Thursday, May 21, 2009

Richards LSC Meeting Postponed

Well, I got to Richards this afternoon, and one LSC member was there. She told me the meeting has been postponed until next week. Unfortunately, if it's next Thursday at the same time I won't be able to attend.

I will keep in contact with her and other LSC members to find out what happens at the next meeting.

LSC Meeting at Richards High School Today, 4 p.m.

Today's LSC meeting at Richards should be a doozy. I spoke with some LSC members earlier this week who told me the main item on the agenda is principal evaluation. It looks like Principal O. Joyce Smith got sent to the woodshed. Her contract is not up for renewal until next year, but if I were here I'd start thinking about the next thing now.

Readers of this blog have seen posts here in the past about safety issues, high dropout rates, lack of academic progress and extracurricular activities at Richards. Other than their well-regarded culinary program, I can't see a reason to put a young person in the school right now. Many community leaders, LSC members, and neighbors of mine who have children who have attended Richards have complained about the principal's lack of leadership and reluctance to work with the community over the nearly five years since I moved here.

To see for yourself, come to Richards High School, 5009 S. Laflin, 4 p.m. today, Thursday, May 21.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ted O'Keefe, Art Velasquez Honored @ Peace & Education Fundraiser

Ted O'Keefe of the Chicago Police Department received the 2009 Arturo Velasquez Community Leadership Award tonight at U.S. Cellular Field during the 12th annual Peace and Education Coalition of Back of the Yards scholarship fundraiser. O'Keefe is known as the founder of CAPS (Community Alternative Policing Strategy). Mayor Richard M. Daley and Fr. Bruce Wellems of Holy Cross/IHM Parish are with him in this photo.

CAPS Coordinator Marina Alonso hugs 9th District Commander Eugene Roy. Alonso was instrumental in building the community-police relationships necessary to solve the 2007 murder of Leticia Barrera on the 4800 block of South Seeley.

Arturo Velasquez, Sr., who died recently, was an important figure in Back of the Yards and a mainstay of education and scholarship efforts in the neighborhood. He was honored with a video tribute. His family turned out in great numbers for the event, including his daughter Carmen, who founded Alivio Medical Center.

Year after year, Mayor Daley has consistently attended the event, although he did miss last year, if memory serves. The year before, there was a lot of media attention and he had to dash out pretty quickly. This year there was no mainstream media present that I'm aware of and he was able to relax and stick around a bit longer. I'm guessing he may have wanted it this way to spend a bit more time with the Velasquez family.

His remarks also seemed more relaxed than I've seen in some of his public appearances. Right off the bat he teased Fr. Bruce, who has been exercising and losing weight to control diabetes. "I thought he was getting ready for 2016," the mayor joked.

Daley went on to express his appreciation for all the people in Back of the Yards who offer a helping hand to young people, especially those who are most in need of help. "There are many great stories in Back of the Yards that I wish the media would tell. When a kid falls down, there's a helping hand to get him up. You all are the helping hands, and I want to thank you for your passion," he told the crowd.

This year, 61 college and graduate students who have served the Back of the Yards community are applying for Peace and Education scholarships. Another nine students in private high schools have also applied. One of the college applicants is Melissa Rodriguez, who is planning to return to the University of Illinois and study biochemistry after having to shift her studies to community college in order to save money. In her application essay, she writes, "I had the choice of quitting school and finding a job or continuing my education but in a community college where the tuition would be more bearable. I chose to continue my education. I refused to surrender in defeat."

15th Birthday and Mother's Day Surprise

Well, I have fallen behind again. Earlier this month, a buddy of one of the Brady Girls invited me to her quinceanos (15th birthday party). She didn't even tell me it was her birthday! She just said, "We're having a party at my house this Sunday. I hope you can come." Then I forgot, and she and Brady Girl called me that afternoon and reminded me. Whew!

Although the Wikipedia article I linked to above makes much of the traditional Church ceremony and formal reception, what the girls I know actually do for their 15th birthdays varies widely, for a mix of reasons. Brady Girl herself already turned 15, but it was in the winter and her parents suggested they hold the party until the summer when it would be more fun and it could be outside. Brady's buddy did not get all dressed up, nor did she have a church ceremony-perhaps her family is not all that active at church, I don't know. But her dad works in a restaurant, so they had nice servingware and great food out on a table in the backyard, plus a DJ. Dawn never had a 15th birthday--her parents were too broke. They suggested a sweet sixteen instead, but by then I think her dad may have been moving out and they had other things on their minds. I was thinking about having a graduation party for her but at the moment, she's not graduating. (But she may yet be--more on that below.)

Also, I know some churches insist that girls complete all their sacraments before they can become a quinceanera. For families who aren't all that regular about church, that's a big barrier to a formal ceremony.

Meanwhile, a girl on the other side of the block had the whole nine yards for her party a year or two ago. I stood on the street with some younger girls and watched the big stretch limo pull up and all the girls in dresses and guys in suits get in it.

Meanwhile, back at Brady's Friend's bash, the big highlight was her friends slamming her face in the birthday cake. This is a Mexican birthday custom that I admit I have never understood. Everyone thinks it's hilarious. I'm one of those meanies who does chuckle watching other people subject themselves to this, but would hate it if someone did it on my birthday.

Now for the Mother's Day surprise. I actually spent last weekend out on the East Coast with family (including spending time with my mom for Mother's Day). But yesterday I ran into Dawn's mom and she went in the house and emerged with a bouquet of flowers for the mom-to-be from her daughter. They're on my kitchen table. I left her a thank-you message and said, "Let's talk about getting you back in school." She saw me the same weekend as the quinceanos and said she's ready to find a school now. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Zulema Ortiz Named Sor Juana Young Visionary

On Thursday night Zulema Ortiz, Big Picture Class of 2008 and dedicated catechist at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart parish, received the Sor Juana Young Visionary Award at the Chicago Cultural Center. She was one of ten Women of Achievement honored at the event, which is part of the Sor Juana Festival sponsored by the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Zulema is now studying at Morton College and performing with Teatro Americano, a theater group that creates productions about issues affecting Latino immigrants. Zulema also continues to advocate for the DREAM Act and to raise awareness about the struggles undocumented minors face in trying to continue their education. "I wonder if Sor Juana were alive today, what would she say about only allowing some young women to continue their education? Would she say, 'Oh, we should only let the young women who have those nine digits [referring to a Social Security number] continue to learn?'" Zulema asked the crowd as she accepted the award. And no, Zulema didn't think that was what Sor Juana would say if she were here today.

Zulema's own personal story of struggle has recently taken a turn for the better. Her father has been able to establish legal permanent residence in the United States, and now Zulema is able to pursue that process for herself. She has already obtained a work permit and is eagerly looking for a summer job.

Dorothy's Back on the Block

Thursday afternoon I was on my way to 51st and Ashland to catch the bus downtown when I heard someone calling for me from south of 51st Street. I looked down the block and there was Dorothy running to the corner. I crossed the street and we hugged.

"When did you get out?" I asked her.

"Yesterday." She launched into a long explanation I didn't totally understand. The way she tells it, Haymarket tried to insist she had left their program without permission (I guess that would have violated the terms of her probation). When Dorothy explained that she had been put into a nursing home rather than a formal long-term recovery program, the judge threw out her case and ended her probation. She was very happy.

I, on the other hand, was very worried. "So do you have a caseworker now? Do you need a payee?"

I was just asking, but of course she took that as a sign that I would serve as her payee. Unh-unh. "Honey, I love you very much, but I have somebody coming I have to take care of," I said, pointing at my stomach. "I can't be your payee." (Gotta say I love how this baby is getting me out of one jam after another--it's great.)

She's staying in somebody's basement for now. There's an SRO with on-site social services that's going to open over on Halsted in about a year--she needs to get on the waiting list for that building. A long time ago I worked for the company that is putting this together, so I know they are good (not like that nightmarish nursing home). I have somebody's card related to that project here in the house. It might be time to dig that up.

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