Month: September 2014

Maywood Police Arrest Reports (September 25 – 28); MAPS Meetings Consolidated, New Schedule Inside

Cook County Recorder of Deeds

Police Blotter
Tuesday, September 30, 2014 || By COMMUNITY EDITOR 

Note that the arrest reports provided below comprise a rough indication of, and may not reflect all, arrests, or police activity, within the time period specified. For more public safety information, please contact the Maywood Police Department. 

September 25

3:55 PM

Howard Swilley, 43, of Maywood, was arrested at 1231 S. 20th Avenue, on a warrant for domestic battery.

September 28

4:25 PM

Deangela Eaton, 22, Tangila Carroll, 21 of Chicago, and Dajianae S. Toler, 18, of Maywood, were arrested at 20th and Randolph, for mob action.

5:40 PM

Demetrius McPhearson, 22, of Maywood, was arrested on the 1000 block of Washington Blvd., and Andre Rainey, 28, of Maywood, was arrested on the 600 block of South 10th, for criminal trespass to a motor vehicle.

Maywood Police MAPS Meetings Consolidated

Meetings for the Maywood Police Department’s Maywood Alternative Policing Strategies (MAPS) program have been changed, with both zones 1 and 2 consolidating into one meeting on the first Monday of each month at Woodside Church, instead of zone 2 meeting on the second Monday of each month at the police station. Similarly, both zones 3 and 4 are now meeting only once a month on the fourth Monday of each month at St. Eulalia, instead of zone 3 meeting on the third Monday of each month at Neighborhood United Methodist Church. See the revised schedule below: VFP

Zone 1

Area: 1st Avenue (East) to 9th Avenue (West)
Augusta (North) to Main (South)
Meetings: 1st Monday of the Month
Time: 7:00pm
Place: Woodside Church
621 N. First Avenue

Zone 2

Area: 1st Avenue (East) to 9th Avenue (West)
St. Charles (North) to Harrison (South)
Meetings: 1st Monday of the Month
Time: 7:00pm
Place: Woodside Church
621 N. First Avenue

Zone 3

Area: 9th Avenue (East) to 21st Avenue (West)
St. Charles (North) to Harrison (South)
Meetings: 4th Monday of the Month
Time: 7:00pm
Place: St. Eulalia Catholic Church
1851 S. 9th Avenue

Zone 4

Area: 1st Avenue (East) to 25th Avenue (West)
Bataan Drive (North) to Roosevelt (South)
Meetings: 4th Monday of the Month
Time: 7:00pm
Place: St. Eulalia Catholic Church
1851 S. 9th Avenue

Villegas Monuments

 

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Maywood, Broadview Checkers Restaurants Officially Opened Today, Heralding Chicagoland Expansion Efforts

Cook County Recorder of DeedsScreenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.30.36 PMEmployees at the new Checkers in Maywood prepare for the first official day open. Below, left, Raziya Lee Perry waits as her father, Ramon Lee, orders their food. Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

We took a very wild, wild guess at the new location’s fiscal impact

Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.29.50 PMMAYWOOD — Ramon Lee had ventured into the Checkers restaurant at 1718 S. First Avenue at around 9:00 this morning on his way from work. His daughter, Raziya Lee Perry, was in his arms as he placed an order. Although there were purchases made by various Village officials — such as Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, Police Chief Valdimir Talley and various trustees — who had arrived earlier for the restaurant’s official ribbon-cutting ceremony, Lee may have been the location’s first casual customer.

“I just so happened to be driving by,” said Lee, who lives on the West Side of Chicago. “I like Checkers, but I didn’t know there was one here.”

Lee may be just the patron the fast-food chain’s corporate planners and the property’s developers had in mind when they thought of this location, a former KFC restaurant that is right by the Eisenhower’s entrance and exit ramps.

Christopher Ilekis, a principal at Vequity, the real estate investment and development company that bought the property before leasing it to Checkers, said that his company had been eyeing the site for a while.

“It was in bankruptcy, so there were a lot of challenges [to acquiring it],” he said. “But over time, we ended up buying multiple KFC locations out of a portfolio sale.”

Maywood’s Acting Village Manager, David Myer, expressed satisfaction with the acquisition, the result of many months of zoning deliberations and meetings, but hopes that this is only the beginning of more development for the Village.

“This property had been vacant for many years,” he said. “This will draw a lot of patrons to this place. The existing building was in disrepair, with weeds around it. It wasn’t good to look at, but now look what we have. It’s a good kickoff to more economic development. We’ll keep working with people to get things done.”

As Mayor Perkins, State Rep. Chris Welch and other Village officials were cutting the ribbon on the Maywood Checkers, workers at the chain’s Broadview location, at the corner of 17th Avenue and Roosevelt Road, were preparing for their own ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The two locations are both opening during what may be considered the popular fast-food chain’s second act in the midwest, which comes several years after the company closed seemingly just as many stores as it’s now opening.

Scott New, Checkers’s brand growth manager, said that the chain’s reemergence in the area represents a shift in corporate strategy, with most of the new stores in the western suburbs being corporately-owned and operated, instead of franchised.

According to National Restaurant News (NRN), Checkers Drive-In Restaurant, also called Rally’s depending on the region, was founded in 1986 and became known for its signature double drive-thru design. However, that design has since been heavily imitated by competitors, which, in addition to the costs of construction, may have led to lower profit margins.

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A June 2013 report by the Chicago Sun-Times noted that the restaurant chain had been “limited in its expansion efforts because of the double drive-thru design.”

Jennifer Durham, the company’s vice president of franchise development, told the Sun-Times last year that Checkers loosened its design standards for franchisees.

“We’ve really evolved the restaurant formats and the design to incorporate whatever it is that’s needed in that particular trade area,” she told the Sun-Times, which reported that that may mean “allowing single-lane drive thrus, strip mall end caps and building conversions to better accommodate pedestrian and mass transit traffic.”

New said that within the next 2-3 weeks, Checkers will open two more stores in the Chicago area, with another 3-5 stores in development for 2015. And the building isn’t the only difference between these stores and the older versions. The menu also changed — slightly.

“As all companies change, we understand that we need to stay alive and vibrant and really push forward our new look and menu,” New said. “Now, compared to maybe 6 or 7 years ago, we still have our staples like our Champ sandwich, our shakes and our famous seasoned fries, but also added things like chicken wings and mozarella sticks and shrimp.”

New said he wasn’t sure how many Maywood residents the First Avenue location employed, but said that total employment at the location would range from 60 to 80 workers.

“We would like our employees to be local,” he said. “Not only does that give them the opportunity to be here and work, but it gives them a sense of pride in their community.”

As for the store’s fiscal impact, New said he couldn’t predict sales volume or the amount of property tax revenue the store would generate. However, according to financial data published by the National Restaurant News, the Tampa, Florida-based fast food chain had system-wide sales of $469.7 million at 498 stores (or units) across the country in fiscal year 2013. The estimated volume of sales per store that year was $952,000.

According to tax-rates.org, Maywood’s “sales tax is 9.00%, consisting of 6.25% Illinois state sales tax and 2.75% Maywood local sales taxes. The local sales tax consists of a 0.75% county sales tax, a 1.00% city sales tax and a 1.00% special district sales tax (used to fund transportation districts, local attractions, etc.).”

According to Cook County’s Property Tax Portal, the property tax bill amounts for 1718 S. 1st Avenue ranged from about $23,000 in 2009 to about $28,000 in 2012. In 2013, the tax bill was $24,488.98.

Taking 2.75 percent of the estimated sales volume per store for 2013 ($952,000) — which would yield about $26,000 in local sales tax revenue — and adding that to $25,000 (last year’s property tax bill rounded up), would render an extremely rough guestimate of the new fast food restaurant’s fiscal impact on the Village. The total amounts to about $51,000. A very rough (and imprecise) sketch, indeed, but some kind of indication nonetheless, of the new development’s potential economic footprint. VFP

Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.30.36 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.29.28 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.29.05 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.28.20 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.27.30 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.25.43 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.25.12 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.24.51 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.24.22 PM Screenshot 2014-09-30 at 5.20.36 PM

BREAKING: Finalist for Village Manager Position May Not Have Been Completely Truthful About Past

Cook County Recorder of DeedsScreenshot 2014-09-29 at 12.31.13 PMDennis Sparks during the final round of interviews for Maywood’s village manager position on Saturday. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

Monday, September 29, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

The search for a village manager candidate to replace former manager William Barlow has narrowed to two, Willie Norfleet, Jr., the city manager of Socorro, Texas and semi-retired management consultant Dennis R. Sparks, who served as Maywood’s village manager once before between 2002 and 2003. According to members of the Board, one of these men was tentatively selected after the last round of interviews was conducted last Saturday, September 27. If it was Sparks, that could be rather problematic.

According to his resume, Dennis Sparks was city manager of Silsbee, Texas for three months in 2005 when Hurricane Rita struck. That’s when things got a little messy. According to the Law Professor Blogs Network:

“Sparks left Silsbee during a mandatory evacuation on September 22, 2005, choosing to ride out the storm in his native Virginia. Sparks did not return to Silsbee until October 5, 2005. Disappointed with his prolonged absence, after holding a public meeting which featured much criticism of Sparks’ conduct, the City Council unanimously voted to fire Sparks as its City Manager,” according to a summary of the libel case that Sparks brought against Silsbee’s local paper.

“After his termination, Sparks filed a lawsuit against the City of Silsbee alleging breach of contract, which was ultimately resolved through settlement. The Silsbee Bee, published by Defendant Reneau Publishing, is the local Silsbee newspaper and covered these events. In an October 12, 2005 article titled ‘Silsbee Council fires city manager,’ the paper reported on Sparks’ whereabouts during the evacuation and what occurred at the special public meeting which resulted in Sparks’ termination. The paper chronicled, among other things, that ‘Dennis Sparks evacuates, doesn’t come back’ and that Sparks ‘failed to return following the storm.'”

Sparks filed a lawsuit against Reneau Publishing alleging libel, claiming that the Silsbee newspaper’s descriptions of his post-Rita behavior were inaccurate and defamed his character. But the court ruled that the paper’s description of Sparks’s conduct, while not literally true in its entirety, was nonetheless substantially true, which is a sufficient defense in defamation cases.

The article on the Law Professor Blogs Network describes the court’s opinion and summarizes residents’ reaction to Sparks’s conduct, as described in the minutes of a city council meeting:

“Having read the article, the Court can fairly say that its gist can be summed up as ‘Sparks was terminated at the end of that meeting for his failure to quickly return to Silsbee following Hurricane Rita.’ Defendants produced the minutes of the October 7th City Council session. The minutes show citizens and board members criticizing Sparks for failing to promptly return to the city. At approximately 8:45 p.m., the Council recessed into executive session to consider what action, if any, should be taken regarding Sparks. After the executive session, the Council unanimously voted to terminate Sparks. The minutes reflect Mayor Muckleroy explaining the decision: ‘It’s not that you left, it’s that we felt you should have came back a lot sooner and you were told that you were needed. You were in your rights to leave, but time element is our factor. The feelings of Council is that better efforts should have been made by you to help us get on track.'”

So, according to Silsbee’s board meeting minutes and local newspaper accounts, Sparks was terminated because of public outrage over the manner in which he conducted himself after Hurricane Rita. However, that’s not how Sparks described his exit in a cover letter he submitted in 2006 when he was applying for another city manager position in Dunedin, Florida. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Sparks’s cover letter described the circumstances of his exit this way: “I am an evacuee from Hurricane Rita, and I lost my job when the city went broke and was unable to meet payroll.”

Sparks’s account cuts directly against accounts given by board meeting minutes, local newspapers — and current employees of Silsbee, Texas, whose municipal offices I called for some clarification on the matter. I was redirected to the board secretary Deann Zimmerman, who, after I read her the quotation in the Tampa Bay Times, responded this way: “Oh, really?”

Zimmerman then put me on hold as she attempted to pull up Sparks’s files. This took a few minutes, but when she came back on line, she handed the phone to another employee, the current village manager of Silsbee, Tommy Bartosh. “I have a document that I am able to send you regarding Mr. Sparks and his separation from the City of Silsbee and I’ll assure you our city was hit by Rita, we were out of everything for two weeks and we finally came back,” he said. “We didn’t go bankrupt. We’re doing fine.”

Since it was the end of the business day, Bartosh said that someone from HR would forward me the document in the morning. Sparks, Maywood board members and Acting Manager David Myers couldn’t be reached for comment, so it isn’t yet known whether the board knew about this situation before moving Sparks to the final round of candidate interviews.

However, during the opening round of interviews on June 28, Sparks was asked whether or not there was anything in his background that would be cause for possible alarm or embarrassment, and about which the Board should know something beforehand.

“I don’t have anything I feel like I need to apologize for,” Sparks said. “I’ve always had integrity [and] a good conscious.” More on this story as it develops. VFP

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New Village Manager to be Announced Soon — Two Candidates Vie for Position

Cook County Recorder of DeedsScreenshot 2014-09-29 at 12.31.13 PMDennis R. Sparks, one of two finalists for the village manager job, during an interview on Saturday. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press. Below, Willie Norfleet, Jr., the other finalist for the manager position, during an appearance at an event in Socorro. Photo by Socorro News.

Willie Norfleet Soccorro NewsMonday, September 29, 2014 || By Michael Romain 

MAYWOOD — At a Saturday, September 27, 2014, special board meeting, Maywood’s Board of Trustees interviewed the final two candidates in contention to take over as the next village manager in Maywood. Dennis R. Sparks and Willie Norfleet, Jr., were the last candidates standing in an initial field of six who were selected to go through the interview process. According to Acting Village Manager David Myers, the open position was posted in the publications of leading trade organizations such as the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and its Illinois affiliate, the Illinois City/County Management Association (ILCMA).

At Saturday’s meeting, both Sparks and Norfleet were interviewed in person and a selection was tentatively approved by the Board of Trustees. There’s been no official word yet on which candidate the Board selected.

Dennis R. Sparks, who once served as village manager of Maywood for a year between 2002 and 2003, has been a semi-retired management consultant based in Hopewell, Virginia, his hometown, since 2005. Prior to that, he was city manager of the City of Silsbee, Texas for three months in 2005, and temporary executive director for the County of Lander, Nevada for a little less than a year between 2003 and 2004. Sparks’s longest serving tenure in government is as a fiscal officer for the State of Virginia from 1992 to 1999.

A certified flight instructor and airline transport pilot, Sparks has a BS in Business & Law and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth College. According to his resume, he has “more than 30 years of experience in team building, lobbying, performance management, tourism, and budgeting.”

Willie Norfleet, Jr., is currently the city manager of the City of Socorro, where he’s served since 2012. Prior to holding that position, he was the city manager and controller for the City of Compton, California, from 2007 to 2011. His longest tenure in municipal government was with University City, Missouri, where he was director of finance from 1985 until 2006. Norfleet, who said that he has strong family connections to Maywood — his mother lived here and his sisters attended Proviso East — has a BA in history and an MA in public affairs from Northern Illinois University.

According to his resume, Norfleet’s core competencies include planning & strategic development, finance & budget analysis, project development & launch, and operational analysis. Norfleet won the Government Finance Officers Association’s (GFOA’s) Excellence in Financial Reporting award in 1998-99 and 2003-05. He was president of the GFOA’s St. Louis chapter for two terms between 2003-2005.

Below are summaries of answers each candidate gave to questions that were asked by the Board either on last Saturday, or on the opening round of interviews that took place on July 28, 2014.

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On leadership and management styles

Sparks described himself as a collaborative team leader who believes in bringing the department heads together in a team manner to accomplish the goals and objectives of the Board. He said he believes in supporting the employees and keeping the Board fully informed by working closely with each member, in addition to the village attorney when necessary, on a daily basis.

Norfleet said that his leadership style depends on the people he is leading, noting that “different people react to different sorts of styles.” He said he has a variation of styles, depending on circumstances and personalities. “I can be straightforward and direct,” he said, but noted that he tries not to be offensive or a bully. He noted his leadership style is generally open and that he hopes to win most people over with reason and by providing services to the community.

On methods of assessing employee performance

“I asses their performance based on whether or not they are effective and do so with integrity,” Sparks said. He noted that during his short tenure as village manager in Maywood, he implemented an employee assessment system. “I sit down with department heads at the beginning of the year and map out what it is they think they can accomplish and what they should accomplish and [in] what time frame,” he said. He said that he conducts quarterly evaluations, in addition to end-of-year final evaluations, making adjustments and corrections as time goes on. He said that, in turn, he expects department heads to deal with employees under their supervision in a similar manner. “Everybody is on the same page,” he said. “They know what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Norfleet said that assessment “starts on day one.” He mentioned that even on the day of his final interview, he made some critical observations about Maywood’s staff performance. “It’s real easy. I can come right to the door of the city hall and see the state flag tangled up in the twine of a tree where it’s ripped.” Norfleet also noticed that the box of plants surrounding the signage of the Fred Hampton pool was “full of weeds.” “Those sort of assessments are day one and you keep going until you don’t see the day-to-day scenario that shows neglect,” he said. Norfleet also said that he takes lots of pictures to evaluate employee progress and celebrates employees on their anniversaries and birthdays to keep morale high.

On dealing with residents 

Sparks said that the manager has a responsibility to serve the citizens in accordance with goals and objectives of counsel. “I represent you,” he said to the Board. “I am your person that puts forward the good foot and helps make you look good by accomplishing things such as street paving, cleaning up trash, making sure lights are changed,” he said, noting that when dealing with angry citizens, he believes it’s best to “always listen” and always be truthful with them “whether they want to hear it or not.”

Norfleet said that he would hope that residents hold him to task for communicating their concerns and ideas to the Board, which may or may not elect to authorize policy changes. “If there’s something on the book, expect me to do it,” he said. “If it’s something not on the book, expect me to go over to the council,” he noted. He said that, if hired, he intends to provide the community with services it can afford. He also noted that he intends to keep a clear line of communication with residents. “If people can’t talk to you then that’s an element that causes failure in the long run,” he said.

On dealing with the Board of Trustees

Sparks said that he’ll utilize all forms of communication to update board on staff progress. When he was in Maywood, he said that every week at staff meetings, he had department heads turn in written reports showing their accomplishments, their problems, and any opportunities they see. They then aggregated that information and he gave it to the board. “If it’s an emergency, I’ll call,” he said.

Norfleet’s particular question on this matter was about his approach to handling different personalities on the board. “My whole attitude is very simple,” he said. “I’m here to provide services as long as you want me to.”

“Never is it going to be the manager trying to buddy up with a council person to save a job,” Norfleet said. “That never works and I’m not that kind of person anyway, so it doesn’t matter. If I’m in one day and fired the next, that’s the way it is…All I’m going to ever do is tell you the truth…it’s not whether we like it or not…My role is to provide you with the best professional opinion I can give you…A lot of times managers tend to get kicked out simply for doing too good of a job. I would love to stay in that category.”

On dealing with labor negotiations, unions and employee disciplinary methods

Sparks said that his collective bargaining and labor employment experience was most intensive in Ohio and Maywood, where he had ongoing relationships with the SEIU, the Teamsters, and the Police Benevolent League, among other union organizations. He said that he is certified by the Supreme Court of Virginia as a mediator and used his mediation skills when he was in Maywood. He’s also mediated on behalf of private individuals in court. He recalled that one of his most memorable experiences with disciplining an employee was in Maywood.

“I like to use progressive discipline and give people a chance,” he said. “In emergencies, I take the bull by the horns and do what I need to do. In Maywood, one of the public works employees got high on dope and cocaine or marijuana, got in one of those trucks with a snow plow on it, went on the road and hit a man in an SUV. We ended up firing him. The HR director got together with public works director and they fired the guy without telling me. The teamsters and union people got upset and came to me, because they said the guy had a get out of jail free card. I talked with their lawyers in Chicago…make a long story short — I hired the guy back, kept him for 10 minutes and fired him for traffic violations, which stuck like glue.”

Norfleet said that his most difficult labor negotiation occurred when he was in Compton. The city had a severe budgetary crisis and it was millions in the hole in the general fund. They had to cut a lot of employees that particular year. In Compton, Norfleet said, everyone is apart of a union, including directors, so there were five union groups who consolidated themselves to see if they could hold off cutting. Ultimately, however, 61 people were let go. Norfleet said the city is in a better place today. They avoided bankruptcy, but that the decision to let those employees go was difficult for him.

On their respective successes

Sparks touted the renovation of an old school building for a county administrative office in Washington County, VA, which saved that governmental entity $6 million by not having to build a new one. He also touted a regional water park that he helped developed while in Ohio. He said that during his tenure in Maywood, he reduced the crime rate by employing a variety of strategies such as forming block clubs and increasing police patrols. He recalled that there was also a task force comprising Cook County Sheriff’s deputies and the Illinois State Police.

“In my career, I don’t think I’ve ever been late on a budget and that’s going back about 30 years,” said Norfleet. With respect to economic development, he touted the redevelopment of a key street in University City that was formerly desolate. The redevelopment was spurred by a Community Development Block Grant. Norfleet said that 4-5 major corporations have located to Socorro during his tenure there. He said that the development of a second McDonald’s, a Wal-Mart, and a dollar store, among other businesses, helped increase sales taxes in that community by more than $200,000. In Compton, Norfleet recalled, the city council put together a five-minute marketing package to recruit investment to the area. The economic development team went across America showing the package to prospective businesses and individuals, he said. They even showed it to Chinese investors. He noted that a similar strategy could work in Maywood. “I think’s it’s just a matter of talking, meeting and greeting and showing what you literally have to market in the community,” he said.

On the importance of code enforcement

Sparks said that this is a subject “I’m very interested in.” “People are getting kind of sloppy and it’s running property values down,” he said, before sharing some pictures with the Board that he took of various Maywood locations — a street that needed to be repaved on 4th and Wilcox, sand that need to be cleaned up on another street, a tree that had fallen down on Prairie Path, overrun grass on one property. “All of this causes assessed property [values] to go down and devalues the community,” Sparks said. “Code enforcement is very important,” he said. “The [village] needs to clean up some of the public property.”

When asked to rate the importance of code enforcement on a scale of 1 to 5, Norfleet said ‘5’ without hesitation. “Enforce your code,” he said. “If you don’t like it, change it. If you’ve got weed lots, how do you recruit others to invest?” He noted that if the Village enforces its code rigorously, it will be further ahead in attracting people to invest and move here. VFP

Further reading on the two finalists:

Willie Norfleet, Jr.:

“Compton fires third city manager in five years,” Los Angeles Times, Sep 29, 2011

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/29/local/la-me-0929-compton-manager-20110929

“City council fires Norfleet,” The Bulletin, Oct 5, 2011

http://www.thebulletinweekly.com/news/2011-10-05/Front_Page/City_Council_fires_Norfleet.html

“City manager candidate not afraid of challenges,” Journal-News, May 17, 2014

http://www.journal-news.com/news/news/local/city-manager-candidate-not-afraid-of-challenges/nfyJC/

“Socorro City Council fills city manager job,” El Paso Times, March 2, 2012

http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_20084622

Dennis R. Sparks:

“City manager applicants offer diverse experience,” Tri County Leader, Feb 2, 2010

http://www.tricountyleader.com/news/2010-02-25/News/City_manager_applicants_offer_diverse_experience.html

“Administrator job draws crowd,” Tampa Bay Times, Nov 23, 2007

http://www.sptimes.com/2007/11/23/news_pf/Hernando/Administrator_job_dra.shtml

Straight Talk About the ‘N-Word’: Arizona State Professor Brings His Message to Nearby Oak Park Library, Oct. 1st

Cook County Recorder of DeedsNeal-Lester-PhD-ASU_0022 -web[1] (1)

Monday, September 29, 2014 || Originally Published: Friday, September 26, 2014 by Austin Weekly New|| Michael Romain 

Dr. Neal Lester’s current campaign to educate Americans on the intricacies of the “N-Word” began with an ironic catalyst.

An incident several years ago in a Florida middle school, Lester recalls, convinced him that the country had much more to learn about the word’s historical, cultural, social and psychological significance.

“At the time when then-Sen. Obama was running for president, I noticed that the word was proliferating in reference to him,” Lester said. “I remember hearing about this eighth-grade teacher in Florida writing on the board that the acronym ‘CHANGE’ means ‘Come Help A Nigger Get Elected.'”

Buoyed by the word’s increased casual use, Lester began conceiving of ways to educate people about its significance. That began about three years ago with a course Lester started at Arizona State University, where he’s an English professor.

“I chose to create a class around the word, because I wanted to know exactly what it was about the word that signaled something about race relations,” Lester said in a recent phone interview from his ASU office.

That work, in part, led to Humanity 101 project, a series of dialogues created by Lester and a team of scholars that covers a range of topics, including the use of the N-Word. “Straight Talk about the N-Word” is the first of the national series coming to the Chicago-area next week.

A noted public speaker and national blogger, Humanity 101, describes Lester, is “a movement to think about seven principles: kindness, compassion, integrity, respect, empathy, forgiveness and self-reflection.”

Oak Park’s main public library,  834 Lake St., will host Lester on Oct. 1.

“The goal of this series is to talk, listen and connect — that aligns with the library’s focus on tuning outward and connecting the community,” said Cynthia Landrum, the library’s assistant director of programs.

As a spin-off of his ASU course, Lester has brought the workshop series nationwide. His original ASU course spanned three months, and he stressed that its intention was not to convince students that the N-Word is good or bad. Rather, he wanted to explore its much deeper resonances.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 at 10.21.21 AM

“I wanted to spend 15 weeks looking at the word’s history and how that history was indicative of those six letters,” he said. “Could you separate past from present when it comes to using this word? Is it generational, and are people confused about its use? I wanted to have a critical conversation that moves beneath the surface of who can say it and who can’t.”

Lester’s course caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he would later become a blogger for its Teaching Tolerance website. The educational advocacy arm of the center, Teaching Tolerance publishes classroom teaching materials and a magazine with a circulation of roughly 600,000 readers. From there, educators from across the country began to take notice of Lester’s work.

The public reaction to his Straight Talk series has been enthusiastic, he said. Still, he hasn’t escaped pushback from people who feel that it’s inappropriate to focus such sustained attention on the word.

“On the one hand, there are people who really want to figure out what’s wrong with the word and the other hand, there are people who feel that we shouldn’t talk about it at all — that it’s too hypersensitive a topic,” he said.

Since launching the series, Lester has been interviewed by national radio and news outlets.

Humanity101 is run through ASU’s Project Humanities, a multidisciplinary academic and research organization that promotes open dialogue on a broad range of social issues. Lester is the project’s co-founder, along with other ASU academics, and its director.

Its initiatives include hosting workshops, producing celebrity public service announcements, and maintaining a comprehensive website in order to engage people in the most pressing issues of the day.

Acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni and humorist Gustavo Arellano have both lectured for the Arizona-based project.

“Humanity 101 is an attempt to look beyond our own self-constructed boundaries; to look at ways in which there’s a shared humanity,” Lester said. “Everybody is not shooting planes out the air and beheading people. We want to focus on what’s going on everyday to allow us to feel empowered.” VFP

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More Details Emerge on Proviso East’s Precautionary Lockdown on Thursday

Cook County Recorder of Deeds

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 6.48.41 PM

Police and residents gathered outside of Proviso East yesterday during a temporary lockdown. Screenshot of televsion report by Fox 32 News. 

Friday, September 26, 2014 || Originally Published Thursday, September 25, 2014 by Fox 32 News || Tisha Lewis 

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) –Proviso East High School in west suburban Maywood was temporarily put on lockdown Thursday after someone reported seeing a knife on campus.

Frantic is how parents described the moments after they received text messages from their children about the situation. It is the second lockdown in Proviso Township School District 209 in just two days.

Now, angry parents are demanding answers because they were locked out of the high school. As for their children? Locked in.

A 14-year-old student said he saw knives.

“Like, this big and then I remember that I saw 3-4 people getting stabbed,” said the student in an interview with FOX 32’s Tisha Lewis.

The student said other students were bleeding.

“Yeah, they were like stabbing each other,” said the student.

The freshman said the fighting broke out in the hallways and that’s what ultimately led to a nearly two hour lockdown.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Police said they were called to Proviso East at 11:30am on Thursday.

Some parents said the problem here was the school district notified parents via Twitter and robo-call more than an hour later, and posted this message on its website more than three hours after the lockdown started: “It was reported that a knife was seen on campus…”

The message goes on to say, “The premises were secured and the allegations were unfounded.”

Many parents including Rafaela Salinas said that they first heard about the possible danger on campus and updates via text messages from their children.

“My son just text me 20 minutes ago that they’re ok but it’s hard, it’s very hard,” said Salinas in an interview with FOX 32’s Tisha Lewis.

“My daughter had gotten in contact with me and I’m just coming to see what’s going on,” said Trumele Lee.

Lee’s 18-year-old daughter attends Proviso East High School.

As for what parents should do in a situation like this? The school district said it’s best to follow instructions from law enforcement and school personnel.

FOX 32’s Tisha Lewis reports Proviso Township High Schools District 209 said its reviewing all of its notification steps.

“I just think that they need more security, much more security here,” said Salinas.

FOX 32 News has learned there are several sides to this story. While the student we talked to said he saw kids getting stabbed and blood on the ground, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police said there were no injuries reported or arrests, and they never found any knives on campus. VFP

Villegas Monuments

 

Apply for Free Home Repairs–Deadline Oct. 15th

Rebuilding-Together-Metro-Chicago-405x324

Rebuilding Together

Friday, September 26, 2014 || By COMMUNITY EDITOR

Applications for the National Rebuilding Day free home repair program will be accepted until October 15th. Early applications are given priority, so apply as soon as possible. Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago (formerly Christmas in April), a volunteer home repair effort that helps repair the homes of low-income homeowners in one day, is seeking to select about 25 homes in Maywood this year. They are asking people to encourage others to apply.

For more information, and/or to check your eligibility for the program, call 312) 201-1188, email rtmc@rebuildingtogether-chi.com, or click here. To apply, click: Rebuilding-Together-Application-for-Free-Home-Repairs. The Early Bird Deadline is October 1st. The general Deadline, as stated, is October 15th. VFP