Stephanie Caspelich

Reporting the news that matters.

An Alliance to Help the Refugee Community of Chicago

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Students, supporters, volunteers and refugee families gathered in West Rogers Park on a cold spring day to support the fundraising efforts of a mutual aid agency that has provided outreach and development services since 2002.

Pan-African Association was established to assist refugees and immigrants of African descent with their resettlement needs, especially once the 90-day federal assistance from agencies like Refugee One run out,” said Malik Kemokai, volunteer coordinator and event organizer for Power to Empower. “We have since extended our services to refugees from Iraq and Burma through community-building and life-enriching programs. We have also worked together with the Bhutanese Community Association of Illinois on securing funding from the Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Refugee Resettlement, which they started receiving in 2010.”

For the volunteers and employees of the Pan-African Association, a mutual aid agency located at 6163 N. Broadway Ave., the challenges have inspired them to call on their community’s support through the Power to Empower event held Saturday, April 21, at Warren Park.

In 2011, PAA served the needs of over 1200 individual clients. The need is great but funding from federal agencies like HHS and state agencies like the Illinois Department of Human Services has not been enough to support the refugee community. PAA has relied heavily on its 110 volunteers to teach English as a Second Language, assist in work and computer vocational training, mentoring and citizenship and civic education programs, according to Kemokai.

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Nation of Islam

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The activities and message of the Nation of Islam have garnered much controversy over the years. Minister Louis Farrakhan’s appearance at UC Berkeley on March 12 sparked protests because of the “provocative” and “divisive” nature of his speech. His impersonation of an Asian person in relation to a point he was trying to make about immigrants taking away jobs from African-Americans was a classic example of rhetoric that has been denounced by critics for decades as bigoted, homophobic and anti-Semitic.

Although differences amplified in the news have influenced the public’s perception of the religion, ministers like Brother Jason Muhammad focus on the uplifting and restorative nature of the faith, and the similarities between the Nation of Islam and traditional Islam that lie in the “unifying thread” of their root and foundation.

Since it was established in July 1930 in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace Dodd Ford, generally regarded by members as Master Fard Muhammad, the Nation of Islam has been a theological source of community and pride for marginalized African-Americans.

“When you have a group of people who have been destroyed mentally, physically, morally and spiritually, as our people have, and someone comes along to give a word and that totally reverses the condition…well, he’s doing a job nobody else can do,” said Brother Jason, 36, assistant director of the Muhammad University of Islam at 7351 South Stony Island Ave. “We didn’t see value in ourselves until Master Fard Muhammad came for us. Because of his guidance, his servant the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and now with Minister Louis Farrakhan, they have given us from God, just that, value.”

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Written by Stephanie Caspelich

May 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

Maha Shivaratri Dance Offering

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Chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel: Changing Lives One Urban Garden At A Time

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The Bronzeville Community Garden on the southeast corner of 51st Street and Calumet Avenue has been a symbol of hope, peace and development for its residents since the gardening project was started by co-builder and designer Chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel in 2010.

“The garden is a place for community engagement, community learning on multiple levels,” said Emmanuel, 48, a self-taught chef who specializes in international vegetarian and raw vegan cuisine. “It has become a place where folks who do not normally interact can interact and socialize in a peaceful, nurturing environment.”

Emmanuel’s love for food and community building started as a young boy in Aurora, Wis., a small town 100 miles north of Green Bay. Being close to nature and growing up among dairy farm owners and urban gardeners inspired the budding chef to focus on how food is grown and where it comes from. It gave him a complete understanding of the farm-to-table concept that grew out of America’s heartland.

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Looking Through the Lens of War: A Review of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still

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By Donald Margulies
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Runs at the Steppenwolf Theatre from January 19 to May 13, 2012

The images and stories of war carry the weight of its horror, pain and aggression. We catch a glimpse of it and look away.  We read about it and have the luxury of turning the page. But for those who witness it through their lenses and document it with their pens, the tales of war are long, harrowing and come at a cost that runs deep.

Steppenwolf Theatre‘s production of Donald MarguliesTime Stands Still is a poignant examination of photojournalist Sarah Goodwin’s reintegration into society after covering the war in the Middle East. The broken right leg and scars on her face seem a minute detail compared to the gravity of the emotional turmoil sustained by being a witness to war. The relationship with her partner, freelance journalist James Dodd, is clearly strained and often falls into a comfortable routine. One can sense that they want and need different things in their lives: James’ call for family life and Sarah’s need to bear witness and show the atrocities of war. The revelation of Sarah’s intimate relationship with her fixer Tariq further complicates matters.

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Written by Stephanie Caspelich

April 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm

The Lost Boys of Sudan: A Story of Survival, Resettlement and the Ongoing Struggle to Promote Peace in South Sudan

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The voices of South Sudan filled the halls of St. Paul’s Church by-the-Lake.

It was Sunday and a small group of refugees from South Sudan gathered at the Episcopal Church in Rogers Park, one of the most culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods on the far north side of Chicago. Most of the parishioners are male between the ages of 30 and 35. They have come to sing hymns and read the gospel of the week in Dinka, the dialect of South Sudan’s major ethnic group.

“The church has been our place of refuge since most of us arrived in Chicago in 2001,” said The Rev. Awan Abraham, 33, a deacon from South Sudan. “We use to have our community gatherings in the rectory on Thursday evenings, but the volunteers stopped coming in 2007. We have since transitioned to this more prayerful format.”

The Lost Boys of Sudan is a term given by aid workers in refugee camps to more than 20,000 young boys who were displaced during Sudan’s second civil war from 1983 to 2005. The children were caught in the middle of the conflict between the Islamic central Sudanese government led by Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army  led by rebel leader John Garang.

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Avirama Golan: Wielding the Power of the Written Word

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In her 30 years of journalistic experience, Avirama Golan has been an active witness to the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, armed rebellion in Albania to thousands in Tel Aviv protesting the high cost of living in Israel. She has faced the most challenging conditions with fearless persistence to report one thing: the real story.

“Never imagine you know something before you see it,” said Golan, a senior correspondent for Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper. “Trust your own eyes.”

Golan, 61, studied literature at Tel Aviv University and later completed her French literature studies in Paris, where she worked as a correspondent for a weekly magazine. Upon returning to Israel, she worked as correspondent and editor for Davar, which she described as a “socialist labor party newspaper.”

In 1991, she moved to Haaretz as a correspondent reporting on welfare and society issues, the Jewish Orthodox sector, issues of church and state in Israel and feminist issues. She describes Haaretz as an “independent, liberal newspaper concerned with human rights and economic democracy.”

Golan shared her experiences and lessons learned in the field with students from Professor Jacquelyn Spinner’s International Reporting class at Columbia College Chicago on Tuesday.

“Time, space and curiosity are essential to tell the story,” Golan said. “As journalists, we must have the knowledge to interpret and analyze what we see. We must be involved in society.”

She also talked about a project where Palestinian and Israeli female journalists had the opportunity to exchange ideas, share experiences and expertise and enhance their professional skills in a mixed environment. Golan learned that Palestinian news at present could be compared to the Israeli press in the 1950s because it is entirely controlled by the government. “A free press is our dream for the Palestinian state,” Golan said.


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Stephanie Caspelich

Reporting the news that matters.


A compilation of current reporting and archived published work of journalist Nate Thayer