CARBONDALE — The Southern Illinoisan is hosting a public conversation about community reporting and its ongoing coverage of the housing crisis in Cairo.
On Saturday, Sept. 30, at The Varsity Center, The Southern staff will take part in a Q&A about the need for community journalism, its mission to be an advocate for positive change and to discuss the paper’s work in Cairo.
The Southern's investigative work has uncovered years of fiscal mismanagement that led to deteriorating housing conditions and an insolvent housing authority in Alexander County. In April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that all families living in the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes in Cairo would need to move, with HUD offering relocation assistance.
The Southern's lead investigative reporter on the series, Molly Parker, said she looks forward to engaging with readers and members of the public concerning the issues facing Cairo and the Southern Illinois region.
Parker said she encourages readers and interested citizens to come out and ask questions, share what's on their minds and offer suggestions for ways the newspaper can improve its coverage. "I think it's important that we recognize that in Southern Illinois, we really are one region, and we are all in this together. When one community hurts, we all hurt. When one community celebrates, we all celebrate," Parker said. "The only way we can be strong is to stand together. That's why we named this forum, 'We are all Cairo.'"
During the event, a newly edited version of a short documentary film produced by The Southern Illinoisan, “People Still Live Here,” will be shown. The updated film will include new interviews with residents, documenting their experiences with the relocation process, as well as footage and interviews with HUD Secretary Ben Carson who visited Cairo last month.
The Southern reporter Isaac Smith directed the short film, and Steve Matzker, a freelance documentary filmmaker, was the principal photographer. Smith said working on the project was a humbling experience.
“It has been a privilege to work so closely with the families in Cairo to amplify their voices. I look forward to getting to talk about this work with our readers,” Smith said.
The event, which begins at 3 p.m., is free of charge to the public. Donations will be accepted to assist relocating families with replacing household items they may not be able to take with them.
The donations will go directly to Family Counseling Center Inc.'s fund in support of the Cairo families living at Elmwood and McBride. Family Counseling Center has an office in Cairo, and works with many of the families at Elmwood and McBride. The organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and donations are tax-deductible, according to Family Counseling Center Executive Director Sherrie Smith-Crabb.
Family Counseling also is accepting donations online and at its office locations in Cairo and Vienna.
The funds are specifically to assist residents who need household items for a move to a new home — things like couches, mattresses and other items that some families may not be able to or want to take with them due to the conditions of the housing.
A gallery featuring The Southern staff photographs made in Cairo will open after the Q&A and screening.
The Varsity Center is located at 418 S. Illinois Ave., Carbondale. Doors open at 3 p.m.
After The Southern's event, The Phonics, a Cairo-based band, returns to The Varsity Center for a 7:30 p.m. special Marvin Gaye Revue. People are encouraged to take advantage of both activities. While there is no admission fee for The Southern's event, tickets for the evening music show are $15 for general admission tickets purchased online in advance and $20 at the door.
For The Phonics, doors, tickets and bar open at 6:45 pm.
Visit bit.ly/allcairo for updates.