With over a week of traveling under my belt and some crazy New York occurrences I was feeling a little weary by the time the last leg of my trip approached. Fortunately, however Chicago is a predominantly new scene for me (I only visited once in high school) and I was meeting up with new connections, so I was rejuvenated by excitement.
New York City did not give me up without a fight and I still had to deal with a four hour flight delay, but my stress dissipated as soon as I sunk into the extremely comfortable bed at Hotel Blake.
Eager to learn about the media literacy initiatives in the Midwest, I first met with Mindy Faber, co-director of Convergence Academies, who told me about all the exciting work her team is engaged in. I then accompanied her out to Morrill and Tilden, two public schools they’re working with, to see Convergence in action! I was impressed by both the digital atelier spaces they built in each building and the fun, knowledgeable staff that worked with the teachers and students.
While in Chicago I also visited the YouMedia space in the downtown public library to check out the youth-centered site I had read so much about. Jennifer and Julie gave me a great tour and answered any questions I had.
Based on recommendations from Renee Hobbs and Jonathan Friesem, I made sure to reach out to Natalia Smirnoff, a current PhD student at Northwestern University who previously engaged in youth media work in Philadelphia, PA. We were able to meet up for drinks one night and we easily became lost in conversation. She told me about POPPYN, the Philly youth news group she helped develop and her ongoing connections with youth media activists in Chicago.
Towards the end of my visit in Chicago I met with Tony Streit who gave me a tour of Street-Level Youth Media, the organization he co-founded, and introduced me to Manwah Lee, the current executive director. The place was buzzing with energy as teens went about preparing for an open-mic show they had that night and even though Manwah was extremely busy with meetings, she took the time to speak with Tony and I, which I really appreciated.
Besides all the great networking I did, I also spent some time exploring the city. I shopped at Wicker Park, listened to live blues music at Buddy Guy’s Legends and ate a delicious caramel chocolate dessert at Meli Cafe.
Overall, my trip was a highly rewarding experience, even with some of the shortcomings I faced. I learned so much from the media literacy professionals I had the privilege to meet and hope to continue expanding my knowledge by surrounding myself with innovative, collaborative, caring people who are pushing boundaries and re-envisioning what we are capable of.