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

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.” 

Yvonne Boose

Women's marches took place across the country Saturday. Some northern Illinois participants stretched for miles down a heavy trafficked street -- standing against President Donald Trump and his agenda.

More than 45 women and a few men showed up at the intersection of Williamsburg Avenue and Bricher Road in Geneva.

Some held signs in honor of the late supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while others showed support for Kamala Harris and Joe Biden.          

Pamela Schumacher is from Glen Ellyn. She said the women at the march have lots of concerns.

Photo provided by Joseph Piscitelli.

Most entertainers were forced to step out of the spotlight when COVID-19 appeared. But what happened to those who provide that light? The pandemic jolted the careers of two northern Illinois video professionals, causing them to temporarily go out of focus.

Yvonne Boose

The city of Aurora is celebrating a Mexican holiday by displaying sweet skeleton expressions throughout its downtown area.

The Day of the Dead, also known as All Souls' Day, is when Mexican families welcome back the souls of their loved ones who passed away. Sugar skull art is normally made during this time. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Rockford Police Department is unveiling a first response pilot program aimed at addressing mental health crises. 

 

In response to emergency calls that involve a person experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis, RPD, Rosecrance and several other agencies are partnering to develop an alternative to traditional law enforcement.

 

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says it could help de-escalate situations.

 

Midway Village Museum

Some Illinois counties have lower pandemic death tolls than others. Part of the differences come from demographics. And just like on the national scene, Illinois results depend a lot on prevention efforts.

Winnebago County and Champaign County both have a mix of urban and rural populations. Winnebago County has nearly a third more COVID-19 cases than Champaign County, and six times the number of deaths.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The family of a Rockford man who last week was shot by a Rockford police officer is calling for a more substantial investigation.

 

 

The family of Tyris Jones and their lawyer, Nenye Uche, held a press conference in front of City Hall this week. Uche wants the Winnebago County state’s attorney’s office to conduct a criminal investigation of the officer, Dominik McNiece. 

 

Photo provided by Victor Rivera.

Getting therapy doesn’t always mean you have to talk to someone. Some people use writing, reading or even exercise to heal. A Rockford artist is using a different method.  

https://www.facebook.com/bhante.sujatha

This is Mental Health Awareness week. This year’s events have created a lot of uncertainty across the world and most people are looking for a relief. A northern Illinois monk offers meditation as a remedy.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 

 

A group of protesters have been camped outside of Rockford City Hall since Sunday, calling for officials to release the name of the officer who shot a man several times in the back last Friday. 

 

Skye Gia Garcia is an activist and camped outside of the City Hall. She said, “The opportunity is here for the community to humanize someone instead of criminalize them and dehumanize them.”

 

An acrylic artist debuted her work at Aurora’s October First Fridays -- something she never imagined would happen.

Cynthia Wood, executive director of Design 360 Network, said she had surgery over the summer and the time off inspired her to come up with a unique technique where she fuses acrylic paint designs between glass and a stretched canvas.  

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