Alumna Leads Inner-City Youth Writing Workshop

November 12, 2012

By Robert Schroeder
From the NLU Alumni Magazine

‌Tonika Johnson had earned her  ticket out of Chicago’s troubled Englewood neighborhood.

She punched her ticket by earning a seat at Chicago magnet school Lane Tech, following up with an undergraduate degree in journalism and a Master of Business Administration from NLU’s College of Management and Business in 2005.

Johnson’s ticket would be left unused.

The adult who had a chance to leave remembered the young girl living in Englewood who just wanted to write.

Now a professional photographer, Johnson is ensuring Englewood youth can pursue their own creative passions close to home through Media-N-Motion, a community workshop she co-founded in 2010 that features an eight-week after-school newswriting program targeting youth ages 9-15. The program builds skills in creative writing, interviewing and reporting, and publishing while exposing youngsters to the broader city. It culminates in the printing of a two-page broadsheet, Englewood Youth Times.

As a youngster, Johnson nurtured a passion for writing, but no outlets existed in Englewood to engage that passion, forcing her to travel alone to Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood and enroll in youth creative writing programs there.

“A lot of kids aren’t comfortable at that age traveling that far outside their neighborhood, so that means they aren’t exposed to a lot and therefore don’t have access to a lot of the resources of the outside community,” Johnson said. “I just remember being a kid, kind of like the ones here, who was interested in writing.”

The program, based at the West Englewood Public Library, builds the basic skills of journalism and running a newspaper: brainstorming story ideas, writing an effective story lead, creating catchy headlines, proofreading and editing, and laying out the final product. From start to finish, the newspaper is entirely student-produced.

“A lot of times [kids] don’t like to write, not because they don’t want to, but they don’t realize that writing is essentially talking on paper,” Johnson said. “If they have the chance, they’ll talk all day, so we wanted to create a program that helped build their confidence in writing.”

The writing in Englewood Youth Times seems a bit whimsical at first — what other outlet reports on why Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are so tasty yet so harmful to health? Put another way, the article provides a glimpse into the daily lives of children in a neighborhood where corner stores proliferate and grocery options are few.

In many ways, the goal of Media-N-Motion is to enlarge the insular world of neighborhood life. Realizing that the program’s participants were hyper-local, Johnson has brought the rest of the city to Media-N-Motion, including organized field trips to media outlets like Chicago Public Radio or hosting community leaders to be interviewed by the youth writers.

“A lot of the programs here in the community deal with violence prevention for kids that may be further gone, but there’s really nothing for a lot of the good kids that don’t hang out on the corner, who are actually at home doing homework,” Johnson said. “Those are kids people don’t think exist in this community because they don’t see them hanging out on the streets.”

Next up on the ticket, Johnson envisions a future partnership with a local high school or college, creating local writing institutes to continue Media-N-Motion’s work as part of organized education.


Locations
  • CHICAGO DOWNTOWN CAMPUS

    NLU’s Chicago campus on South Michigan Avenue occupies five floors of the historic Peoples Gas Building. This landmark building, across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago and Grant Park, is easily accessible by train, bus and car and is surrounded by restaurants, parking lots/garages and shops.

    122 S. Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60603
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  • ELGIN

    Conveniently located in a fast-growing business district off I-90 and Route 31, NLU Elgin features 10 classrooms with high-tech media equipment; a computer lab with high-speed Internet access; two conference rooms; and comfortable student lounges. Parking is free at this recently remodeled and upgraded teaching site, which now includes wireless Internet access.

    620 Tollgate Road
    Elgin, IL 60123
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  • NORTH SHORE

    Opened in the summer of 2006, NLU North Shore at Skokie is a state-of-the-art modern campus located just off the Edens Expressway near the Old Orchard Shopping Center. The campus includes 44 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a walk-in lab in the library; six conference rooms; a public café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; and multiple, comfortable student lounge areas.

    5202 Old Orchard Road
    Skokie, IL 60077
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  • LISLE

    Located just minutes from the East-West Tollway (I-88), NLU Lisle features 42 wireless classrooms equipped with high-tech media equipment; four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, including a separate walk-in lab in the library; a café for beverages and snacks; a student welcome center; a library for research and study; conference rooms; and six comfortable student lounge areas with wireless access.

    850 Warrenville Road
    Lisle, IL 60532
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  • WHEELING

    Located in one of Chicago's major northwest suburbs, the newly renovated NLU Wheeling includes 20 classrooms with high-tech media equipment, four conference rooms, four computer labs with high-speed Internet access, large student lounge areas with wireless capabilities and interactive video capabilities, and an extensive research library. The site also houses the university library research collection.

    1000 Capitol Drive
    Wheeling, IL 60090
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    Established in 1988 and located in one of the city's major business districts, NLU's Florida Regional Center serves students in 13 counties in central Florida. In addition to six classrooms, this location features a conference room, a computer lab with high-speed Internet access, an extensive research library and comfortable student lounges.

    5110 Eisenhower Boulevard Suite 102
    Tampa, FL 33634
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  • WISCONSIN

    NLU's Milwaukee campus has a proud history of serving graduate students in education in southeastern Wisconsin. Nearly one in five certified Wisconsin teachers looks to NLU for graduate education programs – more than any other university in the state. In addition to classrooms with high-tech media equipment, the campus offers a state-of-the-art computer lab with wireless Internet access and an extensive IDS research library.

    12000 West Park Place, Suite 100
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