Lloyd Newman, who made ‘Ghetto Life 101’ documentary at 13, dead at 43

He was well known for the radio documentary “Ghetto Life 101” that he, LeAlan Jones and David Isay produced. He later was framed by corrupt Chicago cop Ronald Watts for drug possession, then exonerated.

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Lloyd Newman (right) and his childhood friend LeAlan Jones became documentarians at 13 with the release of the radio documentary “Ghetto Life 101.”

Lloyd Newman (right) and his childhood friend LeAlan Jones became documentarians at 13 with the release of the radio documentary “Ghetto Life 101.”

LeAlan Jones

Lloyd Newman was surprised he wasn’t LeAlan Jones’ first call when Jones was approached about making a radio documentary that would become 1992’s award-winning “Ghetto Life 101.”

The documentary, which examined life in public housing on the South Side through the experiences of the two kids, would go on to win the 13-year-olds journalism prizes including a prestigious Peabody Award.

Created with producer David Isay, now well-known for the StoryCorps oral history website, it made the two teenagers the youngest ever to win a Peabody, was turned into a book and later a movie.

But Newman wasn’t first choice to join Jones despite a family history he wanted to share with the world. His mother had died years before. His father struggled with substance abuse. He lived with his siblings in the Ida B. Wells public housing development in Bronzeville.

“I didn’t necessarily think that he would want to expose all of the things that his family had gone through and was enduring,” said Jones, his storytelling partner in creating the documentary and longtime friend. “But, when I mentioned it to him, he said, ‘Man, why didn’t you ask me?’ And next thing I knew, we called Dave, and the rest is history.”

Mr. Newman died Dec. 7 of complications from sickle cell anemia. He was 43.

He lived his life fearlessly, according to Jones and Mr. Newman’s brother Michael Newman, despite being shunned by his peers after the documentary’s release.

“He spoke the truth whether you liked it or not,” Michael Newman said. “He was tough as nails.”

The documentary was turned into the book “Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago” and the movie “Our America.”

The pair also made a second documentary, “Remorse: The 14 Stories of Eric Morse,” which won them another Peabody honor and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

Family was Mr. Newman’s bedrock, according to Jones, who described him as a loving and hands-on uncle to 10 nieces and nephews and 10 great-nieces and great-nephews.

“He just wanted to be in a position to be an anchor in his family,” Jones said.

He also found fulfillment in life working at a public library in DeKalb and doing speaking engagements.

Lloyd Newman (left) and LeAlan Jones (right) receive an award from the Chicago Housing Authority on Oct. 23, 1997, for their work on “Ghetto Life 101.” The award was presented to them by then-state Sen. Barack Obama (center).

Lloyd Newman (left) and LeAlan Jones (right) receive an award from the Chicago Housing Authority on Oct. 23, 1997, for their work on “Ghetto Life 101.” The award was presented to them by then-state Sen. Barack Obama (center).

LeAlan Jones

Mr. Newman was able to secure the job only after being exonerated in 2021 for a wrongful drug conviction at the hands of a crooked Chicago cop. He was one of more than 200 people whose convictions were wiped out after misconduct accusations by former Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts came to light. Mr. Newman’s lawyer successfully argued that Watts and another officer had stopped and searched him up at the Ida B. Wells apartments in 2006 and then framed him on a drug possession charge in a case that landed him a two-year prison sentence.

“He thought it was a blessing that his life exposed corruption,” Jones said of his friend.

Jones marveled at Mr. Newman’s wish to stay out of the spotlight after his wrongful conviction.

“He was just kind of like a cowboy that rode off into the dust at the end, knowing that he had done something significant and credible and historic,” he said of his friend’s successful fight to be exonerated. “It didn’t matter to him. It was like water under the bridge. And that’s how he lived his life.”

Sickle cell, which also claimed the lives of two of his sisters, hindered Mr. Newman’s strength, but he was happy for what the “Ghetto Life 101” documentary did for himself and his family.

“He was able to utilize the documentary to be able to get some exposure for his life and essentially kind of change the trajectory of his family,” Jones said. “He achieved that. I think he was at a point where he was in the process of enjoying that phase of life.”

Mr. Newman’s brother said: “He wanted the world to see that good people can come from those kinds of circumstances and be something in life. That’s what he stood for and made sure that people knew that you can come from a harsh situation, and it doesn’t have to define who you are as a person.”

In addition to his brother, Mr. Newman’s survivors include his siblings Lydell Newman and Erica Newman.

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