The West Side Writing Project has a new home base: It’s now working out of the Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center at 5820 W. Chicago Ave.

Executive Director Frank Latin said the program gives middle and high school students a platform to discuss the issues on their minds. He said students have produced articles about a range of topics — from too much trash in the neighborhood to school closings and the need for libraries.

It’s important that youth be able to “talk about things that impact their lives,” Latin said. “We want this program to be interesting to students. So why not let them talk about things that they’re knowledgeable about and that they have some expertise or interest in.”

Since the program launched in 2007, it has transitioned to digital media, with youth producing video podcasts and a half-hour news cast on CAN-TV that started July 7.

Last year, the project received a $25,000 grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which Latin said is the project’s current funder. With the grant, they were able to purchase video equipment and laptops, and the students receive a stipend for transportation and the work they complete.

“Whatever’s going on, we’re reporting on it from a youth perspective,” said Latin, who has a background in economics and has long had an interest in community development.

Eight students are working with the West Side Writing Project, but Latin said he hopes to get the number up to 10-15 participants.

Near West Side resident Gwen Pepin, 19, started participating when she was 14 and is now an alum of the group but has stuck around to help the program grow.

Pepin said she wants to be a broadcast journalist, and the program has helped her develop skills and expose her to more media experience.

Before the program moved to Austin at the end of May, Pepin and other participants worked out of different community centers. Having their own space helps.

This summer, the program is focusing on news literacy — teaching students about fact versus opinion and the importance of using valid sources.

Richard Marion, a 19-year-old Austin resident, is another alum of the writing project. Marion said he’s still involved with the group because video production is something he wants to do professionally and because most of the media reports about Austin focus on the negative.

“There’s something inside of me that makes me want to continue to do this because if we don’t report the good stuff in our community, then who will?” Marion said.

For other students, like DJ Wilborn, 16, and his younger brother Deandre Wilborn, 12, it’s their first summer being involved.

DJ said he’s been learning how to work video cameras and get experience interviewing people. He hopes to one day be involved with a broadcast sports program doing something on air or possibly producing.

“This is a good chance for me to try something new and stay out of trouble,” he said.

That’s one reason Latin hopes more youth get involved.

“We’re just moving into the space, so we’re looking forward to utilizing this as a safe haven and keeping kids safe and out of trouble, and at the same time providing that exposure to media-oriented fields,” Latin said.

Austin pastor launches television show

Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Bible Church has launched a new weekly TV show.

Acree’s show, All Hands on Deck, premiered July 11 on CAN-TV’s Channel 21. The half-hour show broadcasts live at 5 p.m. Fridays, and viewers are encouraged to call in.

Acree and his guests will discuss ways to level the playing field in Chicago and how everyone can play a role in addressing the issues affecting the city. 

For Acree, leveling the playing field means finding ways to help the West and South sides, which he says is lacking economic and educational opportunities afforded other parts of Chicago.

“We believe that society will work much better if we can level the playing field for all and not just for the precious, privileged few,” he said, adding that the show is a way for people to plug into the issues going on in their communities.

“A lot of people are frustrated with life as it is in Chicago and would like to do their part and turn it around,” he said. “That’s what we’re talking about with All Hands on Deck. Everyone can help out and should help out, and everyone does indeed have a role to play.”

The first show featured Sonny Parker, former NBA player for the Golden State Warriors and founder of the Sonny Parker Youth Foundation. Acree said Parker does great work in the community, helping to keep a lot of young boys out of trouble. Parker’s son, Jabari, was just selected as the NBA’s No. 2 draft pick and will be playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Acree said Parker appeared on the first show to talk about the work he does and give parenting tips, adding: “It’s important to showcase a man who’s doing it the right way and mentoring others.”

The pastor’s daughter, Nicole Acree, will be working as one of the show’s producers and possibly a future guest as a member of the R&B group InDcent Xposure. The 21-year-old mass communications major at Clark Atlanta University said the show is a good idea because people can showcase different topics. The show, she added, allows people to give their feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. 

Rev. Acree said the list of confirmed upcoming guests include Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.