25th Anniversary Of “Ghetto Life 101”

photo of LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman
Listen to “25th Anniversary Of “Ghetto Life 101””

I remember Claire Holman waving the CD and saying “We should definitely listen to this tonight!” Claire was the director of Blunt Youth Radio in Portland, Maine. I was her assistant back in the late 1990s. We were headed to a meeting with the high school reporters we worked with and we always started those student meetings with listening.

“Have you heard this documentary,” she asked? I hadn’t. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about it or the producer.

Ghetto Life 101 turned out to be nothing short of revelatory. As David Isay, the producer of the program puts it on this episode of HowSound, “I knew I was listening to the truth.”

I listened transfixed. No radio story had ever affected me so. It was my first driveway moment, only I was sitting in a meeting room filled with rapt teenagers.

The teens at Blunt were good producers. But LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, the young people reporting on their lives on the south side of Chicago for Ghetto Life, were beyond belief. Their bravery, their insight, even the quality of their recordings was simply remarkable.

I wasn’t alone in my amazement. Ghetto Life 101 earned a slew of awards: The Prix Italia, The Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, The Award for Excellence from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and many more. On top of that, the doc has been translated into several languages.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the landmark Ghetto Life 101. Gary Covino edited the doc and believes it’s as relevant today as it was a quarter century ago because “it still speaks to the circumstances and the reality of way too many people in this country.”

I’m eager to hear how the doc impacted you whether you’re hearing it for the first time on HowSound or you’ve heard it many times before. Please post your thoughts and join me in wishing David, Gary, LeAlan, and Lloyd a very happy 25th for their outstanding achievement.


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  • B



    I haven’t heard that story before and I found myself so sad at the end of it. It’s just heartbreaking to me that people in this country live that way. It’s sad that kids are born into that and that’s all they know. I grew up in Flint, Michigan and there were certainly people who lived in Flint who fell into that category, I went to school right on the edge of Flint and the next school district over was in the projects. I lived in a subdivision that was really nice and my dad was an engineer at GM so we live too comfortable middle-class life.
    In some ways growing up that close to the projects was a good thing because I saw people who lived a very different life than I did, My two kids have grown up in an area where they haven’t really seen that. I think it’s important for people to realize that there’s a lot of prosperity and privilege in America but there’s also a lot of people upon whose backs that happens.

    Thank you for sharing this story, I’m going to listen to it with my 17 year old son in the hopes that he’ll get a sense of how other people live..

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