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.

Connie Kuntz

Many people turn to their faith during uncertain times. And two northern Illinois faith communities are making sure their members are supported.

George Davis is a member of the Spiritual Assembly Baha’is of Rockford.

Davis said the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly offered guidance for both COVID-19 precautions and handling the death of George Floyd.

https://www.facebook.com/rogue1tba

The death of George Floyd ignited protests across the country. But some communities also experienced looting. Aurora was one of them. A local artist used graffiti to help beautify what was destroyed. WNIJ delved into the history of this “City of Lights” artist.

Sam Cervantes was driving through the city’s downtown area on his way to work.

“This is at 8:30 in the morning and there's just droves of people with brooms and dustpans,” he said.

Then he saw them boarding up windows.

Connie Kuntz

It's been more than two weeks since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis. One police officer is charged with murder and other officers face charges related to the death. Floyd's killing has spurred protests around the country including northern Illinois.

 

   

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s office released a statement in response to accusations of mistreatment of inmates at the county jail.

 

The 815 Mutual Aid Network is a Rockford-based collective dedicated to providing resources in the surrounding area amid the pandemic. It alleges that on June 2nd a group of Winnebago County Corrections officers assaulted several inmates, leading in one case to a broken arm, and then shot tear gas into their cells. 

 

City of Rockford

After over a week of protests in Rockford, Mayor Tom McNamara has released a statement with a working list of four steps designed to address police brutality and misconduct.

 

Mayor McNamara has signed onto the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance which promises incremental police reform via “common-sense limits on police use of force with feedback from the community.”

 

https://www.gorockford.com/resource-center/our-journey/

Two Rockford-area nonprofits and a local business are teaming up to support artists and art organizations in Winnebago County. 

Denezz Hyphenx Cochran

Christopher D. Sims is an African American poet and human rights activist in the Rockford area. He was featured in WNIJ’s “State of the Artist” podcast last year.

Sims said these protests, which were sparked by George Floyd’s death, have been different from demonstrations he’s attended in the past. For one, he said, more young people took part.

“But the young people are just as heartbroken and angry, as all of us, any of us in this country,” he said.

He said he is proud of the Rockford Youth Activism group for organizing Tuesday’s protest at Haskell Park.

She Goes By Devan

Jun 4, 2020
Photo provided by Devan.

Aurora continues to showcast artists during its virtual First Fridays. An artist from Sandwich is making a splash in the city's art scene.

The 27-year old artist simply goes by Devan. She started out doing art when she was six.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

This week in Belvidere, autoworkers are returning to the assembly line for the first time since Fiat Chrysler shut down operations in March amid the coronavirus outbreak.

WNIJ spoke with William Vergara, an autoworker at the Belvidere Assembly Plants going back to work this week. Vergara says he's been taking every precaution when it comes to social distancing.

https://www.facebook.com/DeKalbILPoliceDepartment/

DeKalb Interim Chief of Police John Petragallo is ready to take off his badge.

“Mayor, Council, City Manager Nicklas, I would like to thank you for the opportunity of being your interim police chief for last year,” Petragallo said.

He gave his thank you speech at DeKalb’s city council meeting May 26.

Petragallo spent his first year in law enforcement with the Freeport Police Department. He then transferred to DeKalb. He’s held several positions, from working in narcotics to being a patrol officer.  

Spencer Tritt

The death of George Floyd sparked outrage across the country. Many cities held protests. DeKalb was one of them. A couple of community leaders talked with WNIJ about this weekend’s demonstrations.

Joe Mitchell is the senior pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb.

Mitchell said he would normally lead demonstrations within DeKalb’s African American community but he intentionally took a step back this time.

Report for America announced the selection of 225 journalists for its 2020 reporting corps. The new cohort will be 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 Yvonne Boose and JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team.

https://www.reportforamerica.org/

The Report for America reporter at WNIJ will gather stories related to social justice and identity. This journalist will give voice to those who seek change -- not merely for the sake of conversation, but to validate their experience, and give incentive for them to speak up and improve their lives.

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