Monday, May 12, 2014

Life After Youth Media

by Jenny Choi, Journalism Program Officer

On Tuesday, April 29th, 2014, over 100 stakeholders in youth development and youth media convened over breakfast to hear and discuss the results of a study conducted by Heartland Alliance’s Social Impact Research Center, “Life After Youth Media: Insights about Program Influence into Adulthood” at the Union League Club of Chicago.

The event highlighted the release of the second part of a two-part report outlining the landscape of Chicago youth media organizations, and the findings of interviewing over 200 alumni of McCormick-funded Chicago youth media programs.

Laura Washington MC’ed the event, and Renee Ferguson was the keynote speaker, delivering highlights of the study.

Ferguson prefaced the highlights by sharing her own experiences growing up in a segregated Alabama in the '50's and '60's, and explaining how journalism and writing saved her life as a teen. She made the connection to the recent incidents of youth violence in Chicago communities and how the work of youth media programs continues to be critical and relevant today.

The study showed that developing youth media skills compliments learning in other contexts such as communicating clearly, critical thinking and becoming “news literate.” Other highlights included:
  • 90 percent of alumni experienced an increase in self-confidence, especially with regard to having a voice, as a direct result of participating in a youth media program
  • 80 percent of alumni report an increased ability to think critically and independently
  • 76 percent of alumni understand issues facing their communities as a direct result of youth media programs.

The program then featured three youth media alumni who told their individual stories:

Whitney Smith (CTVN) interned with CTVN as a sophomore at Young Women’s Charter School and continued on through high school to eventually become hired by CTVN as a Teaching Artist: “CTVN taught me I can be who I want to be instead of what society tells me I should be.”

Nader Ihmoud (Columbia Links) began his speech by taking a “selfie” of himself and the audience, beaming with pride. Because of his experience with C-Links as a Lane Tech student, he is now pursuing a journalism/sports broadcasting degree at Columbia College and secured his first freelance journalism job.

J’mme Love (Free Spirit Media) talked about feeling like an “outsider” and being in an alternative high school with not much direction or purpose. His experience in Free Spirit Media “motivated me to be a contributing member of society.”

The program then opened up to the audience for a Q & A session to talk about next steps. Among the audience members was David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, who explained that “in a large decentralized system like CPS, the authority resides with the principals…” suggesting that youth media groups should seek principals to champion their work, and reach students at their schools.

Vitale also said CPS used to push hard mostly on reading and math but more recently has launched science/tech and art initiatives. In the last year and a half an Arts Planning committee has met to reinvest in arts curriculum. Vitale noted that media was missing in the arts planning committee agenda, which he promised to include at the next Arts Planning meeting, scheduled to meet later that same day.

The youth in the audience suggested programs should reach youth early on to expose youth to more enriched news content instead of entertainment news only, so youth “can stop being told what’s cool” and can begin to think more independently and understand “how society operates.” Youth media groups also need to “make [programs] fun.”

In closing, Renee Ferguson, Laura Washington and Journalism Program Director Clark Bell implored the audience members to leave their contact information on notecards provided at each table, and to make a pledge to support and expand the work of youth media organizations. “The children will not wait,” Ferguson said, “We will have a role on young people’s lives in a way we don’t know yet, and this is one way to do that.”

Clark Bell jumpstarted the collective pledge by presenting the Chicago Youth Voices Network with a $50,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program for the youth media collaborative’s capacity-building activities.

Stronger Communities Equal a Safer Illinois

by David Hiller, President & CEO

This March, we helped sponsor a symposium, "The $2 Billion Question: Can Illinois Improve Public Safety and Spend Less on Incarceration?" at the Union League Club of Chicago. Elected officials, business leaders, policy makers and funders took part in a discussion that addressed the critical issue of reducing incarceration rates and improving safety in Illinois.

Keeping in mind that the population of Illinois is more than 12.5 million, here are Illinois' facts:
  • Approximately 70 percent of prisoners are jailed for non-violent crimes
  • Approximately 48,000 adults are incarcerated annually
  • 3.6 percent of our state budget ($1.3 billion out of $35.3 billion) is spent on incarcerated adults in state and local jails, which accounts for approximately $27,000 per inmate.
  • 48 percent of inmates in state prisons don't have a high school diploma or GED

These startling statistics are rooted in decades of tough-on-crime legislation, the war on drugs, and harsh sentencing practices, rather than prevention efforts. They have failed. These practices have not only led to a record number of people being locked up, they have also drained Illinois of vital resources, while having only a minimal effect on the crime rate.

However, there is work being done to reverse these trends and redeploy funding to prevention programs that help individuals stay away from crime and promote stronger, safer communities.

Through the McCormick Foundation’s work with local organizations, we know that an investment in high-quality early care and education is a critical component of public safety. Research shows that children who participate in quality preschool programs are 20 percent less likely to be arrested for a felony or be incarcerated as a young adult. Organizations such as Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois are using hard-nosed research that illustrates proven strategies on how to prevent children from becoming criminals, and sharing that information with policy makers, the media and the public.

Another key ingredient for building safer communities is developing individuals with the necessary skills they need to gain and maintain employment. Individuals with barriers due to lack of skills, minimal or no job experience, or ex-offender status, have a harder time securing jobs. Heartland Human Care Services’ Chicago FarmWorks program trains formerly-incarcerated and homeless adults to work in the urban landscaping and food production industries. These opportunities give individuals valuable roles in their communities and keep them from reentering a world of crime.

Even though there are a number of successful organizations throughout Illinois, there is more work to be done such as increasing funding in prevention, education and workforce development programs.

We all must take responsibility and help strengthen our communities for the long haul. Here is what you can do:
  • Fund quality early care and education programs
  • Participate and invest in prevention programs for youth, such as mentoring, sports and after-school programs
  • Invest in workforce development programs

While a good deal of work will be required in Springfield, it must start with each of us.


"I Am the Guy You Play Later: Sheriffs," Chiefs and Prosecutors Urge America to Cut Crime by Investing Now in High-Quality Early Education and Care." Report by: Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, p.1

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee's Review of Alternatives for Non-Violent Offenders, 2010, p.1

Monday, May 5, 2014

Support For Vets & Military Families

by Don Cooke, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy

On April 30, 2014, thirty (30) philanthropic organizations and corporations, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation announced pledges totaling more than $170 million, over the next five years, to support veterans and military families. The Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge creates a community of funders and builds momentum for programs that will support service members, veterans and their families, in local communities as the country draws down from twelve years of war. Read about the pledge.

Related Stories

VIDEO: First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden talk about the new Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge

VIDEO: Don Cooke talks about The Great Transition Home

BLOG: Don's perspective on The New Greatest Generation: Helping Veterans Return Home