According to jbhe.com, Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the Illinois Institute of Technology have partnered with the Kapor Center to launch the Illinois SMASH Academy – a 5-week, all-expenses paid STEM summer camp for high school students from underrepresented groups in Chicago and Southern Illinois.
The Kapor Center, based in Oakland, is dedicated to leveling the playing field in tech, making the field more diverse, inclusive and better equipped to address society’s challenges and opportunities.
The Kapor Center has already established SMASH academies in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. According to the center’s data, every SMASH student graduates high school and 91 percent earn a college degree within five years, 31 percentage points higher than the national rate.
The new program will accept 35 ninth graders from Chicago and 35 from Southern Illinois for the first year of the academy, which will be held at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The deadline to apply is March 1.
Participating students will attend the summer camp for three years, until they graduate from high school. They will study a variety of disciplines including math, biology, chemistry, and engineering. They will also receive SAT and ACT test prep in order to prepare them for college.
“These are future leaders,” said Meera Komarraju, interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. “Even one kid, if they are able to pursue their dreams, for their family and the part of society they live in, this can have a big ripple effect.”
Anyone interested in the program can find more information here.
I had the good fortune to visit NMAAHC two years ago, and still remember acutely its “Making a Way out of No Way” exhibit, which focusses on the six avenues African-Americans pursued post-slavery to gain equity and agency in the United States – Activism, Enterprise, Organization, Education, Faith, and… the Press.
Because of my lifelong interest in journalism, I am personally drawn to stories about the Black Press, which has existed in some form since antebellum times (the first black publication of record is theFreedom Journal in 1827), and exists to this day.
Yet so many don’t know about its rich history and how its presence and its reporters not only served often unrecognized communities, but also were (and still are) deeply involved in activism and social justice at every turn in every era on local, state and national levels.
Long before former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to call out American Urban Radio Networks’ correspondent April Ryanfor giving him what he thought was a disrespectful headshake whilesimply trying to do her job, Ethel Payne was agitating White House officials in the press room on a daily.
Payne set the standard in the 1950s when she became one of only three black journalists to be credentialed as a member of the White House Press Corps.
Known as the “First Lady of the Black Press,” Payne was a columnist, lecturer, and freelance writer. She combined advocacy with journalism as she reported on the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s, and was known for asking questions others dared not ask.
It was just unheard of for blacks to be standing up and asking presidents impertinent questions and particularly a black woman. – Ethel Payne
Payne became the first female African-American commentator employed by a national network when CBS hired her in 1972. In addition to her reporting of American domestic politics, she also covered international stories, and questioned every president from Eisenhower to Reagan.
As Payne’s biographer, James McGrath Morris, who wrote Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press says,“Her not being known today is really a legacy of segregation, in that she was iconic to a large segment of the U.S. population, but like most black institutions, the Chicago Defender was entirely invisible to white Americans. So the notion of discussing civil rights with the President of the United States, in that case Eisenhower, she felt she was part of ‘the problem’ and couldn’t pursue typical objective reporting. Instead she adopted a measure of being fair. It may seem like a small distinction but it wasn’t. Her questions were laden with an agenda.”
Born in Chicago, Illinois, the granddaughter of slaves, Payne’s father worked as a Pullman Porter, one of the best jobs open to African Americans in those times. He died at age forty-six after contracting an deadly infection from handling soiled linens and clothes on the train, when Ethel was fourteen years old. Her mother then took various domestic jobs to support the family, which made it difficult to educate all of her children.
Ethel spent her childhood in the predominantly black neighborhood of West Englewood bit attended Chicago public schools, notably the mostly white Lindblom Technical High School. Payne longed to be a writer and pushed to continue her education at Crane Junior College and the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions.
According to the Associated Press, hip hop artist and philanthropist Chance the Rapper has announced he’s donating $1 million to help improve mental health services in Chicago.
Chance, a Chicago native, made the announcement Thursday during a summit for his nonprofit organization SocialWorks, saying those involved “want to change the way that mental health resources are being accessed.”
A jury has found white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder in the 2014 high-profile shooting death of a black 17-year-old, Laquan McDonald. He was also found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery.
The verdict marks the first time in five decades that a Chicago police officer has been found guilty of murder in a shooting.
The shooting led to widespread protests and political upheaval in the city, as many residents viewed it as a clear case of police abuse. Dashboard camera video, which a court forced the city to release in 2015, showed that McDonald was shot as he was walking away from Van Dyke and continued to be hit by bullets as he writhed on the ground. In all, Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times in less than 15 seconds.
The murder verdict, announced in a courtroom three miles from the site of the shooting, means Van Dyke will face between four and 20 years in prison. He could face additional time for aggravated battery.
The killing happened on Oct. 20, 2014, after police received reports that somebody was breaking into vehicles in a trucking yard. Officers began following McDonald, who had a 3-inch folding knife.
They radioed a request for an officer with a Taser, but Van Dyke fired before that officer arrived. Van Dyke was charged with murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Van Dyke intended to kill the teen even though he was not a threat to Van Dyke’s life or that of other officers. Van Dyke and his lawyers argued the opposite: that McDonald seemed dangerous and had waved his knife at the officer even after falling to the ground.
Illinois law authorizes an officer to use deadly force when it’s “necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or such other person” or “necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape.”
The 12-member jury, which civil rights groups criticized for including only one black juror even though African Americans make up 31% of the city’s population, began deliberations on Thursday after three weeks of proceedings that included more than 40 witnesses.
Over the years, the case led to the resignations of a county prosecutor and the police superintendent as well as criticism of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said last month that he would not run for reelection.
The killing also led to an investigation of Chicago policing by the Department of Justice, which was released last year and found that officers routinely violated the civil rights of minorities and treated them as “animals or subhuman.”
Last year, two former and one current officer were charged in conspiring to cover up for Van Dyke after the shooting. Those officers will go to trial later in the year.
“I got a hit-list so long I don’t know how to finish, I bought the Chicagoist just to run you racist b—-s out of business.”
In the politically charged song, Chance raps over a vocal loop of Jamie Foxx repeatedly singing “f–k you” and calls for the resignation of Chicago’s embattled mayor, Rahm Emanuel. The entertainer also accuses Emanuel of granting paid suspensions to police officers who’ve fatally shot unarmed black people.
According to the Chicagoist’s sister site the Gothamist, Chance’s newly formed company, Social Media LLC, purchased the site from New York Public Radio’s WNYC station, which acquired both the Chicagoist and the Gothmaist as well as the other -ist network of sites in February. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
“I’m extremely excited to be continuing the work of the Chicagoist, an integral local platform for Chicago news, events and entertainment,” said Chance in a statement. “WNYC’s commitment to finding homes for the -ist brands, including Chicagoist, was an essential part of continuing the legacy and integrity of the site. I look forward to relaunching it and bringing the people of Chicago an independent media outlet focused on amplifying diverse voices and content.”
Laura Walker, the president and CEO of New York Public Radio, also released a statement, saying:
“We are delighted that the Chicagoist assets are finding a new home in the hands of a proud Chicagoan. WNYC has a strong commitment to local journalism and building community, and we are pleased that these assets will be used to support local coverage in the great city of Chicago.”
In addition to combatting racism, Chance’s nonprofit SocialWorks has helped the homeless, empowered Chicago public school students learning how to code, and funded college-bound high school students. Now, with Social Media LLC, Chance promises to promote local investigative journalism, diversity, and representation for people of color in the media.
Ida B. Wells, a crusading African American journalist who exposed the crime and shame of lynching and fought for women’s suffrage, spent half her life in Chicago. She died in 1931 after dedicating her life to the battle against racial injustice. Yet her pioneering work is all but unrecognized in Chicago, which has no shortage of statues and monuments to leading white men.
There is the grave marker at Oak Woods Cemetery. It reads BARNETT. Along the bottom, “Crusaders for Justice.” On the left, there is her name: Ida B. Wells, beside her husband’s.
Then, there was a housing project, erected in 1941 and called Ida B. Wells Homes. It grew to 1,662 units, but it did not end well. The project succumbed to neglect and dysfunction before the last building was torn down in 2011, doing no honor to her name.
Michelle Duster, her great-granddaughter, aims to change that. For the past decade, Duster and a few friends have labored, dollar by dollar, to raise $300,000 to build a monument to Wells in Chicago. They’re still barely halfway there, but the word is getting out.
“You can’t just gloss over this history,” said Duster, a writer and lecturer who sees a need for Wells’s example these days. “She not only believed in certain principles and values but she sacrificed herself over and over and over again. She was called fearless. I don’t believe that she had no fear. I believe she had fear and she decided to keep going forward.”
A monument will honor the legendary activist, as well as introduce her to people who aren’t familiar with her place in American history.
“People who may know nothing about Ida B. Wells will find things about this extraordinary woman they didn’t know anything about,” said Kirk Savage, an art historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies public memorials.
In 1862, Wells was born in Holly Springs, Miss., a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation. She passed a teacher’s exam at age 16 and taught school. In 1884, after she moved to Memphis, three railroad workers forcibly removed her from a train for refusing to leave a car reserved for white women, even though she had purchased a ticket. She sued and won, only to see the verdict overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Wells began writing newspaper columns and purchased a share of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. When three of her black friends were lynched after opening a grocery store in competition with a white-owned business, she started investigating and challenged the assertion that large numbers of black men were raping white women.
The city of Memphis, she wrote, does not protect an African American “who dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival.” After a mob destroyed the printing presses, she moved for good to Chicago in the early 1890s. There, she married lawyer Ferdinand Barnett, had four children, worked as a probation officer and supported migrants from the South, all the while traveling widely to oppose racial terror.
Wells “challenged every type of convention,” including sexism in the civil rights community and racism in the women’s suffrage movement, New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “She refused to stay in her place at a time when doing something could be debilitating, could be dangerous.”
Hannah-Jones, whose 75,000 Twitter followers see her handle as Ida Bae Wells, also worked to create the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism, designed to increase and elevate investigative work by people of color.
Last month, Hannah-Jones flew to Chicago to help raise money for the Wells monument, which has been a slow-moving project.
Award-winning actress and singer Queen Latifah recently announced the Queen Collective to help women make films — or, as she tells Yahoo Entertainment, to ensure “that the queens have an opportunity.” In a partnership with Procter & Gamble, the initiative will find two unknown and diverse female directors, give them all the resources they need to tell their stories “from A to Z,” and then distribute the films.
“There are just not enough female directors,” the star of films from”Girls Trip” to “Chicago” says of her push to bolster gender equality in the film business. “This is a small part of what we’d like to do to help change the disparity that we see out there in terms of all the dollars that are given to male directors, all the support that’s given to male directors, and everything we see, yet we’re at least half of who’s watching these movies and buying these products. So we want to make sure women have an opportunity… that the queens have an opportunity. The Queen Collective will make sure that happens.”
Being a voice for women isn’t new for Queen Latifah, who was among the founders of We Do It Together, the celebrity-backed, female-centric, non-profit production company focusing on female empowerment in films, TV, and other media. Her commitment can actually be traced back to her teen years as a young rapper.
“I try to support anything I can in terms of making sure women have an opportunity,” she says. “That’s just who I am. Before I really knew what a feminist was, I was already helping to promote the feminist cause. I was just a 15-year-old rapper. I had no idea that the fact that I wanted to be looked at with respect and treated as such — and that I wrote about that in my rhymes and made records about it that people heard — was really pushing that forward, affecting other young girls and women who felt the same way, and giving other women a voice who felt that they were a little voiceless in hip-hop at that time. Finally, there was someone that was speaking their language.”
Since Queen Latifah, 48, started rapping about female issues in the ’80s — “All Hail the Queen” came out in 1989, when she was 19 — isn’t she frustrated that she still has to fight so hard just so women’s voices can be heard?
“I would say it’s frustrating — it can be to a point — but we are talking about thousands of years of male patriarchy,” she says. “So I can’t be mad because I started rapping about it in the late ’80s and early ’90s that everything hasn’t changed in a few decades. We have a lot of ideas to bring down the walls of, if you will. I think actually we’ve made a lot of progress in a short amount of time. But the more we bring it to the attention of the public, the more people fight behind the scenes and make sure this is seen in front of the scenes, then we will affect every element of how people see the world.”
She wants to see the world represented equally — and realistically.
“We are fighting to make sure everyone is represented in an equal way — and for who they truly are, not some stereotype of who you are. This is something I had to fight against as a rapper: Every rapper is from the ghetto and went through hell and got shot sometimes. No, we didn’t. I went to Catholic school from third to ninth grade,” the East Orange, N.J., native laughs.
“I didn’t have a lot of money, but this was my experience, and I know many people who lived like that. I listened to rock-and-roll growing up — and so did a lot of my homeboys. Why? ‘Cause we’re from New Jersey, and we love Bon Jovi and Springsteen. We like hip-hop too. But if you let the media tell you, its ‘black people don’t listen to rock-and-roll; they just like R&B and rap.’” She predicts that “millennials will have a big part of changing all these ideas that have been pumped down our throats in our day.”
Queen Latifah says the encouragement she has received through the years by female fans has encouraged her in turn to continue to try to be a trailblazer for women.
“I would run into them along the way, and they had no idea the encouragement they gave me to continue to speak in that way, to feel confident about moving in that way, and moving my career in that way,” says Latifah, who made the jump to TV in the early ’90s, followed later by the jump to film. “All throughout the years I’ve been encouraged by young girls… And not just girls, but girls with different bodies. Just becoming a CoverGirl made them feel different about what they can accomplish. Or being someone who is bigger than a size 10 thinks, ‘Oh, I can be a successful singer because Queen Latifah did it.’ I had no idea I could influence other people.”
She continues: “So this Queen Collective is really important because there’s something special about seeing a woman who comes up with her own idea, who is able to take that idea, hire her own crew, make sure that idea is shot and done and edited and comes to the public eye, and they have a chance to see her vision. She will inspire so many other people by making that happen… This is what you need to be able to show in order to inspire other people, particularly the young girls and men, and let them know this is a normal thing and this is OK. This should not be an anomaly. This should be the norm.”
Chicago’s Black Fire Brigade—a group of the city’s African American firefighters and EMTs—wants to inspire youth to pursue careers in fire science. The group recently opened a new center in Ashburn designed to train the firefighters of tomorrow, ABC Chicago reported.
The brigade pays homage to firefighters and paramedics of color who have lost their lives while serving, the news outlet writes. The group hopes that the legacies of these fallen heroes will live on through youngsters who come to the center and show interest in joining the fire department when they get older. At the center, they will provide mentorship and training to help Black men and women prepare for the firefighter’s exam.
Founder and president of the Black Fire Brigade Quention Curtis says that he hopes the new center will serve as a haven for Chicago’s Black youth and prevent them from getting involved in the streets. “This is about saving these kids’ lives who are dying in the streets every day,” he told the news outlet. “It’s about bringing these firefighters together so we can do that.”
The center was also created as an avenue to overcome racial inequalities that Black firefighters have experienced in the department. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the city has shelled out $92 million in settlements due to the Chicago Fire Department’s discriminatory hiring practices against people of color and women. “There are so few of us, and we’ve been so separated. We’ve never come together as a whole to discuss our issues, how to address them. My thing is to end all that,” said Curtis.
The center will live at 84th and Kedzie. There was a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Saturday.
Chance the Rapper has some major news. The rapper and his new production company, Social Function Productions have reportedly signed on to produce a concert in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. The concert will reportedly include performances by the legendary Smokey Robinson, Jason Mraz, O.A.R., and more.
Chano announced the news on social media on Thursday (June 14). “I’m happy to announce that my new production company SFP and I are producing the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics here in Chicago,” he wrote, along with an official concert poster.
Chance reportedly announced the launch of his Social Functions Productions company only a few days before the concert news was revealed. It’s unclear of what other projects the company has in the works, but it will likely fuse Chance’s interests in music and philanthropy.
The Special Olympics will officially be held in Seattle on July 1, but the concert will kick off in Chance’s hometown of Chicago on July 21. You can purchase tickets to the concert here.
Akosua Haynes, 10, wrote a letter to Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” letting Shetterly know her book solidified Akosua’s decision to become a NASA astronaut.
Rylee Paige Johnson, 13, wrote a letter to Gabrielle Zevin, author of “Elsewhere,” thanking Zevin for helping her heal after the sudden death of her mother.
The letters — each a thing of beauty — were part of a Library of Congress writing contest that invites fourth- through 12th-graders to write to authors and let them know the impact of their work. Close to 47,000 students from across the United States entered this year’s contest, which began a quarter-century ago.
Out of those tens of thousands of letters, Akosua and Rylee each brought home first place wins. Akosua, a fifth-grader at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Hyde Park, won the fourth- through sixth-grade division, and Rylee, a seventh-grader at Dwight D. Eisenhower Junior High School in Hoffman Estates, won the seventh- and eighth-grade division.
Their letters are night and day — one born of sorrow, the other born of joy. But they share an authenticity and richness that speaks to the ability of books to guide us through life’s various triumphs and travails.
“One night my siblings and parents were in the living room watching our favorite show,” Rylee wrote to Zevin. “A commercial came on so I got up to make cookies in the kitchen. Then my oldest sister, Sydney, started whispering, ‘Mom? Mom?’ No answer. I looked over to see my dad standing over a shaking body. ‘I’m calling 911!’ She had had an aneurysm and wasn’t waking up. I spent those few days in that hospital room listing all the things I did wrong and what I would change once she woke up. She never did.”
In “Elsewhere,” 15-year-old Liz ends up in an Earth-like place called Elsewhere after being hit and killed by a taxi. From there, she watches the world she used to inhabit.
“Liz tortured herself by going to the observation decks to see her old life every day,” Rylee wrote. “She sat there watching her best friend being happy without her. She watched everyone move on. Everyone except Liz. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I didn’t want to become a ghost person living in the past.”
Rylee said the letter to Zevin was the first time she’d written at length about losing her mom, who passed away in December 2016.
“Last year, I wrote some poems and random paragraphs, but not anything like a full piece of writing,” she told me last week. “I don’t think I was ready before to put it down on paper because things are so much more real when you put them on paper.”
In her letter, Rylee told Zevin that “Elsewhere’s” theme of acceptance really struck her.
“Liz took some time learning how to move on from the life she used to know,” she wrote. “She was stuck. Thandi, her roommate, had no problem at all. From the start she said there was no point being sad at what she couldn’t change. I read that, wishing my heart could catch up like Thandi’s did in two pages. But everyone takes their own time to keep their mind and soul in sync. Knowing that my mom wasn’t coming back home was difficult to even imagine. I had to accept that life would go on without her, but only if I moved on.
“I wanted to live my life and not wait for it to be over,” Rylee wrote. “Thank you for a world where my own mother can see me writing this letter from an observation deck. Thank you for the idea that once I leave this world, I will return. Thank you for the lessons I couldn’t live without, and the book I won’t forget.”