One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Posts Tagged ‘events

Surviving the Metra Lollapalooza COVID Express

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Lollapalooza officially ends today, and I am personally grateful for a variety of reasons. After all, I was around when Lollapalooza started as a touring show that was merely corporate-sponsored pandering led by a spoiled, entitled musician whose then-latest hit served as a paean to shoplifting. However, coming home from a friend’s showing at the Fulton Street Collective meant taking the Metra Rock Island line home…and dealing with a throng of young Lollapalooza attendees who were…

Well, I live tweeted it, and here’s a timeline for your reading pleasure. And yes, you can offer thoughts and prayers as I express what happened without sounding ageist or entitled.

Saturday, 9:15 pm – I arrive at the Metra LaSalle Street station. The waiting area is filled with mostly adults. It’s quiet, and the 10:00 pm train appears to be on time. Sitting down, I relax and look forward to a relatively peaceful ride home.

Saturday, 9:30 pm – Heading outside, I enjoy the cooler air of a summer evening in Chicago. Nothing seems to be going wrong except for a possible delay in the train’s arrival.

Saturday, 9:40 pm – The first of the Lollapalooza crowd begins showing up, and soon they’re dominating the platform. As you can see by the photos above, none of them are wearing masks. Within fifteen minutes, I decide to double-mask for my own safety.

Saturday, 10:04 pmAs two trains finally arrive, Metra employees encourage a single line to check passes before boarding the train. Lollapalooza attendees force their way through, ignoring directions and waving cell phones in people’s faces. As I board the car, I sit in one of the front most seats.

Four minutes later, I perform a rough headcount: the car contains approximately 30 people, only six (including myself) are over 35. Only four people (including myself) are wearing masks. As public transportation, Metra falls under the federal mask mandate.

Saturday, 10:11 pm – I’m reminded of the irony of attending Raks Inferno on Friday night: the troupe (and home venue Newport Theater) held a limited capacity, vax-only show that turned away two people. Afterwards, on the way home, a throng of Lollapalooza-based motorcyclists defied traffic laws and performed wheelies only seen in high-end action movies. (And which never end well)

I say this because I tweeted that Mayor Lightfoot should have canceled Lollapalooza. After all, reentry should have been more cautious, and businesses should not take precedence over public health…but I digress.

(Yes, my Tweeting takes on a slightly sarcastic tone, but it was my way of documenting what was happening, as well as allowing myself some self-soothing. But I felt it worth discussing in light of current COVID-19 trends in Chicago and the state of Illinois)

Saturday, 10:16 pmTwo Metra employees enter our car and announce that if anyone is getting off at a stop in Beverly (my home neighborhood since I became Mom’s caregiver), we need to move “two cars up”. Ten of us rise and walk through two cars. We ask if it’s the Beverly car…and we’re told it’s the next car up.

Barnard Park, Chicago
Barnard Park – Photo by Gordon Dymowski

We moved through five Metra cars (almost the entire length of the train) in order for the doors to open for us to get off. Although the number of people in each car dwindled, many of them were from Lollapalooza and did not wear masks. None of the Lollapalooza crowd looked sober, and one drunkenly told me I was “fired” and offered a fist bump. I refused. We eventually made it to the front car, and sitting down, simply waited for my stop.

Saturday, 10:29 pmAs the Metra train began its end run towards home, I felt concerned about that evening’s sleep and ruminated on my past. In my past career in social services, I’ve worked in a variety of rough situations (including a St. Louis-area office in the basement of an infamous housing development). I never felt as uncomfortable (or threatened with illness) as I did on that train ride.

Saturday, 10:37 pmAs my train gets closer to my home station, I realize that I smell something a bit…odd, and look at the seats in front of me. Three young women are talking, and one of them is vaping. (I am unsure if this is allowed on Metra trains, but say nothing).

At the stop before mine, two of the women depart the train. The last one – the woman who was vaping – looks at me and says blankly, “I’m lonely.” I keep silent and get up as we approach my stop.

Saturday 11:00 pmAfter successfully disembarking from the train and arriving home, I chose to update Twitter with a note of gratitude. The next morning, I managed to provide a follow-up Tweet. All was relatively well.

Although this essay may seem rather over-the-top, there have been genuine concerns about Lollapalooza becoming a superspreader event like a recent festival in the Netherlands. With COVID rates increasing in the city, the Mayor’s press for further vaccinations is a smart move…but holding Lollapalooza was ill-advised. Metra shares part of the responsibility for not rigorously enforcing the rules…

But holding Lollapalooza in the first place was a bad move. In not canceling the show, Mayor Lightfoot demonstrated a greater concern for corporate and business interests than the welfare of the city. She’s scheduled to provide a COVID update on Monday at 10:00 am at City Hall. Don’t be surprised if the evades questions about why she let Lollapalooza go on.

The answer’s obvious.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading.


Written by gordondym

August 1, 2021 at 8:48 pm

Raks Geek: Celebrating Pride Month With Two Events

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As Chicago prepares for reopening, Raks Geek is hoping to reengage their audience with a series of online and offline shows. Led by director Dawn Xiana Moon, the performance troupe is hoping to not only celebrate Pride Month (several members are from the LGTBQ community), but also begin to hold events that ensure the safety and health of attendees following the past year and a half.

Raks Geek - Troupe Photo
Raks Geek

First, Raks Geek will kick off the “Peek-Easy” series of performances at the Newport Theater this Friday, June 11th.

Each 45-minute show is performed in front of a limited in-person audience and designed for those looking for a responsible night of debauchery! Performing two 45-minute shows, Raks Geek will feature both live performance and digital acts focusing on belly dance, fire spinning, and other acts. In an effort to ensure safety, the Peek-Easy shows will limit their audience to fully vaccinated patrons (two weeks past their final shot) per Chicago’s “Vaccine Exemption” guidelines. Since Raks Geek features several prominent LGTBQ+ performers, their June 11th show is a great opportunity for representation and engagement. More information can be found via their Facebook event page, and tickets can be ordered via

Raks Inferno: Dawn Xiana Moon
Raks Inferno – Dawn Xiana Moon

If you are unable to attend this Friday, you can easily attend Raks Inferno: A Virtual Circus Cabaret (Pride Edition) next Friday, June 18th, at 8:00 pm streamed live via Facebook. Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) focuses on belly dance, fire spinning, and other performance arts without cosplay. Part of the proceeds from the June 18th show will benefit Brave Space Alliance, Brave Space Alliance, the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ center located in the city’s south side.

As Chicago gradually reopens, it is important to remember that all groups are deserving of respect. At a time when racial attacks against Asian-Americans and homophobic and transphobic incidents are increasing nationwide, it is important to understand the need for representation, compassion, and empathy transitioning out of the pandemic. As Dawn Xiana Moon stated in an earlier interview,

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.

This Friday and next Friday, join Raks Geek online and offline and become part of their community.

Please leave your thoughts below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you have direct questions, contact us via this email form.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 8, 2021 at 9:01 am

Raks Inferno Online Fundraiser for Fair Fight on November 27

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Late in October, we stated that voting on election day would not be the end of our current turmoil. Two Senate seats in Georgia have led to runoff elections, and now the Trump campaign is demanding another recount. With voter suppression efforts against marginalized communities in the United States, many seek On November 27th, you have the opportunity to support voting rights and enjoy an evening of art, dance, and music via Facebook Live.

This Friday, Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) will hold a fundraiser for Fair Fight, the organization started by Stacy Abrams to promote fair elections in Georgia and around the country, encourage voter participation in elections, and educate voters about elections and their voting rights. Fair Fight registered 800,000 (mostly young, BiPOC) voters in Georgia, and winning those two Senate seats is a first step towards undoing the damage of the past four years.  Those wishing to attend the Raks Inferno Saves Democracy fundraiser for Fair Fight can RSVP via Facebook and the show will be streamed via Facebook Live.  (Donation information can be found via their event page).

Featuring a variety of bellydancers, fire spinners, and circus acts from throughout the world, Raks Geek has held multiple fundraisers for a variety of causes over the past four years. Comprised of both performers of color and LGTBQ+ members, Raks Geek/Inferno has been consistently vocal in advocating around issues such as immigration, LGTBQ+ rights, and medical debt. Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the loss of performance spaces for artists (including the Newport Theater), the troupe has streamed their performances to reach a wider audience.

Voting matters. Art matters. This election has proven that there are those who would silence the will of marginalized voters.

Make a difference by attending Raks Inferno this Friday night on Facebook, and by donating generously.

Please leave comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Contact us via email if you have private questions or concerns.

As always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

November 22, 2020 at 12:56 pm

EVENT: Raks Inferno 6/26 Fundraiser for Lighthouse Foundation

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(Special thanks to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for her efforts and her contribution to this post).

This past week, I posted my interview with Karlyn Meyer of Lighthouse Foundation focusing on their work with the black LGTBQ+ community in Chicago. Although I briefly mentioned an upcoming fundraiser, I wanted to provide more information.

This Friday, June 26th, at 8 pm, Raks Inferno (a production of Raks Geek) is holding an online fundraiser on Facebook. The Raks Inferno: BLM & Pride Solidarity event will be live-streamed via Facebook, and will feature belly dance, fire spinning, and other performance arts. Recently, I asked Dawn Xiana Moon (director of Raks Geek) about their event, and she graciously provided the following:

Raks Geek (and thus Raks Inferno, which is a Raks Geek project) has never been quiet about racial injustice, LGBTQ+ equality, or the fact that trans rights are human rights. It’s personal: Most of us are LGBTQ+, and most of us are POC (specifically, Asian American). Our very bodies are politicized, whether we want them to be or not.

One of our missions is to give back to our community; we regularly partner with local non-profits to raise awareness of the work they’re doing and help them raise funds. Karlyn from Lighthouse Foundation is a good friend of ours, and we’ve been wanting to partner with them; given that this month is Pride and we also wanted to tangibly support the Black Lives Matter movement, it seemed natural to center this show around an organization that advances justice for Black LGBTQ+ people.

Personally, I’m also really excited about our guest performers this month, whom I’ve been hoping to get into a show for a while: Firespinner BK Ellison is one of the organizers of the Chicago Full Moon Jams, and Alseny Sylla has performed with Cirque du Soleil and can jump higher and further than most human beings on the planet. We’re lucky to have them on board!

Please make a point of attending – and donating – this Friday evening.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 24, 2020 at 9:09 am

Meet Your Neighbor: Lighthouse Foundation

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(Special thanks to Karlyn Meyer for her time and insights)

In its first year of existence, the Lighthouse Foundation has driven several successful initiatives ranging from assertive advocacy to developing a mutual aid fund to benefit the black LGTBQ+ community. Recently, I spoke with Board President Karlyn Meyer (my old colleague from the Chicago Nerd Social Club) about the Foundation’s origins, its philosophy, and this Friday’s Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) online fundraiser on Facebook.

Can you provide some background on the Lighthouse Foundation?

Lighthouse Foundation (LF) grew out of a community need observed by members of a church. The organizers who have gone on to form the Foundation met through Lighthouse Church UCC, which is a predominately Black, predominately queer and LGBTQIA-affirming faith community led by LF’s Executive Director, Jamie Frazier. So one year ago, there were a number of racist incidents involving Boystown businesses, and they all came to light in relatively quick succession. This hit some major intersections for us as a church, so we did some organizing in response; but at the same time, we did a lot of listening. In the process, we learned two things. One was the sheer depth of macro- and microaggressions, threats to safety, and deep unwelcome experienced by Black queer Chicagoans in Boystown (and beyond). The other was how many people outside the church community supported our work and wanted to join us in this movement. So we launched a nonsectarian nonprofit to move our social-justice work forward.

What motivated you to get involved with the Lighthouse Foundation? What keeps you going?

I’d been a member of Lighthouse Church for almost as long as it’s been around; I love its unapologetic focus on justice and celebration of diversity. So the formation of the Lighthouse Foundation has been a clear and logical application of the values that brought us all together in the first place.

Can you provide some insight into the inner workings of the Foundation – how does it interface with the community? (Both the Lakeview/Boys Town neighborhood as well as specifically the Black LGTBQ+ community)

Lighthouse Foundation has a bifurcated structure. Part one is our caucuses: groups that represent a cross-section of identities within the Chicagoland Black LGBTQ+ community. For example, we have a trans caucus and a 50+ caucus, each led and facilitated by a member of that group. The caucuses raise issues to our leadership–they let us know what they need and what they’re interested in, and provide programming as well. The second part is our direct-action organizing arm, CARE: the Coalition of Allies for Racial Equity. CARE is open to both individuals and organizations–anyone committed to the pursuit of justice for Black LGBTQ+ people. The caucuses are more behind the scenes, with CARE doing the public work.

Our leadership consists of a nine-member strategy team that is primarily Black and queer and includes white “accomplices” (a more active term used in favor of “allies”). Our team includes organizers, clergy, and professionals of many kinds, all sharing a passion for Black queer justice, with Jamie as our Executive Director.

The Foundation has taken a very active stance in advocating for the Black LGTBQ community in Chicago, from security issues at Center on Halsted to creating a Black Queer Mutual Aid Fund in the wake of COVID-19. What are the key issues that Black LGTBQ individuals in Chicago, and what are the challenges in organizing around those issues?

With Black Chicagoans disproportionately affected by COVID-19, disproportionately serving as frontline workers, and many out of work and facing housing insecurity, an immediate need in the pandemic was for financial assistance. With our roots in the Black queer community and our familiarity with the high barrier and inaccessibility of many aid programs, we decided to create the Black Queer Mutual Aid Fund of Chicagoland. Our initial plan was to distribute $100 microgrants, but support of the fund has allowed us to increase this amount. This is completely digital, which is especially helpful because a major challenge in organizing during the pandemic is our inability to gather. We’re thankful that we’ve been able to launch this and other initiatives since going virtual, and that we’ve been able to extend our reach and participation in CARE.

Recently, the Foundation released a guide for white individuals and institutions to assertively help the Foundation. What can we do on a day-to-day basis that moves beyond simply posting hashtags and graphics? How can we make an impact on a smaller scale?

One of the items in that email is a live webinar we just hosted, called Antiracism for White Folks. You’ll find the recording on our Facebook page, and I encourage anyone who is asking this question to watch it. This webinar was run by white members of our strategy team–and I think that’s significant, for two reasons. One is that it’s important for white folks to talk to each other when it comes to the work of antiracism; that education is labor that’s often requested of people of color. But on the flip side, it’s incredibly important to defer to people of color and follow their lead when it comes to working with them for their liberation. I love that Lighthouse Foundation addresses both of these things: It provides spaces where non-Black/non-queer folks can receive that education, clarity, and instruction; and it does so under the direction and agency of Black queer people.

Another very concrete thing people can do is financially support our organization, so we can continue providing trainings like it, mutual aid, programming, and organizing wins. You can donate through the website of our fiscal sponsor, PHIMC, at

Raks Geek is holding a June 26th online fundraiser to benefit the Lighthouse Foundation. Can you describe some of your other partnerships/collaborations with community organizations?

We’re excited about Raks Geek and grateful that they are providing entertainment that can be experienced at home during the pandemic. Our other partnerships and collaborations have been rich and varied. For example, we’ve worked with public health organizations like Howard Brown for our campaigns; and we’re partnering with the Census for part of our upcoming Black Queer Pride (online) celebration over the 4th of July weekend. But another thing our partnerships look like is our organizational members within CARE. One thing I appreciate about LF is that it’s both nonsectarian and, due to its origins, works with a number of faith communities. Churches have a great deal of power that we’ve all seen used to actively harm LGBTQIA people and maintain racist structures. As progressive churches seek to redress these harms, Lighthouse Foundation serves as a partner to help them take aim at those structures where they continue to be erected; and it provides tools for individuals and nonprofits to deepen their commitment to dismantling them as well.

Finally, do you have anything to tell us that we didn’t think to ask?

We had to adjust our 2020 strategy pretty profoundly in light of the pandemic, and we’re now going strong on digital organizing, programming, and education. If you’d like to be involved with Lighthouse Foundation, your involvement can happen from your laptop, wherever you are. You can join as an individual, on behalf of your faith community, or as the representative of a nonprofit. And if that’s not for you, but you’ve still read this far, we appreciate your time and welcome your support through

Thanks for the chat, Gordon!

We would like to thank Karlyn Meyer for her time and insight, and invite you to leave your comments below or join us via Facebook page. And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

June 22, 2020 at 6:57 pm

Raks Inferno 5/15 Fundraiser: Asian Americans Advancing Justice

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(Special thanks to Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek for bringing this to our attention)

In the wake of COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in racist and xenophobic attacks on Asian-Americans. In March, a Chinese-American man was attacked in Naperville, and their city council meeting highlighted further racist attitudes. In an effort to counter these efforts, Raks Inferno (a project of Raks Geek) is holding a streaming Facebook circus/cabaret performance on Friday, May 15th at 8:00 pm CST.

Featuring a cast of Asian-American performers from around the country, Raks Inferno: I Am Not a Virus hopes to raise funds and awareness for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an organization that builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity”.

Performers for this Friday’s event include

Many arts-based organizations and nonprofits are turning to live streaming their events in order to maintain their presence and engage their audience. In the midst of a public health crisis, it is easy to forget that we are all connected as a community. We encourage you to check out Raks Inferno: I Am Not A Virus on May 15th at 8:00 pm via Facebook…but more importantly, we ask that, if you can, please donate to Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

It’s easy to forget that COVID-19 affects a large number of people and has a devastating impact on many communities. We encourage you to support a local organization working to alleviate a harsher impact on a major Chicago community.

Hope you can attend!

(Please note that we welcome comments here and on our Facebook page, but comments will be moderated. Thanks for reading!) 

Written by gordondym

May 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Raks Geek: December 13 Fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt

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Although we’ve spoken twice with Dawn Xiana Moon of Raks Geek about immigration reform, she and the troupe are taking on another cause at their upcoming December 13th performance at the Newport Theater in Lakeview. Some of the proceeds from Raks Geek’s December 13 performance will be used to forgive medical debt through RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that relieves such debt for many people in Chicago and throughout the country.

You may wonder “geeky” belly dance, fire-spinning, and other acts pertain to medical debt. It’s not the first time the subject of medical debt was made entertaining: John Oliver focused on debt collection (and medical debt) on a past episode of his HBO show (and received a testimonial on Mashable):

Although it is tempting to dismiss John Oliver and Raks Geek’s efforts as mere entertainment, many Americans experience dire consequences as a result of medical debt. According to statistics provided by RIP Medical Debt, 66% of all bankruptcies and 25% of all credit card debt are a result of unpaid medical expenses. More than half of all Americans with medical debt have no other debts on their credit report. As health care costs rise as a result of medical debt, nearly one in three Americans are avoiding medical care (such as medication and primary care visits) due to concerns around cost. With medical debt collectors going to extreme lengths to collect (including arresting people and LinkedIn connections), efforts to alleviate medical debt can be complicated for many people to handle alone. 

Michi Trota (Photo by Stage Photographic)

Michi Trota
(Photo by Stage Photographic)

Having partnered with churches (as well as John Oliver) in the past, RIP Medical Debt purchases such debt for pennies on the dollar. Working Forgiving debt without adverse consequences to a person’s credit history, RIP Medical Debt has improved many people’s credit status and provided forward financial movement. Since “Debt never dies” in cofounder Craig Antico’s words, RIP Medical Debt provides a sorely needed service to alleviate these issues for many Americans. Raks Geek’s December 12th performance fundraiser at the Newport Theater is bringing greater attention and awareness to the issue in a way denied to certain presidential candidates.

Dawn Xiana Moon (Photo by Nancy Behall)

Dawn Xiana Moon
(Photo by Nancy Behall)

Health care reform is a complicated issue that one blog post or one performance will not solve, but Raks Geek is taking a critical step and inclusive stance towards the issue. Through December 13 show (subtitled “A Xenomorph Holiday Special”) at the Newport Theater in Lakeview, Raks Geek will be making a small but significant step in bringing awareness and attention to a complicated issue…and will entertain you while doing so.

In fact, you may even catch a glimpse of the elusive Bellydancing Wookie.

Hope to see you there!

Written by gordondym

November 19, 2019 at 10:51 am

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

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

LISC Chicago Hoops in the Hood Tournament – August 17th

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For many south and west side Chicago youth, finding safe places to engage in summer activities can be especially challenging. For many Chicago neighborhoods and community, LISC Chicago provides many opportunities for youth through their Hoops in the Hood program. Working with other organizations, LISC Chicago kicked off their 13th season of Hoops in the Hood in June, and they’re looking forward to closing on a high note.

On Saturday, August 17th, LISC Chicago (along with the Chicago Park District, the City of Chicago, the 1 st Police District, Aldermen, and State Farm) will hold a basketball tournament to celebrate the success of this year’s Hoops in the Hood program. Closing off Columbus Drive between Balbo and Roosevelt, the Hoops in the Hood tournament will serve as a celebration of the violence prevention program which serves over 400 kids from 22 neighborhoods. There is an opening ceremony at 9:45 am, and the tournament follows between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm. (Youth who are participating will receive a backpack of school supplies via State Farm.)

By working with various neighborhood organizations, Hoops in the Hood provides a fun and safe outlet for Chicago’s youth age 8 – 19. This program provides an opportunity for athletes, parents and community members to spend time together outside in their neighborhoods and replaces neighborhood crime hotspots with safety zones. With its message of community building and promoting neighborhood safety, Saturday’s Hoops in the Hood tournament features a variety of guests, including

  • Bob Love and Mickey Johnson, Bulls Alumni
  • Timothy O’Connell, Chicago Park District
  • Meghan Harte, Executive Director, LISC Chicago
  • Chicago Police Department – 1 st District
  • Kenya Merritt, Chief Small Business Officer, City of Chicago
  • Rosa Escareno, Commissioner, Chicago Dep. of Business Affairs
  • Eugene Jones, CEO, Chicago Housing Authority, and
  • Lisa L. Cooper, Community Relations Specialist, State Farm

Organizations participating in Hoops in the Hood (which includes new community partners from Roseland/Pullman and Cabrini/Green) include

  • ABC Pilsen
  • Annie B. Jones Community Services – Shore UP
  • Back of the YardsNeighborhood Council
  • Breakthrough Urban Ministries
  • BUILD, Inc.
  • Claretian Associates
  • Hands Around The Hundreds
  • Near West Side CDC
  • New Life Centers of Chicagoland
  • Northwest Side Housing Center
  • Project Education Plus
  • Project H.O.O.D
  • Southwest Organizing Project
  • Teamwork Englewood
  • The ARK of St. Sabina
  • The Community Builders, and
  • UCAN

Various community-based efforts thrive and survive in Chicago’s neighborhoods, and LISC Chicago’s Hoops in the Hood program is an excellent example of such a program. With thirteen years of success, their August 17th tournament will serve as a celebration of their success. If you want to celebrate Chicago’s pride in its neighborhoods, consider checking out the Hoops in the Hood tournament on Columbus Drive between Balbo and Roosevelt.

If you know of a great community organization or event you would like to highlight on this blog, you can contact us via email or message us via Facebook. If you want to support independent community and social change blogging, consider joining our Patreon community. And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

August 11, 2019 at 5:37 am