One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for October 2019

Belmont Cragin: One Chicago Neighborhood’s Renaissance

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Belmont Cragin is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets: it’s a neighborhood that has been experiencing a renaissance. This renaissance was driven by a collaboration between the Northwest Side Housing Center and LISC Chicago which engaged community residents around community and neighborhood development in drafting a Quality of Life Plan (QLP). As Jose Quilles (the blue-shirted man in the photo above) explained,

LISC Chicago has been working with the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) and other neighborhood partners for several years on the Belmont Cragin Quality-of-Life Plan (QLP), and published the first-ever QLP created by the neighborhood in 2016. The planning process helped engage local residents to organize, then realize, a collective vision for their community’s future,” said Jake Ament, LISC’s Neighborhood Network Director. “The drive of neighborhood leaders and organizations working together on a single roadmap shone a spotlight on the strong assets but clear needs of Belmont Cragin—making many of the initial projects envisioned a reality and leveraging over $170 million in investments in just three years.”

Recently, we interviewed James Rudyk, Jr. Executive Director of Northwest Side Housing Center, which is the lead agency for the Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, for his insights into the process.

How did you get involved in developing the Quality of Life (QLP) plan?

The NWSHC began talking with LISC-Chicago in 2013 sharing the needs that we were seeing in the community and our ideas for proposed solutions. We believed that the establishment of a QLP would help organize and assemble resources needed in the community to help the community combat issues of increased violence, gentrification and displacement, and much-needed resources for our youth. After three years of working with LISC, we were selected as the lead agency of the Belmont Cragin QLP in 2015 and began the planning process. As a result, we created the first-ever community plan for Belmont Cragin from 2016-2018. We are currently in the process of working to update the QLP for 2020-2025. 

As a member of the Belmont Cragin community, how do you perceive the process of developing the QLF Plan?

Jose Quiles is an active community member, and Quality of Life Plan participant, and was key to the organizing campaign for one of the biggest QLP achievements: a new elementary school. He shared, “This [the NWSHC] is the only organization I see where the community takes the lead. We gave birth to Mary Lyon Elementary in 1995 because of overcrowding, and here we are in 2019 with the same problem. But when the community speaks out and the mayor hears us, that’s a victory itself.”

What current and potential benefits are you experiencing personally or professionally?

Since our QLP in partnership with LISC-Chicago, we have invested over $170 million dollars in Belmont Cragin including additional community resources, affordable housing, a new public elementary school, and community center. We have seen a more united community that is also more resilient, able to withstand and bounce back from trauma and adverse experiences. We have also seen the community become more engaged and organized uniting to secure additional resources around a common agenda that has brought additional investment from Chicago Cares, Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, CDOT, Chicago Park District, the Chicago Fire, and Chicago Public Schools.

Finally, how do you expect the QLP plan to affect Belmont Cragin in the future?

We are changing the way in which community planning happens, instead of a top-down approach in which decisions are made by those in power for communities, we are identifying and responding to the needs of the community and developing resident leaders to lead the planning process. This changes the inherent power imbalance between community members and those in power. Through this process the community will remain educated, engaged, and empowered for years to come.

Community and neighborhood engagement work most effectively when residents and stakeholders involved are included in the process. When discussing the success of the Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, the most successful strategy that Northwest Side Housing Center and LISC Chicago implemented was engaging neighborhood residents in the planning process. Thanks to these efforts, Belmont Cragin receives a variety of benefits which include

Such changes only result from a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Thanks to that spirit, Belmont Cragin is one Chicago neighborhood that’s experiencing a renaissance.

Please join the conversation in the comments below or via our Facebook page. If you need to email us directly, please use this contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading!


November 2nd: Gun Violence Globally & Locally Film Festival

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(Special thanks to Linda Stettler of Netsquared Chicago for bringing this to my attention) 

In current conversations around gun violence, from concerns about films to the usual decrying of “thoughts and prayers”, one critical conversation is often left out: the long-term impact of gun violence on its victims. Although the media may focus on incidents of gun violence, the voices of those impacted can often get lost especially from smaller, marginalized communities.

On November 2nd at 11:00 am, Docademia/StoryBolt and Humanity Rising are partnering to present the 3rd Annual Gun Violence Globally and Locally Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. Both organizations hope that the Film Festival organizes the wider Chicago community and inspire dialogue – and action – through storytelling and the arts.

Joining the Jury Committee for the Gun Violence Globally and Locally Film Festival will be Kim A. Snyder, the documentary filmmaker of Newtown which focused on the Sandy Hook school shooting. Kim Snyder will participate in a panel discussion moderated by David Cherry,  Senior Leadership Team leader of the All Stars Project, focusing on the issue of gun violence both within and outside of Chicago. (Other panel participants include Parkland survivors and other Chicago community activists).

Other highlights of the film festival include a screening of the winning documentary with the opportunity to speak with the filmmaker, and an art exhibition showcasing works created by elementary students from “O Block” who are addressing gun violence in Southside Chicago. Activists from organizations like March for Our Lives will also be participating in the Festival’s conversations about gun violence. Food will be catered by the Spirit and Soul Catering Company who specializes in “Southern Cuisine with that Midwest Swing”

One of the purposes of this blog is to highlight stories that need to be told, but also inspire people to take action. Media coverage of gun violence (both within and outside of Chicago) tends to focus on the immediate aftermath without discussing the long term impact. Although there may be a conversation about legislative efforts to combat gun violence, stories of people surviving the aftermath often diminish or (in some cases) get ignored. The Gun Violence Globally and Locally Film Festival is a great effort to bring attention, ensure those stories are heard and most importantly, encourage people to become active and advocate within their community.

We’re glad to highlight this event on the blog, and hope you can attend.  Tickets are available through Eventbrite until October 31st.

Please join us in conversation via the comments section below, or follow the blog on Facebook. If you want to contact us directly, please check out this blog’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

October 22, 2019 at 12:15 pm

4EVR: A Chicago Startup Driven by Community

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(Special thanks to Josh S and Indhi of 4EVR for their time and insights)

Many Chicago tech startups begin with a simple goal of addressing a client or customer need. In many cases, those startups see the audience simply as a client making a purchase or paying a subscription. However, a new Chicago startup named 4EVR, aiming for a 2020 Chicagoland launch focuses on the wedding industry that takes client and event professional perspectives relations one step further. By taking an empathic approach to event professionals and their clients,  4EVR intends to attract a strong community of advocates to make an overall positive impact on the greater Chicagoland community.

After all, 4EVR – a platform focused on matching and connecting event professionals with potential clients around weddings – was conceived by a co-founded born in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. CEO Josh S had grown up in the events and hospitality industry: his mother had run a successful event planning business for twenty-three years and now leads events at Wrigley Stadium His father gained prominence in the restaurant/ hospitality industry and now owns Bar 22, one of several restaurants in Chicago’s South Loop. Josh witnessed the challenges of event professionals always finding the next client. Finding new clients is a challenge for any entrepreneur; for event professionals, this becomes even more critical, and Josh S saw an opportunity.

An opportunity that occurs on the most important day for many people: their wedding. Observing that the wedding industry generates $72 billion worldwide, but that only about $2.9 billion of that money is tapped, Josh drew from his experience and insight and realized the unique challenge of matching and connecting professionals to clients on an extremely critical day. Developing an algorithm that was curated with the help of professors, universities, and respected professionals, Josh S realized that this was a unique value proposition. With this algorithm, the 4EVR platform could more accurately match event clients to event professionals for weddings based on similarities in personality, temperament, and event traits. As the startup grew, Josh S brought on Indhi, a former colleague who has an MBA and Master of Science in Information Technology from IIT, as Lead of Engineering, 4EVR faced the challenge of developing its app into a user-friendly, technically advanced product. 

(Also, all 4EVR staff are certified in the industries that 4EVR offers, enabling them to communicate with both event professionals and event clients)  

As a Chicago startup with an empathetic approach towards its users, 4EVR takes a unique approach to maximize the app’s unique value. “Break Parties” gather a diverse array of event professionals and clients to encourage “breaking” the web application and algorithm to locate and flaws in the technology, connection, and processes.. (As Josh S and Indhi explained, they believe that customer service isn’t a department, but a focal point for the company) . Part of 4EVR’s efforts also includes building their community through an internal blog as well as social media (including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest). These efforts derive from a simple belief: empathy demonstrates community. 

In an effort to foster true diversity within their organization, 4EVR embraces the philosophy that making employees feel comfortable in the workplace enhances overall productivity and welcomely invites different perspectives. This Chicago startup also embraces true diversity in its workforce and seeks to recruit more women, people of different backgrounds/ religions/creeds, and members of the LGTBQ+ community for various positions starting with marketing staff and engineers. They are seeking talent over experience, with a specific focus on developing unique strategies for finding solutions and solving problems. 4EVR’s launch in 2020 will focus exclusively on building a community around weddings in the Chicagoland area, allowing them to refine and establish a model for future growth and expansion.

Every step of this Chicago startup’s method has a specific focus on understanding the emotional needs of both clients and professionals around weddings. This focus on empathy and community over commodity gives 4EVR a very unique edge as a Chicago startup.

And they’re only just getting started…

Written by gordondym

October 15, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Meet Your Neighbor: Dawn Xiana Moon and Raks Geek

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Dawn Xiana Moon (Photo by Peter Serocki)

(Special thanks again to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for taking the time to talk to us!)

Last year we talked to Dawn Xiana Moon about Raks Geeks’ then-fundraiser for the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Recently, however, we had a follow-up conversation with Dawn about various other topics, including Raks Geek’s upcoming Seventh Anniversary show on October 11th at the Newport Theater.

You’ve made quite an impact on the local arts community, including several nominations in a past Chicago Reader poll. How does that feel?

It’s incredible! I was stunned to be nominated in 4 different categories (Best Dancer, Best Singer-Songwriter, Best World Music Act, and Best Stage Performer) – it’s also gratifying because the nominations span both of my primary art forms: music and dance. So many people who know me as a dancer won’t realize I’ve been a professional musician for far, far longer than I’ve been a dancer, and many musicians are surprised when they find out I bellydance (and often as a Wookiee!). 

Back in August, we spoke about how your benefit for the Young Center reflected your own views about immigration reform. One year later, you’re highlighting them for your seventh-anniversary show. What do you think (if anything) has changed about conversations concerning immigration rights?

One year later, the situation for immigrants in the US has only become more dire. The US now lives with the reality of concentration camps where kids are held without access to basic necessities like toothbrushes. The cruelty is the point: It costs US taxpayers $775 per person per day to keep them in camps. They could afford toothbrushes. But CBP has even refused donations of diapers, toothbrushes, and soap from people in Texas.

I personally have a friend who was literally 5 minutes away from being sent to an immigration detention camp even though he’s a legal immigrant who came to the US as a kid, has US citizen parents, and had his full documentation on his person when he was stopped by ICE, who took him to their offices in handcuffs.

ICE’s computer records were out of date and didn’t include the last few years of his immigration records, and it was the end of the day so they couldn’t get a hold of other agencies to cross-check their records. They asked for his personal effects and planned to jail him until offices opened on Monday. He was lucky and ICE reached someone with updated records at the very last moment, and he was then allowed to leave. 

Lee Na Moo – Photo by Two Branches Photography

Your show with Raks Geek on October 11th celebrates the troupe’s seventh anniversary. Can you inform those who might not be familiar with Raks Geek about the troupe and its mission?

Raks Geek is a bellydance and fire performance company that I founded in 2012 – our dancers have appeared everywhere from Germany to Argentina, and we’ve been featured on WGN-TV, MSN, UK Channel 4 TV, and more. We’re committed to blending a high degree of artistic and technical mastery with fun, creativity, and our favorite themes from nerd culture. 

Raks Geek has a reputation for building an inclusive community both within the troupe and its audience. Can you speak to how the troupe has managed to do that despite various challenges and obstacles?

I’m a Chinese-American woman, an immigrant by way of Singapore, and Raks Geek is majority Asian-American and majority LGBTQ+. I and many others in the group think a lot about social justice and inclusion – a few of us regularly speak about these issues at universities and conferences – so we’re constantly talking about ways to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

Part of this starts with who controls the narrative: I firmly believe that it’s vital for underrepresented groups to get to tell our own stories. Representation matters both onstage and off, both in who’s performing in front of the audience and directing things behind the scenes.

Because we ourselves come from marginalized groups, we know how important it is to have spaces that are truly welcoming, spaces where you’re able to belong, where your full humanity is respected and loved. Honestly, because of who we are, building an inclusive community has been easy for us.

All are welcome in our home, and we’d love to have you as part of the family.

Michi Trota – Photo by Two Branches Photography

Finally, once October 11th has passed, many individuals will want to know how they can make a further impact on their community. Do you have any suggestions on how people can take action to drive inclusion in their community?

First: Listen to the underrepresented people in your community. Listen without making them cater to you. For all its issues, Twitter is actually a great place for listening in on conversations between people in marginalized groups that don’t cater to outsiders. Follow a few dozen POC in different groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ folks, whatever group you don’t have such candid, in-person conversations with, and a few that you think you do – your perspective will change.

Then, use your new awareness. Boost voices who have been talking about these issues for years. Don’t take over – share their (credited) work with people who used to not understand, as you once didn’t understand. Help others learn as well.

Racism doesn’t change until racially privileged people absorb the enormity and extent of racism and fight it in their own spaces. If you’re white, the good news is that because of power dynamics in this country, you have a bigger voice than POC do. Use it.

Studies show that people are far more likely to back down from racist positions if they’re called out by others of their group. Call out your friend’s microaggressions and he’ll think twice before going further.

And that makes the world a tiny bit safer for the rest of us.

(Again, we would like to thank Dawn for taking time out to talk to us. You can learn more about Raks Geek via or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Please feel free to join the further conversation via our Facebook page or contact us directly via our About page. Again, thanks for reading!) 

Written by gordondym

October 3, 2019 at 6:59 am