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On the Block: A conversation with Brandon Pope

When it comes down to reporting news, Brandon Pope makes it look so easy. Diverse in areas that have helped him achieve award-winning stories, his credits extend far beyond what one can imagine. His leadership skills have even led him to become the president of Chicago’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Having reported for the Chicago Sun-Times, EBONY magazine, WBEZ Radio and CW26-WCIU, Pope has created a space where topics that are afraid to be discussed, get some limelight.

Now as the host of the new show powered by Block Club Chicago, On the Block, airing on WCIU, The U and The CW, Pope is changing the game on how journalists report news.

So tell us, how did the show idea come about?

It’s really, you know, our newsrooms always wanted to work together. We have a lot of friends over a Block Club Chicago and my amazing boss, Afua Owusu, she always had this idea of creating a Block Club TV show. She’s been working behind the scenes with them for quite a few years now, trying to get it going. The pandemic created an opportunity for us to come together. So really, it’s just having those discussions, planting the seed, and then finally having that avenue to get all the teams together. And then, you know, the hard work began of trying to secure – when is it going to air? How do we do this? What staffing and look like how many can we hire? What’s the budget? How would this logistically work between their newsroom and our newsroom? How would this legally work? You know, who gets sued if anybody gets sued? All those type of questions have to be handled. And now we’ve got a TV show. So I’m pretty excited about it.

Use one word to describe the mood of the show.

One word to describe the mood of the show… it’s authentic. Authentic. When I say authentic, it means heartfelt, it means real, on your level, you know. You’re never gonna see me in a tie, I’ll just put it that way. We’re gonna be ourselves and we’re gonna keep it 100, all the way.

What do you hope to bring out of On the Block? What should new viewers and fellow Block Club Chicago readers look forward to and why should we watch the show?

That’s a really good question. When people watch the show, I want them to feel like they learned something for one, always that they learned something because we’re gonna dive deep into some really important issues. So I want them to feel like they got something insightful, something that really is gonna get them thinking and teach them something new. But I also want them to be inspired, I want them to walk away with something that they can take to somebody else. I think that we talk a lot about the issue Chicago faces but the truth is, these issues only persist as long as we allow them to. And it takes every individual person to make that personal decision that they are going to be proactive, not reactive, that they’re going to do something about it. So what I’m hoping is that people watch the show, they see these deep dives on these issues, they hear these inspiring stories of people that are working to fix these problems and they say, ‘hey, I can do the same thing. Here’s the problem, I can be the solution.’

On the set of On the Block with host Brandon Pope. | Courtesy of WCIU

If everybody in Chicago had that mindset in this city would be so much better. The problem is, a lot of people were concerned more about finger pointing but also if it doesn’t concern them or interfere in their life directly, they just don’t worry about it. The privilege of it all right? We have kids on the south and the west sides of Chicago, who have never been downtown. Which is …it’s mind blowing. When I was teaching high schoolers, I had [students] telling me [things, like] there’s some that live a life to where they don’t [and] can’t go to the Starbucks down the street because of gang stuff. I don’t know what that life is like, and a lot of people don’t. And a lot of people live with a really big privilege in the city of not having to live with that. And you’ve got kids here who are used to having friends die. [Kids are] 6, 7, 8 years old, are just common-placed, like ‘Oh, yeah, I lost my friend Freddie,’ it’s just a way of life. And that just has to go away. So my hope is that a show like this can get people to be inspired enough to take action, and fix those things for those kids.

Explain how you felt when you found out you’d be the host.

I always knew the play was for me to host the show. I’ve been knowing that for a while, but it needed to happen. So [until] the show happened and was officially signed off on, it didn’t become a reality that I’d be hosting it … until we started like having meetings and talking about me as the host, leader of the newsroom and this and that and we started doing like lighting tests and stuff like that.

Tell us where can we can find you and where we can watch episodes of On the Block.

Where you can find me, Brandon Pope @bpopetv on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or wherever you do your social media. Allegedly I have a TikTok. You can watch “On the Block, Thursdays at seven o’clock on WCIU, The U. You can also catch the re-air of that on CW26 Chicago Saturdays at 10 a.m., that is channel 26 for CW26. You could also watch us online, or We have every episode going to that website after it airs. So that is where you can catch us, follow us at @ontheblockchi on Instagram and Twitter. We out here!

This interview was edited for clarification and brevity.

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