Meleika Gardner, Rep. La Shawn K. Ford bring trauma work, community healing on the air with Chicago Heal initiative


Courtesy of Meleika Gardner

Gardner and Ford record an episode of Chicago Heal for WCPT 820 Radio. The co-hosts run three unique talk shows most weekends, discussing the mental health of Chicago residents through the lens of issues like generational trauma and property taxes.

Ilana Arougheti, Assistant City Editor

Content warning: This story contains mentions of gun violence.

After collaborating with Rep. La Shawn K. Ford on two state education bills in 2020, Evanston Live TV founder Meleika Gardner told Ford if he wanted her help on future projects, he should  reach out any time.

Ford asked Gardner to co-host Chicago Heal in September. The duo came together again to lead a talk show addressing the mental health of Chicago residents.

Ford created the show earlier this fall, and its first episodes aired Sept. 25. He said his main goal is to provide a processing space for those affected by physical and institutional violence across the Chicago area. 

“We want to make sure that we do everything we can to remind people that are victims of violence in the city of Chicago that it’s not normal, it’s unacceptable, and we want to provide support to them,” Ford said.

Gardner said working on the show has allowed her to engage deeply with communities beyond the scope of Evanston Live TV. She and Ford want to connect more people with mental health services, she said. This would become a task that transcended county lines. 

They also seek to address the root causes of mental health disparities across the region.

 “(Ford and I) wanted to provide a platform where people can tap into resources for their healing,” Gardner said. “(Residents) have family and so many other responsibilities that no one really takes the time to check in with themselves.” 

New episodes are released three times a week: on CAN TV as a video on Fridays at 5:30 p.m., WVON iHeart Radio on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and WCPT 820 Radio on Sundays at 6 p.m. Gardner and Ford start preparing for each episode one to two weeks in advance.

WCPT 820 Radio board engineer Devin Tingle said Gardner’s extensive media experience has been helpful to get the show off the ground, and he’s enjoyed the easy rapport between Ford, Gardner and studio staff. 

“With her experience in media, (Meleika) definitely has a respect for the business, and I appreciate that a lot,” Tingle said. “The hosts are very self-sufficient.”

While most episodes feature completely new content, a special addressing property tax discrimination ran three times this past weekend. On the episode, the co-hosts and Chicago property tax experts discussed how tax injustice can aggravate cycles of generational trauma.

“A lot of people do not tie economic struggle or poverty, discrimination in the real estate market to trauma that’s going on in people’s lives,” Gardner said. “When you really break it down … that becomes a spiritual battle.”

When production began, Gardner and Ford came in with a list of topics based on discussions with communities in Evanston and the West Side of Chicago. However, the hosts find the show’s importance lies in how it helps families and community members process violence as it occurs. 

Gardner, Ford and part-time co-host Revin Fellows spoke live Nov. 5 on CAN TV with Chicago residents Angela Gregg and Mychal Moultry Sr. Their 4-year-old son Mychal “MJ” Moultry Jr. died days after he was shot in the head twice during a shooting outside his home over Labor Day Weekend.

Ford said he has since worked with Gregg to draft legislation that would hold people to a steeper level of accountability for shooting a child.

“The story was told in the media, what happened to four year old MJ,” Gardner said. “But in interviewing the parents on the show, we heard more of the details. That just ripped my heart out. It ripped my soul out of my body.” 

Gardner and Ford also spoke with the surviving son of Michael Craig, who was shot by a Chicago police officer after he called 911 during a domestic dispute. Gardner and Ford said they hold these conversations extremely close, as both have lost family members to gun violence in Chicago. 

“We all come together around this issue because we have experienced loss as well,” Ford said. “We bring our pain, and we do everything we can to share with people how to deal with those struggles and provide resources … It’s a therapy for us, too.” 

As the show builds momentum, Ford said he’s looking for more ways to directly address callers’ experiences, and Gardner said she’s learning to balance the intense production schedule with running Evanston Live TV. 

Gardner said during production, Ford’s constant and empathetic engagement with grieving residents has inspired her. She’s also found her own interactions within the community grow deeper than ever. 

“It’s amazing to me how strong families can be over something so tragic,” Gardner said. “But that’s why we keep going.”

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Twitter:  @ilana_arougheti

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