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Federal Suit Against Chicago Board of Elections Alleges Voter Suppression

“Too many people have died for us to have the right to vote.”

In a 122-page federal lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE), eight plaintiffs allege discrimination, voter disenfranchisement, and voter suppression, among other complaints. The four-count case shows the possible effects of CBOE’s recent redistricting of Chicago’s Ward map on November’s upcoming election, leading to potential voting disruption.

Under the new map, Chicago’s 20 Black Wards lose 382 precincts; 13 Hispanic Wards lose 137 precincts; 1 Asian American Ward loses 15 precincts, and white Wards lose 245 precincts. Combined, all 50 Wards stand to lose a total of 779 precincts, numerous polling places, along with 3,895 election judges. As a result, a complete list of polling places that face closure or consolidation will not be available until early October, according to the lawsuit – less than thirty days before the election.

“This is not a political situation for me,” says the lead plaintiff and mayoral candidate, Dr. Willie Wilson, at a press conference outside the Dirksen Federal Building on August 29, 2022. “I would be doing this even if I wasn’t running for office. Too many people have died for us to have the right to vote.”

According to the lawsuit filed by attorney Andrew Finko, the applicable law governing such changes, Section 11-6 of the Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/11-6, states: “Whenever election precincts in an election jurisdiction have been redivided or readjusted, the county board or board of election commissioners shall prepare maps in electronic portable document format (PDF) showing such election precinct boundaries no later than 90 days before the next scheduled election.”

Former Senator Ricky R. Hendon holds up a copy of the lawsuit outside Dirksen Federal on 8/29/22

CBOE Director of Public Information Max Bever shared in an email statement: “The Chicago Board of Elections was required to redistrict the precincts “as soon as practicable” after the 2020 Census. It was not practicable to redraw the precinct map until after the City Council redrew the Ward map, which it did on 5/19/22. The Board was required to complete this precinct consolidation process no less than 30 days before the election, and it beat that deadline by nearly two months.”

Third Ward (Ald. Pat Dowell) resident Cheryl Colbert, who served as an election judge coordinator in past city elections, has seen the first-hand effects of last-minute changes on voters who aren’t aware that their precinct or polling station has changed. “Sometimes, when it’s getting late in the day, is when people are most frustrated about not coming to the right polling place. You do everything you can to help them locate their correct polling place, according to what their Id says. Sometimes election judges are equipped with listings of other polling places and what precincts and where wards (are located). It’s the precinct maps that tell you where their (polling place) locations are,” she stated. But if they arrive too late and there’s not enough time to make it to the new polling location, “they just don’t get to vote,” says Colbert.

Polling Places Matter

Data from the Cook County Clerk’s office show that voter turnout was among the lowest in June’s 2022 Primary Election, at roughly twenty percent. And the low turnout is alarming to critics of the Board’s redistricting plan, citing the correlation between the elimination of precincts, polling places and low voter turnout. 

“Historically, any change to voting locations can cause disruption to someone trying to vote on Election Day,” says Communications Director Timantha Goff for Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “In 2020, hundreds of polling places were removed and consolidated, causing confusion for voters as they showed up to the polls,” she shared in an email.

Dr. Willie Wilson says: “… This will violate people’s civil rights. If you take, for example, we have a lot of senior citizens, our senior citizens are our number one voters out of the whole state … for them [CBOE] to move the polls, let’s say a mile away, or five or six blocks, it would be unfair to our number one voters. I think it’s wrong…” 

At issue are the numerous stumbling blocks that some voters might face coming November, such as; fixed-income seniors not being able to afford transportation to get back and forth to a new polling place assigned outside of their neighborhood; long lines with 1,165 people assigned to the new precincts (previously it was 550-750 voters, per precinct); and will the new polling places be ADA-compliant and accommodating to people with a disability?

According to the lawsuit, these are legitimate concerns that can potentially discourage voters, leading to a “dilution” of Black and Hispanic voting blocs and, ultimately, voter suppression. “The voters are also concerned not knowing where precincts are, and many voters still prefer paper ballots that they fill out and personally place into the voting box. Uncertainty about polling locations and consolidation will create concerns on election day about voters showing up at June 2022 polling location, finding it’s closed, and then not being able to locate and travel to [a] new location before polls close,” says attorney Finko. 

 So the question that deserves to be answered is: Why is the City of Chicago making dramatic changes mid-election, seemingly less than 30 days before November’s election? 

  Candidate Suppression, Democracy Denied

 In laying out the relevant facts of the case, the lawsuit alleges that as of August 27, 2022, the CBOE has not prepared maps and made them available in PDF format showing each election precinct boundaries no later than 90 days before the election. These maps are essential for city, county, and state political candidates to plan and execute their campaign initiatives; without such, it will be challenging to run and manage a successful campaign.

The two plaintiffs running for office – Robert Fioretti (candidate for Cook County Board President) and Dr. Willie Wilson (candidate for Mayor) – further allege that they are “unable to determine their precincts and polling locations in sufficient time to prepare for the November 8, 2022, general election.” Due to the lack of access to the new maps, they cannot determine staffing needs for the polling places because they do not know where those locations will be, thus causing further harm to their campaigns. 

Cook County Board President candidate Robert Fioretti speaks with a constituent

Bever says, “The final polling place list will be public the first week of October. The majority of polling places have already been set for November 8, 2022, General Election, but contracts on a couple [of] hundred sites are still being finalized.”

The entire process violates the Voting Rights Act, the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, according to the lawsuit, and attorney Finko, on behalf of the eight plaintiffs, is seeking to halt the proposed changes from being implemented that could affect “tens of thousands of Chicago voters.” For relief, the lawsuit asks the Court to “Issue a declaratory judgment finding and declaring that the CBEC’s intention and process to redistrict precincts mid-election cycle, and designate new polling locations from those used at the June 28, 2022, primary election…”

Bever, further clarifies: “By the end of this week (9/16/22), every registered voter in Chicago will have received a new voter card in the mail with their updated ward, precinct, and new CPD District Council information. In early October, all registered voters in Chicago will receive a mailer with their precinct polling place info, as well as info on voting by mail and early voting.”

To check your voter information, click here.

This story first appeared in the Chicago News Weekly newspaper.

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779 Chicago Voting Precincts Lost!

“This is devastating, very devastating,” says Chicago mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson.

Based on a new map implemented by the Chicago Board of Elections, your ward, precinct, and polling place may have just changed. The new map reflects the latest ward boundaries approved by City Council on May 19, 2022, after contentious negotiations between Black and Hispanic council members.

Under this new map, all fifty wards experience precinct losses, some more than others. For example, the smallest loss occurs in the predominantly Hispanic 12th, 36th, and 15th Wards, with 1, 3, and 4 precincts lost, respectively. However, the most significant losses occur in the predominantly Black 18th, 21st, and 34th Wards, wiping out potentially 24, 25, and 33 precincts, respectively. Alderwoman Michelle Harris (8th Ward), who chaired the committee for the new ward boundaries, lost 26 precincts. In total, the city loses a staggering 779 precincts.

Along with the precinct losses comes a possible change in polling places and a reduction in the number of required election judges. According to a Chicago Board of Elections press release, the new precinct map is mandated and a requirement “every ten years after the US census.” 

Ward-by-ward breakdown of Chicago’s 779 lost precincts

Max Bever, Director of Public Information for the Chicago Board of Elections, stated in a phone interview that precinct consolidation is a part of the redistricting process. “The last time the US census and Ward map got redistricted, precinct consolidation was a part of that too. We went down 501 precincts, so in 2010, we had 2,570 and went down to 2,069 [precincts]. For this year, we got that 2,069 going down to 1,290 for a reduction of 779 precincts … We’re also responding to a recent state law that was passed that gave the Board the authority to create new precincts by containing up to 1,800 registered voters. We didn’t go that far; we’re far under that state law requirement. The average number of voters per precinct now is 1,165.” 

When questioned which polling places would be moved or eliminated by the redistricting, Bever stated: “While precincts are getting reduced, the amount of actual physical polling places is not going to change very much from the last election. So the June 28 primary had 1,043 polling places, and they were serving the 2,069 precincts.” With the reduction in precincts, Bever says, “most of the polling places will be serving a single precinct instead of two or three.” 

Also, according to the press release, election judges will be reduced from 10,345 to 6,450, saving the city up to a reported 2M.  

What could possibly go wrong?

When asked about the recent changes, 2022 Chicago mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson stated: “I think it will have a devastating effect … I didn’t really know until it was brought to my attention by attorney [Richard] Boykin. If I didn’t know, other people out there surely do not know themselves,” referring to voters who may be surprised on election day about the changes.

Chicago mayoral candidate Dr. Willie Wilson, photo courtesy of NBC

Dr. Wilson’s concerns center around voter suppression and compare the recent changes to Republican tactics to suppress the Black vote. “If they (voters) go to the wrong poll … they tell you ‘you can’t vote, you got to go to another one.’ Then once you get over there, there’s going to be a line,” possibly leading to voters being discouraged from voting.

“This is devastating, very devastating,” he asserts, “because of the morale of the citizens now, not only in Chicago, but the whole state has been way, way down.” Dr. Wilson continues: “If they were going to do something like that, in my opinion … they should do it after the election … and consult with the voters too.”

In a December 2021 interview with Alderwoman Michelle Harris in SuburbanChicagoland.com, it was stated: “this map came from months of collaborative work among members of the City Council, informed by citizen input given at prior hearings, offered in writing, shared at local meetings held by aldermen, and submitted through a free, online redistricting tool.”

Alderwoman Harris said: “Redistricting is, and must be, a democratic process, and we must honor that by listening to all points of view on how to craft and tweak a map.” 

Chicago Alderwoman Michelle Harris (8th Ward), photo courtesy Buzzfeed

A different approach happens at the Board of Elections; according to Bever, before making any changes, public engagement “Is not a legal requirement of this process. The Board has the authority to change precincts responding to state law the Illinois General Assembly passed.”

Dr. Wilson shared that his attorney Andy Finko intends to file an injunction to halt the proposed changes: “People are always talking about the Republicans down in Georgia suppressing the vote. Now, this is Chicago; democratic … looks like to me they are suppressing the voters themselves. And it’s wrong.” 

Final confirmation of polling places is scheduled to be announced in early October, according to the Chicago Board of Elections press release. Click here to verify any changes to your ward, precinct, or polling place, and enter your information. 

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Op-Ed: Three Brothers, Two ‘Zines, One Legacy

“… Someone can be famous because THING thinks they’re famous.”

In 1987, three Black men from the South Side of Chicago created the first of two self-published ‘zines documenting Black underground art, history, and life. Think Ink, the brainchild of Robert T. Ford, Trenton Adkins, and Lawrence (Larry) Warren, was a large 10.5’’ by 16’’ magazine similar in format to Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.

According to a September 1993 Owen Keehnen interview published in Outlines newspaper, Ford, the publisher, and editor stated that Think Ink was: “… very Black and not very gay …” A bold three-thousand copies of Volume One, Issue “O” was printed, initiating its Nov. 14, 1987, release. And a celebration was held at Wholesome Roc Gallery & Cafe to a full house.

Frankie Knuckles and guests at Think Ink magazine’s reception
Wholesome Roc Gallery & Cafe, 1987

I appeared on the cover in a satirical homage to Roots, the Alex Haley miniseries depicting the brutality of slavery, starring Levar Burton as Kunta Kinte, that captivated the nation in 1977. Adkins did the styling, and Paul Mainor of Mainor-Martin photography captured the now-iconic image.

The second issue, published in the spring of 1988, Volume One, Issue “1,” featured local model Aisha Mays on the cover shot by the late fashion photographer Ernest Collins. Adkins did the makeup, and I did sleek hair in a nod to Harlem’s 1920s Jazz Age, which was hot back then. Writing for Artforum in 2018, art historian Solveig Nelson declared it “evokes both the Jazz Age and voguing scene of the ’80s, characteristically bringing together different instances of cutting-edge glamor in African American culture.”

Think Ink magazine cover Roots, Volume One, Issue “0” (1987) photographed by Paul Mainor
Spring Issue “1” (1988) photographed by the late Ernest Collins

Although it was the trio’s first experiment in publishing, with Adkins and Warren serving as co-editors, Think Ink ceased publishing after two issues due to a lack of funding. Nevertheless, its impact was far-reaching, featuring interviews with Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History; DJ and music producer Frankie Knuckles; fashion designer Isiah and more. All fused together with art, poetry, fashion, music reviews, and Adkins’ “TEE” gossip column in a way never before seen in the Black community.

Nelson says Think Ink’s voice was “… loud & varied embracing cultures and countercultures of thinkers male/female/black/white/straight/gay/etc.” And independent culture and fashion magazine Document Journal writer DeForrest Brown Jr. refers to it as a “post-soul aesthetic” stemming from the Black Power and Black Arts Movements. 

Solveig Nelson, Visiting Curator, Art Institute of Chicago
(Illustration by Michael Asendio, NYC ©2022)

Short-lived, yet ahead of its time, the experience yielded “good information,” as Warren would put it years later. The lessons learned were priceless and prepared them for their subsequent publication focusing exclusively on the underground Black gay community, thus catapulting their names into the annals of history.

THING Mega ’Zine

Unlike its predecessor, Think InkTHING magazine was much smaller (8.5’’ by 5.5’’). But what it lacked in size, it made up for it with provocative editorial content. THING was bold, trend-setting, and unapologetically Black, yet it was never meant to be subversive. “We wanted to make a magazine that would be a way of documenting our existence and contribution to society. Our idea was not so much to radicalize or subvert the idea of magazines as to make one from our point of view. It wasn’t about deconstructing what a magazine is, it was playing within its perimeters.” Ford shared with Keehnen.

The fact that all three men were openly gay is coincidental, but it served its purpose by heightening THING’S editorial content appealing to the sensibilities of both the Black and white gay communities in Chicago. This time around, distribution for the first two issues was targeted and much smaller than Think Ink. “It was cautious optimism,” Warren characterized it, “from previous experiences.” 

On the cover of issue No. 1 – published November 1989 – an oil pastel painting of me by fine arts artist Simone Bouyer was chosen. The Living Flame and King of Rock and Roll, Little Richard, appears on issue No. 2. Only a couple hundred of each issue were published, but what happened next surprised everyone. THING caught on like wildfire, and by issue No. 3, distribution was expanded nationwide from New York to San Francisco. Chicago native Anthony Jackson was stationed at Alameda, CA, and remembers walking into a Black gay bar in Oakland, CA. “I went in there, and they had all these different magazines. (There’s) THING and all these other magazines like from Europe,” he stated.

Little Richard and Ken Hare for THING magazine, Issues 1 & 2

Subscriptions increased as word spread of THING’S racy interviews with rising stars like NY drag queens RuPaul, Lypsinka, and Lady Bunny (THING magazine Issue No. 6). And there was Chicago’s very own drag star Joan Jett Blakk who ran for mayor and eventually for U.S. president. Interviews with artists like early AIDS activist Essex Hemphill, music producer Bill Coleman, and film producer Marlon Riggs testify to THING’S penchant for spotting emerging Black talent and providing a platform to be seen, heard, and taken seriously.

With a stroke of luck – the right mix of editorial interviews, commentary, Adkins’ gossip column, music playlists, opinion pieces, film reviews, short stories, and timing – the trio had finally achieved the success they envisioned. And THING magazine began to fulfill a deep void in the Black gay community and beyond. 

RuPaul for THING magazine, Issue No. 6

As popularity spread, the ‘zine increased content, with each succeeding issue attracting a wider pool of contributors, writers, and volunteers. Editorial content became slicker as THING carved out its niche, becoming the premier go-to source for information within the Black gay community. After four years, THING surged from twenty-six pages to forty-six pages. But success came with a price.

According to Ford, THING had reached “an odd scale” and was “too small to generate lots of funding and too large to run without a staff,” he shared with Keehnen. 

Meanwhile, by issue four, Adkins noticed editorial content starting to veer off-point. He sent a letter to staffers expressing concerns about their well-being, acknowledging that everyone was under some “stress” due to HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly. Adkins admonished everyone to “… be kind and understanding to each other.” 

Success and circulation continued to accrue, but Ford was ready to call it quits after four years for several reasons; chief among them was his health. Ford was battling opportunistic infections because of AIDS and was hanging in there on a “day-to-day level,” he told Keehnen. “Thing had reached a point where it was creating more stress in my life.”

The final THING magazine No. 10 was published in the summer of 1993 with Jazzmun, the living Black Barbie, on the cover. More than a year later, Robert T. Ford passed away on October 2, 1994, surrounded by family and a few friends. Adkins passed away in 2007 due to similar health reasons. And Larry Warren passed away in December 2016 from diabetic-related complications.

Trent Adkin’s TEE Glossary for THING magazine – I thought you knew!

Despite the trio’s early demise, they continued to “work it” from the ancestral realm setting the stage for a fait accompli yet to come. The seeds had been planted, setting in motion a chain reaction. It might have taken 35 years, but things were just getting started.

The Legacy Continues

By the time the University of Chicago Ph.D. Candidate Solveig Nelson contacted me on Facebook in December 2017, she was already several years deep into researching the history of Think Ink and THING magazines. Four years later, on December 11, 2021 – during the height of the Omicron variant – Subscribe: Artists and Alternative Magazines photo exhibition opened to the general public with proof of vaccination requirements and without much fanfare.

But no one could’ve predicted what happened next: “It’s the most popular photo show in the museum’s history,” says the art historian candidly. Nearly a decade of relentless pursuit had finally paid off!

The exhibition took an unfiltered look at various underground magazines that circulated from 1970-1995, influencing pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Artistic publications from Chicago, LA, London, and New York gave platforms to a host of underground contemporaries that spoke to the issues of their day while giving you a glimpse of things to come. 

Art Institute photo exhibit, Subscribe: Artist and Alternative Magazines, 1970-1995

Drawn to the complex subtleties, the overtness, and sometimes quirky irreverence, Nelson states, “I was surprised in this [Think Ink] article how bravely she talked about capitalism,” referring to Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History, “… it’s a really radical interview. And then, in the same pages, you talk to Frankie Knuckles. And that combination of cultural figures, I just don’t see it anywhere else in any publication.” 

Drawing on their multi-disciplined backgrounds, the founders tapped into the power of storytelling, building on the legacy of the Black Arts Movement while crafting a new voice for Black gay men in print before the rise of the internet.

Nelson recalls meeting Adkins through Michael Thompson, Robert Ford’s former lover, in 1998. “Michael had the habit of inviting people over without saying who else he had invited over. Trent, Michael, Sadie Benning, and I all intersected at Michael’s North avenue apartment one afternoon. It was special,” she shared in an email. “We watched a video together and talked for hours … I know that we talked about experimental art and how it was too often gendered as male. Trent was brilliant as a conversationalist and as a thinker. He had such a range of expertise. He proudly told me about Thing magazine. He had so much love when he discussed this project.”

The chance encounter with the ever charismatic Adkins left an indelible impression influencing her decades later as a Visiting Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago and co-curator of the Subscribe photo exhibition. “I think the reason this acquisition means so much to me… things are valued after people die, and you know then people are like, this is valuable … this actually changed culture. This had a big effect,” she commented during the exhibit.

Ultimately, THING served as a beacon of hope for the underground arts community and beyond, establishing a new narrative for how Black artists perceived themselves and the world around them. Black gay women and men were coming of age in Chicago and celebrating their accomplishments, whether it was education, working a job to provide for their family, pursuing careers, starting a business, or being married to the Music Box or Warehouse dance floors on the weekends. They had something to offer; they knew it and were unapologetic about it.  

Wardell Ford (left), Trent Adkins, and Simone Bouyer at Wholesome Roc Gallery & Cafe, 1987
Lawrence Larry Warren (left) and Robert T. Ford at Wholesome Roc Gallery & Cafe, 1987

The timing of the renewed interest in Think Ink and THING is almost prophetic against the backdrop of current events. Today’s headlines could easily be interchanged with those from 35 years ago as monkeypox, reproductive and transgender rights take center stage. Back then, it was HIV/AIDS and Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Jewish civil rights activists fighting against police brutality – Rodney King, the Republican Christian Right, and the Moral Majority. And true to form, as George Bernard Shaw mentions in the “Revolutionist’s Handbook,” the more things change, the more they stay the same.

By its tenth issue, THING reached a circulation of roughly 3K subscribers worldwide – a “gigantic” feat, according to Keehnen. And that is a huge accomplishment for an underground ‘zine.

THING welcomed intersectional collaborators of all sorts with open arms who believed they had something to contribute to society. All the while establishing a template for future generations of content creators to control their stories, fashion their brands, and build on the rich legacies that preceded them. 

The interest in our work as part of the collective team is an honor and humbling as the House of Thing (Simone Bouyer, Stephanie Coleman, and I) seek to share our stories and lessons learned with today’s pioneering artists while connecting with the legacy builders before us.

Together, we aim to continue the uncompromising and powerful tradition of African storytelling, building on the vision begun by Robert T. Ford, Trent Adkins, and Lawrence (Larry) Warren. And who knows what might happen next? Anyone or anything can become the next hot thing. As Ford once said, “… Someone can be famous because THING thinks they’re famous.”  

THING: She knows who she is

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Analysis: Do ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois Have a Black Face Problem?

“The best way to judge us on hiring, in the end, is to look at our numbers,” they say.

On Jan. 1, 2019, I published an op-ed calling out ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois for what I believe to be their blatant hypocrisy. The opinion piece highlighted and called into question their advertising and hiring of Black reporters.

In summary, in 2017, Pro Publica Inc. – their legal name, according to the Delaware Secretary of State website – which is operating as ProPublica newsroom out of Manhattan, New York, decided to expand and open a Midwest regional newsroom. First stop: Chicago.

Louise Kiernan, an associate professor from Northwestern University, was tapped to head the news outlet. ProPublica advertised requirements that appeared to be welcoming and liberal, particularly to people of color. Click here for the details.

Louise Kiernan with ProPublica Chicago employees in elevator
Photo of newly hired reporters posted on ProPublica Illinois Editor-in-Chief Louise Kiernan’s Twitter account

Soon thereafter, Ms. Kiernan posted a photo of the new hires in Chicago on her Twitter account. And guess what? There wasn’t one Black reporter to be found.

I took issue with the photo, especially after meeting Ms. Kiernan in person at the Lookingglass Theater in 2017. Please read about my revealing encounter with her here.

Within weeks of publishing my opinion, on Jan. 24, 2019, ProPublica published a report titled: “What ProPublica is Doing About Diversity in 2019.

Three things stood out about their efforts:

  1. The report states that their “Diversity Committee” was just formally started – despite them taking on these issues as far back as 2015. Shouldn’t the diversity committee have been formed officially in 2015?
  2. According to the report, black employees make up 7 percent of their employees. They couched their achievements in percentages and not whole numbers. Why not share real numbers with your readers and followers instead of percentages? And tell a more compelling narrative as you often do with your other data-driven reporting? Unless you’re trying to hide something?
  3. The diversity committee is headed and co-chaired by Lena Groeger and Liz Sharp, two nonBlack staffers.

Who’s Going to Take the Responsibility?

When ProPublica hired its first Black male reporter – Christopher Sanders – in 2015, it appeared to be aiming toward genuine reform and inclusiveness in its NYC newsroom.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. They haven’t hired another Black male reporter since, and they have 42 nonBlack male reporters in their Manhattan bureau and not a single Black male reporter on the ground in Chicago.

That’s a 42:1 ratio for nonBlack to Black male reporters in NYC.

But it would take ProPublica almost two more years before it hired another Black reporter, this time a female – Talia Buford, in 2017. A remarkable feat, bringing their Black female reporters to two. Thus increasing their Black female reporters by 100 percent in a single stroke.

Ginger Thompson – senior reporter – is the first Black female hired in 2014.

ProPublica has 43 nonBlack female reporters. That’s a 43:2 ratio for nonBlack to Black female reporters in NYC.

In Chicago, there are no Black part- or full-time staff reporters whatsoever.

The 7 percent of Blacks mentioned in their diversity report includes all the Blacks ProPublica employs, including on the business side, Black fellows, and maybe a custodian person or two.

Hone in on the reporters only, and Blacks involved in writing and reporting the news drops to a paltry 3 out of nearly 90 reporters, or 3 percent.

Updated ProPublica graphic

Obfuscating the truth and misleading their followers, content partners, and maybe even their board members appears to be their preferred method of running their newsrooms.

“Board members.”

Yes, the nonprofit has a 15-member board of directors, and two happen to be Black: Danielle S. Allen and Henry Louis Gates Jr., according to their website.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. made national news when a white female neighbor called 911 and reported him as a burglar attempting to break into his own home – in Cambridge, Massachusetts – after returning from China in July 2009.

582a11a8180000f5035040c2
Harvard professor and ProPublica board member Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The prominent professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University was arrested for disorderly conduct by Sgt. James Crowley and the incident sparked international outrage opening the door to the ongoing, contentious debate about race, racial profiling, and white privilege.

Charges were eventually dropped, and both men were invited to the White House for a “Beer Summit” with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Gates was the only Black board member since their founding in 2007 until recently. See the entire board membership here.

Also, ProPublica appears to have only one Black on its 15-member Journalism Advisory Board, Cynthia A. Tucker, which also includes current members such as:

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, and L Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Topping off their governance boards, there doesn’t appear to be any Black faces among its 18-member Business Advisors, which include current members:

Ann Blinkhorn, founder of Blinkhorn LLC, a reported leader in digital media, and Maria Gotsch, president and CEO of Investment Fund, which funds rising entrepreneurs in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors across various sectors.

Click here and scroll towards the bottom to view the entire membership of journalism and business advisors.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

This is what ProPublica said in its very first diversity report in 2015.

“The best way to judge us on hiring, in the end, is to look at our numbers.”

Black female reporters in New York – 2
Black male reporters in New York – 1
Black female reporters in Chicago – 0
Black male reporters in Chicago – 0

And the count for executive managers, board members, and advisors:

Black Board of Directors – 2
Black Journalism Advisory Board – 1
Black Business Advisors – 0
Black executive managers – 0

Let that sink in for a moment before we get to the heart of the matter.

After 5 years of committees, meetings, and vainglorious rhetoric: Why do ProPublica and now ProPublica Illinois have a problem hiring reporters with Black faces?

On Feb. 1, 2019, attorney Jill M. Willis filed a federal lawsuit alleging race, age, and color discrimination.

Stay tuned for more on this developing story . . .

#ProPublicaWhereAreTheBlackReporters?

This story has been updated as of July 18, 2019.

Disclaimer:

This is a personal blog for the above named writer. The views, information and/or opinions expressed are solely those of the individual writer and do not necessarily represent the views of any entity, organization or company that I may have been affiliated with in the past, present or future.

This blog is for education, information and entertainment purposes. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of any entity other than the author(s) and due to critical thinking these views are subject to change and revision.

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Op-Ed: Dear ProPublica Board Members, Business Advisors, Journalism Advisory Board, Content Partners, Editors, Reporters and Supporters: What’s wrong with this picture?

ProPublica says they’re committed to diversity. Their hiring record raises some serious questions

Louise Kiernan with ProPublica Chicago employees in elevator

Hint No 1: On May 19, 2017 ProPublica posted the following advertisement:

capture propublica

Hint No 2: They were very specific in whom they were targeting using the following language:

“We are dedicated to improving our newsroom, in part by better reflecting the people we cover. We’re committed to diversity and especially encourage members of underrepresented communities to apply, including women, people of color, LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.”

Hint No 3: However, as the above photo depicts, there were no Black reporters hired. Yet, the ensuing headlines occurred:

nina martin

Written by Nina Martin and published on December 7, 2017: https://www.propublica.org/article/nothing-protects-black-women-from-dying-in-pregnancy-and-childbirth

ProPublica Adrianna Gallards

Written by Adriana Gallardo and published on Dec 8, 2017: https://www.propublica.org/article/black-women-disproportionately-suffer-complications-of-pregnancy-and-childbirth-lets-talk-about-it

Annie Waldman

And: https://www.propublica.org/article/how-hospitals-are-failing-black-mothers, written by Annie Waldman

published on December 27, 2017.

Now I may not be a Pulitzer Prize-winner or a Harvard graduate, but it shouldn’t take that to see that your blatant exploitation of Black women’s pain and suffering is not only wrong, but also morally and ethically reprehensible.

No disrespect to the three smart reporters who did what they were told to do. But, this pattern and practice of exploitation flies in the face of your published advertisement “improving our newsroom.”

Those three stories were specifically written about what some Black women might encounter when it comes to health care. So for the sake of clarity: Could you please explain how assigning three non-Black reporters to write their stories somehow better reflects the people that you cover?

If you really meant what you said then the photos above would look entirely different. Who do you think you’re fooling? 

Stay tuned for this developing story. There’s much more to come!

Analysis: Are Cartoons Now Predicting The Future?

A 2016 Comedy Central cartoon depicts Kobe Bryant in a fiery helicopter crash.

The 20-series cartoon “Legends of Chamberlain Heights” premiered on Comedy Central on September 14, 2016, and lasted for two seasons, according to news sources.

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Artwork from Comedy Central’s Legends of Chamberlain Heights

Episode 8, titled “End of Days,” written by Grant DeKernion and directed by L. Todd Myers, appears to eerily foreshadow Kobe Bryant’s death with a scene ripped straight from today’s headlines.

In the 2016 episode, Kobe appeals to three main characters – Grover, Jamal, and Milk – for help while still clutching two NBA trophies after his helicopter crashes. In crass Comedy Central fashion, Jamal – voiced by Quinn Hawking, one of the show’s creators – says to Kobe: “Just pass me the trophies, and we’ll pull you out.”

Appalled by Jamal’s response, Kobe disappointingly says, “Pass?” to the characters, upon which his helicopter blows up, and he’s engulfed in a ball of fire that ejects five championship rings that roll over to their feet.

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Screenshot from 2016 Comedy Central cartoon “End of Days”

According to a media report, Comedy Central and Legends of Chamberlain Heights have removed most references to this event from their social media plaforms. You can view multiple clips here on other websites.

Predictive Programming

Alternative media researcher Alan Watt who runs the Coincidence Theorist blog defines “predictive programming” as a “theorized method of mass mind control,” whereby people are being conditioned “through works of fiction, to accept planned future scenarios.”

Watt’s blog highlights many examples of “predictive programming” where celebrities and tragic events were referenced in art and pop culture before the actual events occurred in real life.

For example, Seth McFarland’s award-winning comedy Family Guy referenced the death of actor Robin Williams in an episode that featured a suicide plot line that aired on May 20, 2012.

Williams, years later, reportedly took his own life on August 11, 2014, by suicide, according to media reports.

People are being conditioned “through works of fiction, to accept planned future scenarios.”

In yet another episode of Family Guy, which aired during Season 4 in 2005, baby Stewie is running through a shopping mall naked. Apparently terrified, he yells at the top of his lungs: “Help! I’ve just escaped from Kevin Spacey’s basement. Help me!”

In 2017, the actor Anthony Rapp publicly accused Spacey of sexual advances when he was 14 years old. Subsequently, numerous other alleged victims of Kevin Spacey decided to come forward with their stories of sexual abuse.

Spacey has denied all the allegations through his publicist and on his Twitter account and has not been prosecuted to date for any of the alleged abuses.

Watts refers to these unique circumstances as “the power of suggestion” whereby “using the media of fiction to create a desired outcome.” That desire he submits is to have a population conditioned to accept this reality and not to ask too many questions about the pre-planned outcomes.

Predictive programming is therefore thought to be a means of propaganda or mass psychological conditioning that operates on a subliminal or implicit level, according to alternative media personalities like David Icke and the controversial Alex Jones. They both have been accused of peddling and profiting off of conspiracy theories.

Nonetheless, as information spreads about these seemingly odd coincidences that dominate our news feeds and social media platforms, the questions and curiosity will only increase as people seek the truth and want answers.

Answers that don’t fit comfortably within the MSM’s narrative and oftentimes fall outside their scope of reporting.

Op-Ed: ProPublica & ProPublica Illinois Hit With Discrimination Suit!

“The goal was to encourage Black reporters to come forward . . . “

The award-winning newsroom ProPublica NY and its satellite ProPublica Illinois have both been named as defendants in a federal discrimination lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the newsrooms of age, race, and color discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991; violation of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution; violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; and violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 as amended.

On April 12, 2019, I appeared as a guest commentator on WVON AM 1690, where I shared what I experienced with the newsrooms with the WVON listening audience. The goal was to encourage Black reporters to come forward with their stories if they may have encountered similar circumstances.

I want to hear your story – if you or someone you know applied to ProPublica Illinois in 2017 or any other time – please message me at: www.facebook.com/ProPublicawherearetheblackreporters?

Here is the commentary that aired on WVON:

#ProPublicaWhereAreTheBlackReporters?

#FactsMatter

Disclaimer:

This is a personal blog for the above named writer. The views, information and/or opinions expressed are solely those of the individual writer and do not necessarily represent the views of any entity, organization or company that I may have been affiliated with in the past, present or future.

This blog is for education, information and entertainment purposes. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of any entity other than the author(s) and due to critical thinking these views are subject to change and revision.

Commentary: This is What Happened the First Day I Met ProPublica’s Illinois Editor-in-Chief Louise Kiernan

“Little did I know that our brief encounter would transform my life forever.”

On May 3, 2017, I met ProPublica’s Illinois editor-in-chief, Louise Kiernan, at the Lookingglass Theater, where she was a guest panelist discussing the ethics of investigative journalism.

   Initially, I was excited to meet her. We both were attending one of the final performances of “Beyond Caring,” a play about the abuses of Black and Hispanic workers at the hands of the temporary staffing industry.

   The play, the brainchild of British playwright Alexander Zeldin, was inspired partly by ProPublica’s 2013 “Temp Land” series, written by their staff reporter Michael Grabell. Grabell and I had met the week before. He encouraged me to apply for a reporter’s position even though I initially missed the deadline of March 24, 2017.

   I emailed Mr. Grabell asking if he would forward samples of my work to Ms. Kiernan. Included was a letter of introduction, several links to stories, audio commentary from WVON radio regarding the destruction of the Chicago police misconduct records, and a JPEG of a front-page story I wrote that was soon copied by all the major dailies, including the Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Reader to name a few.

   This was a soft inquiry, and I wanted to know if there was any possibility of applying post-deadline.

Edwin-Lee-Gibson-Caren-Blackmore-and-Wendy-Mateo-star-in-Beyond-Caring-Lookingglass
Edwin Gibson, Caren Blackmore and Wendy Mateo in Beyond Caring.  Photo courtesy of Lookingglass Theater

     Immediately following the play was a panel discussion about ethics moderated by radio station WBEZ. Ms. Kiernan and two other female reporters discussed ethics and discriminatory practices raised in the play. They also fielded questions from the audience about maintaining professionalism when dealing with sensitive matters and where to draw the line when conducting interviews in intimate settings.

     Post-discussion, I approached Ms. Kiernan and introduced myself to put a face with the name. Little did I know that our brief encounter would transform my life forever.

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ProPublica Illinois editor-in-chief Louise Kiernan

After shaking my hand, Ms. Kiernan’s body appeared to recoil. As she struggled with her coat while holding some items in her hand, I approached her as any gentleman would and offered assistance.

She said “No” and turned her back on me.
I was utterly stunned and taken by surprise that the Pulitzer Prize-winner and co-director of Northwestern University’s social justice initiative could be so cold and callous.

I graciously thanked her, turned, and walked away to meet my guest, who witnessed everything from across the room. My guest asked me: “How did it go?” I responded, “I don’t think it went so well.”

   There was no reason for a new editor-in-chief and ambassador for the ProPublica news organization to react negatively, condescending, and dismissively. Inside, I felt deeply humiliated and profoundly violated, but I was determined not to be discouraged. 

     After all, this was my first time meeting her, and all I wanted to do was introduce myself and work for the celebrated newsroom.

     In an interview with Broadway World News Desk, playwright Zeldin summed up his work: ” . . . I’ve found that looking at the lives of those working in the conditions of the temporary economy, the margins of society, says so much about the moral, spiritual, and emotional place that the country is in, much like it did the UK.

      It tells us about how the sentiment that lives are to be lived with dignity, respect and a sense of value is only a hollow set of words. But it says something else, too — here in the U.S., it tells us about race in this country . . .”

ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois: I deserved much better!

Stay tuned for this developing story.

#ProPublicWhereAreTheBlackReporters?

Disclaimer:

This is a personal blog for the writer named above. The views, information, and/or opinions expressed are solely those of the individual writer. They do not necessarily represent the views of any entity, organization, or company with which I may have been affiliated in the past, present, or future.

This blog is for education, information, and entertainment purposes. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of any entity other than the author(s), and due to critical thinking, these views are subject to change and revision.

Can Receivership Have an Impact on the Black Community?

Court receivership training program aims to increase minority participation

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Dearborn Realtist Board 2018 Receivership Specialist and board members (seated front row)

Three thousand housing court cases are filed per year, according to county court records. Many of which are vacant, abandoned and distressed properties that may be eligible for some level of court-ordered receivership. These properties are throughout the city particularly in neighborhoods like Austin, Englewood, Garfield, N. & S. Lawndale and  Woodlawn.

With prime areas of the city experiencing various degrees of gentrification, receivership is now being viewed by city officials as a possible tool to help stabilize the Black community. Could this be an answer to prayers?

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DRB president Courtney Jones engage trainees

Just last week, over 70 real estate professionals, investors and concerned residents from Chicago convened at East-West University in the South Loop. For the second time, the Dearborn Realtist Board (DRB) and its president, Courtney Jones, hosted the Receivership Training Program sponsored in conjunction with the City of Chicago Department of Planning & Development at the university.

DRB – the oldest Black real estate trade association, established in 1941 – hosted the five day, 30-hour course designed to introduce the public to the basic tenets of what it takes to become a court-appointed receiver.

Stemming from the English Chancery Courts, the concept of receivership as it relates to housing is simple: the court appoints someone to be responsible for the property of others to maintain, service, manage and/or repair the property.

Receivership – An Overview

According to attorney of counsel M. Faisal Elkhatib, who represents private receivers, there are several ways a property can end up in receivership. In the majority of instances receivership arises “. . .from a city lawsuit about several major municipal building violations on a property and the owner is: no where to be found, deceased, or failing to show up in court and failing to correct the violations.”

The process typically starts with a call to the city’s 311 center and falls under one of three categories: heat call, vacant building call, or a conservation call. Last year, over 50,000 such calls were placed to 311.

Once a call is logged, a building inspector is sent out to the site to investigate the complaint(s). If the violations are substantiated, the building owners, responsible parties including the mortgage company – if there is a mortgage – will be hauled into the Department of Administrative Hearings or the Cook County Circuit Court to address the municipal violations.

Illinois Compiled Statues 65 ILCS 5/11-13-15 and 5/11-31-1 & 2 grants police power to Chicago to determine if a building or structure “. . fails to conform to the minimum standards of health and safety” and “the owner or owners of such building or structure fails, after due notice, to cause such property to conform, the municipality may make application to the circuit court for an injunction requiring compliance,” according to the statue.

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Sanina Ellison Jones, Chicago Homes Realty Group

Sanina Ellison Jones, managing broker for Chicago Homes Realty Group, and one of the trainers presented that once all interested parties are notified and given the opportunity to respond, but fail to reply, at this stage the process to appoint a receiver may commence.

According to other presenters, anyone can become a receiver provided they meet the court’s exacting requirements. During the week-long course attendees learned the fine points of receivership including: the difference between a limited versus general receiver, how to read a court order, conducting a feasibility study to determine if a property is worth taking on and the potential risks involved, etc.

The overall goal is to move qualified parties towards receivership as soon as possible.

As attorney Elkhatib goes over the requirements, it becomes readily apparent that this process isn’t for everyone. An interested party must have knowledge of: general contracting, financial wherewithal to pay for the process, administrative training to manage the heavy documentation and legal requirements to obtain a receivers’ certificate. And most importantly, the ability to weather long-term risky cash outlays, he shares.

Investor Lonnie
Investor Alonzo Anderson preps for a quiz

Undaunted, real estate investor Alonzo Anderson – who heard about the class from the Bronzeville Chamber of Commerce president – recognizes the connection between being a receiver and taking control of his community.

It’s an opportunity to “convert the dangerous and hazardous properties to something more appealing,” he states. And “not only can we influence the evolution of our neighborhoods,” but also “increase its value.”

Social media producer Bertina M. Power, of the Power Hour undeniably agreed: “We have to work together. Collaborating our knowledge, resources, experiences and funds – house by house, block by block – we can do it,” she said with the realization the receiver may end up owning the property.

In some cases, for little or nothing, in others, for the initial investment and time spent on the case which could tarry from several months to 2 years in more challenging cases.

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Media producer Bertina M. Power chats with Chetzi M. Canada, Broker Coldwell Banker

At times, for some attendees, the information appeared to be overwhelming but foreclosure specialist/activist            Jah Ranu Menab said: “I’ve been to many classes and this one was by far the best,” as he praised DBR for the well-organized  handouts, presentations and speakers,  including attorneys from Corporation Counsel and Honorable Leonard Murray, supervising judge over Housing.

During any given year the city of Chicago appoints up to 250 receivers; currently, there are 172 receivers appointed and only five of them are Black, according to sources close to the court. The training program is held only once per year.

Next up – a detailed analysis of Chicago’s receivership program. Meet some of the movers behind the scenes including an active receiver. See how the courts operate up close. What’s required? What are some of the challenges? What happened in the past? And, how this opportunity could potentially benefit you, your block and the community at large.

You don’t want to miss this intriguing development.

Stay tuned . . .

Disclaimer:

This is a personal blog for the above named writer. The views, information and/or opinions expressed are solely those of the individual writer and do not necessarily represent the views of any entity, organization or company that I may have been affiliated with in the past, present or future.

This blog is for education, information and entertainment purposes. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of any entity other than the author(s) and due to critical thinking these views are subject to change and revision.