Even though 2021 has almost hit its six-month birthday, it feels like a new year has begun. The vaccinations are largely opening up the U.S. and, as such, it is beginning to feel like a proper summer.
Sadly, this year is not immune from problems of the past. As I wrote in the Washington Post, Jacob Blake, the Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, remains partially paralyzed from being shot multiple times by a police officer there. That officer escaped all charges and has rejoined the force. Meanwhile, as I wrote in the Post for another story, Kyle Rittenhouse remains out on bond with a trial set in November. He continues to sell merchandise online, though, as I pointed out last December.
One story I wrote for the Post was connected to summer 2020: A watchdog report showed how the Chicago Police Department essentially dropped the ball during the street protests that continued all summer downtown and in the neighborhoods. Poor training, communication failures, hostile actions by officers, and much more were detailed in the 152-page report. Yet another sad chapter for a department that continues to elude definitive reform.
The Rittenhouse story, the Blake shooting, the George Floyd trial — police reform remains in the headlines this year. In the Post, I joined a team of reporters on a story that looked at how this continued news is affecting ordinary Black Americans. In Chicago, efforts are being made to honor Black Americans who migrated from the South over half a century. The childhood home of Emmett Till, the long-time home of Muddy Waters, and other buildings are finally getting the attention of custodians who want to tell their stories — something previous administrations in Chicago have resisted, as I noted in my story in the Post.
Another hopeful story came out of Evanston, a bordering suburb of Chicago on the North Side. In March, the city council voted to approve a reparations program for its Black residents related to housing inequities dating back to the city’s earliest days. As I wrote in the Post – a story that ran on the front page that day — many cheered the move as a long time coming while others, including supporters of reparations, say the plan the city passed is too narrow. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that Evanston will be seen as a model for other municipalities, including Chicago, in years to come.
The Chicago music community began this year mourning one of their own: Joe Camarillo, a drummer for several bands over three decades. I didn’t know Joe personally, but I knew his work. As I wrote in the Chicago Reader, he was a drummer who went beyond basic timekeeping to lending creativity in every project he touched. Also running early this year was my profile of Chicago singer-songwriter Azita Youssefi who has a great new record out on Drag City. She’s one of my favorite singers in town and Glen Echo, her latest, caps a run of music that — as I wrote in the Chicago Reader — “has established her as an artist comfortable moving among accessible pop tunes, introspective piano-driven singer-songwriter fare, and no-wave freak-outs without anything sounding like a genre exercise.” It’s true!
There are a few other stories in the Post, but you can check them out by clicking my Story Archive section. Some good news for me recently: I learned that my book will likely be out in September 2022! It also has a title: STEEL HILLS AND CONCRETE VALLEYS: The History of Country Music and the Folk Revival in Chicago. I can’t say I’m 100 percent in love with that title, but it’s my best effort to date. Drop me a line if you have an alternate! The book will be published by the University of Chicago Press.
Until next time, cheers!