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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.

Aurora Artist Advocates For Voter Registration

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https://www.facebook.com/tyler.waldrop.16
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A northern Illinois artist is partnering with a women’s voter organization to ensure that people are casting their ballots for the 2020 Election -- especially younger people.  

Tyler Waldrop -- also known as STLTHART -- has lived in Aurora all his life. He started drawing as a teenager. From there he started doing T-shirts and canvas arts. He shared that through his art, he’s met many people and found himself talking with them about change. But, he said, nothing was ever done. Waldrop said this prompted him to do research on building equity in the community. Then he reached out to people who he’s talked with about volunteering and mentoring.  

“And I just said, ‘Hey, let's have a meeting,’" he shared. "And we had a meeting right outside of Aurora City Hall. And there's probably 20 of us."

He said about half of those present decided to help with voter registration.  

They created a group called GoVote500. The name refers to its goal: to register 500 people. So far, the count is less than five percent of that. But Waldrop said this group is hoping to change the culture in Aurora.  

“And especially in the black and brown communities, there's really no culture of community and people coming together to fix problems as a group,” he explained. “So, this is just like the first step in getting a group of people moving in one direction.” 

Waldrop’s group is working with the League of Women Voters.

Denise Elsbree is the vice president of the League in the Aurora area. She said she found out about Waldrop and his group through a community organizer. She said the nonpartisan womens voters' group emailed him and became a part of his efforts. 

Elsbree explained that the League particularly wants to reach out to young voters, because COVID-19 has prevented them from going to the schools. 

“For instance, like last year, we were able to go to a number of the high schools to register voters,” she said. “And actually, we registered like over 500 voters last year from like, August to March.” 

Elsbree said the League is educating potential voters by showing them how to fill out the vote by mail application and giving them information about their county clerk. 

She said the organization is also reminding people about the Fair Tax Amendment that will be on this year’s ballot.  

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Credit Yvonne Boose
Denise Elsbree and Donna Zine, of the League of Women Voters, sitting in front of Tredwell Coffee.

Waldrop said that voting for president is great, but he is encouraging everyone to remember that voting for local officials is imperative.  

“The president can't do anything without the Senate's approval, and we elect the senators," he said. "And in some of these districts, these people that are holding offices, it's a lock in,” he suggested, "Because people don't get out there. People don't challenge anything. People don't send them emails. People don't show up to city council meetings."

Waldrop said that when individuals come by to register, he gives them a pamphlet that explains who will be on the ballot. It includes senators, school board seats and other parts of government that he said people need to learn about.  

Chad Dawes is the owner of Tredwell Coffee, 14 W. Downer Pl., in downtown Aurora. This is where the drives are taking place. He agreed with Waldrop about local elections. He said the local officials will drive policy change, which will impact how cities are run.

Dawes indicated that he is passionate about people using their voice by voting. 

"Personally for me," he said, "I love the thought that we can just change almost the whole destiny or of our nation, just in a single vote."

Waldrop indicated that making things better comes from a simple place.  

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Credit Photo provided by Tyler Waldrop.
Tyler Waldrop attending a protest in Aurora after the death of George Floyd.

“And real change starts on your street, in your house," he said. "You know, you can't fix anything else until you fix your house, until you fix your street, until you fix your community."

Waldrop said people must be active -- and a tweet or a Facebook post isn’t going to suffice. He said people can empower their communities by getting out there and building relationships. He said once that happens, the community will feel more comfortable with challenging elected officials.  

Waldrop is also pushing for people to fill out the 2020 census. And he revealed that he wants to mentor young children. He said he has thousands of experiences and he would like to share them with the youth. Waldrop explained that he wants the younger generation to take a close look at laws and realize how those rules impact them.  

One way or another, Waldrop said, he will continue to strive for change in the community.  

  • Yvonne Boose is a 2020 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.