Chicago is the World Global Culture Local Voices Fri, 09 Nov 2018 19:18:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Copyright © Chicago is the World 2010 (Chicago is the World) (Chicago is the World) Chicago is the World 144 144 Global Culture Local Voices Chicago is the World Chicago is the World no no Telling people’s stories, an ethnic media success Wed, 02 Sep 2015 18:44:21 +0000 magda-1

Magdalena Pantelis, general manager for the Polish Daily News, talks about success, stories and the Community Media Workshop. 



By Stephen Franklin
Community Media Workshop


A 3-year-old child died on a plane from Chicago to Poland. This, Magdalena Pantelis instantly knew, was a story her readers would care about.

But she needed more detail to write about it for the Polish Daily News, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper in Polish, founded Jan. 15, 1908.

She needed to contact people who would know and could bring humanity to the story.

Pantelis turned to Facebook, because she has hundreds of links throughout Chicago’s Polish community. Her links lead to links, that lead to people and eventually stories about a world with roots as thick as the deepest trees.

Taping those roots to hear the Polish community and know what it wants to say is one of the strategies Pantelis decided on after becoming the newspaper’s general manager in 2013.

At the time, Pantelis said the Polish Daily News would provide stories that relate to people. Something that’s been at the heart of what of most experts say is the formula for successful community engagement and ultimately, a successful newspaper.


Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 3.54.51 PM

The Polish-language newspaper, Dziennik Związkowy, revitalized itself by writing stories that readers cared about and promoting the work.


“We shifted to lead stories about the community. We shifted to things that the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times were not interested in that much about but were the stories that have the most impact on our community,” she explained.

And so, the newspaper offered stories and series that became a mirror for Chicago’s Poles, a community, whose ranks have been inflated beyond reality because so many generations have continued to identify.

What are the numbers?

In 2000, Illinois had nearly 1 million persons with Polish heritage, according to a report on the U.S. Census by the Polish American Association. Pantelis said there are over 300,000 persons in the Chicagoarea who speak Polish at home.

Changing the content of the newspaper she leads was one major step for Pantelis. Cutting expenses and trimming employees was another. The five-day a week publication has a 22-person staff. Pantelis also improved the website, making it more inviting to a growing audience.

The changes have made a difference.

The paper’s finances improved. Its print circulation remained steady and the paper’s website added 85,000 online readers, she said. Its daily paid circulation for a 20-to-24-page tabloid is 2,500. But it can grow to as much as 15,000 when it publishes a full 72-page newspaper.


An Immigrant Story Evolved
Like many in her community, Pantelis is an immigrant. She was a news anchor for a local television station in Tarnow, Poland, where she also studied the sociology of culture and news media. She was on her way to a doctorate degree.





But her vision for her future looked beyond Poland to the U.S. “I was amazed by America as a country of opportunities. My generation was not a generation that had to migrate,” she said.

She came here for professional reasons in 2005 and she’s worked for a variety of media, starting with a Polish radio station, 1080AM, an online Polish news outlet, InformacjeUSA, and then Polstat or TVPolish, a Polish own satellite TV station.

She got to know the market and she said it helped to come to the networking events and classes the Community Media Workshop’s put on for ethnic media. “It was a great source of information, excellent exchange of experience. I also remember learning a lot — so much important concrete information about how to run a publication that I was able to put into practice.”

She knows her online edition must draw Chicago’s Polish community’s attention. It’s a concern that still drives her, and it’s an issue all those in the ethnic news media face. “We are trying to create more interest in what’s happening in this country,” she said. For that, she said she was grateful for the Workshop’s most recent speed-dating information event with the New American Media, covering the latest frauds facing immigrants.

It’s not always easy for her reporters to get the Federal Trade Commission on the phone, she said. “So, this was very important to us as well. It was precise information on what to do if you are a victim and what not to do.”

The challenges, indeed, are many for a newspaper that has marched through more than a century of changes. The Polish community has sprawled far and wide. Some young Polish-Americans are not fluent in the language, some do not feel the urgency to connect — again, all familiar territory for news outlets serving immigrant communities.

And yet, there’s been progress, significant progress, she said.

“It’s been a huge challenge,” she said. “But I think we’re bringing a lot together. … We used to hear people say there wasn’t anything to read. But now they say, ‘Oh there’s original content that affects their lives.’ ”

Stephen Franklin, of the Community Media Workshop, can be reached at the office, 312-369-6400. Talk to me

A conversation with Magda

The Games That Mark Our Lives Wed, 19 Aug 2015 22:44:32 +0000  

inthegameWe are a city of neighborhoods.

Yet, those are always changing and filled with arrivals and departures.

This is true in Brighton Park, where the homes and streets have witnessed the march of one group after another. Today, its heart and soul is Latino but even more so the focus in on the young Latinas on the Kelly High School soccer team.

These girls have dreams of a bigger future, doing better than their parents and moving to someplace better. These dream come amidst the heartbreaking realities they live in, where there is little money, little support and enough inequality to dash even the most passionate dreamers.

Their stories are well told via In the Game, a documentary about the girls of Kelly High School. Filmed over four years, it is the story of the school, the neighborhood, the girls and their families in this mostly Latino South Side community. It is a production of Kartemquin Films, the not-for-profit documentary collective, known for films such as Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, and director Maria Finitzo, a Peabody award winner.

We see them run up against harsh realities. And yet, they move on, forging bonds, and learning lessons to keep them going. Stan Mietus, a Kelly graduate himself is the soccer team’s coach. He becomes a symbol in the documentary of the redeeming power of open-hearted, self-pride and not giving up.

There’s a strong message here for Chicago’s vast and growing Latino community. But there’s also a message for many others, who can tell similar stories about the things that tie them together as they march toward their dreams. This explains the wisdom of showing the documentary at Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Public Libraries through the Illinois Soccer Association and various community groups.

Here’s a look at the film:

This is what we should be talking about in Chicago — things like a soccer game with high school girls trying to make a goal. Becuase these are the things that tie us together in Chicago. These are the stories and the messages that build our communities.

hablame – talk to me, office 312-369-6400

steve franklin


Storytelling that matters Wed, 12 Aug 2015 01:15:46 +0000 IMG_0457

When he was a younger man, the talk on the street, at the barbershop, at the basketball court and almost everywhere always grabbed Frank Latin.

It was the news the neighborhood cared about.

So he listened and he joined in.

Not too long ago, Latin found himself joining in even more than he ever imagined. Because this time, what he heard was just not the full story. Instead, he heard and saw the story of violence, poverty and unemployment — the strictly negative spin of anything about his West Side community as covered by the mainstream media.

And so he decided to do something. He threw himself into helping his neighbors get information about their neighborhood. And through his hard work, he created the Westside Writing Project, a largely volunteer effort with a heap of ambitions.

The news the Westside needs

Latin began with a newspaper ran by volunteers, the Nitty Gritty News. But it’s evolved into a project involving Chicago Public Schools high school and elementary school students, as well as youngsters enrolled in the Chicago Parks Department’s summer programs.  College students, who started out knowing little about the news, have returned to improve their skills and to tell the community’s stories.

His drive to improve the storytelling about Westside Chicago got a welcome boost recently when the Chicago Youth Voices Network CYVN, an umbrella organization, which represents youth media groups across the city, invited the Westside Writing Project to join.

The plunge into media training and community journalism still seems awkward for Latin. “I’m an econ guy,” he says. His media savvy is “all self taught.”

Learning to tell the stories

Indeed, Latin came came to Chicago from Muskegon, Mi. and settled in the West Side more than a decade ago. He received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from Roosevelt University and Latin, 45, worked at Illinois Department of Employment Security. He now works at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Chicago office while he scrambles to keep his passion, the Westside Writing Project, going.

Financial support has come in slowly. But Latin is still optimistic.

He knows that if he gets sufficient support that the stories his reporters tell can counter the gloomy, heartbreaking descriptions the news media gives about the West Side.

But his optimism is not blind. Latin understands the depth of the problems in his community. He can measure it by listening to the parents of the youth, who come through his project.  “I just see a lot of people outside of the labor market,” he says. “A lot of people are waiting to get their check or they are trying to make it anyway possible. And a lot of people have just given up.

And he sees and hears the other stories as well, the stories about a community of people thriving, dreaming and doing their best.

The stories about young people eager to learn, and community groups working hard to improve the neighborhood. He sees the adults who come to the project’s office, located at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., to use the computers for job searches and to prepare their resumes.

Here they come to share

In a city of too many common strangers, storytelling can be the glue that holds us together. It’s how we discover what’s going on and what matters. That’s what grabbed Frank Latin’s attention years ago. And that’s what he is replicating now.

Do you have a story you want to tell? Are you telling these stories?

Talk to me.

Steve, office 312 369 6400





















The talk on the street, at the barbershop, at the basketball court and almost everywhere always nailed him.


It was about what was going on.


It was the news and he listened and joined the talk.


Not too long ago, Frank Latin found himself again caring about the talk. But this time it was either the simple lack of news or the strictly negative spin of the news on his West Side community.


And so he threw himself into helping his neighbors know about what’s going on.


He began with a newspaper ran by volunteers, the Nitty Gritty News, which morphed into the Westside Writing Project Westside, a largely volunteer effort with a heap of ambitions.


The project has worked with students at Chicago Public Schools high schools and elementary schools, and with youngsters in the Chicago Parks Department’s summer programs.  College students, who started out knowing little about the news, have returned to improve their skills and to tell community’s stories.


His drive to improve the storytelling about Westside Chicago got a welcome boost recently when the Chicago Youth Voices Network CYVN, which represents youth media groups across the city, invited the Westside Writing Project to join them.


The plunge into media training and community journalism still seems awkward for Latin. “I’m an econ guy,” he says. His media savvy is “all self taught.”


Indeed, with undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from Roosevelt University, Latin, 45, has worked at Illinois Department of Employment Security and now he works at the US Department of Labor’s Chicago office. He came to Roosevelt University and Chicago from Muskegon, Mi. on and settled into the West Side more than a decade ago.


Financial support has come in slowly and in dribbles the Westside Writing Project. But Latin is optimistic. He is willing to take on non-paying efforts, such as some of the group’s work with the Chicago Public Schools, in the hope that they will open the door to money one day soon.


With sufficient support, he talks of telling stories that counter the gloomy, and heartbreaking descriptions in the news media about the West Side. He doesn’t ignore the depth of problems of his community.


He can measure it by listening to the parents of the youth, who come through his project.  “I just see a lot of people outside of the labor market,” he says. “A lot of people are waiting to get their check or they are trying to make it anyway possible. And a lot of people have just given up.


And he sees and hears the other stories as well, the stories about a community of people thriving, dreaming, and doing their best.


The stories about youth eager to learn, and community groups working hard to improve the neighborhood. He sees the adults who come to the project’s office, located at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., to use the computers for job searches and for preparing resumes.


In a city of so many common strangers, this is not one place where they gather. It’s where what’s going on matters, and that’s what nailed Frank Latin’s ears and mind years ago.





































Saving history: a struggle in Afghanistan Fri, 19 Jun 2015 21:23:35 +0000  

SMA_PosterUpdate_27x40.WebTraveling east from Kabul toward the Pakistan border is a place of precious South Asian history.

A spot on the Silk Route with roots as old as 5,000 years and a Buddhist community marked by ancient monasteries.

But it is a page from another time that may be wiped away.

Mes Aynak is the name of the site, considered by some as an archeological jewel as valuable as any.

The fate of Mes Aynak is the theme of the documentary Saving Mes Aynak, a powerful and compelling work from Brent Huffman, and Kartemquin Films.

Qadir Temori, an Afghani archeologist with limited  training but an enormous heart and ambition, represents one side and one face of the struggle, and an incredible amount of obstacles confront him.

There are the Taliban, who kill and frighten off the site’s workers and foreign experts. There is a Chinese-owned mining company, whose copper mine will decimate the site. Their work has yet to begin. There is a government in Kabul, hungry for the financial rewards that the mine promises. And there is a world of donors and supporters, whose promises are not only limited, but diminished in time.

How these forces are arrayed against Temori and those who believe in saving Mes Aynak is laid out block by block, a perfect example of good journalism by Huffman, an assistant professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. His own story of how he embraced the story and clung dearly to it is equally compelling.

“Nobody should allow their cultural history to be erased,” Temori says in the documentary.

There will be a free screening at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 23, at the Oriental Institute, with a panel discussion following.

And it  will be shown  on Al Jazeera America on July 12 at 10pm ET / 7pm PT. 


Was Your Migration Worth It – A Question for For Ever and For all Sun, 14 Jun 2015 16:18:06 +0000 families-service

migrar (link here for a short video)

They remember the minute they arrived. But they also remember why they came and why and how their lives have changed.

They talk about the frustrations, loneliness, isolation. But also they speak about new chances, new lives, new doors that wouldn’t have opened for them.

They are stories of joy and sadness, victories against obstacles and obstacles that still weigh down on them. They are the everyday stories told here in the photo and written display by the people, whose photos fills the walls of Casa Michoacan in the Pilsen neighborhood.

At the display’s recent opening at one of the city’s oldest and largest Mexican-American organization, it was a moment of pride, of looking up proudly at its own face. Natalia Olivaries, a young Latina, who learned her photography at a Chicago community college, captured the images. The Chicago Cultural Alliance provided support as part of its year long effort to tell the stories of Chicago’s families. So, too, support came from Mexico’s National Council for Arts and Cultures.

They are stories as a one man said at the opening of the display of humanity and the human desire to see, to hear, to travel, to better oneself.

“My life is here with my wife and son. I do not think back now. I took root here,” a man says in the booklet that accompanies the display.

“Although in Mexico I did not have a chance to progress, today I can, even in a country that is not mine,” a woman explains.

“At the end of the day, migrating is bittersweet. It was worth coming for my daughter I have here, but not for the daughter that was left behind in Mexico,” another woman says.

Another woman says: “I worked. I fought. I stumbled but in the end I moved on. I accomplished lots of things: having my family, a business, becoming an entrepreneur, triumph, being defeated and starting over. So yes, I think it was worth it.”

A Drop of Hope Spreads: fighting polio in Pakistan Thu, 04 Jun 2015 21:10:55 +0000

So much of our world is marked by places, where hope has been abandoned. Great swaths of the globe exist, where hope disappeared even before it opened its eyes.

From Honduras to Nigeria to Myanmar, bad things happen because that’s what is expected.

But what happens when good will and good planning struggles, fights and wins out? Do we hear those stories?

Here’s a story about a struggle that could be transported to many places. It’s the struggle to overcome polio in Pakistan, one of the three remaining places in the world today where polio flourishes.

It’s a struggle against poverty, and a lack of skills and manpower. But mostly against fear fed by ignorance, ill-begotten conspiracies and nurtured by violence and trauma. From 2012 onward, Pakistan’s Taliban swore a war against the effort to fight polio in the country, attaching wild claims to the effort led by the World Health Organization.

Dozens of polio workers and their security died or were injured.

“Every Last Child” is a remarkable documentary that depicts the uncertain struggle against the virus and those who fight the effort to eradicate it. It captures the struggle of a family, who have lost a member to the violence and who vow to do what’s needed for Pakistan’s children. It shows the despair of a father, who learns that his infant son is a new victim of polio. And it takes you on the daily rounds of someone stricken by polio as a child and condemned to heart-breaking poverty and isolation as an adult.

What seems impossible is made possible, however. How this takes place is detailed in the story-telling talents of director Tom Roberts. But almost as important as the story-line is documentary’s ability to capture visually and emotionally the lives and realities of Pakistanis.

The movie will be shown at the Gene Siskel theater from Friday, June 12th to Monday, June 15th. There will be a discussion led by Pakistan’s Consul General at the theater after the Friday screening.

This is both a story of Pakistan and the vast world we come from.


What heartbreak in a place that deeply touches you, calls for a new ending, and new hope?




Access Denied? The State of Mental Health Services in Illinois Mon, 01 Jun 2015 22:13:50 +0000 In tight money days, funds have markedly slowed and and mental health organizations in Illinois have struggled.

Some have cut back and some have trimmed their goals.

But how much precisely have they struggled?

We’ll examine the price paid by organizations and those in need of mental health services at our news briefing on Tuesday, June 16th from 10 am to noon at 33 E. Congress, Columbia College, room 101.

We’ll also hear about the state of the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) 25 years after its passage. What have been the victories? What more needs to be done?

What too is the likely impact of future funding cutbacks?

In its recent report on Illinois, the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave this assessment:

“What happens if people living with mental illness have nowhere to go to get treatment?

“What data demonstrates, is that when people living with serious mental illness don’t receive services they often end up in in the emergency room (ER), or in jail, or experiencing homelessness. And too often, all of the above happens. Here’s a snapshot of what has happened in Illinois since funding cuts took place in FY2009:

  • Emergency room visits for people experiencing psychiatric crises increased by 19% between 2009 and 2012.
  • Studies show that over 60% of incarcerated individuals meet diagnostic criteria for mental illness.That means that of the approximately 76,400 people who were admitted to Cook County Jail (CCJ) in 2012, 45,840 were people living with mental illness. CCJ is now considered one of, if not, the largest mental health care provider in the country. Studies show that for many people living with mental illness, the only time they get treatment is when they are in jail.
  • The total number of nights spent in a shelter statewide increased from 2,000,000 in FY2011 to 3,041,000 in FY2013. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that approximately 32% of the 14,144 individuals who currently experience homelessness on any given night in Illinois have a serious mental illness.What is the state of mental health services in Illinois?From FY2009-FY2012, Illinois cut $113.7 million in general revenue funding for mental health services. Illinois made some of the largest cuts in mental health funding nationwide during this time period. In fact, only California and New York cut more from their budgets than Illinois did.”
  • here’s a link to their report:

Join us as as we search for answers, and for data, contacts and stories that tell us about the state of disability services in Illinois in 2015.


photo: Progress Illinois

Talk to me,, 312 369 6400



When help disappears-the crisis created by mental health cutbacks Wed, 27 May 2015 21:02:29 +0000 William-Robinson-photo-by-Rosemary-Lambin

photo by Rosemary Lambin

They not only feel lost, but are, indeed, lost. They miss the help that once kept them afloat. They miss the certainty of help that was near and was a haven.


Read Fred Lowe’s compelling and important reporting about the impact of the closing of some of Chicago’s mental health clinics on the black men who found help there.


Black men and mental health needs


He writes:


“AFSCME said that at the clinics that were closed, 61 percent of the clients were African American. Many of them were indigent, union officials said.

“It was not clear how many were African-American men, but Darryl Gumm, chair of the Community Mental Health Board of Chicago, said the free city clinics were essential for black men seeking treatment.

“It is clearly an economic issue. Most black men can’t afford to pay a psychiatrist or a therapist for treatment of depression because of the high-unemployment rate in the black community,” Gumm said.”


What are the mental health and disability needs that call out for attention in Chicago communities?

Who are the people who’ve been forgotten, and the ones who fret that cutbacks will soon throw them likewise into desperate searches for help?

We’ll talk about the problems as well as the victories for those with mental health and disability issues at our upcoming news briefing from 10 am to noon, Tuesday, June 16th at Room 101, Columbia College, 33 East Congress, Chicago.

Join us and learn about an issue that touches many and that calls out for your reporting.

Stephen Franklin,, 312 369 6400



This Sanctuary Never Closes: Chicago’s Refugees Wed, 24 Dec 2014 20:50:59 +0000 They come from everywhere. They come to start anew, to survive, to live just another day.

They come to Chicago because it is where others settled, where they have links, or where there are hands willing to to accept them.

Chicago’s has a legacy as a place of sanctuary. 

This story about the flight of Assyrians from Iraq adds to the legacy. Ramsen Shamon is a student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

 By Ramsen Shamon


Photo: An internally displaced child sleeps on the floor of St. Joseph’s Church in Arbil, Iraq. Photo courtesy of Allen Kakony/A Demand For Action

Chicago-area Assyrians are seeking ways to help their brethren in Iraq and Syria. Territorial expansion by Islamic radicals, know as ISIS, or the Islamic State, has caused devastation and displacement of the region’s indigenous Assyrians, who are Christians. And now they face a brutal winter.

Assyrians in Chicago also are worried that their distinct culture and language may not survive in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

“It breaks my heart in multiple ways,” said Sargon Yaro, a high school math teacher and deacon of Rogers Park’s Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, Saint George’s Cathedral. “First, as a people, being evicted from a place that belongs to us. Being the indigenous people [of Iraq], we not only get evicted, they take our churches.”

After the takeover of Mosul on June 10, by Islamic militants, Christians could either convert to Islam, leave the city, pay a high tax for being Christian, or be executed, according to a July 18 news statement by Jen Psaki, Department of State spokeswoman. She also said jihadists were marking homes belonging to Christians with the Arabic letter ‘N’ standing for ‘Nazarene,’ a Quranic term referring to a follower of Christ.
An international Twitter campaign in solidarity with those forcibly removed from their residences by ISIS erupted online with the #WeAreN hashtag.


Ivan Watson, CNN’s senior international correspondent tweets from St. Joseph’s Church, in Arbil, Iraq on Aug. 8, 2014.

Chicago and its suburbs are home to an estimated 100,000 Assyrians, according to the Assyrian National Council of Illinois. The Census Bureau estimate is smaller — that more than 14,000 Assyrians live in the Chicago metro area. The Assyrian International News Agency estimates Assyrians number around 400,000 in the United States, with a population of over 3 million worldwide.

Following the exodus of Christians from Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, on June 10, Chicago Assyrians took it upon themselves to aid Iraq’s internally displaced.

Fundraising efforts

In October, a fundraiser gala known as Mesopotamian Night was held in Skokie at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. An evening devoted to the arts, with over 800 guests, raised $250,000 for Iraq’s displaced. The auction of three pieces of art by Assyrian artists generated the most money. All proceeds from the night were donated


Actors perform “Taliboota” or “The Marriage Contract” at Mesopotamian Night on Oct. 11, 2014. Photo courtesy of Mesopotamian Night Facebook

to the Assyrian Aid Society, a nonprofit organization that has helped needy Assyrians in Iraq for several decades. The organization also aids all Iraqis regardless of religion.

“This money gets wired to Assyrian Aid Society Iraq, which then withdraws those funds and distributes them to all of the towns and villages in need,” said Margaret Khamoo, president of Chicago’s Assyrian Aid Society chapter. “Assyrian Aid Society in Iraq is very large and consists of hundreds of members that have been working tirelessly since 1991. They use the money to purchase tents, to pay for public housing, to pay for blankets, toiletries, food baskets, generators, [and] clothes. This money gets delivered to all the towns where Assyrians are found. Every town has an executive member living there to ensure that this money does not get misallocated.”

The Society also organized a Nineveh 5K walk in September to raise funds for Christians in both Iraq and Syria. Chicago’s Assyrian Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Ancient Assyrian Church of the East, and Cornerstone Baptist Church supported the event. Political groups, including the Assyria Foundation, also contributed to the walk that took place in suburban Skokie. The walk raised over $19,000.

In addition, Assyrian churches held a two-day telethon in September. All proceeds were raised for the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization. The telethon raised $30,000. St. Andrew’s Assyrian Church of the East in suburban Glenview held two picnics in the month of August, raising $25,000 for charity.
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The Assyrian National Council of Illinois, located in Skokie, organized a winter clothing drive titled Shlama, or Peace, during the month of October. About 5,000 boxes of clothing, shoes and other items were collected for the internally displaced people in Iraq and Syria. Assyrians and others continued to donate items well after the designated collection deadline.

Conditions in Iraq and Syria

According to a July 23 report from the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq, Islamic militants took “houses, furniture, money, gold, cell phones, [and] cars” from Christians. Some who fled from Mosul walked the 46 miles to Dohuk, a city not taken by the Islamic State. The Kurdistan Regional Government recently reported that it has built camps to accommodate over 1.6 million internally displaced people and refugees, who are Assyrian, Kurdish, and Yezidi from Syria and within Iraq.

About five displaced Assyrians in Iraq die each day said, Khamoo said.

Sargon Saadi, an Assyrian documentarian native to northeastern Syria, moved to Chicago in 2006 and graduated in 2011 from Columbia College with a film and video degree. Saadi, who now lives in Los Angeles, traveled to Iraq in early September to shoot a documentary highlighting the situation faced by internally displaced Assyrians and Yezidis (another ethno-religious minority). The 10-minute film, titled, “The Last Plight” was featured as a staff pick by video-sharing website Vimeo. It has received over 100,000 views. The film has been shown to the European Parliament and Harvard University.

“There are 160,000 displaced Assyrians right now in Iraq,” Saadi said. “This is half of the population of Assyrians [there]. They’re stripped of literally everything. They’re living in tents and in unfinished buildings under the mercy of the weather. Now it’s winter. The weather is unforgivable there. They need literally everything from food, clean water, medicine, good shelter and education. Probably, above all, they need protection and peace of mind. The only solution for Assyrians in Iraq is a safe haven in the Nineveh Plains under international protection,” Saadi said.

In Syria, the pre-war Christian population numbered 1.8 million, or 10 percent of the total population, The Economist reports, and 500,000 have been displaced.

In Iraq, a total of 500,000 Mosul Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups fled following ISIS’ advancements, according to Amnesty International. Assyrians who are unable or unwilling to leave Iraq are considered internally displaced, not refugees.

The United Nations has set up camps for those willing to be registered as refugees. Once the Islamic State took control of Mosul, Assyrians in neighboring towns and villages fled either to Arbil or Duhok, some escaped to the Turkish-Iraqi border, Assyrians in Chicago say.

Najiba Samuel, Friday-school teacher at Saint George’s Cathedral for 10 years, traveled to northern Iraq for a month in early May to visit her village, Bakhtmy, among other Assyrian villages and churches. Samuel left Iraq four days before radical Islamic fighters entered Mosul. She considers herself “lucky” for being able to leave Iraq in time.

“[The] immediate solution is to provide humanitarian aid and a safe haven. Also provide them with necessities such as food, medicine, and water. It is important that the UN provide a safe haven for these native minorities. It is also important to provide education to children and job opportunities for families that have taken refuge and have no documents,” Samuel said.

Political action

A grassroots movement with Swedish origins, called A Demand For Action, has members in 19 countries and counting – including Assyrians in Chicago. It came into existence in June, following expansion by the Islamic State. According to its website, the group’s main objective is to raise recognition of what is happening to Iraq’s minorities. The group also aims to establish a safe haven in the Nineveh Plains, considered to be the heartland of the Assyrian people, which include Catholics, sometimes referred to as Chaldeans and Orthodox, sometimes called Syriacs.

A Demand For Action has given presentations to the European Parliament and the White House in hopes of recognition and humanitarian help. U.S. Rep.  Jan Schakowsky (D-9th), who represents a large number of Assyrians, joined A Demand For Action members in Washington, D.C., to support the establishment of a safe haven in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains region. The formation of a safe haven is constitutionally permissible, under Article 125 of Iraq’s constitution.

“A Demand for Action is Assyrian Christians’ diasporic cry, while watching the remaining hundreds of thousands of our people endure extreme suffering and persecution in our native country,” said Ashtar Marcus, A Demand For Action’s Chicago representative. “It was born of our outrage, tears, exhaustion, frustration and heartbreaking disappointment.” Marcus is Assyrian, a Chicagoan born in Boston. She covered the Iraqi elections from 2004-2010 as a journalist.

“When I came back from covering Iraq’s first elections as a reporter, I was in tears after hearing all the painful stories of human rights violations culminating in what they considered a happy ending as they voted. The young man working the polls who never saw his father again, the small woman who had carried artillery, the hardened old woman draped in the Assyrian flag: they all came to my mind as [I later heard about ISIS] rebels ripping through village after village marking them with the now infamous letter Noon for Christian.

“The happy ending was ripped out of all our hands,” she said. “There is more trauma to tame. Yet another human rights catastrophe in our nation’s history. A nation that seems to survive only by the grace of the God it believes in, in spite of the threat that belief poses. With that same stubborn faith, I have to believe that Assyrians – who now have representatives in Iraq’s parliament and the United States Congress – can overcome this, too. Our resounding global unity under A Demand For Action is proof of that.”

The House of Representatives recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which would allocate $1.6 billion to assist troops, Assyrian security forces included, to combat the Islamic State. Marcus hopes that this funding will help Assyrians in Iraq defend not only their land, but also their rights.


Mosul, known to Assyrians by its Biblical name Nineveh, or Ninweh in Aramaic, is an important city for Assyrians. A worldwide three-day fast facilitated by Assyrian churches globally is held during the month of February to commemorate the arrival of the Biblical Prophet Jonah to the people of Nineveh. In late July, the Islamic State destroyed what was believed to be the tomb of Jonah, a figure honored by Jews, Christians and Muslims.


According to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, the Assyrian Empire between the 9th and 7th centuries BC was the largest empire known to civilization. At its height, much of the modern Middle East, including present-day Armenia, Georgia and Cyprus, were part of its territory. The empire’s capital changed throughout its reign. The city of Ashur was an important city to the ancient Assyrians. Other significant cities include Nineveh (Mosul), Kalhu (Nimrud) and Dur-Sharrukin (Khorsabad).

The destruction of the tomb was assessed by John Kerry, secretary of state, in a lecture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on Sept. 22: “The tomb of Jonah … was a symbol of tolerance, and a powerful reminder of the traditions that we all share. ISIL apparently saw the tomb and the Nabi Younes Mosque that housed it – as a threat. So they ringed the mosque with explosives and literally turned it into dust.” The structure was originally built as an Assyrian church that was later converted into a mosque.

The Islamic State has destroyed ancient churches and historic relics. On Sept. 24, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria obliterated the Green Church in Tikrit, Iraq, which dated to the 7th century. The church belonged to the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East, which is headquartered in Chicago. In Syria, militants shattered an ancient Assyrian statue dating to the 8th century BC to pieces, considering it polytheistic and against Islam, according to published reports.

A Demand for Action members say Iraq and Syria’s indigenous Assyrians may be obliterated from their homeland forever, if action is not taken to ensure the existence of Iraq’s minorities. Assyrians speak a modern version of the language spoken by Christ, known as Aramaic, which is sometimes called Syriac or Assyrian. Most also speak Arabic or Kurdish as secondary languages.  According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, “In the Iraqi context, references to Assyrians as ‘Arab Christians’ or ‘Kurdish Christians’ reflect political attempts, both past and present, to assimilate Assyrians into Iraqi society at the cost of their identity.”

“There is a future in Iraq for Christians so long as Chaldeans/Assyrians/Syriacs weed out the corruption within our own [international] community,” said Ben Kalasho, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit organization that seeks to grow the San Diego and overall Californian economy.


The Assyrian heartland is considered to be northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey, and northeastern Syria. Photo by

The United Nations reported in August that close to 2,000 Yezidis and Assyrians were forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State. Women and children were also raped. About 1.8 million Iraqis have been displaced since June, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Steven Salaita, former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor of indigenous studies, regards the crisis in Iraq as being more than just religiously characterized: “I consider the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans, quite rightly to be indigenous populations to these regions. I see it as even more than just religious persecution of Christians, which it is. It’s horrible.

“I think it’s important for people to put it into the context not only of persecution of the Christian minority but also of [Iraq’s] indigenous communities,” he said. “As the natives of North America were pushed aside, the goal of ISIL and some of these other sectarian groups is to not only wipe away a people but wipe away a history, and it’s genocidal and it’s horrible.” 

A dance at night in Hermosa Tue, 30 Sep 2014 04:02:43 +0000

It’s nearly night-time and the street is quiet.

Business is good in the taqueria across the street, but there’s nobody in the panaderia. The day’s goods are sold.

Working class Hermosa readies for the end of the day.

Hermosa is the neighborhood where Puerto Ricans have gathered anew. They’ve moved out from Humboldt Park, leaving a growing number of residents with better incomes, who are moving in. Gentrification it’s called. Hermosa, another dot on the expanding map of Chicago’s vast Latino universe.

A small group is filling the seats at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, 4046 W. Armitage Ave. This was once a movie theater. Then, it was a factory. And in the last year, its vast interior has become home to one of the city’s oldest Puerto Rican organizations.

There are computer classes, classes in traditional Puerto Rican instruments and several days a week a zumba class.

The last minute preparations are underway for the River North Dance Chicago group. Most of the time, the troupe appears downtown at the Harris Theater and the prices for seats can be quite costly. Or this traveling outside the US, showing the brilliance of modern dance from America.

But on this night, the elegant dancers are appearing in the heart of a working class Latino neighborhood — a rare and wonderful gift — thanks to a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

For the previous two days, the dancers taught and demonstrated their art, their music to dozens of youngsters at the center. And now they perform for the people at the center. All who are sitting in their folding chairs, which are crowded together and pressed up close to the dancers’ platform —  a closeness rarely experienced by even the group’s normal patrons.  They are showing this audience beauty and magic tonight. As these  young dancers create incredible images with their bodies and their concentrated energy.

Here on the edge of Chicago in a place many do not know, the moment is precious and shared gratefully.