Report for America

Vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway in Illinois, but not everyone is eager to take the shot. A recent virtual town hall meeting answered questions and tackled concerns for the Black community.

“Making It Plain: What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines” was moderated by health experts, faith leaders and several organizations. The event was hosted by the Black Coalition Against COVID-19. 

Some may ask why a conversation was needed specifically for the Black community. 

GreenRoom Improv

Comedy provides joy and healing for some people. A northern Illinois entertainment group is keeping the waves of laughter rolling by adapting to the times.   

The GreenRoom Improv has figured out a way to include its virtual audience in their shows.  

David Hunter is the director of the organization. He said it's important to connect with the public, especially during this time. 

Fermina Ponce.

Welcome to this week's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week features one of Aurora's deputy poet laureates, Fermina Ponce.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A federation of Illinois labor unions says closing the Byron and Dresden nuclear stations would devastate workers and communities in the state.




An updated report issued by the Brattle Group for the Illinois AFL-CIO says the closures would cost the region thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. Pat Devaney is the treasurer for the organization.

Your education doesn’t have to stop when you graduate. The Lifelong Learning Institute at Northern Illinois University has upcoming online sessions for those who have an appetite for knowledge.

Jason Klein, the director of P-20 initiatives at NIU, said that absorbing knowledge keeps us young.

Many musicians lost out on live performance gigs due to COVID-19 but one northern Illinois artist found ways to keep the music playing for herself -- and others.

Under pandemic restrictions, folk and jazz musician Robinlee Garber’s paid gigs turned into non-monetary internet shows. 

Susan Schubert

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week's segment features poet Susan Schubert.

Schubert is a member of A-Town Poetics in Aurora. She is a published author with two memoirs available on Amazon. They are “The Way I Remember It: A Memoir of a Trip to Europe 1971” and “My Place of Dreams: A Love Story.”

Schubert has won accolades for her short stories and photographs.

Staff at Pine Acres Rehabilitation & Living Center

Illinois nursing home residents are restricted from having visitors because of COVID-19 but volunteers from Northern Illinois University found other ways to engage with seniors at one local center.

Dementia residents of DeKalb’s Pine Acres Rehabilitation & Living Center were used to interacting with NIU students before the pandemic. One way they did this was through the Music and Memory program.  

Connie Kuntz

An Illinois state agency announced the 2021 theme for its 34th annual Poster, Poetry and Prose contest.

Kristi Morris is the environmental education coordinator for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. She explained the topic for its upcoming contest.  

“The theme is 'Fight Food Waste: Our Environment Can't Be Replaced,'” Morris said. “And it is based off our new curriculum units that we just partnered with the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.” 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Some Rockford residents think it’s not too late to stop the Rockford Public Library from closing the books on two west side branches. 


A campaign to save the Rock River and Rockton Centre library branches from permanent closure is underway. Bill Rose, a Rockford alderman, said that closing the branches doesn’t solve the libraries long term financial problems. 

“We know COVID is gonna impact us but we can't be a top community when we're closing libraries,” Rose said.



If you are an Illinois resident worried about a possible eviction, a nonprofit group of attorneys has some free legal advice.



Prairie State Legal Services provides free legal services to people with low income and those over the age of 60 in northern and central Illinois. Marisa Wiesman, with the organization, wants to clear up any misconceptions about the pandemic eviction moratorium.  


First, there’s a reason the moratorium is renewed every month and it’s unclear how long it will last. 

Connie Kuntz

Welcome to this week's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. This week's episode features Christopher D. Sims. 

Sims is from the West Side of Rockford and first shared his poetic gifts onstage at Haskell Elementary School thanks to Dorothy Paige-Turner. 

Rooted in Black joy and celebration, his poems wind through the landscapes of this country's past and present. He hopes they will inform, engage and entertain. Sims, who originally wrote rap and hip-hop lyrics, said his poetry has a bebop cadence.

Here’s his poem "Kwanzaa."

Yvonne Boose

Each year on winter solstice, the Northern Illinois Homeless Coalition remembers the homeless men and women in the area who died during the year. Despite the pandemic, that was still true in 2020. 

Passing cars blew their horns as 25 chairs stood empty at Rockford’s Davis Park. The chairs displayed pictures and names representing the 25 people who died. One of them passed in December of 2019 after the memorial.  Last year’s memorial number was 46.    

Sarah Jesmer

An Illinois congressman recently introduced legislation to help keep two nuclear power plants in his district from closing. 



Power company Exelon announced last summer that it plans to close its Byron and Dresden Generating Stations in 2021. But 16th District Representative Adam Kinzinger said Illinois -- and the country -- get a significant amount of electricity from nuclear.

Connie Kuntz

This summer civil unrest peaked across the country and police relations were at the core of the controversy. A northern Illinois women’s empowerment organization is offering a training that could help Boone and Winnebago County law enforcement understand their communities better.

Yvonne Boose

A Rockford art gallery’s new exhibition is in full motion this holiday season.

The Kortman Gallery's “Balance: the Art of the Mobile” exhibit features pieces by eight mixed-media artists. Doc Slafkosky, director of the gallery located in the J.R. Kortman Center for Design, said he met two out-of-state artists at a trade show in New York one year and he wanted them to do something at the gallery.

Latrice Murphy Design and Photography

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. This week features Aurora's poet laureate Karen Fullett-Christensen.

Fullett-Christensen has been writing poetry and memory stories since high school, and credits two of her English teachers, Mr. Vespo and Mr. Brown, for their encouragement and support. She has self-published over 20 manuscripts. Her poems and creative non-fiction have appeared in a variety of print and online publications, and are available at no cost to anyone who requests copies.

Rock Valley College ATC Financing Approved

Dec 16, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rock Valley College Board of Trustees approved an increase in the budget for its new Belvidere campus amid opposition from several Rockford community leaders. 



DeKalb City Council Approves Hunter Properties Taxing Zone

Dec 15, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

In DeKalb, the City Council approved a controversial taxing zone to pay for added security at Hunter Properties.

The new Special Service Area in DeKalb would mean that Hunter Properties would pay additional property taxes to foot the bill for security improvements near the Annie Glidden North neighborhood. Some community members, like Sasha Cohen, think the new designation shifts financial burden from Hunter properties to its tenants.

The pandemic postponed many festivals across the state. But one group of northern Illinois folk festival organizers found a way to give back to its past artists. 

The Woodstock Folk Festival is a one-day summer event that started in 1986. It normally takes place on the third Sunday in July but not this year.

Carol Obertubbesing is the president and secretary of the festival. She said Woodstock Wednesdays, a weekly video performance, gives some musicians and storytellers a platform to showcase their talents.

Women are in spaces that were traditionally filled by men. This includes the clergy for some religions. A few northern Illinois female faith leaders shared what it’s like for them to be in a position that some reserve for their male counterparts.

Violet Johnicker is the pastor of Brooke Road United Methodist Church in Rockford. Johnicker said her father was excited about and supported her to decision to be a minister and her mother understood the life because she herself was a preacher’s kid.  

Going Nuclear: Byron Fights To Save Its Power Plant

Dec 10, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

At the end of August, Ashley McGarry heard the news that Exelon Generation planned to retire the Byron Generating Station, the nuclear power plant about 90 minutes west of Chicago. But it wasn't exactly "news" to McGarry; she’s from Byron, and for her it’s more of a headline that gets recycled every few years.

Most vending machines disperse snacks or maybe a cup of coffee but a northern Illinois performing arts center is taking it up a notch for its fundraiser.

The West Side Show Room in Rockford is introducing the Elf-O-Matic vending machine. Mike Werckle, the artistic director, said the original idea was to have people purchase online gifts and pick them up from the Christmas vending machine. 

Rockford City Council Approves $168 Million Budget

Dec 9, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford City Council approved a $168 million budget for 2021 amid an economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carrie Hagerty is the finance director with the City of Rockford. She said that the goal for the new budget is to weather the ongoing financial pressure of the pandemic.

“We don't anticipate any changes in staffing levels in this budget. So we're really just maintaining the levels of service that we are providing today, through the 2021 budget,” said Hagerty.

A northern Illinois art museum is following up Saturday morning cartoons with afternoon caricature fun.

The Rockford Art Museum has a youth Cartoon Club. Jaymee Fedor is the education and engagement manager at the museum. She said she recently moved back to Rockford from Philadelphia, where she had a community of children who attended her drawing workshops at the library where she taught.

This year has been difficult due to COVID-19, but some Rockford organizations are urging residents to show their brighter side this holiday season.  

The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, along with the City of Rockford and ComEd, are co-sponsoring #Decorate815. This challenges Rockford residents to decorate their homes and yards.

Illinois is under a Tier 3 Mitigation strategy in efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Indoor gatherings that don’t include those from the same household are prohibited. One northern Illinois museum isn’t letting this stop their show.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the rise in COVID-19 related deaths in Rockford, local officials are turning to alternative cold storage options for the recently deceased.

Earlier this week, WREX reported that the Winnebago County Board was considering leasing a refrigerated truck to accommodate potential overflow of COVID-19 related remains.

Angela Fellars is a representative-elect for the Winnebago County Board and she said the new cold storage truck is already in Rockford and ready for use.

New Report: Major Windfall For ComEd At Expense Of Customers

Dec 2, 2020

According to  new report out this week shows ComEd is enjoying record profits while its customers pay higher electricity delivery rates than they should be.

The report by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG),  show that the 2011 Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (EIMA) is at the center of ComEd’s "profit machine." 

Yvonne Boose

This first day of December is Giving Tuesday and one northern Illinois organization is asking for help -- so they can help others.

Major Mark Martsolf is the Winnebago County coordinator for the Salvation Army. He said the organization served way more families this year than last.  

“I've been a Salvation Army officer for 40 years. I've just not seen the need so pronounced,” he said. “First time recipients, people who have to rely on support services that never had to before, perhaps they're laid off from their jobs.”