Tag: Oak Park

Maywood Artist Shifts Focus To Black Women

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 || By Michelle Dybal/Wednesday Journal || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Artist Jesse Howard works inside of his Maywood home studio last year. | File 

Maywood artist Jesse Howard is well-known for his work depicting African American men gripped by injustice and fighting against it, with much of his oeuvre influenced by his upbringing on Chicago’s West Side.

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A Private Christian School That Prizes Diversity Says Its Doors Are Open to All

Monday, August 28, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Featured photo: Students arrive in uniform on their first day of school at The Field School in Oak Park last week. | Alexa Rogals/Wednesday Journal 

While he was working in Chicago Public Schools for Teach For America, the nonprofit teacher recruitment organization, Jeremy Mann observed a reality that he’s been grappling with ever since.

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The 3 Most Obvious July 4 Fireworks Displays Near You

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Onlookers watch a fireworks display at Oak Park and River Forest High School. | Wednesday Journal file

Tuesday, July 4, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 7/4/17

This 4th of July, celebrate Independence Day in color with some of the largest (and most obvious) fireworks displays near you (ranked in progression of obviousness):

3) Forest Park

After a four-year hiatus, the Forest Park District of Forest Park is resurrecting its July 4th fireworks display. From the Forest Park Review:

“Forest Park National Bank is the event’s main sponsor and gave a “very generous” donation to the fireworks, Entler said. The park district also received about $6,000 from residents after a fundraising campaign. In February, the village council approved a request from Piekarz to include a donations appeal along with the vehicle sticker renewal mailing.

“Along with the evening fireworks, two musical acts are scheduled. The first group, Circle of Fifths, kicks off at 4 p.m., followed by The Redmonds at 6:30 p.m. “

2) Oak Park (parade and fireworks)

This longstanding tradition kicks off at 10 a.m. on July 4 from Longfellow Park at Ridgeland Avenue and Adams Street. The fireworks display starts at around dusk if the weather permits, inside of the Oak Park and River Forest High School stadium, at the corner of East Avenue and Lake Street in Oak Park. For more info, click here.

1) Fireworks at Navy Pier

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Onlookers enjoy the fireworks display at Navy Pier. | Choose Chicago

The grandaddy of them all. From choosechicago.com:

“Enjoy a spectacular [FREE] show of pyrotechnics with a special holiday fireworks display along the downtown lakefront. At Navy Pier beginning [600 Grand Ave. in Chicago] at 9:30 pm on Tuesday, July 4, colorful fireworks will light up the sky with a mix of patriotic music in the background. Don’t forget, also at Navy Pier all summer long, catch the free fireworks on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

“PLEASE NOTE: Navy Pier expects to see some of its biggest crowds and at certain points, may reach capacity and close its gates to ensure the safety and comfort of all guests. Plan your visit accordingly and arrive early if you have advance tickets/reservations for performances, dinner or cruises.”

More Independence Day Fun

Grant Park Music Festival: Independence Day Salute

FREE · Millennium Park · 201 E. Randolph St.

[From Choose Chicago]: “On Tuesday, July 4 from 6:30-8:00 pm, the Grant Park Music Festival presents its annual holiday concert. Bring your family and friends and celebrate the Fourth of July under the stars in Millennium Park at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion with an evening of patriotic favorites, including Stars and Stripes Forever, the 1812 Overture and more. An encore performance will be held on Wednesday, July 5 at 6:30 PM at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive.” VFP

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One Way to Mitigate Flooding? Rip Up That Grass and Plant a Native Garden

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Oak Park middle schooler Jadyn Dale hauls soil in a wheelbarrow last Saturday while helping to install a native garden pathway outside of his school. Below, students plant native vegetation in the garden. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Wild Ones II.jpgTuesday, September 13, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

As the complications of climate change, which include more frequent, more severe flooding, affect the western suburbs, one nonprofit is touting a particularly simple, and elegant, method for dealing with those problems.

West Cook Wild Ones — the Oak Park-based Illinois chapter of a national nonprofit with branches in at least a dozen states — encourages residents and organizations to plant shrubs, trees, plants and grasses native to the region.

Replacing the plain grass in your front-yard with native blooms like purple prairie clover and big bluestem, Wild Ones members say, is as easy as acquiring a shovel, some soil, a wheelbarrow and some native plants — and setting aside several hours over the weekend, as some students who attend an Oak Park middle school did last Saturday.

“You don’t have to water [native plants] as much, since their roots will go down 10 or 15 feet,” said Wild Ones member Stephanie Walquist, who helped out at Brooks. “They also pull down carbon. Because the roots go down [so deep], most of the natives, like the grasses, suck down the carbon and then every year the root system dies back a little bit so that carbon is always down in the soil, unless you till it and dig it. Everybody in Illinois should be doing it.”

“There are Wild Ones chapters all over the country and people can find out what’s native to their area and then plant those kind of things,” said Wild Ones member Carolyn Cullen. “The butterflies and other insects that have lived here for thousands of years — that’s what they like.”

“Illinois used to be 60 percent prairie,” added Walquist. “Now, it’s [less than 1 percent] prairie.”

Native vegetation also requires less maintenance than the non-native kind, the women said. They don’t need pesticides and they naturally attract insects and birds that cultivate a self-contained ecosystem. The plants, Walquist said, pretty much regulate themselves throughout the year. VFP

For more information on Wild Ones, click here. The closest chapter to Bellwood, Broadview, Maywood and Melrose Park is the West Cook Wild Ones in Oak Park. 

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Maywood Trustee Helps Lead Anti-Racism March in Oak Park

Isiah Brandon Protest_VFP

Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon leads a protest chant down Lake Street in Oak Park on July 16. The march, organized by Oak Park teacher Anthony Clark, below, was held to put a spotlight on suburban racism and discrimination. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

protest_WJ_072016_6 (1)Sunday, July 17, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || @village_free 

More than 150 people walked from Oak Park and River Forest High School to Forest Park’s busy Madison Street business district on Saturday as part of a peaceful protest march that grew out of a viral Facebook post.

The multiracial throng, accompanied by police escorts, walked the sidewalks of Lake Street and Harlem chanting slogans like “Unity Now!” and holding signs that read “Unite Behind Equity,” “Everyone is the Same,” and “I Am a Customer.” 

They were led by Anthony Clark, an OPRF teacher who organized the march, and Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon, who said he was prompted to start calling out chants after he showed up, having learned of the march on Facebook, and realized the group of demonstrators needed some galvanizing.

“I stand with their call for unity within our communities and collaboration,” Brandon said during an interview after the roughly hour-long event, which the trustee wasn’t involved in planning.

Clark said he hopes to launch a more permanent movement to address the kind of discrimination he and most of the demonstrators say is an everyday occurrence for African Americans in the suburbs. 

On July 10, OPRF English teacher Paul Noble, who along with several other high school teachers helped Clark organize the march, reposted a complaint on Facebook that he noted “was posted today by a local mom.” The post alleged that a group of people went inside the Forest Park bar Doc Ryan’s on the night of July 9, requested 90’s hip-hop and were told “that they did not play hip hop because it brings black people in.”

The local mom, later identified as Cynthia Martz, posted a lengthy statement about her incident and in support of the march to her Facebook page on Sunday. Martz wrote that, after telling a manager about what she was told by the person in the DJ booth, she was shocked “when he offered no apology, nor did he attempt to help, resolve or fix the problem; instead, he explained that the DJ was hired by the door man – not him.”

By July 14, Noble’s post about Martz’s incident had been shared more than 520 times, with many people commenting on what they felt were discriminatory experiences of their own in Oak Park, Forest Park and surrounding suburbs. 

In the days after Noble’s post, Martin M. Sorice, the owner of Doc Ryan’s who along with his wife bought the bar over a year ago, said the incident with the mom happened in a DJ booth and that the person who may have said the offensive statement wasn’t an employee of the bar. 

Sorice, who noted that he received information about the incident after talking to staff, also wrote that “we take full responsibility for letting someone represent us who doesn’t work there. We promise to do everything in our power to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” 

Some Forest Park residents, in numerous Facebook comments, expressed their opinion of Clark’s demonstration as a hasty and overblown reaction to one allegation of racial discrimination that couldn’t even be verified. Some commenters also expressed fears that the demonstration would unfairly stigmatize other businesses in the area.

Clark said that by the time he reacted to Noble’s post, however, the original incident had become an afterthought, obscured by the many other discriminatory incidents it had forced the Oak Park native to recall.

Brandon, who knows the owners of Doc Ryan’s personally and noted that he hasn’t experienced any discrimination at the business, said his motivation for demonstrating was less about Martz’s incident than about the higher message of love and unity.

“I’m behind any message that calls for unity, us working together and creating a level of comfort for all of those who travel through, and live in, our communities,” he said. “I support a lot of businesses in Forest Park, know a lot of the owners personally and haven’t had anything happen to me. I was there for the message.”

Paul Noble Protest

OPRF teacher Paul Noble, who helped organize the Saturday march against discrimination and racism through Oak Park and Forest Park. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

‘You can’t be neutral when it comes to equality’

“When the incident (with the mom) happened, I couldn’t even validate that, but when I saw (Noble’s) post and I saw everybody posting comments underneath it (about their experiences), I could validate them,” Clark said. “I could validate my own experiences growing up in the suburbs. That’s all I needed.”

There was the time, Clark alleged in one Facebook comment, when he was kicked out of Doc Ryan’s for hosting a comic show that “brought in too many black people.” And the “last time” he drank at the bar, he wrote in another comment, “one of the owner’s friends held what initially seemed like an innocent conversation with me about sports etc. but then ended it with I wasn’t like those other [ni — ers] you see on tv. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well!”

On Saturday, marchers shared similar experiences with discrimination and racism in the suburbs, places some demonstrators noted have been overshadowed by the recent national unrest over police mistreatment of African Americans, particularly in big cities like Chicago and New York.

“You can’t be neutral when it comes to equality and peace,” Clark told demonstrators who gathered at the corner of Lake Street and East Ave. beside the football stadium, before the march began. 

“I feel like too often in suburban communities, we witness (racism), we experience it, but we never speak on it,” he said. “We never act on it. We just go about our day. That’s not unity. That’s not progress.”

Noble, who said that he didn’t know the mom whose allegation he posted, noted that the events involving the police-related shootings of African American men like Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, likely played a significant part in how he and others responded to the woman’s accusation. 

“Maybe my own initial instinct was affected by (those events), I’m not going to deny that,” he said. “But while we can point the finger at Ferguson or this place or that place, let’s at least make sure our own house is in order before we start pointing the finger at these other communities.” 

Matt Baron, the president of the Oak Park Public Library Board of Trustees, said he grew up in a “lily white community” in suburban Boston and attended a high school where “nobody in my graduating class was African American.” 

“You can’t be neutral on this,” he said. “You’re either on the bus or off the bus. I realized that, if I could be here tonight, I needed to be here because if I wasn’t then I’d be passively part of the problem.”

The Saturday march took many bystanders, like 20-year-old Tylisha Jackson, by surprise. Jackson, a waitress at Mancini’s Italian Bistro, 1111 Lake St., watched the demonstration along with a group of several of her coworkers while she was taking a break. 

“I don’t have much of an opinion about it,” Jackson said when she was finally clued in on the reason the march was taking place. 

“I’m kind of wrapped up in my own life,” she said. “But from what I’ve heard and seen about other marches (across the country) it seems like they’re not really making a difference. People come out, march, protest, but are they really changing our laws and local businesses?”

Julia Bruynseels, a resident of River Forest, was seated in front of her laptop outside of Starbucks on the corner of Lake St. and Harlem when she saw the march. She said it was unexpected, but not unsurprising. 

“I just came back from being in Naperville and have a seen a lot on the news,” she said. “I didn’t think it would happen here, but it doesn’t surprise me because Oak Park people are open to voicing their opinions and promoting equality across the board.” 

Steve Pointer, a longtime resident of Forest Park, stood outside of Zimmerman-Hartnett Funeral home as the demonstration neared its end. He said he thought people were protesting against gambling bistros coming into town. 

One man, an owner of a Madison St. business who requested anonymity, was asked his thoughts on the march before saying, “That’s an issue nobody wants to touch right now.”

Jason Barishman came to the march from Skokie with his wife Asa, who grew up in Oak Park, and their three children. 

“I’m standing up for my family,” said Jason. “My family is black. We get some head turns a little because I’m white, but I don’t think we’ve ever gotten turned down service or anything like that.” 

Asa said her parents, who organized a black studies conference at Olive Harvey College and have lived in Oak Park for 30 years, taught her to “be woke,” or aware of the persistence of racism and discrimination. But they couldn’t fully prepare her to deal with what she said was her first “official experience with racism.”

“I was in my 20s,” Asa recalled. “It was my senior year of college and I was living at Beloit and Adams in Forest Park. I was walking down the street and an elderly lady was approaching me. I stepped to the side for her, because that’s what I was taught to do and she told me, ‘Rot in jail ni — er.'” 

The Barishmans shared their stories at the march’s terminating point, a few hundred feet from a stage installed for Forest Park’s popular Music Fest, which is being held over the weekend. Before the demonstration ended, the marchers stood in a circle cater-cornered from a Starbucks and listened to different people share their testimonies and evangelize the need for more love and unity in the world. 

At one point as the marchers stood encircled, a song by the controversial rap group NWA (Ni — az Wit Attitudes) blared ironically from the fest’s loudspeakers along with hip-hop songs like the early 1990s anthem “Tootsie Roll,” made by the rap group 69 Boyz.

NWA rose to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s for lyrics that condemned police abuse while inviting criticism from national leaders like Ronald Reagan, who thought the group incited violence against cops.

With hip-hop blasting,  a group of officers from Forest Park’s police department looked through powerful binoculars on the roof of Healy’s Westside, a bar on the corner of Madison St. and Circle Ave.

“After what happened in Dallas, we’re just watching the rooftops making sure there’s nobody up high,” said Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas, referencing the July 7 shooting deaths of five police officers in that city who were gunned down while protecting people protesting against the deaths of Castile and Sterling just days before the massacre.

But the paramilitary presence was more than logistical. It was also a pungent visualization of the complex, ambivalent and sometimes fraught relationship between the police and African Americans — a tension that doesn’t abate even in communities well-known for their embrace of cultural diversity, some marchers noted.

A complex relationship 


During and after the roughly hour-long demonstration, young African American men who live in the suburbs shared their own experiences of discrimination and racism. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Oak Park Police Commander Joseph Waitzman said the department “has collaborated with the community, and the community has collaborated with government, since the 1970s.”

“That, for me, is a positive feeling,” Waitzman told marchers before they started walking. “The police department has made those deposits in the community over many years. We’re happy to be here to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to exercise their First Amendment rights to public assembly.” 

Clark, however, noted that planning the march, which he said he opted to stage on sidewalks so that he wouldn’t have to obtain a permit, was far from a waltz — even with Oak Park police, who he said called his home due to concerns shared by some people that he may be inciting violence.

The police, Clark said, also encouraged him to change the march’s highly visible route so that demonstrators might walk along more placid, less visible, side streets instead. Oak Park Police couldn’t be reached to verify or deny Clark’s claims. 

Clark also said that, as his plans received more and more attention, he began receiving lewd and threatening text messages from anonymous numbers. 

When he approached some local businesses in the days ahead of the demonstration so that they might sign a pledge indicating that they were against racism and discrimination in their practices, Clark said, he was met with indifference and even disdain. 

Of the 40 businesses he walked into along the march’s route, 17 signed the pledge, he noted. Employees from the majority of establishments he approached told him that they needed to wait for a manager’s or owner’s approval. Some, he said, preferred to remain neutral. Others, like the Forest Park ice cream parlor The Brown Cow, responded enthusiastically. 

“I’m not going to put out those businesses (that reacted neutrally or hostilely to the pledge), because this isn’t about negativity. This isn’t about that,” Clark said, adding that he doesn’t want to invite any more distractions from the much larger issue of racism and discrimination.

Will Knox, Clark’s best friend, shared his own complicated experience growing up black in Oak Park — experiences contoured by frequent run-ins with the cops. 

Knox, 34, said he thinks that violence against cops won’t help prevent nightmarish encounters with police, such as his own. If anything, he said, “shooting cops will make things worse.” 

“There are some genuinely good-hearted people here,” Knox said. “I grew up next door to a police officer. He was great. I drove his car, babysat his kids. Me and him were known for throwing parties. He was cool.” 

But then, Knox said, there are experiences like the time he came home from college and couldn’t remember the security password to his sister’s home, where he lived.

“The police tried to lock me up just for trying to get into my house,” Knox said. “I had to call my sister to get the pass code.” 

One of his earliest experiences with Oak Park police, Knox recalled, has to do with what ordinarily might be an emblem of suburban childhood — a bicycle.

“My sister raised me, so I had a nephew and I would ride a bike with a baby seat on the back of it,” he said. “I don’t know how many times they put that bike in the back of the squad car, put me in the car and drove me to my sister’s. She would have to tell cops, ‘Yeah, this is my bike.'” 

For Jeremiah Billups, a 2016 graduate of OPRF and Clark’s former student, the march was a chance to walk down the streets of the place where he was raised empowered for once. Usually, he said, he walks on eggshells crushed even finer by the specter of his criminal background. 

“They stopped me and my homies one night for walking in an alley,” Billups said. “They gave us a ticket just for walking through an alley. I had something on my background, nothing serious, just little cases. I asked why we were getting stopped and the officer was like, ‘Because you in my allies at 11:00 with robbery and theft all on your background.’ But he didn’t know that before he gave us a ticket.”

The march may have been designed to make audible what many demonstrators consider the often muted experiences of discrimination and racism that suburban blacks go through daily, but within Saturday’s protest were also the rumblings of resolution ahead. 

“From what I’ve seen from Anthony’s posts online, he’s been very articulate and concerned about inclusivity and he’s interested in working with people,” said Nick Ardinger, a member of Forest Park’s recently formed seven-member diversity commission. 

Ardinger said, while the commission hasn’t formally responded to the concerns raised by Clark and others, they plan on finding ways to address them at their next meeting. 

Clark said he’s since spoken with the owners of Doc Ryan’s and they’ve agreed to meet in person soon. He said he plans on building a more permanent organization to address discrimination through a variety of ways, such as hosting town hall discussions and the unity pledge he’s asking local businesses to sign.

“This doesn’t stop here,” he told marchers. “This is the beginning. While we can respect the businesses, we’re going to hold them accountable.” VFP

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It Takes A Village To Raise A Doctor: Physician, First Lady Of Maywood Church, Pairs Practicing Doctors With Minority Students


Dr. LaMenta “Sweetie” Conway, during an April 7 event in Oak Park hosted by her nonprofit, the I Am Abel Foundation, which seeks to pair aspiring medical doctors with real life ones. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Monday, April 11, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Dr. LaMenta Conway, the first lady of Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood, has been a physician specializing in internal and pediatric medicine for more than 17 years, but there was nothing inevitable about the path she’s currently on.

She enrolled in Rush Medical College when she was 31 years old. At the time, she had three children — all of them under 3 years old. She had the ambition and the desire, but circumstances were forcing her to abandon her dreams.

“As a mother of really young children and a wife, medical school would be an incredible undertaking,” Conway has noted. “I wasn’t sure if it could be done. Who goes to medical school with three babies under three years old? In my moment of doubt, my mother said, ‘You do … that’s who does it!’”

“It took her three times to get into medical school,” said Conway’s husband, Rev. Jacques Conway. “She was the oldest student in her class. It took her so long to become a doctor, because she never knew the path to get into medical school. Now, she’s saying, ‘Because there’s a path I went through, I’m going to recruit doctors to meet students who have an interest in medicine.’ It’s all about paying it forward.”

The Conways hosted more than two dozen practicing medical doctors at Cheney Mansion in Oak Park on April 7 for a ceremony to mark the inaugural class of mentees to participate in Dr. Conway’s new nonprofit, the I Am Abel Foundation.

Dr. Conway, who practices at Elmhurst Hospital and teaches at Loyola Medical School and Hines Veterans Administration, selected around 25 minority high school and college students from the city and suburbs (two were from Proviso West High School) to participate in the rigorous program.

Each student was paired with a practicing doctor. Most of the doctors specialize in fields the students are seeking to break into. In addition to being paired with mentors, the students will go through an extensive regimen of premedical school training.

Although the overwhelming majority of I Am Abel participants are female, among the several male participants there was something of a rarity — twin African American males with elite educations and concrete plans.

Rashad and Sharad Crosby both attend the University of Chicago and both aspire to become doctors.

“I think one of the most important things about mentorship is just being able to guide these young people and help them understand what’s facing them,” said Dr. Khalilah Gates, Sharad’s mentor. “If you know what you’re walking into it’s easier to tackle it. And if you have somebody cheering for you while you’re going through it, that makes you all the more successful and it makes the path a lot easier.”

Dora and Larry Clay, of Broadview, know firsthand how important mentors like Dr. Conway (who they call “Sweetie,” her nickname) are to the medical school experience. Their daughter, Jessica Clay, 27, is in medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Whenever a problem arises she calls Sweetie and she’ll be able to talk her through it and help her through whatever problems she’s encountering,” said Larry.

“Just recently, Jessica called Sweetie and they talked for about two days in a row. My daughter wasn’t thinking things were going right and Sweetie told her, ‘It’s never going to be easy. Not in this profession.’ She’s been a godsend to our daughter.”

The point, the dozens of doctors who attended the April 7 ceremony noted, is to create templates for success that may be lacking for many minority students with serious ambitions of breaking into the medical field — students like Temi Ojo.

Ojo has wanted to be a doctor since she was in grade school. Her mother, perhaps sensing her daughter’s potential, pushed her through the prestigious St. Ignatius College Prep, often making her do extra loads of homework “to keep my mind sharp,” Ojo recalled. Then it was on to Hamilton College in New York — simply a weigh station, in Ojo’s mind, before inevitably enrolling into medical school.

While at Hamilton, however, Ojo had to juggle her coursework with the demands of a job. Her grades slipped. Her first meeting with a premed counselor, she hoped, would be just the kind of corrective she needed to get back on track.

“Up until this point I never had anybody tell me the ins and outs of applying to medical school,” she said. “I just knew I wanted to go there.”

Oho said she expected her counselor to “tell me all the things I needed to know to go on to medical school.” When she walked into the office and “before I could even sit down,” Ojo recalled, “She says, ‘I don’t think you can apply to medical school and don’t think that because you’re African American you’re going to get into med school.’

“She said, ‘Your grades aren’t that great.’ But when I asked her how I can improve, she was like, ‘At best, you can be a nurse or physician’s assistant.’ There’s nothing wrong with those professions, but they weren’t my passion. For a week straight I felt very, very defeated. I didn’t know what to do.”

Ojo said she ignored her counselor’s advice and channeled her mother, slogging her way through the rest of her college coursework and a mind-numbing regimen of postgraduate classes before applying to one medical school, where she earned acceptance — but only on the condition that she receive a certain percentage in a particular course. She missed the mark by around two percentage points — her dreams of getting into medical school temporarily dashed.

But then she met Conway, who introduced her to two other prominent African American physicians in Chicago — Dr. John Bradley and Dr. Fred G. Richardson. The two men have become legendary for mentoring many of the city’s black doctors.

““Dr. Conway told me her story and gave me the motivation to keep moving and from there I met Dr. Bradley and the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re going to be a doctor, don’t worry.’ Then I met Dr. Richardson, and he told me you’re going to have to be the best, because nobody’s going to give you anything.’ From there, they put me into a pre-matriculation program,” she said.

Now, Ojo is finishing up her first year of medical school. VFP

After 30-Plus Years, Maywood Music Maven Retiring


Dorothy L. Bounds, founder of Dorolyn Academy of Music in Oak Park, poses for a portrait inside her office on March 24. The music academy will be closing soon after ore than 30 years. Below: The hands of one of Bounds’ students during a recent lesson. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal


Monday, March 28, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

“When we first started this thing I didn’t have a dime. I just knew God had called me to it,” said Dorothy L. Bounds during a recent interview.

“I didn’t even have a job. I clipped coupons from the paper and every time I went shopping I’d just use the coupons and put $0.30 or $0.40 back into savings until I got $1,003. That’s how Dorolyn Academy of Music got started.”

The music school, located in nearby Oak Park, has become a venerable institution since it was founded more than 30 years ago with 13 students and five instructors tutoring piano, organ, voice, guitar and drums. Bounds said her former students now number in the thousands, range from toddlers to senior citizens and can be found “all over the world.”

Sam Saletta — perhaps best known for his part as Butch in the 1994 movie “The Little Rascals” — and his sister, actress Nicole Saletta, are former students. So is well-known Gospel singer Kim Stratton. Gospel icons like Walter Hawkins, Vickie Winans and Hezekiah Walker have come to the Oak Park school to perform.

Bounds, a longtime resident of Maywood, is now retiring from musical instruction to pursue other life ambitions and to spend some time with her husband. The school’s longtime South Boulevard location, which was formerly a casket company, will be turned into a daycare center.

After so many years, and with such success, it can all seem so inevitable. Far from it, though, said Bounds. The Mississippi native said she’s been passionate about music since she was 10 years old, but she didn’t start her academy until she was in her mid-forties. Up until then, she had trained choirs and singers across the Chicago area and in other states; however, it took a leap of faith — and a heap of financial discipline — to go into teaching music full-time.

In 1982, Bounds acquired her first location at 418 N. Austin Blvd., a 1,500 square foot space that included five studios — all of which needed to be maintained. Bounds also had to pay her instructors, among other costs. She even helped put some students through college.

“If we saw they wanted to go to school, we would somehow help them,” she said.

Then, as now, Bounds, whose academy is registered as a nonprofit, charged only minimal tuition for her lessons and welcomed students from underserved neighborhoods. Tuition was $5 a week. The rest of the money she raised from her own savings, personal donations and creative fundraising campaigns.

“There were small contributions, private contributions, noting really big,” Bounds said. “But let me tell you. I’m one who walks by faith and that’s a fact. I’ve walked by faith and somehow every bill was paid. It’s been a miracle.”

By 1990, Bounds began getting students at such a rate that she needed to somewhere bigger to teach. That year, flush with money she’d saved over the years and her surplus faith, Bounds negotiated the purchase of the 15,000 square-foot location she’s in today. Asked what may have attracted students to her instruction, Bounds cited her relaxed teaching style and her values.

“I’m drive by my values and my beliefs,” she said. “The first thing I do when training a student is make that student comfortable. Instead of showing them what they don’t know, I let them realize what they do know first — and then we build on that.”

Bounds said she’s referred her students to other music schools in the area. In addition, she said, many of the instructors who worked under her will continue teaching. Even though its founder is retiring, Dorolyn won’t be retired entirely.

As for Bounds herself, it’s on to other pursuits — like publishing her doctoral thesis, which explores sacred church music, and a cookbook featuring soul food recipes. And then, there’s perhaps the most unlikely of her post-musical pursuits. Bounds will be active in her church, but it won’t be from the choir stand.

The senior citizen is head of her Chicago church’s security department and oversees at least 15 people to that end. She has international professional certifications and a concealed carry license. When asked if that array of training includes, perhaps, a martial arts degree, Bounds softly, but firmly, straightened her posture — as erect as a pianist.

“Don’t try me,” she said, before laughing. VFP