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.

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.  

Yvonne Boose

A couple of weeks ago, a derogatory word toward Black people was spray-painted on Northern Illinois University’s Center for Black Studies building. This week, the community came together to paint a different message.

In bright red, the words “Black Lives Matter” run along Castle Drive near the university. They were put there Thursday Oct. 1 during the “Art and Soul” social justice event.

Participants with masks on took turns painting the street while listening to live music performed throughout the affair. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

As COVID-19 positivity rates in Rockford continue to rise, school bus drivers are dealing with their new normal. 

 

Catina Barnett is president of the school bus drivers’ union Local 1275 in Rockford. And she’s coming up on her first anniversary in the role. 

 

“It's been quite busy. Without a doubt, very busy," she said. "Things have transpired from COVID taking out an entire world  to people being laid off from their job and the world coming to a standstill.”

 

https://medium.com/@whitec1914

Welcome to Poetically Yours, where you'll hear the voices of Illinois poets as they share their words about the world around them. This week features Charles White.

Estacious(Charles White) is a 23-year educator. He began writing over 25 years ago. His work experience encompasses managing schools and teaching a variety of subjects. His passions are poetry, short fiction, playwriting, and non-fiction. He won one of six prizes in the Rockford New Play Festival with West Side Show Room for his play “Incarcerated Christmas.” He is married with three children and a native of New Orleans.  

His poem "The African Dust Cloud" compares the cloud to the journey of African slaves.

Paul Carpenter 2020 Website

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross is defending her decision to dismiss an assistant state’s attorney who is also a current candidate to succeed her in the office.

 

 

Hite Ross removed Assistant State’s Attorney Paul Carpenter from his post over the weekend. She said all employees in her office are employed "at will" which means they can be dismissed at her discretion at any time.

 

www.unsplash.com

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and walking has been a big way for supporters to help raise money. COVID-19 has stopped the physical strides, but one cancer organization is stepping out in another way.  

Jodi Beasley is a senior community development manager at the American Cancer Society.

She said the Rockford community will do a pinwheel tribute garden in lieu of an annual walk.

“Where our participants can still register, raise some funds,"she explains, "but then also purchase a pinwheel in support of, in memory of or in honor of, a cancer survivor.” 

A northern Illinois community came together this weekend to help paint a mural. That’s despite a dispute over the planning process.

Artist Joshua Schultz was tasked with creating the artwork. He said he had no doubts about people showing up to help. 

“I think that the thing about Aurora and downtown Aurora and the friends of Aurora,” he said, “is that everyone really just wants things to get better and be better and have a good time making them better.” 

Schultz shared that he has absolute faith in the Aurora community.  

Provided by Margo Anderson.

Welcome to Poetically Yours, where you'll hear the voices of Illinois poets as they share their words about the world around them. This week features Margo Anderson. Her poem is called, "Threat."

Threat

When did our children go from asking for help to wailing in pain?

COVID-19 postponed many northern Illinois festivals. But some organizers found ways to keep their celebrations alive.

 

This would have been the 10th year for the live Screw City Beer Festival in Rockford. This event normally attracts 2,500 to 3,000 people. Aaron Sleger is the director and cofounder of the event. He said when the pandemic hit, he thought the festival would still happen because September seemed so far away. 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

This week, the Mercyhealth campus on Rockford’s West Side officially got the green light to permanently shut down its mental health unit.

 

 

On Tuesday, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 5-0, in favor of allowing Mercyhealth to shutter its mental health unit at the Rockton Avenue campus. 

Danielle Angileri is with the National Alliance on Mental Health of Northern Illinois. She said these services are more vital than ever. 

 

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

SEIU Local 73 confirmed that its bargaining units reached contract agreements with the University of Illinois at Chicago after more than a week on strike. Workers returned this morning.

SEIU member Alicia Uwumarogie confirmed, “The strike is over and that we are leaving the picket lines victorious in so many areas.”

The “wins” in the new agreements include increases in shift differentials, bilingual pay for hospital workers and the workers of the division of specialized care for children.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Organized workers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford continued their strike this week as contract negotiations continue.  

Carmen Garcia has worked for the UIC division of specialized child care for more than 20 years. She says she and her coworkers just want a fair contract like other staff are already getting. 

WNIJ News

 The DeKalb Police Department may be sporting body-worn cameras sooner than anticipated.

 

The DeKalb City Council unanimously approved a contract with Axon Enterprises, Inc. to purchase body-worn cameras for the police department. DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas says it’s a step in the right direction.  

 

https://www.facebook.com/aurorafoodpantry/photos/?ref=page_internal

Shopping carts are normally used to carry food and other store items, but one Aurora food pantry pushed its carts in a different direction for Hunger Action Month and another is highlighting local restaurants.

The Next Picture Show

A uniquely Midwestern art exhibit found a way to crown its winners despite the pandemic. 

The 16th annual Farms & Barns exhibit features 82 artists’ original works celebrating country life.  Some include photography, wood carving and mixed media. This year, the art show honored eight local and regional artists.

Michael Glenn, the executive director of The Next Picture Show in Dixon, said the process for awarding the artists is different due to the pandemic. 

New Housing Assistance Available For 61016 Residents

Sep 18, 2020
Pixabay

There’s a new housing rental assistance program available in areas around Cherry Valley.

 

 

 

 

The Community Action Agency announced housing assistance funds are available to those who experienced hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. $69,000 dollars will go to residents in the 61016 zip code for immediate use, which the state health department has deemed as especially impacted by the pandemic. 

 

Free Laundry Service For RPS 205 Students

Sep 17, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A free student laundry program kicks off this week in Rockford.

The "Fresh for Learning" program lets any Rockford Public School student wash their clothes for free at the new 5 Alarm Coin Laundromat located at 3939 West Riverside Blvd. The program will run every Wednesday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Rockford Police Department ROCK House Officer Patrice Turner leads the program. She got the idea after spending eight years as a school resource officer and noticed a truancy problem. 

Yvonne Boose

A Rockford youth summer apprenticeship program has ended and the fruits of the participants’ labor are ready to be revealed.   

SPARK! -- or -- Significant Public Art Apprenticeships in Rockford began back in July. One of the projects includes works that were done at the Nicholas Conservatory.   

Among the themes are social justice artwork and digital journalism skill-building.  An animation video that highlights youth interviews of community participants sharing what Black Lives Matter means to them will be on display.

SEIU Local 73 Strike Ongoing

Sep 15, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Members of SEIU Local 73 who work at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are on their second day of strike.

 

 

SEIU Local 73 is calling for the University of Illinois to “respect us, protect us and pay us.” The University of Illinois College of Medicine also has campuses in Chicago, Rockford and Peoria. Dian Palmer is the President of SEIU Local 73 and she says the university failed to meaningfully respond to issues including safe working conditions, adequate staffing, and pay increase 

Yvonne Boose

A Rockford music group performed in an unusual place on Sunday.

The Music Academy in Rockford held pop-up performances on the Sinnissippi bike path near the Nicholas Conservatory & Garden-Eclipse Lagoon Teahouse and SwedishAmerican Hospital Riverfront YMCA Pavilion. The performances were originally scheduled for Saturday Sept. 12 but moved to the 13th due to weather. 

http://www.gizzae.com/pictures/

Summer is closing out. This means the time to see outdoor concerts is ending as well. A reggae musician is performing his last 2020 American show in Woodstock.  

Brian Rock’s musician name is Rocket. He’s the lead singer and bass player for the award-winning band Gizzae. Rock said Saturday’s audience should expect a high energy show.

“We spread the message of love and peace and hope and faith,” he said. “That’s really what our music is all about. And we’re looking forward to putting on a really good performance.”

https://www.facebook.com/tyler.waldrop.16

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.  

Aurora Approves $89,000 in New Riot Gear

Sep 10, 2020
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

The Aurora City Council approved the purchase of riot gear for the police department. The move was not without controversy. 

The Aurora City Council voted 8-3 in favor of a resolution to buy 150 complete sets of the gear for the Aurora Police Department. Supporters say that, after the recent protests in Aurora, the police need the equipment to keep them safe.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

A Rockford couple says authorities broke through their door during a botched raid. Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco has more:  

 

 

On August 20th, members of the State Line Area Narcotics Team used a search warrant for the property on Hancock Street to enter the home of Travis Legge. The Rockford Register Star confirmed later that the search warrant was based on information that illegal cannabis sales occurred at the listed address.

 

Fiat Chrystler Automobiles

There’s new information known about COVID-19 cases associated with the Fiat Chrysler assembly plant in Belvidere. 

 

Health officials from the Boone and Winnebago county health departments have been working closely with Fiat Chrysler to identify cases of COVID-19 at the Belvidere plant. The goal is to determine whether cases among workers were through community spread, or if there was an outbreak within the plant itself.

 

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