When you hear about West Humboldt Park in the news, it’s often about a shooting, a fire or some other societal ill.
But if you ever visit the West Side Writing Project, you’ll see the neighborhood through the eyes of the young people who walk its streets every day. The project has students who cover the happenings in their neighborhood and produce a news letter as well as tell stories through various digital mediums.
"We are the reporting team for this neighborhood," said Gwen Pepin, one of the students whose work will be featured. "We're it."
This Thursday, students from the West Side Writing Project will share their work at their 2012 Media Showcase. I sat down with a few of the students to talk with them about their stories, their lives and their futures.
On her bus ride home from school every day, Gwen Pepin noticed a familiar pattern. Close to Whitney Young High School, where she attends, there were lots of big grocery stores and all kinds of restaurants. But as the bus got closer to West Humboldt Park, those big grocery stores disappeared, replaced by tiny corner stores. When it came to restaurants, there was really just fast food.
Gwen had learned about food deserts - large tracts of land where people don't have easy access to fresh food - in a story she did for the West Side Writing Project. Through the research, the interviews and the production, she began to see her neighborhood differently.
Take a look at her work:
After writing about how neighborhood stores are starting to carry more healthy items, Pepin's also realized that access is just half the battle.
"Because the people in my neighborhood don't have access to healthy foods, we have to change eating habits of everybody who's been eating this way for so long," says Pepin.
Pepin says she sees how her neighborhood is portrayed in the media -- uneducated, violent, unsafe. But reporting through the West Side Writing Project has shown her another side of West Humboldt Park.
"It's made me more involved in it," she said. "You see all the good people are trying to do in our community to make a change."
Richard wants to go to film school. That's his ambition.
It wasn't always his dream. He says he used to want to be a doctor. But his work producing videos for the West Side Writing Project has sparked a fire for telling stories through video.
Richard likes covering big issues, not kid stuff. This summer, he covered the presidential election for the West Side Writing Project. Making the video made him delve into issues that he'd never considered before.
"I had heard about some of the stuff before, like Obamacare, but I never really knew what they actually did," said Marion. "Now, I understand it."
Richard says his age isn't a liability--it's an asset. Young people are watching, listening and picking up on things, often things that their parents or teachers don't notice.
"We get the best perspective because we are right in the middle," said Marion.
He likes being a part of the West Side Writing Project because he gets a chance to put his perspective to good use.
"You defy the stereotype of inner city youth not caring," said Marion.
Rovert Hall gets irritated with the news in Chicago, especially when it comes to his own neighborhood.
"From the outside looking in, it always looks bad," said Hall. "All this negativity in the news and not anything being done about it."
Hall says it's up to young people like him to change their neighborhoods because they're the people who are affected by it.
"The young people on the West Side are in it right now," said Hall. "Kids are dying every day. But young people are trying to make a change, to help out, to make it better."
For one of his projects, he researched and reported on Harold Washington Library, a great resource for the city and particularly for teens.
"It keeps children off the street and gives them something positive they can do," said Hall.
More of these students' work and others like them will be on display at Thursday's showcase at the Richard M. Daley library at 733 N. Kedzie Ave from 5 to 7 p.m. From there, students and their supporters will be joining the party at the Metro at 3730 N. Clark St. from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. for The Chicago Annual of Style, a fundraising concert for Young Chicago Authors.
If you want the scoop on West Humboldt Park, you can also visit West Side Writing Project's site or their YouTube channel. But think about joining these intelligent young people on Friday to celebrate their work. I know I'm glad I got a chance to sit down and talk with them.