Tag: Operation Uplift

Northica Stone, Founder of West Town Museum of Cultural History, Dies At 85

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Northica Stone during an event in Maywood several years ago. | File

Northica Hillery Stone, who as the longtime head of the nonprofit Operation Uplift and founder of the West Town Museum of Cultural History in Maywood served for decades as the chief archivist of local memories and legacies, died on May 16.

Continue reading “Northica Stone, Founder of West Town Museum of Cultural History, Dies At 85”

Operation Uplift To Honor Dozens of Community Members At Jan. 13 King Gala

Friday, December 29, 2017 || By Community Editor || @maywoodnews 

Operation Uplift, Inc., the Maywood-based social service nonprofit, turns 50 in 2018 and the venerable organization plans to celebrate the milestone with a bash.

The organization will host a 50th Anniversary Celebration and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Awards Black Tie Gala, called “Manifesting the Dream in the Millennial Generation,” on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, 7 p.m., at the Diplomat West Banquet Hall, 681 W. North Avenue, in Elmhurst.

Continue reading “Operation Uplift To Honor Dozens of Community Members At Jan. 13 King Gala”

In Maywood, a Juneteenth Celebration Prompts an Abiding Question: Are Blacks Really Free?

Panel 1

Community members during a panel discussion last Saturday about the significance of Juneteenth and its current resonance. | Michael Romain/VFP

Panel 2Thursday, June 22, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued on June 19, 1865 General Order No. 3, announcing that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” President Abraham Lincoln (the executive referenced in the order) was dead and the 13th Amendment “was well on its way to ratification,” according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s online essay, “What is Juneteenth?”

A major reason why news of emancipation reached Texas last was because for many slave owners, the Lone Star State offered temporary refuge from the Union Army’s advances.

“Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach,” Gates explains. “In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book ‘Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery.’ As one former slave he quotes recalled, ‘It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.’”

Since then, Gates notes, Juneteenth has become “the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.”

In Maywood last week, the holiday presented former and current residents with an opportunity to reflect not just on a historical event with national resonance but also on the village’s local history with respect to race relations.

On June 13 and 14, Operation Uplift Inc., the organization’s West Town Museum of Cultural History and the village of Maywood sponsored Reflections of the Past tours, during which community members learned about significant historical sites — including a section of Maywood where only African Americans and Jews lived.

Last Saturday, the organizations hosted a proclamation ceremony that included a reenactment of the Union army’s arrival at Galveston, Texas and a reading of Gen. Granger’s order. After the ceremony, community members gathered for a Juneteenth Soul Food Feast and a panel discussion that begged the question of whether or not blacks can be considered free — Gen. Granger’s order from more than 150 years ago notwithstanding.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves are tree.” This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

“I’m not clear we’re not still in slavery,” said Judge Gay F. Chase, who sat on a 9-person panel during a discussion that was moderated by radio personality Al B. Sylk. Around 20 audience members listened intently under a tent pitched beside the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood.

George Stone, Operation Uplift’s interim executive director, likened the panel discussion to an old-fashioned community gathering designed to resolve local problems and find common ground — even though most of the problems mentioned during the 2-hour panel are pervasive, plaguing largely minority urban centers from sea to shining sea.

While the panelists were unanimous in their discussion about the many problems ailing the African American population, including chronically high unemployment rates, gun violence, drug abuse and high dropout rates, there was a clear break in consensus when it came to plotting a clear path beyond those systemic problems.

“We need to uplift our race and find out what our issues are so we can heal our people,” said Stone. “We’re not looking for outside healing or a handout. We’ll take reparations because they’re owed to us, but we want to heal ourselves.”

In diagnosing what he called “Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” Stone laid many of the problems ailing some blacks to “a false sense of priority” and a range of dysfunctional behavioral patterns (“black men wanting to be pimps,” “women being promiscuous,”) that he said is rooted in slavery.

“We never had any counseling after slavery, we just kept persevering,” Stone said. “This trickles down from generation to generation. We have a lot of mental illness — not just in the youth but in the parents who raise them and their parents.”

Michael Burton, an attorney, said that he attributes most of the problems affecting blacks in America to the breakdown of the family structure.

“When you have prisons for profit, they have to be filled up in order for the stakeholders to make money,” Burton said. “For the stakeholders to make money, they’re going to fill them up with black and brown bodies. The men who are taken away from the family weakens the family, therefore youth are exposed to things they ordinarily would not be exposed to had there been a strong male role model in the house.”

Stephen Allan Hall (also known as Ifagbayi Malefi Ayodeji Adéyafa), a community mental health specialist and DePaul University psychology instructor, modified Stone’s diagnose before emphasizing, along with other panelists and an audience member, what he said is the root cause of the present social dysfunction among blacks.

“One of my colleagues said during a conference a couple of weeks ago that she had good and bad news,” Hall said. “The good news is our community isn’t suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The bad news is the reason they’re not suffering from PTSD is because there is no post. We are in a continual state of traumatized lives.”

Hall said he isn’t necessarily convinced that the social conditions in many black communities are due to broken families. He said the deeper cause of blacks’ problems is white supremacy.

“I think it’s important that we not victim blame,” he said. “Black folks in the United States since our beginning in this country have been victims. That is real. We’ve been victims because folks have oppressed us and we need to own that. [One professor] said this: ‘If you don’t understand white supremacy, white racism, everything you do understand will only confuse you.”

Hall described a history of devastation heaped upon successful, self-contained black communities like Chicago, Atlanta and Tulsa.

“Look at communities that, historically, were black and self-contained,” Hall said. “They were punished for that. They were burned to the ground. People were killed.”

Rasaan Booker, an African American audience member with dreadlocks, had been subtly chastised by another audience member to pull his shorts up while walking to the center of the tent to comment.

Ironically, Booker criticized ‘respectability politics,’ or when, according to an essay in Dissent by Columbia political science professor Frederick C. Harris, the “virtues of self-care and self-correction [i.e., dressing appropriately] are framed as strategies to lift the black poor out of their condition by preparing them for the market economy.”

Booker said respectability politics now defines the black church, long the most powerful agent of social uplift that African Americans could leverage.

“The church doesn’t really allow for resistance and only encourages docility,” he said. “It’s difficult when you’re constantly being told to fit into this respectability model and that there’s always something wrong with you.

“[People say], ‘Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have been killed if he hadn’t worn a hoodie or people wouldn’t get stopped if their pants weren’t sagging,’” Booker said. “Respectability has never saved us. When Martin Luther King was marching in his finest suit, he was still stabbed and arrested multiple times.”

Rev. Ronald Beauchamp, the pastor of Bethel New Life Church in Wheaton, agreed with Maywood Park District Commissioner Bill Hampton for the effectiveness, if not for the moral validity, of respectability politics.

“Nobody told me to come out here today and wear my collar and suit coat,” Beauchamp said. “Nobody told me that, but because of my position, because of my understanding of my role, I did what I felt was appropriate. I could’ve come in shorts and a t-shirt, but I knew I wanted to have an image and a presentation. I wanted you to respect the words coming out of my mouth.”

“The way we carry ourselves has a lot to do with how we think,” said Hampton. “Take professional gangsters. You can’t tell they’re gangsters. If you give yourself away with the pants sagging and [profanity] coming out of your mouth, that builds into ignorance … Dr. King said, ‘I want you to be first in moral excellency.’”

“Yeah, but that’s always on black people! You have white kids walking around with their pants sagging and they won’t get shot,” said Brandy Booker, a Moraine Valley Community College professor and Rasaan’s mother.

“[White kids] cuss in front of my grandma, but they don’t get gunned down,” she said. “Why does the brunt of being always above fall on blacks? In 2017? That is ridiculous.” VFP

To read the May print edition of Village Free Press online, click here. To support Village Free Press, click here

County Clerk Changes Maywood Polling Place


Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Church, 611 Maple St., in Maywood, has replaced Operation Uplift as the polling place for residents in Proviso Precinct 52. | kottayamad.org

Monday, October 24, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Cook County Clerk David Orr announced last Thursday that voters in 15 suburban Cook County precincts will need to trek to new polling places this election.

Among those 15 is one in Maywood.

Instead of voting at Operation Uplift Center, 104 S. 5th Ave., residents who live in Proviso Precinct 52 will now need to go to Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Church, 611 Maple St., in Maywood.

In a statement released last week, county clerk officials said that polling places change “for a variety of reasons, such as safety issues, construction projects or space constraints.”

Residents in all of the affected precincts should have gotten mailers similar to the images below.

To find your polling location, click here. VFP



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Rush University Seeking Black Fathers for Study || Community Events


Friday, July 15, 2016 || By COMMUNITY EDITOR || @maywoodnews || @village_free 

Rush University has chosen Maywood to host a DAAD’s program for African American fathers of children, ages 2 to 6 years old, who do not live with them. The purpose of the program is to give fathers knowledge, skills and support that will help them to maintain strong, loving and consistent relationships with the small children.

Participants will receive a stipend for attending the sessions and completing the study questions. Other incentives include coupons to children’s events, food and transportation. Registration closes soon. Dads do not have to live in Maywood to participate. To register, contact the program telephone line at (312) 563-3566. VFP

Upcoming Community Events 

Saturday, July 16 

10 a.m. to 12 p.m. || 5th Ave. and Lexington Ave., Maywood || Impact Ministries presents Thank God I’m Free Prayer Walk 



9 a.m. to 5 p.m. || Operation Uplift, 104 S. 5th Ave. (corner of 5th Ave. and St. Charles), Maywood IL || Operation Uplift’s Vendor Days.

Clothing drive

Come pick up clothes and other hidden treasures. You’ll be buying for a good cause, too. A portion of the event’s proceeds will support one of Proviso Township’s best museums dedicated to local history.

For pricing and more information, call Jeri Stenson at (708) 289-4955 or Dorothy Hall at (708) 373-2862

Sunday, July 17

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. || Operation Uplift, 104 S. 5th Ave. (corner of 5th Ave. and St. Charles), Maywood IL || Operation Uplift’s Vendor Days. Come pick up clothes and other hidden treasures. You’ll be buying for a good cause, too. A portion of the event’s proceeds will support one of Proviso Township’s best museums dedicated to local history.

For pricing and more information, call Jeri Stenson at (708) 289-4955 or Dorothy Hall at (708) 373-2862

Friday, July 22

VOR Community Resource

Saturday, August 6 

8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. || Winfield Scott Park, 19th and Maywood Drive, Maywood, IL || Fifth Annual Old Skool ‘The Way It Used To Be’ Picnic

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 4.24.37 PM

This highly anticipated annual event spotlights the importance of education, good choices and community support through the encouragement and presence of local heroes and role models.

This fun-filled day for the entire family features a back-pack and school supply giveaway, 14 DJ’s playing the best old-school music (house, disco and deep house classics), diverse vendors, food favorites, games, activities and more!

For more information, contact Christopher Benjamin, (708) 257-9740 or Cheryl Gardner (773) 719-9804.

Saturday, August 20 

12 p.m. || Maywood Veterans Memorial Park, 5th Ave. and Fred Hampton Way (Oak St.), Maywood Old Timers Picnic 

Old Timers

This year will mark the 20th Anniversary of the annual Maywood Old Timers Picnic, one of Maywood’s most anticipated community-wide events that was started as a way to reconnect the village’s present with its past.

“I was running into people at funerals and visitations I hadn’t seen in years and we would sit and talk,” said Marilynn Jefferson, a longtime Maywoodian, now retired and living in Georgia, who helped establish the first Old Timers Picnic.

“I finally said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice where we had time we could all be together and it would not be a sad occasion?’” Jefferson reminisced during an interview at last year’s event.

Since its founding, the event has become a source of history for those interested in mining the village’s rich past.

Bring your family and friends. There will be food, fun and entertainment. For more information, call (708) 740-0747. Please leave a voicemail if you don’t get through. VFP

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The West Town Museum In Maywood Praises The Past, Looks To The Future

Operation Uplift kickoff II

Mattie Robinson, a retired high school teacher, takes a tour of the West Town Museum of Cultural History, 104 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood. Below, attendees at an April 30 reunion fundraising kickoff hosted at the museum. | Michael Romain/VFP

Operation Uplift kickoffThursday, May 12, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

Mattie Robinson, a retired District 209 teacher, peered at an exhibition inside the West Town Museum of Cultural History that featured some of her former students — familiar names like Michael Finley, Dee Brown and Shannon Brown.

“I had Michael when he was in 8th grade,” Robinson said, smiling at the reminiscence. “My son used to love him.”

“You taught them everything they know right?” quipped Michael Rogers, a Maywood trustee and a member of the museum’s advisory board. “Even the cross-over dribble!”

“No, I didn’t teach them that! I was in history,” Robinson said, still captivated by the old pictures as the past seemed to blanket her.

Inside the museum, located at 104 S. 5th Ave., are photos of local luminaries in Maywood and Proviso Township — including mayors, educators, politicians, doctors and police chiefs. There are actual slave manacles and photos of the first African-American family to own a home in the village.

If you’re a lifelong Maywoodian, with generations rooted in this place, there is likely a piece of your past on those walls or in one of the small facility’s rooms.

The museum is the outgrowth of Operation Uplift, Inc., a Maywood nonprofit that was founded in 1968 as a community wellness resource center by local activist and labor organizer George Stone. When he died in 1988, his wife Northica Stone, and the nonprofit’s board of directors, hatched the idea to form a museum.

“We saw that Maywood was under-served and the history that Maywood had was being lost,” Stone said in a 2013 Village Free Press interview.

Operation Uplift kickoff III

Stone and her board also started putting on annual luncheons to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

“This would’ve been our 28th year of holding the luncheon,” said the museum’s curator Jeri Stenson, during an April 30 reunion bash.

Stenson said that, since Stone, the nonprofit’s CEO and president, had been ill, planning for this year’s luncheon had stalled. Stone was typically the person who picked the luncheon’s speaker, Stenson said.

Instead of jettison the idea of convening something altogether, the organization decided to host a reunion and fundraiser at its facility.

“We’ve had over 20,000 people come through our doors over the years,” said Stenson.

Since its founding in 1968, Operation Uplift would grow to offer job training, job counseling, pre-employment skills and GED assistance, among other services, to minorities seeking entry into the country’s burgeoning information economy.

Uplift would eventually supply well-trained minority employees for, and implement some of the first affirmative action programs at, companies such as Illinois Bell (now At&T), Jewel’s and Nicor.

Stenson said the idea was to reunite some of those people the organization has assisted in the past during a fundraising event. Both the nonprofit and the museum that it spawned are desperately in need of funding, she said.

It’s a small favor to ask of an institution that, if it were to go away, would greatly diminish the fiber of this town, said Rogers.

“If you come through here three or four times, you won’t catch everything,” said Rogers, a retired corporate architect who, in 2000, designed an Underground Railroad memorial at the Maywood McDonald’s on Lake Street after the organization’s efforts produced evidence that the iconic route to freedom likely coursed through the village.

“We have a lot of things in Maywood that people just drive by and have no idea about,” Rogers said. “These are things that people would’ve never known were here, but if this is how it was before, we can get back to that or make this place even better.” VFP

To become a member, or to give to West Town and/or Operation Uplift:

Membership Categories

Individuals | $25.00 Yearly

Family | $50.00 Yearly

Business | $100.00 Yearly

For additional details, call 708.343.3554 or 708.516.0628

Make all checks payable to:
Operation UpLift, Inc.
  104 South 5th Avenue
  Maywood, IL 60153

For more information, click here.

U P C O M I N G  E V E N T S

Maywood Civil War event

Safe Summer art contest for grades 6th through 8th 

Safe Summer essay contest.png

A press conference to announce the launch of this year’s Safe Summer program will be held outside of 125 S. 5thAvenue on Saturday, May 14, 2 p.m. To access more information on the art contest, or the form to fill out, click the document above or click here.

With Harriet Tubman Poised To Become Face Of $20 Bill, Maywood’s Place In Underground Railroad Worth Re-examining


An altered image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill found. “More than 600,000 people voted in the poll between the abolitionist and campaigner and other notable US women,” according to the Independent newspaper. | independent.co.uk. || Below: A picture of the “10 Mile House” in Doug Deuchler’s book, Maywood.

10 Mile HouseWednesday, April 20, 2016 || By Michael Romain 

With the U.S. Treasury Department announcing Wednesday that famed abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman will replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Maywood’s place in the Underground Railroad — the secretive network of routes and hideouts designed for slaves trying to escape to Canada — is worth reexamining.

The link between Maywood and the Underground Railroad, which Tubman — one of its most famous ‘conductors — utilized in the mid-19th Century to free dozens of slaves, was discovered two decades ago by Operation Uplift, the nonprofit that operates the West Town Historical Museum.

As Northica Stone, the nonprofit’s president and CEO, told the Chicago Tribune in 1998, a group of volunteers discovered the site after rummaging through old photographs, maps, newspaper clippings and archived documents of the Chicago Historical Society, the Oak Park/River Forest Historical Society and the Maywood Historical Society.

“They were doing research on Maywood, trying to find out when the first people of color arrived here, when they ran across the information,” Stone said at the time.

What they found was the existence of a “10 Mile House,” which once stood at the southeast corner of 1st Avenue and Lake Street, at the edge of the Des Plaines River, which is presently occupied by a McDonald’s.

“Early Illinois settlers who hauled their crops to Chicago aboard horse-drawn carts needed places along the way to eat and rest themselves and their horses,” noted the Tribune article. “These stops usually were about 10 miles apart and were thus called “10 Mile Houses” or “10 Mile Inns.”

“Besides sheltering horses and farmers, the 10 Mile House in Maywood also sheltered slaves making their way north, said Jeri Stenson, curator of the West Town Historical & Art Museum.”

Stenson told the Tribune that, “since there were stops along the Underground Railroad in places like Chicago and Oak Brook and Downers Grove, they must have come through here … along the way.”

According to Douglas Deuchler’s 2004 book on Maywood, the “10 Mile House” “was a stagecoach rest stop that secretly and dangerously functioned as an Underground Railroad ‘stop.’” The inn was “10 miles, or a day’s ride, from Chicago.”

In 2001, a memorial, designed by Maywood Trustee Michael Rogers, was built to commemorate the location of the now legendary Underground Railroad stop. VFP

Operation Uplift to host April 30 reunion kickoff/fundraiser, in lieu of annual luncheon

West TownOperation Uplift, the Maywood nonprofit that operates the West Town Museum of Cultural History and hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr., luncheon, has announced that it will be hosting a reunion kickoff to help support and bring awareness to its daily services in lieu of a luncheon this year.

“Please help us continue to provide more cultural awareness to our local community, stimulate individual growth,  community pride, and educate the Proviso Township area about the collections of art, artifacts and significant historical materials we hold within our doors,” according to a recent release put out by the organization.

The reunion kickoff activities will include educational tours, an African attire fashion show, live entertainment and food.

It will take place on Saturday, April 30, from 1 PM to 4 PM, at Operation Uplift/West Town Museum, 104 S. 5th Avenue, Maywood.

Donations or pledges of any amount are greatly appreciated. Those who give via checks should make them payable to: Operation Uplift, Inc.

For more information please call Jeri Stenson at 708-289-4955 or email operationupliftinc@gmail.com. VFP

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