Featured Stories


Former LeClaire Courts residents are still fighting to go home 
By Lucia Anaya | Chicago Reader
August 4, 2016

The CHA promised right of return. But seven years later the land is still undeveloped.


Chicago’s ‘Skullcap Crew’: band of police accused of brutality evade discipline 
By Alison Flowers, Anna 
Boisseau, Kari Lydersen, Madison Hopkins, and Rajiv Sinclair | The Guardian
August 3, 2016

Dogged by allegations of abuse, members of the group, ‘Skullcap Crew’ have been named in more than 20 federal lawsuits – yet have won repeated praise from department.

The residents of Rezkoville’s tent city battle the elements—and personal demons 
By Kari Lydersen and Lloyd DeGrane | Chicago Reader
June 29, 2016

The vacant, 62-acre site in the shadow of downtown Chicago is the closest thing some have to home.


A view over the shipping container living area. Residents are not allowed to cook their own meals in the shipping containers. Photo by Forrest HansonRefugees and the rough road to Calais
By Sophia Bollag
June 28, 2016

Surrounding Gavrilescu on this June day are 10 student journalists from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University who spent 10 weeks studying the European refugee crisis, then traveled to France to report on it. What follows are some of the stories we heard at the Jungle camp, accompanied by reflections from our time there.

DONLEY-3“If not here, then when?” A shared chronology of housing insecurity, displacement, and homelessness
By Michael Donley and Carmilla Manzanet
June 8, 2016

My wife Carmilla Manzanet and I along with thousands of other former Chicago Housing Authority residents and Section 8 Voucher recipients are asking this important and urgent question, as the so-called Plan for Transformation of public housing has languished in limbo for 15 years and now moves closer to privatization and wholesale displacement.

Mental Health Court 02 By Bill HealyHow the Cook County mental health court helped a jailed drug addict
By Bill Healy  | WBEZ
June 3, 2016

Hope in Mental Health Court: SJNN Fellow Bill Healy reports for WBEZLatina Douglas spent more than half her life in “a blur of petty crimes and prostitution, drug use and dozens of arrests,” as SJNN Fellow Bill Healy reported in a story aired June 3 on WBEZ public radio

Screen-Shot-2016-05-12-at-10.42.21-AM-1-1024x586Chicago’s South Side in black and white 
By Alden Loury 
May 12, 2016

At that time, the boundary was an imaginary line along South Western Avenue separating the neighborhood where I spent most of my childhood from the neighborhood to the west. The boundary was clear and distinct because of one unmistakable fact: the people were black on my side of that boundary, and they were white on the other side.

IMG_7292-1038x576 How small short-term loans draw vulnerable borrowers into big long-term debt
By Siri Bulusu | Medill Reports
April 11, 2016

“When lenders say they’re offering a viable credit option for low- income communities, it’s laughable,” Fleming said. “These loans are opaque, obscure and intended to mislead vulnerable people into debt traps.”

(Flickr Creative Commons)

Hospital tests “Housing First” program for Chicago homeless to reduce health care costs
By Martha Bayne | Crain’s Chicago Business
April 4, 2016 

Since the advent of health care reform in 2010, Illinois Medicaid enrollment has grown to over 3 million people. The bill for that care came to $14 billion in 2014 alone. But almost half of that was spent on care for just 100,000 people—many of them emergency room “frequent fliers” who are poor and suffer from high rates of diabetes, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, mental illness and substance abuse. Of those 100,000, an estimated 4 to 5 percent are homeless.

A mural of a La Perla local, Luiji (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

La Perla: The vibrant San Juan neighborhood 
By Nikita Mandhani 
March 17, 2016

La Perla has been an infamous neighborhood since its early days. In the 19th century, it was the site of a slaughterhouse and home to people — slaves, the homeless and non-white servants — who were required to live outside the city walls.

Steel flags demarcate the Paseo Boricua, “Puerto Rican Promenade,” on Division Street in Humboldt Park. (Rebekah Frumkin/MEDILL)

For Puerto Ricans in Chicago, no one’s an island
By Hannah Rank and Rebekah Frumkin
March 14, 2016

Jose López sits comfortably in his wicker chair as a February blizzard rages on outside, the wall behind him a collage of Puerto Rican literature and artifacts. When it comes to his homeland of Puerto Rico, López has clear ambitions. He wants his countrymen to decide for themselves what their economic future should be, instead of being saddled with an uncontrollable debt they didn’t solely create.


What price statehood? For some Puerto Rican’s, a loss of independence
By Hannah Rank and Rebekah Frumkin
March 14, 2016

It’s a sunny February morning in La Perla, a low-income neighborhood beside Old San Juan’s northern city wall. Lifelong resident Lourdes López-Rivera stands on a beachside cliff, considering the Caribbean’s cyan expanse. “They keep talking about development here,” she says, shaking her head. “Then we’ll have to move.”

For Illinois farmers, damage from coal mines can span decades
By Lizz Giordano | Midwest Energy News
March 1, 2016

MSJ student Lizz Giordano traveled to downstate Illinois to report on coal mining with funding from the Social Justice Initiative at Medill. This story originally was published in Midwest Energy News.”


“This is not America. This is Dearborn.”
By Nikita Mandhani
December 15, 2015

Medill graduate students Nikita Mandhani and Bian Elkhatib traveled to the Detroit metropolitan area on a reporting trip sponsored by the Social Justice News Nexus. In these stories, they explore life and challenges for Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees and other diverse residents of Dearborn, Detroit and Hamtramck.


Helping kids cope with crippling loss 
By Taylor Mullaney 
October 8, 2015

When he learned about his mother’s sudden death, Kevin Doyle figured – just for a moment – that he knew what had happened.


Project Fire offers peace forged in the flame
By Steve Bogira | Chicago Reader 
August 3, 2015

On a Saturday morning in June, the 17-year-old is working on a project in the hot shop of the Ignite Glass Studios on the 400 block of North Armour in West Town. He’s making a decorative egg, like one he saw online. The spacious hot shop has two large furnaces, from which glassblowers gather molten glass onto blowpipes, and four other furnaces—”glory holes” in which they rewarm their pieces so they can shape them.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 4.59.00 PMTwo worlds collide on a corner in Pilsen
By Meg Anderson
July 28, 2015

In the last 15 years, thousands of Hispanic people have left the traditionally Mexican Pilsen neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. Residents are fighting to keep their community intact, but some experts say Pilsen is just seeing the ebbs and flows that any community would see over time. Now, new businesses and developments are moving in. Are the changes gaining momentum?

''We need to radically reimagine what safety looks like.'' (Image: Police lights via Shutterstock)

For families of people living with mental illness,
police “support” is not the solution
By Martin Macias | Truthout 
July 15, 2015

Smell is a powerful activator of long-term memory. When I encounter the smell of stale rooms, or any acidity that lingers in my throat, I’m taken back to a day in April 2012, when police notified my family that my brother, who had been missing for three days prior, had been found and could be visited at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, better known as Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

Photo by Penny Wang at Cook County Jail.

From the clinics to the jail: The mental health care crisis in Chicago
By Penny Yi Wang and Rachel White
June 9, 2015

Three years ago, Chicago closed half its public mental health clinics, a crucial source of care for low-income people, Blacks and Latinos.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.38.05 AMPreserving K-Town history, as a Presidential library moves in
By Phoebe Tollefson | The Westside Source
June 8, 2015 

“That went away. The riot in ’68 pretty much pushed everyone else out, anybody who was trying to stick with it. The riots were like the nail in the coffin.”

Art by Manuela Perez depicting mental health and recovery

For immigrants, status and stigma affect mental health,
few resources exist
By Stephanie Manriquez
June 4, 2015 | The Gate Newspaper 

It’s been almost 40 years since he first set foot on American soil. A young man who was only able to finish the first grade, he also had the task of supporting his family as the oldest child.


Searching for Cabrini Green
By Meg Anderson
May 28, 2015

The vast footprints of a forgotten beast are scattered on Chicago’s Near North Side. These empty lots on some of Chicago’s most valuable land seem deliberate, almost like parks planted alongside the luxury condos going up in the area. You would never know this land was the site of what was perhaps the nation’s most notorious public housing complex – Cabrini Green.

Jason Stivers walks out of his mother's work office in the South Loop on March 5, 2015.

Police face choice of handcuffs or helping hand for mentally ill 
By Adeshina Emmanuel and
Suzanne McBridge | Chicago Reporter

May 27, 2015

Lena Coleman ran into the bathroom of her West Pullman home to escape her attacker, who was ranting about Satan. The 69-year-old locked the door, climbed out the window and fled to a neighbor’s house where she called 911. Police came looking for the attacker – her son, Phillip. He had experienced a psychotic breakdown.

5 The coach (Mathias Meier).

The coach: Boxing in Little Village 
By Mathias Meier | Social Justice News Initiative 
April 29, 2015

Gabriel Navarrol knows well about how boxing can lead kids to a brighter future. Growing up in Little Village, Chicago, he encountered violence, gangs and drug abuse at an early age.

Illinois State Sen. William Delgado (2nd) visited two unlicensed 24-hour rehab homes in Back of the Yards and Little Village on Monday, April 27. Delgado has vowed to investigate a referral chain that connects drug users from Puerto Rico to unregulated rehab homes in Chicago. (The Gate/Adriana Cardona-Maguigad)

Officials respond to unlicensed drug rehab groups, demand answers from Puerto Rican authorities 
By Adriana Cardona-Maguidad | The Gate Newspaper
April 30, 2015

On April 10, I released a year-long investigation on WBEZ and “This American Life” that uncovered an informal pipeline of drug users being sent by authorities in Puerto Rico to unlicensed drug rehab programs in Chicago. These rehab homes are part of a loose network of “24-hour groups” that cater mainly to Spanish speakers and are run by former addicts.

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The fight for mental health services in Chicago 
By Anne-Marie Cusac | The Progressive 
April 28, 2015

Bryant, now in her late sixties, describes an alcoholic father who probably had mental illness. “You could walk in the house with your shoes untied and it would cause major problems,” she says. “He was violent and reactive to every little thing. That was his illness.”

 Guilty of Mental Illness
By Deborah L. Shelton | Chicago Reporter 
April 27, 2015 

Annie Parker, 72, struggles to figure out how to keep her mentally ill son from cycling in and out of jail. On average, about 2,000 of the jail’s 9,000 detainees are living with at least one mental illness, making Cook County Jail among the largest psychiatric facilities in the nation.


North Lawndale: Coping with community trauma
By Alexandria Johnson
April 23, 2015

When residents of some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods need mental health treatment, they often seek help from social service and community organizations in their neighborhoods – help that can be hard to find.

Mauricio Baltodano, a 13-year-old amateur boxer, stands inside the ring at the Roger Deshon gym in Managua. (Mathias Meier/MEDILL)

Alexis’ Legacy – The child boxers of Nicaragua
By Mathias Meier | Medill Social Justice Initiative
April 23, 2015

Ever since Alexis Argüello, the late mayor of Managua and world-famous boxing legend, became the first Nicaraguan to win the world title in 1974, ten other Nicaraguan boxers have lifted the belt of world champion.  All of these men had two things in common: a past full of hardships and a desire to fight their way out of poverty.


Puerto Rico to Chicago drug pipeline 
By Adriana Cardona-Maguidad | WBEZ
April 20, 2015

This is an excerpt from the original story “Island police and mayors direct heroin addicts to Chicago and other cities with promises of housing and treatment” posted on WBEZ.org on April 10th, 2015.

Puerto Rico ‘exporta’ adictos a Chicago 
By Adriana Cardona-Maguigad | Hoy Chicago
April 16, 2015

La Policía de la isla y los alcaldes facilitan el traslado de adictos a Chicago y a otras ciudades con promesas de vivienda y tratamiento.

Horace Howard1

Black men suffer from mental illness: How racism figures in
By Frederick H. LoweNorth Star News
April 8, 2015

Mental illness is a silent epidemic among Black men, many feel racism is to blame. The definition of mental illness has a racist history rooted in slavery.


The Closing of the Woodlawn Mental Health Center Disrupted the Lives of the Black Men It Served
By Frederick H. Lowe | Northstar  News
April 3, 2015

Woodlawn’s closing drew the most attention, resulting in a very public fight over the policies of Mayor Emanuel, who received strong black voter support in the 2011 mayoral election, and Bechara Choucair, MD/MS, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health at the time.



A Day in the Life of Black Men: Microaggressions, a subtle form of racism
By Frederick H. Lowe | NorthStar News Today
March 29, 2015

Microaggressions don’t always come out the mouths of white, Hispanic or Asian women or men from other ethnic and racial groups. Murray is a nationally known speaker on issues concerning black men. When he went to University of Illinois at Chicago to give a speech, a black woman receptionist, without asking him one question, told him that he was supposed to make deliveries at the back of the building.

Shut Down of Mental Health Clinic Also Spells End for In-House Paper
By Frederick H. Lowe | New America Media

March 9, 2015

When the City of Chicago closed the Woodlawn Adult Health Center in 2012, the Woodlawn Connection, a monthly newspaper founded by a client, folded after publishing 93 issues.

Kedzie Center Executive Director Angela Sedeno cuts the ribbon at the center's grand opening on Oct. 29, 2014. (CCSOMHC)

Why one community voted to tax itself
By Anne-Marie Cusac | In These Times
March 2, 2015

When Sharon Nichols said no to three teens who knocked on her door with a clipboard in the summer of 2009, she didn’t know her life was about to change.


A visit to the Cook County jail 
By Adriana Cardona-Maguidad, Bill Healy (audio) and Penny Wang (photos)
December 14, 2014 

Imagine a teenage African American boy. He is 18 years old, a star basketball athlete from the West Side being scouted by colleges offering scholarships, including DePaul University. But one day he makes a mistake.

Cover Photo

Gangs and narcotics in Little Village: Media hype vs. reality 
By Jackie Serrato 
December 3, 2014

In national news depictions, violence in Little Village is partly provoked by an international drug trade run by Mexican cartels that work with local gangs.

Untangling the managed care system
By LaRisa Lynch | Austin Weekly News
November 26, 2014

Part II on treatment options under Affordable Care Act. The state’s move to a managed care system for its Medicaid program is raising concerns among health care providers looking to enroll substance addicts in treatment programs via the Affordable Care Act, i.e. Obamacare.


Exploring drug treatment options under Affordable Care Act
By LaRisa Lynch | Austin Weekly News
November 18, 2014

There’s hope for substance abuse under Obamacare. First in series exploring treatment options under Affordable Care Act.

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Block by block: Laramie and Ferdinand
By Ahmed Hamad
October 14, 2014

“Block by Block: Laramie and Ferdinand” is a short documentary that looks at the aftermath of the drug war policy on one block in the city of Chicago. My goal is to expose the systematic disorders that lead the block to the current situation.


Thousands charged with drug possession walk free, leaving taxpayers with the tab
By Angela Caputo | Chicago Reporter
September 14, 2014

It’s no surprise that drug possession is the No. 1 reason people were in Cook County Jail last year. That’s been the case for the better part of the past decade. Since 2006, people have been booked and released more than 100,000 times for possession, according to jail records.


Faces of addiction: Puerto Rico and Chicago 
By Rafael Franco Steeves
September 2, 2014

Addiction has had a devastating effect on people across the U.S. and around the world.

Reynolds Wintersmith, left, whose his life-plus-40-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime was commuted by President Barack Obama last December, listens as Serena Nunn describes her proudest moments since her own sentence was commuted.

From the War on Drugs a Story of Redemption
By John Kuhn | Chicago Reporter
August 20, 2014

Since 1970, the U.S. prison population has quadrupled. In a 2014 report, the National Research Councilfound that roughly 1 out of every 100 adults are in prison or jail, which puts the U.S. rate of incarceration up to 10 times higher than that in Western European countries and other democracies.

 140611 Kelvyn Park High School 007 - By Bill Healy - For CatalystQuick to Punish
By Sarah Karp | Catalyst Chicago
July 28, 2014

Cory Warren and a group of his classmates at Phillips Academy High School had a challenge: Work with a community organization to try to convince their peers that drinking and taking drugs are bad ideas.

 Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.31.30 PMLand of Canaan
By Stacia D. Smith & Kevin Clifford | NorthStar News & elBeisman
July 22, 2014

Drugs and the war on drugs have taken a heavy toll on Englewood, a south side neighborhood that struggles with high rates of foreclosure, unemployment and violence. But Pastor Jonathan Brooks, otherwise known as Pastah Jay, aims to mobilize the congregation of Canaan Community Church and help change the neighborhood’s fortunes.

Jail Teacher Donielle Lawson, interviewed by SJNN fellow Joshua ConnerThe Jail Teacher’s Lesson: the War on Drugs Drives Violence and Criminalization
By Joshua Conner

July 11, 2014

A Chicago educator and political figure, Donielle Lawson applies her life experiences to make a difference in the war on drugs.

 DEA_Operation_Mallorca,_2005Mary C. Piemonte Reports On Chicago Drug War
We The People’s Media
June 30, 2014

Mary C. Piemonte has seen first-hand the toll that drugs and the war on drugs take on Chicago communities. As a former public housing resident and former editor-in-chief of the Residents Journal which covers public housing and marginalized communities, Mary has seen many of her neighbors harmed by drugs and the drug policies that disproportionately target minorities and certain neighborhoods.

 Womens Treatment Center by Bill Healy 1Mothers and Children Fight Addiction Side by Side
By Richard Steele & Bill Healy | WBEZ
June 4, 2014

Under the shadow of the El tracks on Chicago’s West Side, there’s a five-story brick building where hundreds of women come each year to get off drugs. The story was aired on the Morning Shift, the Afternoon Shift, & All Things Considered on WBEZ.