News / Member Spotlight

John Walt Foundation Addresses Youth and Family Needs in Chicago’s Westside

  • Kiara Hardin

In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The Westside of Chicago, like other parts of the nation, experienced riots and protesting similar to what we are seeing today with the police killing of George Floyd and countless others. In some ways, history is repeating itself. Organizations like the John Walt Foundation, a CLX member, are supporting youth through collaborative digital media and learning programs as well as serving families with basic human needs.

Nachelle Pugh, Co-founder and Executive Director of JWF states, “The reason we have started many of our programs is because of the destitution the Westside is facing.” The John Walt Foundation is a nonprofit organization, formed after the tragic death of up and coming Chicago hip-hop artist Walter Long Jr., better known as “John Walt.”

While reminiscing, Pugh shares, “Walt was involved in a lot of programming put on by YOUmedia and Young Chicago Authors because it just was not available in Austin.” After his tragic death, the foundation was created to partner professional artists with youth to help mentor as well as build their artistic futures similar to what Walt experienced.

Pugh became connected with CLX (then, Hive) in 2017 when the executive director of Art of Culture (formerly known as Donda’s House) invited her to a meetup. There she met Sana who invited her to an end of the year holiday party. She reconnected with Jen Steele at the Chicago Public Libraries and many others.

Pugh shared, “Since then it has been difficult to attend because of scheduling, but the CLX virtual check-ins have been more convenient and very beneficial. They allow opportunities to listen and learn from other community members.”

Prior to shelter-in-place, JWF programming focused primarily on artistic fellowships that provide mentorship and scholarship. Being a Walt Fellow requires participants between the ages of 14 and 24 to host a “Working Like Walt” workshop around their talent, while being respectful and responsible on their individual social media platforms.

Post-shelter-in-place, they have partnered with Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia to provide virtual workshops on YouTube and Instagram Live. Workshops topics include DJing 101, graphic design, songwriting, production and poetry. Although all workshops have taken place, they can be viewed on the YOUMedia Chicago Youtube channel.

JWF have also created two new forms of programming to meet the needs of the entire family and community. “From Desert to Oasis”, better known as Feed the Westside, is a new initiative that began when Chicago Public School tentatively stopped distributing meals due to civil unrest.

Pugh noticed that many of the food relief programs were on the Southside of Chicago. Yet again leaving residents on the Westside in a food desert or food apartheid. In the first iteration of the program, 600 community members came out to obtain food, cleaning supplies, and baby supplies.

Following this event, JWF hosted a “Breakfast with Boo” series focusing on providing breakfast for preschool to three year old children while reading a children’s book written by a fellow.

“It is important to address the needs of the entire family because it takes a village to raise a child,” Pugh states when asked to speak to the importance of program variations. “It is an unrealistic expectation to expect a 14, 15, and 16 year olds to be able to handle the systemic pressures of life without the aid of an adult; it is also unrealistic to expect the adults to have all the answers and solutions on their own.”

The John Walt Foundation hopes to continue all of the summer initiative programs for as long as the community is in need. The next Feed the Westside program will be August 19th through 22nd and the foundation is seeking volunteers. Please fill out their volunteer form here. For more information please visit them on Instagram @johnwaltfdn and website at https://www.johnwaltfoundation.org/.