Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, 35, makes her pitch to prospective voters.

Rashanah Baldwin is a member of The Reporters Inc.’s Board of Directors. To learn more about her, click here.

A Fed Up Generation

Millennials Are Entering Politics to Be the Change They Want to See

February 2019


Growing up on the south side of Chicago, 29-year-old Nicole Johnson always knew she wanted to pursue a career in public office. Whether it was addressing quality education, unemployment benefits, access to healthy foods, or public safety, issues that “affect our daily lives were something I wanted to play a role in,” she explains.

Johnson witnessed what she calls the “inequities” and “disinvestments” that many have faced many in the country’s third largest city, specifically in the Chicago community known as Englewood. To counter these problems that have concerned and disturbed her, she obtained a Master’s Degree in Education Policy, began volunteering, then teaching, and ultimately entered politics as an intern under Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

And now, Johnson is upping her personal public service game by running for Chicago’s 20th Ward Alderman seat—a neighborhood that includes Englewood. (The incumbent, Willie Cochran, is facing corruption charges and has dropped out of the race.) One of several candidates vying for the seat, Johnson says she didn’t like what she was seeing in the 20th Ward, a community burdened by few grocery stores, high unemployment and crime rates, under-resourced schools, and a lack of affordable housing.Johnson feels she can be the change she wants to see in the ward. “I really want to play a role in my community and bring to it what it deserves,” she explains. (more…)

Rachel Lieberman is an Associate with the Urban Land Institute, a global, multidisciplinary real estate nonprofit dedicated to responsible land use and building thriving, sustainable communities. She also works with Cow Tipping Press, an organization that publishes writing by adults with developmental disabilities, offering audiences a new perspective on neurodiversity. Rachel graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2018 with a liberal arts degree in geography, environmental studies and Spanish.

Falling Through the Cracks

Homeless Turn to Public Rest Areas When There’s Nowhere Else to Go

February 2019


It’s getting harder and harder to secure a stable home in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Between the increasing numbers of people sleeping on public transit, the rise of homeless encampments, and the soaring cost of housing, there are signs of this crisis all around us.

In fact, many have turned to their cars for shelter, parking at highway rest areas to sleep overnight.

When I stopped by Elm Creek Rest Area near the Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove one cold and snowy weekend morning in early January, the scene was quiet. The rest area is just off Interstate 94, overlooking a park area around Rice Lake. There were a few cars in the lot, belonging to travelers or commuters, stopping for a just brief period of time.

Three other cars appeared to have been there longer. In one, I could see a couple with a dog, and what looked like many belongings. The car was running as I tapped on their window and asked if I could speak with them. They declined. Another car was draped with towels over the windows, presumably for shade and privacy.

In the third car, I met Sharlene, a 50-year old woman who told me she’d been staying in her car at this rest area for the past three weeks. She agreed to talk with me but asked that I only use her first name.

“Where I was staying before, with a friend, I couldn’t stay anymore,” she shared, after rolling down the window of her small, dark grey Toyota Yaris, neatly organized with bins of personal belongings in the back and clothes hung up on the rear passenger seat handles. “It was just too crowded, so I found myself with nowhere to go.”  

Sharlene said she originally moved to Minnesota from Kansas to be closer to family in the area. Her daughter, she explained, lives in an apartment with Sharlene’s young grandkids but because of the management’s capacity restrictions, she can’t reside with them any longer either. Her family was stuck in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation,” she said, pointing out that if she were to be caught staying with her daughter and grandchildren they all may be out in the cold.

Despite her living conditions, Sharlene said she works part-time as a caretaker for a 92-year old retired schoolteacher. Full-time employment is difficult due to her current health status, she explained. She said she has a rare form of eye cancer, so she can’t do computer work. She also has problems with her feet and hips and can’t do a lot of standing or excessive sitting.

Based on her own experience and by the experiences (more…)