IMG_0457-440x340The talk on the street, at the barbershop, at the basketball court and almost everywhere always nailed him.

It was about what was going on.

It was the news and he listened and joined the talk.

Not too long ago, Frank Latin found himself again caring about the talk. But this time it was either the simple lack of news or the strictly negative spin of the news on his West Side community.

And so he threw himself into helping his neighbors know about what’s going on.

He began with a newspaper ran by volunteers, the Nitty Gritty News, which morphed into the Westside Writing Project Westside, a largely volunteer effort with a heap of ambitions.

The project has worked with students at Chicago Public Schools high schools and elementary schools, and with youngsters in the Chicago Parks Department’s summer programs.  College students, who started out knowing little about the news, have returned to improve their skills and to tell community’s stories.

His drive to improve the storytelling about Westside Chicago got a welcome boost recently when the Chicago Youth Voices Network CYVN, which represents youth media groups across the city, invited the Westside Writing Project to join them.

The plunge into media training and community journalism still seems awkward for Latin. “I’m an econ guy,” he says. His media savvy is “all self taught.”

Indeed, with undergraduate and master’s degrees in economics from Roosevelt University, Latin, 45, has worked at Illinois Department of Employment Security and now he works at the US Department of Labor’s Chicago office. He came to Roosevelt University and Chicago from Muskegon, Mi. on and settled into the West Side more than a decade ago.

Financial support has come in slowly and in dribbles the Westside Writing Project. But Latin is optimistic. He is willing to take on non-paying efforts, such as some of the group’s work with the Chicago Public Schools, in the hope that they will open the door to money one day soon.

With sufficient support, he talks of telling stories that counter the gloomy, and heartbreaking descriptions in the news media about the West Side. He doesn’t ignore the depth of problems of his community.

He can measure it by listening to the parents of the youth, who come through his project.  “I just see a lot of people outside of the labor market,” he says. “A lot of people are waiting to get their check or they are trying to make it anyway possible. And a lot of people have just given up.

And he sees and hears the other stories as well, the stories about a community of people thriving, dreaming, and doing their best.

The stories about youth eager to learn, and community groups working hard to improve the neighborhood. He sees the adults who come to the project’s office, located at the Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., to use the computers for job searches and for preparing resumes.

In a city of so many common strangers, this is not one place where they gather. It’s where what’s going on matters, and that’s what nailed Frank Latin’s ears and mind years ago.