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FIRSTHAND: GUN VIOLENCE, A Trailblazing WTTW Yearlong Initiative Documentary Series, Reported Stories, Expert Talks, Community Engagement

Launches Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - October 14, 2019

The number of victims of Chicago’s gun violence may fluctuate, but the psychological trauma in many neighborhoods is constant. How do wounded communities heal?

In a new multi-platform initiative, WTTW explores the personal, firsthand perspectives of people whose lives have been affected by everyday gun violence in Chicago. Firsthand features:

  • A 15-part digital series that follows five Chicagoans living with the repercussions of gun violence
  • Six reported stories produced in partnership with The Trace, a nonprofit news organization covering guns in America
  • Five expert “Talks” proposing community solutions
  • A discussion guide and a series of community screenings and discussions with experts and policymakers will extend the reach of the project into Chicago neighborhoods

This project will explore the psychological wounds resulting from gun violence, which not only affect the injured person, but ripple through communities.

FIRSTHAND: Gun Violence will launch on Tuesday, November 12 at The serialized documentaries will be streamed on, and will be available nationally on demand through the PBS app, on, and on PBS station websites throughout the country.

Who You’ll Meet in the Documentary Series

  • Reality Allah, an outreach worker with READI Chicago who spent 22 years in prison for murder. He was actively involved in a gang at a very young age, and refers to the year he turned 11 as his “breakout year for violence.” Reality vowed to help others like him if he ever got out of prison, and the documentary follows him as he makes good on that promise.
  • Julie Anderson, a mother whose eldest son Eric, then a 15-year-old gang member, shot at a van carrying rival gang members. Two women were murdered instead, and Eric was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Julie has since dedicated her life to criminal justice issues, advocating on behalf of incarcerated individuals and their families.
  • Jsaron Jones, a 29-year-old whose life was turned upside down when a neighborhood rivalry resulted in a gunshot wound to his leg. Homebound for months, most of his associates abandoned him, but his childhood friend Deron, an outreach worker, assisted Jsaron in his recovery and gave him a transitional job. But a gun charge threatens to put him in prison, and his “love affair” with guns persists.
  • Noemi Martinez, whose son Andy was murdered 15 years ago, and has now dedicated her life to helping her fellow survivors. Having watched her mother struggle after her brother was also killed, Noemi started working for the organization Chicago Survivors, responding to crime scenes and managing support groups
  • India Hart, a college-bound high school senior from the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, who navigates major life events such as prom and graduation in the wake of the shootings of her father, her uncle, and a friend. We watch as she learns to manage her PTSD with the help of her family.

These five people may be traumatized by gun violence, but each in some way is transforming their tragedy and despair into hope and action.

“One of the reasons that we have allowed this problem to fester is that Chicagoans are rarely shown the full humanity of individuals who are living with gun violence,” said producer and director Dan Protess. “This series offers three-dimensional portraits of individuals who have survived the daily tide of gun violence and are doing what they can to heal themselves and their communities.”

“WTTW is uniquely positioned to cover the important stories and critical issues facing our city. The FIRSTHAND initiative shows five Chicagoans in their lives, sharing their own stories,” said Sandra Cordova Micek, President and CEO of WTTW and WFMT. “We hope that through our work and this project, we fulfill our purpose to enrich lives, engage communities, and inspire exploration.”

FIRSTHAND: Gun Violence is produced and directed by Dan Protess. Directors of Photography are Cai Thomas and Sam Rong. Editors: Jude Leak, Lesley Kubistal, and Dan Protess. Music: Allie n Steve Mullen. Producer of FIRSTHAND Talks: Shelley Spencer. Community Engagement: Tim Russell. Executive Producer: Anne Gleason.

FIRSTHAND: Gun Violence is presented, in part, by The Grainger Foundation, Allstate Insurance Company, and The Chicago Community Trust. Major support is also provided by Richard and Ann Carr, Lew Collens, Denny and Sandy Cummings, Jim and Kay Mabie, Sonia T. Marschak, and Rande and Cary McMillan (as of 10/4/19).

About Dan Protess

Dan was the Executive Producer, Producer, and Writer of the PBS primetime history series 10 that Changed America. Its final season was seen by more than ten million viewers on television, online, and at events across the country. He most recently wrote and produced a half-hour documentary about then-mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, in addition to the second season of his award-winning digital series Urban Nature, which explores how nature is thriving in American cities. Dan’s previous productions include the culinary series Foodphiles as well as the Chicago history specials Chicago Time Machine, Chicago’s Loop: a New Walking Tour, Biking the Boulevards, and Chicago’s Lakefront, and the Emmy-winning, James Beard-nominated The Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History. Dan previously produced candidate forums and feature stories for WTTW’s nightly newsmagazine program Chicago Tonight, for which he covered Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign.

About WTTW

WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW11, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create/WTTW World, WTTW PBS Kids 24/7, and the PBS/WTTW video app. Recognized for award-winning journalism and local productions such as Chicago Tonight, Chicago River Tour, Check, Please!, digital-first series Chefs Off the Clock, the original Urban Nature, and Foodphiles and national productions 10 That Changed America and Nature Cat, WTTW presents the very best in public affairs, arts and culture, nature and science, history and documentary, and children’s public media content. Connect with WTTW on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

About The Trace

The Trace is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to reporting on gun violence in its entirety. Its mission is to equip the public and policymakers with a better understanding of the problem, illuminate the path forward, and create accountability for those who stand in the way of a safer country for all. For more information, visit, or follow their coverage via Facebook and Twitter.