Pride y Patria: The Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Chicago

Pride y Patria: The Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Chicago

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 5 festivities 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 from the 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.

General website:


For Donations:

Notable Initiatives:


Community as Campus:

Bohio Housing:


Empowering Students and Families to Become Self-Advocates

Empowering Students and Families to Become Self-Advocates

Parents and educators are taking action in the pursuit of transparency and democracy in school politics. Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education (RYH) “engages, informs and empowers parents to protect and strengthen public education for all children in Chicago and Illinois, eliminate inequities in public schools, and work at the grassroots for the public good that is public education,” as stated on RYH’s website.

In the wake of funding issues within Chicago Public Schools [CPS], this group of parents and education professionals collaborated to provide resources for families to better navigate the educational system in Chicago and across Illinois. RYH advocates for the reduction of high-stakes testing, the establishment of an elected school board, the avoidance of school privatization, increased special education services, the protection of student data privacy and the education of families on each student’s rights.

RYH’s website holds a myriad of resources for students and families, including updated educational research, tool kits for understanding school budgets, testing, special education and the contact information of local and state representatives to help make family voices heard. While many of their resources may be found online, one will also see RYH advocating at CPS board meetings and community events, elevating the voices of parents and families.

On the ground, RYH engages the community in workshops such as the “Parents Know Your Rights” workshop where families are educated on their students’ rights in the field of special education. In this workshop, RYH provides families with materials to organize the forms and documents necessary to understand and track their students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEP). In RYH’s Local School Council  Empowerment (LSC) workshops in the near south side  neighborhoods, RYH educates people on the responsibilities of the Local School Council. By providing families with these resources, RYH has not only empowered families to advocate for their own students, but for policy issues which affect whole school districts. Making resources accessible to all, RYH has established a level of transparency, along with a thirst for and ability to create action!

Call to Action:

Announcing ShipBob and giveNkind Partnership

Announcing ShipBob and giveNkind Partnership

giveNkind and ShipBob, a Chicago-based innovative tech and logistics start-up, have partnered to reimagine giving.  ShipBob is warehousing and shipping canceled or returned items donated by their e-merchants. This means that new products will not only be given to nonprofits but also shipped from their 5 distribution centers across the country directly to them!

ShipBob is so gracious to cover the shipping cost through December 2018 but giveNkind is looking for financial donations to keep up this excellent opportunity for our nonprofit partners. Visit to help! Learn more about the partnership here.

One Heart One Soul: Opening Remarks

One Heart One Soul: Opening Remarks

When I left the Indiana Green line station and walked down the street towards the Belfort
House in Bronzeville, I didn`t know what to expect on my first day as an intern for One Heart
One Soul. I was very excited; making art and sharing it with new people is always a worthwhile
experience. Art allows for people of different backgrounds to come together to share their
experiences and who they are on the inside despite their circumstances. That first day perfectly
illustrated how art and people are a perfect match.

In the Belfort House, the youth were unaware of our program; however, that didn`t stop
us from creating together. Erin Venable was the art leader for today, and she allowed for us to
create whatever felt right to us. A couple of young adults joined us and shared who they are
through their passions almost immediately. We had a future designer (who could also paint very
well) and a future novelist (whose artistic skills also extended to visual art) in our midst. That`s
how I saw them: artists. I refuse to define them by their circumstances, mainly because they
deserve better than that. These young ladies were open enough to share themselves with us on
Saturday, and I hope to see them again in the future sessions so we can continue to create

Sunday lead me to the Covenant House on the Near North Side. I expected to experience
a different vibe with each house, and I wasn`t disappointed in the Covenant House. We had a
few more participants this time and a lot more pieces created by the artists. Poetry made an
appearance along with the paintings, and personal stories came to life. Kids became the driving
factor of their work on Sunday, and many beautiful pieces were borne from the love of parents
for their children. Small works of art grew, and all of us could feel the emotions exerted by each
artist through their work. Creation mixed in with a lot of laughter and personal connections made
this space very comfortable for all, and I could tell from the end results that need to share their
stories will bring them back to create more work with us.

La Casa Norte in Logan Square was another very different atmosphere than the other
locations. Andrew Sentamu led us and we created paintings full of feeling. Although we had
only a couple of young artists join us, the day was still worthwhile. One participant wanted to
continue working on a drawing he already started, and the other let us know that he wasn`t an
artist, but still decided to paint with Andrew. A lot of laughter and teasing occurred throughout
the session; the energy in the room made it hard not to crack a smile every once in a while. The
artistry level from each person involved differed, but it didn`t prevent the creation of great art.
Hopefully, it also pulled in the artists enough to have them want to join us every session.

Overall, this first session went well for the program and all who participated in it. It really
showed how inclusive art in many forms can be, and connecting people from different walks of
life is easier than one may believe. I enjoyed working with these young artists and seeing what
they can make from a set of donated supplies and two hours of their time. I`m excited to see what
else they can create that will lead up to September`s gallery showing. I also can`t wait to see how
many other young people will join us and bring forth more ideas and stories that makes them
more than their situation.

Call to Action: Grow Your Own Illinois

Call to Action: Grow Your Own Illinois

Students come from numerous social backgrounds, each with their different world views, circumstances and needs. Therefore, teachers need to be prepared to handle that variety of world views. Grow Your Own Illinois, or GYO, understands the necessity for teachers to not only understand the needs of students, but empathize with them as well. Thus, for the past 11 years GYO has dedicated itself to mobilizing and aiding prospective teachers of diverse backgrounds to teach in minority communities.

GYO’s mission has hit some rough times in recent years. I spoke with Kate Van Winkle, the director of GYO, to try and understand some of the trouble the organization has been facing. As of 2015, the organization no longer receives state funding, which led to the closing of all the other offices save for the Chicago office. However, this is not the only problem that the organization has faced. Among those, students have trouble passing the Test of Academic Proficiency, which is needed to be approved to teach. Only 30 percent of students pass the test, of which Van Winkle told me that the students reported either the content of the test was highly irrelevant to their studies or that they had general troubles with their test taking skills and strategies. Other problems include the kind of student GYO needs to empower. Previously, GYO focused on training adults that have already been in the workforce and had interest in becoming teachers. There is a bias to recruit younger students out of high school and in college rather than adults that have already begun their education or have been out of college for years. As such, GYO has needed to restructure and re-prioritize the kinds of students they empower.

The organization has taken steps to start reorganizing. Currently, it is experimenting with a program with Waukegan High School to offer credits for high school students that are interested in a career in education. GYO is also continuing to search for new ways to secure funding for its graduates.




Given the scope of the project and the need to revitalize the effort to bring empathetic education to students, Chicago Rises invites readers who are passionate about education to help out GYO. First off, any donations made are welcome. Second, any individuals passionate about educating and want to apply to GYO’s program, there is still time to apply; the deadline is in September. It is important to keep these programs alive for the sake of empowering not just the youth, but our workforce.

GYO’s site:

For Donations:

For Applications: