WNIJ Partners With Report For America

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 ApartmentsWigs, 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.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford police officer has been cleared in the shooting of an unarmed black man fleeing a traffic stop back in October. 

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross announced that Rockford Police Officer Dominik McNiece was legally justified in his shooting of 21-year-old Tyris Jones. 

Thanksgiving At Miss Carly's Going Strong

5 hours ago
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

COVID-19 isn’t stopping a northern Illinois homeless outreach shelter from providing a Thanksgiving meal this year. Carly Rice is the founder of Miss Carly’s. Last year, she said they cooked over 50 turkeys.

“We were cooking turkeys for like a week. And it was a frantic frenzy to make sure we had enough plates and forks.”

This year, due to COVID-19, Miss Carly’s plans to pass out Thanksgiving-themed sandwiches with a side of cranberry sauce on the side. 

Grand Jury Returned Indictment Against Tyris Jones

Nov 20, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford man shot by a police officer last month now faces murder charges.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross announced that a Grand Jury had returned an indictment against 21-year-old Tyris Jones for first degree murder.

Jones was charged with the September murder of 25-year-old Demavalee Macklin. Rockford Police Chief Daniel O’Shea says that this is just one of the many gun fire deaths in the region.

Library Workers Say It's Not Too Late To Save Branch Locations

Nov 20, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford Public Library workers put out a list of alternatives to layoffs and the closure of two library locations that serve the south and west sides of the city.

The Rock River and Rockton Centre library branches will close permanently by the end of the year and lay off eight employees. Janella Harper Herbig is president of the union representing the library workers Local 3350. She says there are a number of common sense solutions that would address the budget shortfall without laying off staff. 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/carandus-brown-9b960173/

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours features northern Illinois poets. This week's poem is by Carandus Brown.

Brown is a devoted Christian with hopes to encourage people to find Jesus for themselves. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A new program is promising free legal and advisory services for Illinois residents with marijuana convictions looking for a fresh start.

New Leaf Illinois is a state-sponsored program that aims to provide Illinois residents with resources to expunge their records of marijuana convictions. Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy said it’s the first step towards addressing the casualties from the war on drugs.

Yvonne Boose

Some northern Illinois poets had to write outside the lines for a unique Woodstock art exhibition. 

“As It Happens” is an art show on display at Woodstock’s Old Courthouse Art Center. Various poets wrote pieces at different stages of visual artists’ works but the poems are much more than words on paper. 

Artist Carol Hamilton worked with the Woodstock poetry group Atrocious Poets to come up with the concept for the exhibit. She shared her observation.  

https://unsplash.com

The pandemic has caused lost sales in several industries across northern Illinois, but one turkey farmer said sales are on track for his business. He admitted he’s seeing changes in other areas.

Robert Kauffman is the president of Kauffman Turkey Farms in Waterman. He said he wasn’t sure how the pandemic would impact his business. 

“I didn't know what to expect,” he admitted. “But I do know we're doing much more over-the-counter sales right now. More people are coming in buying products.”

Yvonne Boose

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems from northern Illinois poets. This week's poem is by Bear Wolf. 

Wolf is a Shawnee Gypsy Jew social justice humanist who lost count of his tattoos somewhere around 20. This world makes no sense to him, so he makes music and poetry.

Here's his poem "Wake Up Call, (Blue Horizons Are Just the Beginning.)"

Blue may have won 

But America is still lost 

 

The cost of living 

Is making a killing 

Rampant racism 

Races through our veins 

The stains of red 

https://kishwaukeeunitedway.com/

A local chapter of a worldwide community organization is finishing up its annual fundraising event with a virtual celebration on Thursday Nov. 12.

Kishwaukee United Way’s fundraising event “Taste: Bottles & Brews” went online this year.  

The silent auction started Nov. 5. Gretchen Sprinkle is the executive director of Kishwaukee United Way. She explained that more bidders joined the online format than had for in-person auctions held in past years, but said fundraising this year hasn’t been easy.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Due to the climbing positivity rate of COVID-19 in Winnebago County, this week the Rockford Mass Transit District is implementing restriction on some of its services.

 

 

Last month Rockford city bus drivers went down to City Hall to call for improved safety precautions on the buses. This month RMTD responded with some slight changes, but Jodi Williams, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1333, said she’s still worried. 

 

https://www.thewssr.org/

A Rockford poet is showing fellow writers how to bring their words to life in a new poetry workshop series.

Christopher D. Sims said he’s done spoken word poetry for over 20 years. He’s now partnering with Rockford performing arts venue The West Side Show Room in a workshop series called Graffiti Flow: Write and Perform Spoken Word Poetry. He mentioned that a friend introduced him to the venue's artistic director Mike Werckle.  

https://www.facebook.com/TheNextPictureShow

A northern Illinois arts center kept creativity flowing by challenging artists to ponder a basic technique  for a new art exhibition. 

Mike Glenn is the executive director of The Next Picture Show in Dixon. Glenn said he’s a writer so he likes to make the artists dig deeper when they create for exhibitions.  

www.unsplash.com

A northern Illinois food pantry is honoring veterans in a different way this year.

The Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry is holding a drive-thru celebration on Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day.  

Becky Dunnigan is the community outreach and program coordinator at the pantry. She said several artists have pitched in to enhance the experience.  

The Winnebago-Boone County Integrity Task Force submitted its investigation into the shooting of an unarmed man by a Rockford police officer to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney. 

 

 

It’s been just over a month since the shooting of Tyris Jones by Rockford police officer Dominik McNiece. Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross said her office will now review the task force’s completed investigation. 

 

Photo provided by Paige Monét Wright.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases northern Illinois poets. This week's poem is by Paige Monét Wright, a member of FourPoets, OneMic. 

Wright was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia but moved to Illinois at the age of 14. She and her older sister were raised mainly by their mother.

Wright is a sophomore at Northern Illinois University studying biological sciences. She said she wants to be a pediatrician so that she can help children stay healthy and safe. 

https://www.elginsymphony.org/concert/quartet-at-the-cafe/

Many musicians across the country are adapting to a new normal. A northern Illinois music ensemble is doing so by bringing other art forms into its repertoire.

The Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s “Quartet at the Café” combines spoken word poetry, visual art and classical music. 

Erik Malmquist is the executive director of the orchestra. He said the pandemic immobilized large mainstage programming.

Yvonne Boose

The pandemic has forced numerous faith leaders out of the pulpit and into the homes of many via computer screens and other devices. But for some worshipers, internet sermons just aren’t enough.

The King James version of the Bible said, “And he said unto them, ‘Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’” That’s Mark 16:15. 

https://www.facebook.com/PlayForTheVote

This year’s first presidential debate created lots of buzz but it also birthed a new idea. A Boston musician solicited performers across the country to play the stress away as voters wait in line this Election Day. 

Mike Block is the director of Play For The Vote, an organization designed to increase voter turnout. Block is also a composer, singer and cello player. He said the morning after the debate he found himself practicing his craft.  

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Protests continue in Rockford since the death of George Floyd. Officeholders and activists are looking for pathways to improve police and community relations.

“I feel great. I think I've never been more optimistic about the work that the City's doing to build relationships,” said Rockford’s Mayor Tom McNamara. “Improve our community and the quality of life of our citizens.”

Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

It has been said that “Music can soothe the savage beast.” But sometimes music can be used to heighten the fright. A Chicago violinist is using her instrument to celebrate Halloween during the 18th episode of her free virtual weekly show.  

Rachel Barton Pine started doing "Family Fridays with RBP" when the pandemic hit. She said she thought it would be nice to do something for the entire family.  

https://www.freeportartmuseum.com/arts-plaza

Outdoor art is blooming in a northern Illinois city. Two new permanent sculptures will be installed at Freeport’s Arts Plaza.

The civic art space is currently under construction. Jessica Modica, the arts plaza director for the Freeport Art Museum, said the city needed an updated outdoor art space. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Rockford bus drivers are calling on city leaders to dramatically overhaul safety precautions and reinstate hazard pay.  

 

Jodi Williams is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1333. She went to Rockford’s City Hall to call for an overhaul of existing safety precautions for city buses. Williams is asking the City for a return to rear-door boarding and a limit on the number of bus passengers.

She also wants the City to install higher quality air filters and to massively improve the degree of cleaning on the buses.

https://www.law.berkeley.edu/our-faculty/faculty-profiles/john-powell/

A civil rights expert shared his perspective with DeKalb community members on belonging. This happened Thursday evening during a Zoom conversation.

The conversation was presented by Northern Illinois University and the City of DeKalb. 

Jesse Kuntz

Two northern Illinois poets Saturday were appointed to positions new to the city of Rockford. Jocelyn Kuntz  was awarded youth poet laureate and Christine Swanberg poet laureate, in an inaugural event held at the Rockford Public Library’s Nordlof Center.  

 

Swanberg is an award-winning poet who has more than 500 published works. She encouraged the other finalists.

Provided by Quentin Johnson.

Welcome to WNIJ's Poetically Yours. Poetically Yours showcases poems by northern Illinois poets. Today's poem is by Aurora Deputy Poet Laureate, Quentin Johnson. 

Johnson was born in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea to missionary parents. He grew up in the Midwest, living in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. He has lived most of his life in Illinois, having resided in Metropolis, Ashkum, Oak Park and Aurora.

Photo provided by Richard Raether.

North American theater tickets sales have fallen 84% compared to the same period in 2019. That’s according to a September report by the international group TRG Arts. Despite the drop, a northern Illinois playhouse found a way to adapt during its COVID-19 financial drought.

Rockford’s Artists’ Ensemble Theater is launching a new podcast.

 

$15,000 Grant Split Between Miss Carly's And Carpenter's Place

Oct 22, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Money is on the way to two Rockford homeless assistance shelters.

 

The Rock Valley Credit Union split a $15,000 dollar grant between Miss Carly’s and Carpenter’s Place. Carly Rice, the founder of Miss Carly’s, said the funds will go a long way. 

 

"That is that's a lot of people to feed," she said. "Yeah. I mean, we're between 800 and 1000 people a day. So this was a huge help."

https://www.facebook.com/groups/255689942351896

Spectators can’t go to haunted houses in Illinois due to COVID-19 this year but some people can still satisfy their thrill of the creepy. A northern Illinois venue is offering a different type of fright.

The Freeport Masonic Temple is having a ghost hunt on Halloween. Bill Leser is a member and said they started doing these types of investigations in December of last year.

https://pumpkinrunsycamore.com/home/1-mile-fun-run/

Put on your costumes and run in the streets -- or not. COVID-19 has caused a northern Illinois uniformed race to take another direction this year.  

Rose Treml is the executive director of the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce. She said the 10K Sycamore Pumpkin Run normally draws more than 1,600 people to the city’s streets. This year, participants have the option to run however they wish.

“You can run on a treadmill, you can run on an indoor track,” Treml said, “You can run on the Great Western Trail, wherever you want, in whatever state you want.” 

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