46 people were shot and killed this past weekend on the streets of Chicago. Gang violence continues to be a serious issue that motivates communities to work at the source of the problem. Some of these people in the Chicago area work for a program called CeaseFire,which recruits former gang members to mediate conflicts and try to prevent — or interrupt — the cycle of violence. A 2011 documentary profiled their work and the film is a moving and intense depiction of their efforts. We spoke to its directors Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James.


image via OpenIDEO

The Danger of a Single Story

Alex Kotlowitz, one of my favorite writers, in Chicago magazine:

Stories inform the present and help sculpt the future, and so we need to take care not to craft a single narrative, not to pigeonhole people, not to think we know when in fact we know very little. We need to listen to the stories—the unpredictable stories—of those whose voices have been lost amidst the cacophonous noise of idealogues and rhetorical ruffians.

Pharoah is small of stature, has a stutter, and frequently reads at night until his eyes hurt. As he enters fourth grade, he sets a solemn goal for himself: to become a spelling bee champion.

In “The Spelling Bee,” award-winning journalist Alex Kotlowitz follows Pharoah for two years as he tries desperately to succeed at school while navigating the perils of his devastated neighborhood, a place marked by deep need and neglect, along with unrelenting violence. For Pharoah, spelling is just the beginning. This is a dramatic and groundbreaking portrait of poverty, the story of growing up in the other America.

Available now!