The Puerto Rican Diaspora has been in effect since the middle of the 20th century. The promise of new work in new industries and the prospect of leaving the failing agricultural, rural lifestyle prompted massive migrations to the United States. Here in Chicago, Puerto Ricans first established themselves in Humboldt Park, and later established areas in Lincoln Park, Woodlawn, and Kenwood. However, due to gentrification, economic struggles and the changes life brings, only Humboldt Park and Lincoln Park retain a large Puerto Rican presence. However, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, or PRCC, has helped build up not just the Puerto Rican community, but the general area of Humboldt Park.
The PRCC provides multiple programs. It offers 5festivities year-round that celebrate Puerto Rican culture, such as the Three Kings Winterfest on January 6, an annual celebration since 1995 that has been brought from the island that has become tradition within the community. Another of the annual festivities PRCC hosts is the Puerto Rican People’s Day Parade on Division Street that is a celebration of artistic expression for the Puerto Rican populace, as well as providing inspiration in their endeavors. On the educational front, PRCC has multiple initiatives such as their Community as a Campus Initiative, which aims to strengthen the numerous opportunities students receive by offering a strong STEM and artistic foundation, as well as the Humboldt Park Youth Employment Program which is dedicated to teaching students and out-of-school youth business trades by enrolling them in a paid apprenticeship for a span of three months. In terms of health and social wellness, the PRCC offers programs such as VIDA/SIDA, which is an HIV and AIDS prevention group for queer youth. The PRCC also offers the El Rescate Transitional Living Program which seeks to aid homeless LGBTQ and HIV positive youth to give them lasting solutions to make the most of their education and health. These examples are just a taste of the variety of programs the PRCC offers.
The PRCC’s most recent project is a housing project for local artists. This project, the Nancy Franco-Maldonado Paseo Boricua Arts Building, aims to reform vacant buildings into a vibrant community for budding artists to socialize, develop their work and sell it in stores or in the downstairs lobby, the latter of which serves as a commercial center for the artists as well as a social hub. The architectural plans include the installation of features such as a theater in the lobby and rooftop gardens. The plans demonstrate the PRCC’s ambition to create a “sustainable, thriving catalyst for creativity and artistic exchange,” as well as facilitating the continued education in the arts.
Despite the massive projects, the PRCC has run into some problems. Aside fromthe need for more donors, the PRCC has had to face massive gentrification within Humboldt Park. According to PRCC’s Executive Director, José Elias López, this is the main issue, “Humboldt Park is prime real estate. It’s not that far off from downtown, and due to being once settled in by a majority minority community it became a prime target for ‘renovations.’ Before we knew it, property owners had their premiums and rent skyrocket, and were forced out of their business and homes.” However, the PRCC has developed a plan to combat gentrification. “We are declaring a good portion of West Division Street as a historic Puerto Rican town,” López said. “The local alderman Roberto Maldonado will be presenting our case.” Through these efforts PRCC would secure two miles of territory dedicated to the Puerto Rican community and fight back against gentrification tactics.
Puerto Ricans in Chicago have a history of fighting back against oppression and looking forward to the future. The PRCC carries that legacy with its incredible projects. The Puerto Ricans within Chicago serve as one of the most forward thinking groups, as their aid to the queer and impoverished groups suggests. This is why the PRCC’s motto, “To live and help to live,” resonates so strongly: they are committed to their words through effective action.
Call to action:
If you are interested in the PRCC, would like to volunteer or seek work opportunities, or would like to donate to their organization, go to their website.
Amidst this turmoil, the day-to-day challenges confronting students affected by poverty can fade from focus all too easily. For more fortunate students, it might be inconceivable that these pervasive cracks in the system and a host of other factors can deprive students from low-income families of resources as simple as pencils and notebooks.
With this chasm between underserved students and their peers in mind, Matthew Kurtzman founded Back 2 School Illinois [B2SI]. “The need is staggering,” he says, adding that 1.2 million students in Illinois come from low-income households that often cannot afford the basic school supplies their kids need.
Originally known as the Illinois Currency Exchange Charitable Foundation, Back 2 School Illinois became a 501c (3) nonprofit in 2010 and has continued to grow in the ensuing years. At the heart of the organization’s efforts is its free school supply distribution program, the largest one in the state. The program helps kids develop the confidence they need for bright, successful futures, while lessening the financial burden felt by their families. “There’s a whole self-esteem thing that comes into play when kids don’t have the basic supplies they need to succeed in the classroom,” Kurtzman says, highlighting how discouraging it can be for students who don’t have access to the resources that students from wealthier families enjoy. “When a kid goes back to school and they don’t have everything they need, it can be very demoralizing.”
Kurtzman has a long history working with nonprofits. He organized a walk-a-thon while in college that raised $100,000 for the American Cancer Society, and during a twenty-year career in marketing he encouraged clients to participate in community outreach activities. By the time he started B2SI, he had a strong sense of education’s profound importance in society at large. “I just think education is a universal concern because we’re all affected by it, directly or indirectly.” Given today’s polarizing political climate, Kurtzman says, a quality education is more important than ever. “So many of the problems we’re seeing: the divisiveness in our society and the inability of people of different mindsets to have constructive dialogue all goes back to education.”
Back 2 School Illinois’ work to create and support educational opportunities that enrich the lives of underserved students may empower some community members to want to help. Those interested can visit B2SI.orgto make a donation or explore other ways to get involved.
B2SI distributes its signature Back 2 School kits (filled with core school supplies children need) in partnership with more than a dozen government agencies and community organizations, including the YMCA of Metro Chicago, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. JCC Chicago, Operation Homefront & the USO. In the past year alone, B2SI helped to distribute 34,200 of these kits—over one million school supplies in total.
Continued expansion is in-the-works at B2SI. Later this year, they plan to begin a financial literacy program, in which volunteers from sponsoring financial institutions will help students understand the basics of sound budgeting and thoughtful financial planning.
B2SI even has an eye on areas beyond Illinois’ borders, with the recent creation of Back 2 School America. “We’re starting to test the waters a bit,” Kurtzman says of the expansion into other states. “We’re talking with a potential distribution partner in Texas and did a program up in Milwaukee last year with Operation Homefront,” a non-profit that provides resources to military families. A collaboration with Bernie’s Book Bank to include books in B2SI’s school supply kits is also on the horizon.
B2SI’s mission clearly is to step up to help fill the gaps of a poor state economy and help alleviate challenges to our schools and low-income families. Through its events and volunteer opportunities, B2SI has established a base of dedicated volunteers. And there’s no need to look further than B2SI’s own alums for examples of how “giving back” and community service can inspire. About a month ago, Kurtzman heard from the first recipient of a college scholarship awarded by B2SI, a young woman who now lives and works in Philadelphia. “She said that she’s so appreciative of the scholarship and what it did for her, that now she wants to help,” explains Kurtzman. “So, we’ve asked her to speak at our annual Kick-Off fundraising dinner in May.”
Call to Action
You can support Back 2 School Illinois’ mission in a variety of ways. For starters, individuals or groups can buy school supply kits (which contain 30 basic supplies) via B2SI’s Buy-A-Kit program, and then pick up and distribute the kits themselves to a local school, church or community organization, OR folks can simply buy the kits and then have B2Si distribute them to the organization of its choice.
B2SI’s Build-A-Kit program is a great team-building activity for organizations large and small, and involves businesses, law firms and community groups buying bulk school supplies from B2SI and then building school supply kits for underserved kids. It makes for a fun, rewarding experience for community groups and organizations, and/or for a great corporate team building event.
Also, coming up on May 9th B2SI is holding its annual fundraisingKick-off Dinner; volunteers are needed for the event, as are silent auction items. Finally, coming up on April 10th, from 6pm- 10pm, B2SI is hosting one of its “Notes of Inspiration” event at Elixir Lounge in Lakeview. The event offers volunteers an opportunity to personalize notes of encouragement to be included in B2SI’s school supply kits. Folks can contact Back 2 School Illinois if they’re interested in hosting their own Notes of Inspiration event.
Winter break ushered in temperatures in the single digits and the days of below-zero windchills have carried into the new year. The January cold may be an indication of dark winter days and cabin fever yet to come, but it also marks the return of a beloved Chicago tradition: Soup and Bread at The Hideout.
In a major metropolitan area like Chicago, a chance to bump elbows with your neighbors and break bread together in a small, cozy setting may sound like a vestige of a bygone era, but every Wednesday through March, Soup and Bread serves as an opportunity for community members to do just that. Each week volunteer chefs bring a soup—and plenty of it—to share with anyone who cares to drop by. Partakers pay a donation in an amount of their choosing and then enjoy the offerings of the day, along with delicious bread donated by Publican Quality Bread. All proceeds are donated to local nonprofits combating hunger in Chicago, like the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Call to Action
We all know that heavy winter feeling that beckons us inside, shielding us from the harsh elements right beyond our doors. But summon the intrepid winter traveler within you (you know you have one if you live here) and check out Soup and Bread, which kicked off its tenth season this week at The Hideout. Sample some outstanding food (with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options often available), enjoy some camaraderie with your fellow Chicagoans, and support important causes that serve Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. You’ll be glad you did.
Fancy yourself quite the cook? Consider making a pot of your favorite soup for Soup and Bread this season! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with the organizers.
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.
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!