January marks a new phase in our journalism. Due to the merger between WUIS and Illinois Issues, we now have a number of journalists that enable reporting on a beat model. A beat allows a reporter to learn events and people more thoroughly than general assignment reporting. Each reporter is focusing on key issues in the state. We're calling it the "Illinois Issues Initiative."
CODE SWITCH ILLINOIS
Maureen Foertsch McKinney
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
— Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
I was about the age of 12, a friend and I stumbled on a Dumpster filled with books discarded from the library at a neighboring junior high. I picked one up with an intriguing title: Never Jam Today. Written by Carole Bolton, it tells the story of a 17-year-old who becomes involved in the suffrage movement. My eyes were opened by the injustice. The concept of women being prohibited from voting horrified me.
I also had been deeply troubled by the neighborhood kids’ treatment of my younger brother, who is developmentally disabled because of a traumatic brain injury he sustained when he was the age of 3. I hated that he was called things like dummy and rubber head. Later, I would use that example to explain to my pugnaciously racist father why I was so interested in defending the people he called n------. I could not judge anyone simply because they were different than me — that they didn’t share my intelligence level, creed or color.
Perhaps I am especially sensitive to issues of race and equality because I was raised in a white-flight southwestern suburb. I didn’t like that my neighbors were all the same color as me. And I bristled later when one of those neighbors complained to me about the influx of Middle Eastern immigrants who had settled in the southwestern Chicago suburbs in the 1990s. That conversation turned into a June 2001 cover story for the magazine about the clash of cultures.
As an editor/writer at Illinois Issues, many of my long-form stories — or those I advocated to cover — have dealt with social justice questions or championing the underdog, the voiceless.
I was thrilled when each of the news staff members at Illinois Issues/WUIS was assigned a beat: Mine is equity (inequity). It will be called Code Switch Illinois.
I will cover — or have recently written about — funding for the education of homeless children, the racial component of juvenile justice participants dying young, Ferguson’s aftermath and the damage to young black males’ psyches because of such issues as police shootings and racial profiling. I hope to cover such topics as immigration, gender and transgender equity, the treatment of people with mental health conditions and the economic disparity between the rich, middle class and impoverished.
Here is a snippet of a Code Switch issue that caught our eye at Illinois Issues: a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that looked at the high infant mortality rate in the United States as opposed to other countries. Infants in the United States in 2010 died at a rate of 6.1 percent per 1,000 births. The lowest mortality rates (2.3 and 2.5 per 1,000) were in Finland, Japan, Portugal and Sweden.
Another report by researchers at three universities, including the University of Chicago, took socioeconomic differences into account. Those researchers concluded that children born to poor minority women in the United States were much more likely to die in their first year than children of such mothers in other countries.
That discrepancy is the type of issue I’ll be keeping my eye on for WUIS and Illinois Issues.