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FIRSTHAND: SEGREGATION Launches Tuesday, February 22

WTTW explores segregation in Chicago in a documentary series, expert talks, text and visual journalism and community discussions

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - January 26, 2022

Chicago is one of the most segregated big cities in America, and it comes at a cost. The Metropolitan Planning Council found that segregation costs the region $4.4 billion in lost income, 83,000 fewer bachelor’s degrees, and about 200 lives cut short by homicides every year. Throughout 2022, WTTW’s FIRSTHAND: SEGREGATION initiative will put a human face on the impact racial divisions have on individuals, the city, and our region. Watch the trailer

FIRSTHAND: SEGREGATION is part of the award-winning FIRSTHAND multiplatform, multi-year initiative focusing on the firsthand perspectives of people facing critical issues in Chicago. Visit the website ( on February 22, 2022 to explore the elements of the project, which include: 

  • A documentary series following fifteen Chicagoans affected by segregation 
  • Six expert talks by community and thought leaders offering insights, historical context, and possible solutions
  • Text and visual journalism exploring housing, education, policing, and the history of segregation in Chicago
  • Community conversations with thought leaders and project participants extending the reach of the project into Chicago neighborhoods
  • Companion discussion guide for schools, libraries, and other community organizations 
  • WTTW News/Chicago Tonight special news coverage

“As a public media organization, it’s our responsibility to respond to the issues that matter most to the people and communities in our city and region with trusted, essential content,” said Sandra Cordova Micek, President and CEO of WTTW. “Through personal stories and experiences, FIRSTHAND: SEGREGATION will provide an up-close view of an issue in our society and culture that has plagued Chicago for decades.”

“Segregation insinuates itself into just about every aspect of our lives in Chicago, including our housing, education, healthcare, and economy,” said executive producer Dan Protess. “This project unpacks how these divisions are taking a toll on Chicago through the firsthand perspectives of its residents, and by spotlighting the many ways in which Chicagoans are seeking to disrupt segregation.”  


  • Pastor Ricky Brown, a Black pastor from Mississippi who sets out to build an integrated church in Chicago
  • Nan Parson, a White Park Ridge resident who wants integration, but is not sure how to achieve it
  • Rashad Bailey, a Black business owner who meets resistance in a predominantly white neighborhood
  • Ari and Ted Richards, a family forced out of their South Side neighborhood by disinvestment
  • Tia Brown, who is struggling to find a home in the face of gentrification and violence
  • Pilar Audain Reed and Susana Banuelos, two friends–one Black and one Latina–working toward racial healing
  • Courtney Jones, a Black real estate broker who uses the tools of his trade to spread the wealth
  • Karen and Enrique Léon, a mariachi family working to stay in a gentrifying neighborhood
  • Lolly SoulLove, a former public housing resident who returns to find her community transformed
  • Chris Javier, a Chinatown organizer who rallies his community after a wave of hate crimes
  • John Nance, a longtime Evanston resident who rejects his suburb’s groundbreaking reparations plan
  • Rachael Toft, an affluent mother who reflects on the merger that changed her kids’ school
  • Sharon Norwood, a housing voucher holder who is hard-pressed to find a safe home for her family
  • Father Larry Dowling, a White priest who bridges divides between Black and Latino communities
  • Jason Ivy, a multilingual artist who uses his music, visual art, and language skills to navigate Chicago’s divides


  • Segregation Limits Our Relationships, Tonika Lewis Johnson (Founder, The Folded Map Project; Co-founder,  Englewood Arts Collective and Resident Association of Greater Englewood)
  • Seeing the City with New Eyes, Aaron Allen (Freelance journalist with stories for City Bureau, Chicago Reader, WBEZ, Austin Weekly News)
  • Truth Telling About Violence and Healing, José Rico (Executive Director, Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Chicago)
  • Have Your Moon Cake, and Eat It, Too, Lisa Yun Lee (Executive Director,  National Public Housing Museum and Associate Professor of Public Culture and Museum Studies, University of Illinois Chicago)
  • Unlearning the Bad Advice That Segregates Chicago, Soren Spicknall (Data Engineer, The Movement Cooperative)
  • Segregation is Bad For Your Health, Dr. Monica Peek (Ellen H. Block Professor for Health Justice, Professor of Medicine and Associate Director, Chicago Center for Diabetes Translational Research, The University of Chicago)

Text and Visual Journalism:

In partnership with South Side Weekly and the Invisible Institute, WTTW will publish text and visual reporting and analysis covering segregation in Chicago including:
  • An analysis of the Plan for Transformation that demolished high-rise buildings where the city’s Black population was concentrated
  • A look at current and former policies for affordable and low-income housing in Chicago
  • A historical overview of how education decisions have perpetuated segregation, from busing to school closures 
  • An examination of CPD policies and practices that continue to reinforce segregation over time to the present day
  • A time-lapsed view of the fluctuating – but segregated – demographic makeup of Chicago since the early 20th century
  • The story of how the built environment has enforced segregation, told through photos, historical context, and poetry. 

Community Engagement/Partnerships:

Throughout the year, in partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Folded Map Project, WTTW will present regular community screenings and conversations about segregation and its impact. These events will invite community residents, practitioners, policy makers, and the philanthropic community to engage in dialogue and explore ways to effect possible positive change.

Discussion Guide:

A companion discussion guide written by UIC Professor of Sociology Maria Krysan, PhD, will provide direction and prompts for meaningful discussion and engagement, and tools to examine the complexities of segregation including story-specific discussion questions, quick facts, and resources.

WTTW News Special:

At 7:00 pm on the night of the project launch, February 22, WTTW’s flagship news program Chicago Tonight will present a WTTW News special episode dedicated to the topic of segregation in Chicago. 

The FIRSTHAND: SEGREGATION documentary series is produced by Latesha Dickerson. Directors: Teresa White, Margaret Byrne, Esaú Melendéz, Latesha Dickerson, Sam Rong, L. Anton Seals, Jr., Pat Odom. Directors of Photography: Margaret Byrne, Joshua Jackson, Alejandro Marin, Sam Rong, Nick Blaising. Editors: Lesley Kubistal, Amber Love. Original Score: Allie n Steve Mullen. Art Director: Linda Fox. Executive Producers: Dan Protess, Anne Gleason. FIRSTHAND: Talks produced by Judith McCray. Executive Producers: Anne Gleason, Dan Protess. Reported Stories Editor: Southside Weekly. Community Engagement Lead: Tim Russell. 

Lead support for FIRSTHAND: SEGREGATION provided by Ann and Rich Carr. Major support is also provided by the Jim and Kay Mabie Family, The Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation, Edwardson Family Foundation, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and Denny and Sandy Cummings, along with other generous sponsors. (as of January 26, 2022)

WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW, 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 by ‘L’; Check, Please!; digital-first series FIRSTHAND, Urban Nature and Foodphiles; and national productions Prehistoric Road Trip 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.