The Reader Institute for Community Journalism (RICJ), which publishes the Chicago Reader, has launched the first Racial Justice Writers’ Room Cohort. Eight early- to mid-career journalists will work for 12 weeks on racial-justice related reporting projects under coordinator Judith McCray.
The Racial Justice Writers’ Room is part of RICJ’s Racial Justice Reporting Hub and Writers’ Room is funded by the Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation. DePaul University’s Center for Communication Engagement is donating resources for the group’s in-person meetings.
The project was launched under former Chicago Reader co-publisher Karen Hawkins, who will be among eight mentors to support the first cohort. Reader editor in chief Enrique Limón will also serve as a mentor. Each applicant proposed a story for a project of their choice, and they will receive guidance and mentorship from other journalists throughout the reporting process. They will keep the rights to their work, and will be able to pitch their stories to any media outlet upon completion.
Writers’ Room coordinator McCray is a multiple Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist, documentary filmmaker, and media activist with more than 30 years of experience in television and media production. She has previously worked both full time and as an independent producer for public broadcasting stations WNET/New York, WTTW/Chicago, WBEZ/Chicago, WYCC/Chicago, WSIU/Carbondale, and on a weekly radio series on world affairs called Common Ground. She’s also written, directed and produced independent documentaries for PBS Primetime and national public television.
She is the Senior Professional in Residence in DePaul University’s journalism program, teaching documentary production, social justice reporting, media ethics, and broadcast writing.
Meet the eight participants in the first Racial Justice Writers’ Room cohort, which starts Feb. 13.
Justin Agrelo is a reporter from the northwest side of Chicago. He works as the Chicago community engagement reporter at The Trace, where he covers community-led responses to gun violence. In 2019, he earned his master’s from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a special focus on social justice and investigative reporting.
Corli Jay is a general assignment reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business. Corli also takes on the labor union and media beats for the legacy publication. Before coming to Crain’s in April, she was a part-time reporter at the Hyde Park Herald, Chicago’s oldest neighborhood newspaper, and a freelancer for various publications. Corli graduated from Chicago State University in 2018 where she majored in media arts.
Dilpreet Raju is a student journalist specializing in health, environment, and science reporting at Northwestern University Medill’s MSJ program. He came to graduate school from a varied background, with a B.S. in biochemistry and three-plus years of editorial experience at American University’s largest campus newspaper, The Eagle. There, he covered a variety of stories and fell in love with journalism as a mechanism for storytelling and a means to connect to one’s community, big or small.
Cam Rodriguez is a data and graphics reporter at Chalkbeat, a nonprofit newsroom covering education. Cam has worked as a Dow Jones News Fund intern with USA Today‘s national data team, as a Hearken ElectionSOS data fellow with the Detroit Free Press during the 2020 election cycle, and has chased down historical oddities with WTTW. Cam recently completed grad school at DePaul University, during which she worked as managing editor for the school’s online magazine 14 East, helping to develop hyperlocal news solutions for DePaul and Chicago while studying data journalism, investigative and community engagement reporting, and geography.
Reema Saleh is a writer, researcher, and multimedia producer. She writes for South Side Weekly and produces the Root of Conflict podcast for the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts. At the University of Chicago, she studies public policy and specializes in race, immigration, and human rights.
Tajah Ware is a multi-hyphenate creative based in Chicago. She is deeply passionate about human connection and behavior. Whether she’s writing scripts, working as a journalist, creating films, or capturing moments on her film camera, Ware always looks for moments of realness, authenticity, and connection, and it shows in her work.
Wendy Wei is a Chicago-based journalist and writer exploring migration, diaspora, and solidarity between communities of color. Wendy’s work is informed by her lived experience as a migrant and former career evaluating humanitarian programs that serve forcibly displaced populations. Most recently she produced a Change Agents podcast episode about tackling anti-Blackness within immigrant communities on the south side. Wendy received her undergraduate degree in political science at the University of Chicago and her master’s degree in international development from Sciences Po Paris.
Chelsea Zhao is a graduate student of health, environment, and science journalism at Northwestern University. She is passionate about covering topics of environmental racism, health equity, and social justice in Chicago neighborhoods.
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