Alexander "

A northern Illinois musician wants to use their story to inspire other LGBTQ individuals who are still dealing with acceptance and self-love.   

Some may refer to Dantès Alexander as an electronic dance music artist, but this creative explained that they’re more colorful than that. They brew music that they said represents their culture.  

“Nevermind what type of music I make, I'm still Black,” Alexander said. “And I love Missy Elliott and Missy Elliott is just groundbreaking and I always write things, right? So, I write lyrically and I write musically.” 

Alexander said when they write they break the rules and try not to confine their craft. The multi-genre musician has gained a lot of notoriety in the past few years. They were recently nominated for Best EDM Entertainer for Chicago Music Awards and was a featured presenter for the Best African Entertainer Award. 

They dropped their first EP “New Jack City” on June 4. The release included a video game with the same name.   

“It is embracing all of the grit that is who I am. But also all of the positive things that I am,” Alexander added. “You know, Chicago is a rough place. I hear police sirens, often I hear gunshots. I've seen people get shot right on my block.” 

Dantès Alexander listening to his new EP at an Orland Park, Illinois music studio.
Credit Yvonne Boose

Last year a few of Alexander’s singles gained popularity on several online music platforms. 

“‘So Below’ is almost close to 2 million streams on Spotify. The ‘Killer’ remix is like 20,000 ‘Killer’ I think is like 300,000 What else am I missing? ‘Tick Tock (Beat Don’t Stop)’ I think is it like 55,000,” Alexander said. “So, total to date actually -- I think we're close to about 3 million streams total between all of the tracks.” 

But this successful artist didn’t always feel like they were rising to the top.  

They lived with their grandmother in DeKalb sporadically as a child, but most of their time was spent as a ward of the state.   

And at the same time, they started to become aware of their identity. They said they knew around 7 or 8 years old that they weren’t into the things that most boys were into.    

“I have a lot of memories from that period in my life from,” Alexander explained, “you know, running around the house and nice long pink shirts listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber and the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’ and singing all of these things.” 

Alexander said when they were 13 years old two things happened. They got their first computer and started writing, but they also started to experiment with ways to show themselves, which they recalled was a scary moment for them.  

“I just wanted to present myself,” Alexander shared, “in the same fashion that I saw, the Egyptians present themselves and the Chinese men present themselves and the Japanese men present themselves.” 

As time went on the struggle to be themselves became harder and harder. Alexander said they liked to dye their hair and dress very different from other boys. They remembered being in high school around the mid-2000s.  

“I even had a kid chasing me home from school. Riding the bus to school was horrible,” Alexander recalled. “I got teased and picked on a lot. But in the end, I overcame all of those things.” 

At one point Alexander reached out to a pastor for help. They said they were not given the support that they hoped for.  

Alexander struggled with thoughts of suicide and ended up in a mental institution. A nun at the institution helped them begin their healing process. 

Alexander accepts their place in the LGBTQ community as being nonbinary.  

“My feelings of being attracted to the same sex or what have you,” Alexander said, “that maybe you know, that's fine. But I have made the choice to not cater to either sex. I will acknowledge both, but I don't choose to mingle with either.”  

Although Alexander is exceling in their artistry, they aren’t stopping there. They’re a cofounder of the company Dwarf Planet Media. They described the company as Motown Records meeting Skywalker Sound. 

“We will not only develop our own games for market, we will develop games for other clients for market,” they shared. “We will do sound editing for movie trailers. We will do art design for movie trailers. Dwarf Planet Media will be a one stop shop for everything.”    

Alexander is suggesting that individuals take their pain and grow from it. This artist credited music and writing for most of their own mending and they hope sharing their story gives others in the LGBTQ community the courage to be who they are.   

  • 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.