Tag: Eisenhower Tower

Maywood, Austin Communities Celebrate Kwanzaa Miles Apart, Together in Spirit

MaywoodKwanzaa2The Kwanzaa celebration at Eisenhower Tower in Maywood. Photo courtesy Chief Valdimir Talley. Below, a Sherrie Chapman poses with her merchandise during the celebration at Sankofa in Chicago’s Austin community held on the same day. Photo by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.

AustinKwanzaa3Tuesday, December 30, 2014 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 7:52 PM

Since its creation in 1965 by Black Nationalist leader Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa has grown from an eclectic annual ritual to a nationally recognized holiday. The actual word Kwanzaa derives from a phrase in Swahili — matunda ya kwanza — which means “first fruits of the harvest.”

According to Karenga, the holiday is framed around a communitarian African philosophy, which emphasizes seven principles that he believes are necessary for black culture to thrive (each principle is recognized during one of the seven days Kwanzaa is celebrated between December 26 and January 1): Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, or self-determination; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, or cooperative economics; Nia, or purpose; and Kuumba, or creativity.

Baba Eli Hoenai, a local musician and artist, remembers life before 1966–the year Kwanzaa was first celebrated. He was 17 when he first began seeking out who he was a person of African descent.

“I realized there were a lot of things I didn’t know about myself as an African-American and there was a lot I wasn’t learning in the schools,” he said during the annual Kwanzaa festival held at Sankofa Cultural Center in Chicago last Saturday.

According to Hoenai, Kwanzaa has done for a lot of people what he had to do for himself when he was just a teenager. One of the beneficiaries of Karenga’s vision is Marlene Dillon, the author of a children’s book called I’m Proud to be Natural Me!

Dillon was scheduled to speak about her book at a Kwanzaa celebration sponsored by AfriWare Books and Maywood Youth Mentoring, which was held in Eisenhower Tower in Maywood the same day as the event in Austin.

“I’m a mom of a little brown girl with curly hair,” the author writes on her website. “She now attends a multicultural school, and her gymnastic class this summer she was the only student who was not Caucasian. It is very important to me that she sees other children, teens, adults who look like her portrayed in ways that support her sense of self in a positive light.”

Hoenai, a founding member of the MUNTU Dance Theater, was on hand at Sankofa to lead the roughly 120-people packed tightly inside Sankofa’s Mandela Hall in a drum call.

“It gets the people fired up,” he said, noting that the ritual also channels the same deep source of cultural pride that motivated Dillon to write her book.

Lawrence Perkins, a school principal and motivational speaker, was standing at a booth in an area designated for vendors as Hoenai performed his drum roll in the big room named after South Africa’s late leader. Perkins was promoting his passion project, a children’s book called Lil Fella’s Big Dream: Overcoming Bullying with Determination.

Perkins said that, while Kwanzaa has done a lot to bring awareness to African American and pan-African culture, there’s still a long way to go.

 “We need to know more about our black culture and they need to incorporate more of African American culture into the curriculum in CPS [Chicago Public Schools],” he said.

Directly across from Perkins’s table of books, Sherrie Chapman, the owner of Sherrie’s Earrings and Things, vended her wares in symbolic contention with Perkins’s point. Chapman’s table was enshrined with various kinds of Obama merchandise, including a board game called “Obama-Mania: Race to the White House.”

“Some of my suppliers have already stopped with the Obama merchandise,” Chapman said. “People need to get it now, because it will only go up in value. He’s the first black president, so these things will be keepsakes,” she said.

A glance at the Obama mementos and the Afrocentric wares — there were even copies of W.E.B. DuBois’s classic The Souls of Black Folk — and it wouldn’t be so easy to distinguish where black culture ended and American culture began.

For Marseil Jackson, a local youth advocate and candidate for 28th Ward alderman, last Saturday’s event itself was enough. Sankofa’s annual celebration each year attracts a coterie of personalities and political cliques that span the ideological spectrum.

Mayoral candidates Bob Fioretti, Willie Wilson (pictured below) and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia were in attendance, as were a bevy of aldermanic candidates and a host of political figures, many of whom make it a point to be here each year — U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th), Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) and state Sen. Don Harmon (39th).

“Of course, the first day of Kwanzaa is unity,” Jackson said. “So it’s nice to see us come out and celebrate something positive. This is a happy occasion.”

But for Hoenai, there are costs of constructing too big a tent.

Although he is proud of what he believes is Kwanzaa’s ever-increasing relevance among both African Americans and within the wider American culture, he cautioned against diluting the holiday to make it more palatable to the mainstream — lest it go the way of Christmas or Halloween or Easter.

“You always have vultures who are going to try to commercialize and capitalize off of what we’re doing, but those of us who know better will do better and keep this in its raw form,” he said. VFP


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“Meet Me At The Meal of the Day Cafe”

Window Seat

The Eisenhower Tower comes upon the unsuspecting motorist suddenly, like a blind date you’d assumed would be much shorter. People don’t associate inner suburbs with high office buildings. And I typically don’t associate Maywood with Bronzeville. The Meal of the Day Café is a surprise within a surprise—a quality that only adds to the restaurant’s many layers.

Situated on the Tower’s fourth floor, at the end of a rather drab, darkened hallway—it felt as if I were walking to a dental appointment, rather than to lunch—Meal of the Day’s interior hit me like a blast of cold air in a heat wave. The restaurant constitutes a single room broken only by a thick concrete beam festooned with decorative lights. Several earthen-hued room partitions add both intimacy and another dimension to the expanse, which, on the day I visited, bathed brilliantly in the light pouring in from wall length windows.

Upright Piano

Sit for more than a few minutes in this place and you may begin to sense what I did—that, more than anything perhaps, Meal of the Day is a psychological space. To wander around (which I strongly suggest anyone visiting do) is to explore the emotions and personal narratives of its proprietors.

When I remarked to co-owner Anthony Williams that the room had a distinct Bronzeville aura about it, he told me about his own experience living in proximity to the area. At its height in the 1920s, Bronzeville was Chicago’s Harlem, the Midwest’s ‘Black Metropolis.’ The South Side neighborhood once hosted the likes of Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks and Louis Armstrong. Williams and Diggs hopes to replicate that cultural vigor in Maywood. “I want it to mean a lot when people say, ‘Meet me at The Meal of the Day Cafe,'” said Williams

As we talked, rich classical and jazz acoustics wafted from the speakers, interlacing our conversation with even more cultural layers and points of reference. It was a lot to chew on and I’d yet to bite into the food.

Meal of the Day Café is the brainchild of Anthony Williams and Byron Diggs, both of whom have backgrounds in catering. They got the idea to open a restaurant when some Eisenhower Tower tenants they’d known told them about the building management’s idea to open an on-site eatery for the Tower’s clients. The two self-taught chefs latched onto the idea and ran with it.

“When we moved in, it didn’t look anything like this,” Williams said. He and Diggs renovated the space themselves, filling it with furniture that they already owned and that some people donated. In certain respects, they had a solid foundation to work with. The expansive windows and checkerboard floors were here when they came.

SHanel Eating

The result is an invigorating pastiche—an upright piano anchors a corner space that resembles a living room, replete with a black leather couch and a glass coffee table that’s topped with thick books on art and wine; there are a series of brilliantly-hued paintings by the Ghanaian artist Adana; a whole tribe of African sculptures placed throughout the room; white Chinese paper lanterns suspended over a few fortunate window tables add a multicultural flair.

Given the rich decorative atmosphere, I would have understood if the meal didn’t quite live up to the surroundings. But the food rose to the occasion. Williams said that their decision to put a single meal on the menu each day was motivated both by cost considerations and concerns about freshness. The fastidiousness is well worth the worry. My guest noted that she’s not a regular corn lover, but the corn that she was eating was unlike any corn she’d ever tasted.


“We don’t serve canned products outside of the tomato past,” Williams said. The rolls are homemade, the products of a guarded family recipe. They slice the ham themselves. When I stopped by, on a Thursday, the menu featured baked ham or tamale pie, sweet potatoes, sweet corn or side salad, dinner rolls and yellow cake for dessert. Meals are $7.99. I sampled everything (except the salad) and nothing disappointed.

The tamale pie, though, was the star of the day for me. It had the texture of chili (it was topped with cornbread) with a mild southwestern kick. Tex-Mex meets Soul Food—a combination that channeled the restaurant’s eclectic and experimental vibe. I can easily imagine Meal of the Day transplanted inside DuSable Museum or one of Bronzeville’s many black-owned art galleries and cultural centers.

I asked William how he thought the community has received his restaurant in the two years it’s been open. He had no complaints. “Our relationship with the Village has been exceptional,” he said. In fact, on my way inside, I saw the current Village clerk, Gary Woll, leaving. He recommended the tamale pie.


The Meal of the Day Café (1701 S. First Ave. – Eisenhower Tower) is open Tuesday through Friday, 11am to 5pm. Call (708) 223-8153 for more information about holding your next event or attending an upcoming event at the Café. Call (773) 318-4217 for more information on how you can acquire their catering services. Upcoming events hosted at the restaurant include a Mother’s Day Brunch on May 12 and a recurring After-Work Jazz Sessions in the summer.