Disability Pride Parade

The 14th annual Disability Pride Parade took the streets July 22nd to talk about the civil rights goals they want to achieve for their community and how these issues are addressed in Chicago.

A recurring theme that came up during one of the meetings for organizing the parade was defining the difference between their parade and a protest. Hank, one of the Grand Marshalls, explains that, “The balance is:  what do we want, what will it give us and how will we go about that and how far we are willing to go. My take is, that the balance is, that we’ll go as far as we have to.And that means that we may have to act as advocates”.

It is important to note that although the parade this year has passed, The Disability Pride Parade is striving to create a larger event next year. This can be an intimidating task considering the obstacles they’ve encountered when requesting for a larger street to march down, however this goal is definitely achievable and they are looking for support and solidarity from other Chicagoans.

To learn more about the parade, check out Disability Pride Parade on Facebook or their website !

You can read up on statistics of resources and employment for people with disabilities here.

In Living Color

Vibrant colors of the rainbow splashed across Chicago in June as residents celebrated Pride festivities. The LGBTQ civil rights movement has accomplished a great deal in its short existence, however there is still more to come. A prevalent issue is the lack of racial representation in the queer community, especially considering many of the leaders in the birth of the movement were queer people of color. Some point out that, because the movement is to be focused on sexuality and gender identity, race should not be involved in the matter. However, although ideally race should not be a factor, the intersectionality of race and queerness is very much connected in the way people are treated and viewed by society and thus there have been consistent instances of racism in the queer community throughout its history. Although allyship is always important, the shift of primarily middle class white people at the forefront of the movement has changed the prioritization of civil rights and led to the erasure of queer people of color as well as created an unwelcoming atmosphere from many pride festivities.

In addressing this issue, Philadelphia added two new stripes to the pride flag on June 8 to signify more inclusion to honor queer people of color who have lead the movement yet are rarely talked about as well as those simply living out their daily lives. This year, we decided to take the streets of Chicago’s Pride Parade and ask people of color in the LGBTQ community what these stripes mean to them, what obstacles they have overcome in navigating their identity, and what they are most optimistic about for the future.

What do these stripes mean to you?

Hiram Bowens (Left) expressed his dislike for the additional stripes because he does not think race should be expressed in the flag. Cole Graske (Right) stated, “I think it’s appropriate, especially with our country right now and everything that’s been going on. I’m all for more people of color and equality”.

What obstacles have you faced as a result of your identity?

Eric Obioha (Middle): “I did not overcome **** because I get judged by straight and other gay people…. Until the gay people can learn to unite with each other – the gay guys especially – can learn to unite with each other, then ain’t nobody gonna overcome nothin. It is too judgmental in these gay streets.”

Bowens: “It pisses me off when white people are like, ‘Well, I’m not really into black guys, but…’ Ooh I hate that. I really hate that. I just –“

Friend: “Or ‘You look cute for a black guy.”

Bowens: “Yeah! ‘I’m glad you’re not as ratchet as most black people’ and stuff like that, that really pisses me off.”

What are you most optimistic about for the future?

Graske: “I think with – hopefully, with what’s going on – people see that there’s a real issue and I hope that people join together (points to Eric) like you were saying.”

Obioha: “Just to be open minded and less judgmental.”

Bowens: “I think there’s so much prejudice in the gay community because you’ve got so many sub-cultures…”

Graske: “But there’s only one, really. I mean we’re all part of one community so… well we should be, I think, going forward.”

What do these stripes mean to you?

Regina Brown (Right): “Life basically, ’cause you got to think about it, black people aren’t always recognized, it’s good that we’re getting recognized, and not just black people, gay people too. For us to be gay and black? That’s a lot, and it means a lot for us to be added to something that’s united. And black and brown, you really don’t see that. You don’t. So when you got a whole rainbow, a full rainbow that’s completed, that’s what you call honesty right there. Cause the rainbow’s not completed without black and brown.”

Tateneisha Brown (Left): “It’s a blessing that people are starting to accept us for who we are…. And I’m a happy and humble person, I’m glad to come out here and I call everyone my family. That’s how I look at it, we’re just one happy family and we’re united and we all stand together. … Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but I’m happy to be here and even the people who are not gay and came out to support us, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Regina and Tateneisha have been together 7-8 years and married for 2. They recently adopted a one year old child and are excited for their future together as a family.

What obstacles have you faced as a result of your identity?

What obstacles have you faced as a result of your identity?

Brianna Luviano (Left): “I feel like I go through many obstacles, not only being a female, but as soon as people know that I do like women, or that I am gay, it’s very difficult in the sense that they judge you right away. …

I’ve been with her (Brittany, Right) for 10 years, and as soon as people hear that… either they don’t take it seriously or they try to take it seriously…and they’re really confused. The reason why I fell in love with her was not on gender or like, I thought she was gorgeous. Her personality and her kindness is what drew me to her… Growing up, I never thought about ‘Is this right? Is this wrong? Should I be with a woman or a man?’ No, it was never about that. If I liked someone, I liked them. And when I had first seen her, I’ll never forget it. I…it was like, when time stops, that’s how I felt and I was like, ‘she’s gonna be mine.’

That’s how I felt.”

What do these stripes mean to you?

Brent Wolff (Right): “I just think it means more acceptance. If anything, that’s what it’s all about. Within the gay community, there’s a lot of different racial tensions and if adding two more colors means that people feel more free and more accepted, like, let’s do it.”

Jordan Jedry (Left): “For me, I really think it’s about coming back to our roots. Trans women of color really started the LGBTQ movement in the United States and I think adding those additional stripes to honor them and the sacrifices they made is something that we really need to think of as a community. They were the driving forces and everything we do is in their honor.”

What do the stripes mean to you?

Sylvia M.: “I think that’s amazing because whenever you look at pride, all you see is predominantly white people, that’s all that’s represented. Just because our community silences [sexuality], it doesn’t mean it’s O.K. We’re misrepresented and underrepresented. It’s so nice to see yourself represented cause when I was younger and having the feelings I was feeling… you didn’t see black gay people. Being gay was a “white thing” that’s what everyone said. So, to be bisexual and finally see yourself represented in this whole entire great thing we call “Pride”, that’s awesome.”

What obstacles have you been faced with as a result of your identity?

Sylvia discussed her internal conflict. Being bisexual, she said she is often dismissed as “straight passing” and so her experience was different, yet she still struggled with determining who she was as well as how she fit in with the queer community. A part of molding her identity was finding validation of her existence in the first place.

Sylvia M.: “When I found out that it was possible to be bi, that it’s possible to like guys and girls, it felt natural to me that that’s a real feeling.”

What are you most optimistic about?

Sylvia: “I’m optimistic that it’s not gonna be a big deal anymore if we add another stripe to the flag. Who cares? That’s just more colors, there’s more colors than just the few you see every day in a rainbow, you know? There’s so many different spectrums that we just can’t see, so I’m excited about that and I’m also excited about the whole community growing.”

Tyrese (Right) expressed that he does not think the brown and black stripes should be added to the flag. Jemily (Left) said she was split about it, concerned it was exclusionary but also stating that, “People of color have always been dehumanized and belittled by everybody else… I think it depends on the social class as well. But I don’t know, I think it’s a good thing”.

Natalia expressed her experience being Mexican and Spanish. The personal conflict she found was that half of her identity had an oppressive history while another half of her identity was the oppressed. She also acknowledged how her experience is different because she has lighter skin and colorism plays a part in her identity as well.

“There should be a general understanding among the Latino American culture that we’re all experiencing something together and to say that, because of our pigment, we can’t identify with our parents… I struggle with that.” She continued to discuss how racism among Latino Americans has created a divide between other people of color, citing her experience with her parents driving through a predominantly black neighborhood and them automatically locking the car doors

“That’s a learned racism, why are we disassociating from black culture if white government and white patriarchy also oppress that (Latino- American) culture?  They oppress us and they oppress them, why can’t we find that common link?”

So do the stripes provide a change for that?

“Yeah, because we should all find that common link…. That link is what chains us all together”.

What are you most optimistic about for the future?

“There’s a number of young folk that are rising to the occasion in whatever way they can. So, that’s a difference. At the end of the day, if Black and Latino civil rights are connected, if they care about us, they’ll always care about you.”

 

CALL TO ACTION

There are many ways to get involved in local activism. Check out these sites to learn more about how you can help make a change!

http://www.chicagohouse.org/mission-and-history/

http://www.getequal.org/

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-fierce-support-a-grassroots-effort-to-address-queer-youth-homelessness#/

 

 

 

Grow Your Own Tree This Summer

Grow Your Own Tree This Summer

Have you ever wished you could build something in Chicago that would last for years?

Have you recently gotten out of a long term relationship and now need to focus on something new?

Have you ever realized how boring you are after someone asked you what you do for fun and all you could think of was laughing at memes so you decided you need a new hobby?

We have the solution to your problem!

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is giving out free oak saplings to residents of Cook County. They have partnered with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative to create the “Restore the Canopy” project. All you need to do is go to one of their pickup locations to get them. You can choose between individual pots or bulk bags – it all depends on your level of commitment.

Never planted a tree before? No need to worry! You will get all the instructions you need once you get there.

 

What is the MWRD?

The MWRD, also known as District, is responsible forprotecting the quality of the water supply source (Lake Michigan), improving the quality of water in watercourses in its service area, protecting businesses and homes from flood damages, and managing water as a vital resource for its service area”.

Besides “Restore the Canopy”, MWRD has several other projects – for instance they are responsible for “greenifying” schools in Chicago. So if you liked this initiative you should definitely go to their website and learn more about them. 

 

Why is MWRD doing this?

The goal is simple – restore the canopy! Besides making Chicago even prettier, oak trees provide lots of benefits to the environment. For example, they can reduce flooding, reduce air pollution and even provide protection from the wind.

 

How can I get them?

There are several pickup locations in Cook County. You can find them in Chicago at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) at 400 E. 130th St., Chicago. If you rely on public transportation, you can take Bus 34 to get there. To see other locations, access their website.

They distribute the samplings every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.

It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and go pick up your oak sapling! Make sure to take pictures and post them on Instagram to brag about your new environmentally responsible persona. Don’t forget to tag us with #ChicagoRises and #MyMWDRTree


 

Still have questions? You can call their public affairs office at (312) 751-6633 or send an email to public.affairs@mwrd.org.
Other important phone numbers:

  • Calumet WRP: (773) 256-3538
  • Small Stream Maintenance (report blockages/debris in streams): (312) 751-5106
  • Hazardous Waste Dump Hotline Illegal dumping of waste into waterways or sewers or complaints of water pollution: (800) 332-3867

 

Building Community at the Howard Area Community Center

Building Community at the Howard Area Community Center

Strung along a quiet strip of Paulina Street, just north of Howard Street and its eponymous CTA station sits the headquarters–several buildings in all, in addition to another facility on Morse Avenue and Ashland Avenue — of the Howard Area Community Center. Unassuming in appearance, the center is surprisingly prolific in practice, offering more than 40 different programs to a wide range of ages, ethnic and language groups and needs.

In order to familiarize myself with the dizzying array of services provided by this community cornerstone of Rogers Park, I sat down with the center’s Director of Development, Beth Ulion.  She led me through the main building’s labyrinthine of hallways and rooms, and pointed out various facilities and spaces of such disparate uses that I eventually concluded she was joking.  A daycare and separate adult ESL classrooms?  Check.  A Food Pantry?  Check.  A fully equipped and staffed dentist’s clinic??  Surprisingly, check.

Even more exciting, she mentioned, is the space at the Morse/Ashland branch.  Here, the HACC houses a Teen Arts and Technology Center designed to offer teenagers from low-income or troubled households a safe, fostering haven in the mischief-prone hours of after-school freedom.  If you’re picturing a beige-walled room with some scattered desks, chairs, and an assortment of cast-off art supplies, though, you couldn’t be further from the mark.  The Clubhouse is proudly youth-oriented and youth-appointed—that is, planned, purposed, and decorated by the very adolescents who use it.  This means that the basement—renamed the “ConCave” for reasons which will shortly become clear—walls are plastered in original comics authored and illustrated by program participants. The tech area offers not just computers and video games for business and pleasure, but also a super computer which the youth built themselves. A ‘cosplay station’—a workshop dedicated to engineering and executing costumes and props—occupies a corner of the basement.  Additionally, the center offers support and guidance for teens interested in starting their own crafts or arts businesses, as well as a facility to make t-shirts and other art projects.  The ultimate objective of this imaginative asylum—part-playground and part-professional development center—is, as Ulion puts it, to create “a second home that is a safer place than home.”

A shot of the Teen Center’s Computer Clubhouse. Photo courtesy of Howard Area Community Center

When I asked what Ulion would identify as some of the most unique characterizing features of HACC, she answered with a readiness that reflects how deeply she and other HACC organizers have considered the organization’s values and its activities.  “I think the way we execute our programs shows how invested we are in helping people and building the community in the long term.  Any (organization) can throw money at a problem, but we’re devoted to developing sustained community change and individual success.”

Oddly enough, Ulion’s comments and the HACC approach to authentic community change left me thinking of Leo Tolstoy’s exploration of the nature of meaningful social reform in his classic novel “Anna Karenina”.  In the novel, one of the main characters, Konstantin Levin, struggles with effecting positive economic and humanitarian reforms on his farming estate.  He notices that his landowning peers tend to follow en vogue technological and political movements blindly, assuming that they’re doing ‘the right things’ for their peasants by towing the popular social lines of the time.  It seems to Levin, though, that such politically correct measures aren’t doing much good if one honestly confronts and evaluates the results: the peasants’ living conditions continue to deteriorate, farming profits keep shrinking, and farming practices appear no more efficient for all the newfangled British equipment and methodology than they had been during the primitive centuries of serfdom.  Over the course of the novel, then, he comes to a reevaluate his approach to meaningful reform, learning among other things that authentic social reform takes more than good intentions: if you really want to make things better for other people and not just be smug about one’s laudable actions, you need to care about the actual outcome of your reforms—and not just the impressive nature of your efforts—on the communities and people you’re purporting to help.

It may seem like a bit of a long-winded digression, but the more I mulled over my conversation with Ulion, the more salient Tolstoy’s thoughts on authentic and counterfeit social change seem.  After all, in an age where philanthropic successes are measured by viral hits and dollar signs, we seem more and more obsessed with the statistical trappings of charitable success and less and less concerned with what happens to the X-amount of dollars once it’s been chalked up to a fundraising total.  The Howard Area Community Center seems to stand in inspiring contradistinction to these trends: its programs eschew the flashiness of short-term results for sustained and substantive involvement.

Photo courtesy of Howard Area Community Center

The New Era Project, for example, focuses on gang intervention and prevention, pairing at-risk youth with long-term mentors and activities.  The goal is not to tally attendance at a one-off workshop and then claim dozens of success stories.  Rather, the program focuses on building trusting, lasting relationships between the youth—many of whom have entire families and social circles involved in gang life—and positive role models, thereby making them lasting assets to—rather than detractors from—the community fabric.

Similarly, the Career and College Readiness and Scholarships program provides more than the limited or one-time guidance and support offered by many scholarship endowments.  Rather, a case manager remains with their students throughout the full first year of their college careers, keeping track of their lives and helping them through emergent challenges in the unfamiliar day-to-day lifestyle of higher education.  After all, Ulion points out, a scholarship program’s success shouldn’t be judged by the number of students it enrolls in college initially: if the unprepared and overwhelmed new students drop out over the course of the next year, you haven’t actually made any headway in the original problem and objective of the program; that is, to provide disadvantaged youth with college educations.

As if these programs weren’t sufficiently ambitious, the HACC offers dozens more, all geared to help the most vulnerable and under-served demographics of society, such as refugees, ex-cons, women experiencing domestic violence, those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and low-income families or single parents with small children.  In addition to the more intensive outreach and educational programs offered, the center also strives to assist community members with basic services and amenities, such as a public computer lab, print station, and fax machine, as well as a food pantry and in-kind donations for things such as toiletries and diapers.

Photo courtesy of Howard Area Community Center

Again, I think to myself, donations like Ventra cards and a place to check emails are the kinds of things that so often get overlooked, the minutiae of overwhelming societal problems like joblessness or recidivism which can be every bit as insurmountable an obstacle to finding gainful employment or staying out of prison as the overarching economic and legal policies which produce them.  By paying attention to these oft-neglected quotidian hardships, the Howard Area Community Center demonstrates a refreshingly practical approach to public service that values the details as much as it does sweeping community change.  And, as Tolstoy or the organizers of the HACC can teach us, if your goal is to strengthen a community and bolster the wellbeing of its individuals—if you really want to help—then there should be no such thing as a minor detail, no need too basic, and no purpose too small.

CALL TO ACTION

When asked how interested members of the public can get involved, Ulion suggested a litany of opportunities, ranging from those requiring a significant time commitment and period of training to those which require little more than a few hours a month and a pair of willing hands.  No matter how people get involved, she points out, the HACC boasts a special knack at keeping first-time volunteers engaged: “typically, once someone gets involved here, they never leave.”

Among some of the specific duties open to new volunteers are Food Pantry helpers, tutors for both Adult Education and After-School programs, and freelance translators and interpreters.  Groups interested in doing a project together can also get in touch through the center’s email at volunteers@howardarea.org in order to work on larger-scale renovation projects.  Interested readers can check out volunteer opportunities on the HACC website or, for more specialized queries, through the center’s email.  Additionally, anyone can also donate through the HACC donation portal or check the detailed list of in-kind donations and other giving options for a varied list of ways to contribute.  For further information about donating, contact Beth Ulion at eulion@howardarea.org.

 

Chicago Continues to Rise

Chicago Continues to Rise

      Late one night, when we were all in bed

      Old Mother Leary left a lantern in the shed,

          And when the cow kicked it over, she winked an eye and said,

   “There’ll be a hot time, on the old town tonight.”

Fire, fire, fire!

If you grew up in Chicago, chances are high that you’ve heard the song detailing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The infamous event left the great city in devastation and shambles, but that’s not where the story ends. Some of the greatest minds from various industries joined forces, collaborated, and did the seemingly impossible. The community banded together to rebuild and better the city. Inspired by the spirit of growth and development that existed after the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 was founded in 2012. The organization has grown to be a valuable resource and support system for over 400 digital start-ups and events in the city of Chicago.

1871 is the main initiative of its parent non-profit organization, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC). CEC developed 1871 to provide a tangible address and work-space for Chicago based entrepreneurs in the technology and digital arenas.  The entire operation is run and supported by CEC. According to their website, 1871 “is a place where you can share ideas, make mistakes, work hard, build your business and, with a little luck, change the world.”

There have been a variety of events held at the eye-catching    and modern work-space, such as the StartupAmerica: 1 Year Anniversary National Event, Innovative Technologies in the Automotive Industry: a French View on the Green, and most recently The Purpose Pitch. I was particularly impressed with the push to get young girls interested and involved in the technology scene.

The main goal of the organization is to connect people to resources- be it financial, human collateral, work-space, or simply acting as a think-tank to bounce ideas around. A wide variety of programs are offered to fulfill that mission like mentor/mentee programs, volunteer opportunities, classes and seminars, and the opportunity to hold an event at the Merchandise Mart work- space.

  1871 is growing in popularity and helping Chicago based entrepreneurs. The organization is a prime example of the ideal that we are better together, and is doing great things for the city of Chicago.

CALL TO ACTION

Check out 1871’s website, social media pages, and get involved! That can manifest as taking a class, attending an event, or even sharing their page on your social media sites. Digital technology is an ever growing and expanding field and you don’t want to get left behind!

Protecting Chicago Cats at Harmony House

Protecting Chicago Cats at Harmony House

I visited Harmony House on a rainy Friday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the space they have created that is welcoming and comforting to cats and humans alike. Harmony House is unique because most of the 80 to 100 cats at the shelter on any given day are kept in rooms where they can roam around, that are clean, filled with toys and structures, and have big windows that provide lots of natural light and a window to the outside world.

Harmony House Board Member Mary Veeneman with a resident cat.

Mary Veeneman, a board member of Harmony House, and Jennifer Zameic, the Harmony House Shelter Manager, show me around the shelter. They walk me through the rooms, and introduce me to plenty of cats, who come in all different shapes, sizes, ages, colors, health conditions, and personalities. It seems like what they have in common is a safe space to stay for as long as they need.

Harmony House prides itself on not euthanizing cats for space or money, so cats are allowed the time they need to heal, develop, and come out of their shells. Mary explains that some cats get adopted as soon after being in the shelter for a few weeks, while others take a few years to find their forever home.

Mary and Jennifer introduce the cats to me and introduce me to the cats’ individual stories and personalities. This seems like a concept Harmony House holds dear.

For example, Olympia is 17 and has been with Harmony House since she was six months old. She was completely unable to be handled for several years. But when Harmony House moved to their new location in 2012, Olympia decided that she likes people and now she enjoys being picked up and pet.

Harmony House is a cat shelter that has become a cornerstone of its neighborhood, and it’s easy to see why. It’s welcoming, it’s eco-friendly, it rescues and adopts out cats, and it is part of the wider trend happening in Chicago where people are taking steps to protect stray and vulnerable domestic animals.

Fewer and fewer of the stray and unwanted animals brought to Chicago Animal Care and Control are being euthanized, and more are leaving alive and finding forever homes. Much of this is due to community involvement and the presence of shelters like Harmony House. See the long term statistics published by Chicago Animal Care and Control here.

Mary takes pride in the unique role Harmony House has in the city. “Part of what we do and part of how we see ourselves as being a little bit different from other shelters is that we’re lower volume, so we intentionally take in fewer cats than other shelters,” she says.

Mary explains that by doing this, Harmony House is able to take in cats with special needs, such as cats with behavioral issues, health problems, or cats that just may need more time to find a forever home. These cats may need to spend more time at a shelter before they are ready to be adopted out.

Freddy and Cheez It are a perfect example of cats that needed a little more time at the shelter. Freddy and Cheez It arrived at Harmony House separately but quickly became attached to each other. When Cheez It arrived, he was very shy, hissed, and didn’t like to be handled by people. Freddy was extremely boisterous and needed time to work on his cat manners. Freddy has helped Cheez It come out of his shell and Cheez It has helped Freddy become calmer.

Harmony House focuses on rescuing cats from the Chicago area. “We feel very strongly about taking cats from the area,” Mary says. Harmony House has a stray license from the city of Chicago and usually adopts out between 120 to 140 cats and kittens each year.

As we finish the tour I think of any questions I could have missed about Harmony House. I think about the very important but often hidden role animal shelters play in our community. They constantly process and care for the animals that get overlooked or forgotten about by the rest of us. Getting a glimpse of how they function and the love and care needed to keep them thriving helped me to appreciated even more the role they play in our community.

I asked Mary and Jennifer what they liked most about their job. “The cats” they both answer without hesitation.

CALL TO ACTION

Harmony House is located on 2914 North Elston Avenue. They welcome volunteers, adults and children alike, and have adoption hours four days a week. Harmony House also holds regular fundraisers, including a Kitty Summer Social on June 11th from 1-4pm which features arts, crafts, drinks, and a raffle. Check out their website here. You are welcome to get involved!