In March, 1993, LeAlan Jones, thirteen, and Lloyd Newman, fourteen, collaborated with public radio producer David Isay to create the radio documentary Ghetto Life 101, their audio diaries of life on Chicago’s South Side. The boys taped for ten days, walking listeners through their daily lives: to school, to an overpass to throw rocks at cars, to a bus ride that takes them out of the ghetto, and to friends and family members in the community.

The candor in Jones and Newman’s diaries brought listeners face to face with a portrait of poverty and danger and their effects on childhood in one of Chicago’s worst housing projects. Like Vietnam War veterans in the bodies of young boys, Jones and Newman described the bitter truth about the sounds of machine guns at night and the effects of a thriving drug world on a community.

Ghetto Life 101 became one of the most acclaimed programs in public radio history, winning almost all of the major awards in American broadcasting, including: the Sigma Delta Chi Award, the Ohio State Award, the Livingston Award, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Awards for Excellence in Documentary Radio and Special Achievement in Radio Programming, and others. Ghetto Life 101 was also awarded the Prix Italia, Europe’s oldest and most prestigious broadcasting award. It has been translated into a dozen languages and has been broadcast worldwide.

Recorded in Chicago, Illinois. Premiered May 18, 1993, on WBEZ Chicago.

Update on Ghetto Life 101

Lloyd Newman and LeAlan Jones, the reporters of Ghetto Life 101 and Remorse, sent in the following updates in May 2001.

Lloyd Newman writes:

I know a lot of people have been wondering what’s been going on with me over the past few years. Is he living up to his words or is he still living that Ghetto Life? Well, I’d have to say both. Since the documentaries and the book came out, I have attended three different colleges, searching for the one that fits me best. I’m not living a Ghetto Life but I’m still living in the ghetto (when I’m not at school), which doesn’t bother me at all, even though there are rats and roaches still crawl the wall. My father has been doing the same. Some people might think, “Oh he’s a terrible father,” but a father who loves his kids as much as mine does is the best father you can have. My sisters are still doing great, raising great kids, even thought they still don’t have jobs. Lately I’ve been thinking of a million things that I want to do, but I’ve had a hard time putting it all together. Yes, I have been blessed with success in journalism, but I was a kid then and had a lot of help. Now that I’m in college, I see you have to work hard to get to where you want to be. All I can say is: I got ideas. Don’t think that this will be the last time you will hear from me because I will put those ideas to work.

LeAlan Jones writes:

I am now a junior at Barat College in Lake Forest, Illinois, were I am taking up Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Poli-Sci. I will be graduating from Barat in the spring of 2002 with a Bachelors Degree in the above fields. I have been continuing to speak at all levels of academia, from grade schools to graduate and law schools around the United States. I firmly committed to changing the intolerable conditions of urban America. I still live in the same community and have immersed myself in attempts to affect the social climate of poverty. A change will come when we as a people embrace difference and respect all capacities of life. Whether it be a ghetto or an isolated rural community, we have to begin working towards One America. This is my goal, my life, and my mission.

Lloyd Newman, David Isay, and LeAlan Jones in the Sound Portraits office, March 2002.

Archival photos of the Ida B. Wells housing projects from the Library of Congress

A class in radio for youngsters at Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3- 000319-D.

Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-004871-D.

A childrens’ rhythm band in a music class, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000294-D.

Children playing a game in a music class, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000270-D.

A meeting of the Cub Scouts in the community center, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000290-D.

An apartment in the Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-038652-D.

The Carr family in their living room, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000086-D.

In the kitchen of the Carr home, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000085-D.

Jelna Carr and her father listen to the 6:45 news broadcast, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000075-D.

Jelna and her sister Grace both play the piano, Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000078-D.

Ralph and Grace Carr, Jelna’s brother and sister.. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000068-D.

Jelna likes sciences, is going to be a doctor. For Christmas her parents bought her this chemistry set. Ida B. Wells Housing Project, 1942.. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000076-D.

Mrs. Ella Patterson, the oldest resident at the Ida B. Wells Housing Project, Chicago, Illinois, and her grandson, 1942.. Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-000105-D.

Photos of the Ida B. Wells housing projects, by John Brooks

A study guide, for teachers who want to share Ghetto Life 101 with their class [PDF file, 416 KB]

This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.