Scott Turow’s Lifetime Achievement Award

This past October 5th the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame (CLHOF) held one of its biggest events when it presented novelist/lawyer Scott Turow with the Henry Black Fuller award for Lifetime Achievement.  Held in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium of the Harold Washington Library, it drew a large and star-studed audience, including Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and seven luminaries who took the stage to make “the case for Scott Turow.” I was privileged to emcee the beginning and end of the show, and especially delighted to bring my eldest son, Rick, up on stage to present the actual award statue to Scott, whom we have both know for many years.  Below is a 48-minute VIDEO I edited down from the full 96-minute video you can watch on the Hall of Fame’s website or HERE on YouTube.

You would be pressed to find a more articulate set of presenters anywhere, and Scott Turow’s acceptance speech was the most articulate of all—which was no surprise to anyone.  I had to exercise some editorial privilege to include all of my opening remarks, which sought to lay out the whole vision of the CLHOF, all of Christie Heffner’s talk, all of Rick’s presentation comments, and, of course, all of Scott’s speech, which I have watched many times, and will continue to revisit.

The other presentations I edited, but only for the sake of time. I first introduced one of Chicago’s legendary power couples, Donna LaPietra and husband Bill Kurtis. She produced Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, as well as what many believe is one of the greatest newscasts in American History, CBS2 News with Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson. She is also an extraordinary civic leader.  I have to return to the word “legendary” to describe Bill Kurtis’ career as a newsman. He continues a vast media presence with the important documentarues turned out by Kurtis Productions, as well as being the voice of NPR’s popular Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.  Jane Hamilton has won many literary awards and twice been an Oprah’s Book Club choice.  Aaron Freeman is a comedian, raconteur, interviewer and an enormous presence on the Chicago cultural scene, perhaps best remembered as the creator of the Star Wars parody “Council Wars,” recounting the Council turmoil following the election of Harold Washington, who appears as Luke Sky Talker.  Christie Heffner—named three times as Fortune‘s Top 100 Most Powerful Women—besides being a CEO contines to crusade for free speech, better government and civil liberties.  Cornelia Grumman won the Pulitzer Prize for her editorials about Illinois’ death penalty. They led to sweeping reform of the state’s prison system. Elizabeth Taylor has chaired five Pulitzer Prize committees and is one of the smartest people I know in the field of literature, Chicago and otherwise.

Which brings us to Scott Turow, who, in many ways needs little introduction. Author of 13 novels, from which three major Hollywood films and one TV series have been made.  Three non-fiction titles, including Ultimate Punishment, his reflections on dealing with the death penalty and being on the commission that led to a moratorium and, finally, abolishment of the practice.  Editor of a couple more volumes, including Guilty As Charged, short stories offering various perspectives on America’s criminal justice system.  Oh, yes, he’s also a famous lawyer.  Lots of pro bono work, including winning the release of a man who spent 11 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.  And there’s that Operation Greylord thing, a wide-ranging investigation and prosecution of judges who did commit crimes. Turow was lead council on that one.

In Ultimate Punishment, Scott surprised Rick Guzman with an acknowledgement, even though Rick, then a recent college grad, was “just” a staffer on the commission which led to the moratorium. Scott also wrote a letter of recommendation for Rick’s application to law school, a letter which, Scott said, would make Rick blush.  “The blood did rush to my head,” said Rick, when I opened a letter of acceptance that also contained a full tuition scholarship.”  As he handed Scott the Fuller Award statue, he said perhaps the most important thing to know about Scott Turow.  “Scott, I am deeply honored and privileged,” he said, “to offer this award to you not only for your extraordinary literary contributions, but also for your extraordinary contribution to humanity, to justice, and for just being one of the great human beings our community has to offer.”

Go to my article about the founding of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, which will soon be updated with links to articles I’ve written about the CLHOF inductees and Fuller Award winners.

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Co-opting the Dream

On August 28, 1963, over 250,000 marched on Washington, D.C., for Jobs and Freedom, a monumental event planned by A. Phillip Randolph, with main organizer Bayard Rustin, and highlighted by Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.  This year on August 26th 75,000 were expected to gather to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March.  One of the speakers this year was Yolanda Renee King.  “If I could speak to my grandfather today, I would say, ‘I’m sorry we still have to be here to rededicate ourselves to finishing your work, and ultimately realizing your hidden dream.’” Indeed, many believe King’s dream has never been in greater jeopardy than today as white supremacists seem more emboldened than ever and regressive policies in education, affirmative action, and voting rights—to name just a few areas—are rising.

A few people who were actually at the 1963 March couldn’t help but notice the downsizing of the crowd, and though it’s difficult to find a final count—most reports saying just “thousands” or “tens of thousands—the numbers are still significant.  Much smaller commemoration events happened across the country, like the one shown in the brief VIDEO below.  On August 27th about 140 people gathered for a commemorative service at Chicago’s United Methodist “Temple,” then processed across the street to Daley Plaza, the giant front yard of Chicago’s City Hall.  We were dwarfed by the Plaza, but I’ve seen many much smaller rallies there.  Anyway, a friend, Tom Butler, who’s on an anti-racism  committee I chair, has said that when it comes to fighting racism we need to think of “remnants,” not huge crowds.  I have said many, many times that Americans would rather talk about anything—anything—but race, and even fewer, only remnants, will be dedicated to fighting it over the long, long haul it will take to make a significant change.  In 2020, just before the Pandemic shut everything down, I spoke at a convocation, saying that IF we worked really hard, maybe in 40 to 100 years we’d see a less racist, more just and equitable United States.  I still stand by that timeframe, though one of the other speakers at that convocation said that while he respected me, he thought I was being way too optimistic.

This co-opting of “Black Lives Matter” is a famous contemporary example of avoiding issues of race. The same thing happened with MLK Jr.’s “I have a dream” and “The content of their character” phrases.

Just one impediment to progress is society’s attempt to dodge real talk and work on race by co-opting major ideas that fight racism and turning them into slogans to actually avert our attention from race. One of the most spectacular and well-known examples is the way “Black Lives Matter” was co-opted and changed to “All Lives Matter.”*  And MLK Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech has also been similarly co-opted.

By now, many people have noted that “I Have A Dream” was easily made into the warm and fuzzy speech of the Civil Rights Movement.  Everyone can relate to having a dream, so it was easy to cuddle up to that phrase and forget that MLK Jr. was trying to tie that phrase specifically to matters of race, not just having any old dream.  But the phrase that perhaps has been co-opted to do the most damage to the fight against racism comes from this sentence in his speech: “”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  “The content of their character.” The black intellectual Shelby Steel used it as the title to one of his books, a fairly naieve one I think.  It has been co-opted to justify policies that have gone against many of the major programs, like affirmative action, that have fought racism and discrimination in dozens of areas of American life.  It justifies just skipping over color entirely, as if the color of one’s skin didn’t pose an enormous barrier to actually seeing through to any person’s character.  Ironically, more and more whites seem to see the idea of white privilege as something which blinds people to their true character, again as if whiteness doesn’t matter as much as character.  Surely, color shouldn’t matter as much, but it does. It is a roadblock that must be dealt with before we can cuddle up to the idea of character.

* I deal with the damaging effects of saying “All Live Matter” in my sermon “Three Things to Stop Saying.”
More and more many people see King’s “Riverside Sermon” as his most courageous speech. My son Daniel and I set samples of this speech to music, listen HERE. Links in this post will lead to an article on the speech itself.  In it he spoke of the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation.
Go to the Lead Post in the anti-racism workshop Becoming the Beloved Community, and to the Diversity Training and Teaching page on this site.

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Remembering Sinead O’Connor (1966-2023)

I saw it live myself, that 1992 SNL show where Sinead O’Connor ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul and declared, “Fight the real enemy!”  Like millions of others my first reaction was, Did I see what I just saw? Yes. And while it was probably the most notorious thing Sinead O’Connor did in her short life, it wasn’t by far the only notorious thing, nor the bravest either. Immensely talented, and immensely angry at the nonsense of the world, she led a very troubled life. She reacted poorly to fame, to what Joni Mitchell called “the star-making machinery behind the popular song,” refusing to attend the Grammy’s during some of her greatest triumphs because of the industry’s overwhelming materialism.  Her religious travails, her stormy relationships, the death by suicide of her son Shane—these are all widely documented and easily accessible.

Her fierce activism over a wide swath of causes often overshadowed her music, though much of that music is so wonderful it will forever stand strong among the legacies of her life.  From her debut album The Lion and the Cobra (with its hit single “Mandinka”), through perhaps her biggest hit, a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” her was voice was always described as beautiful, forceful and, especially, haunting. For me that haunting reached its height in her almost impossibly beautiful cover of the Elton John / Bernie Taupin song “Sacrifice.”  It plays in my head a lot, and always when I think of her, as do thoughts on the relationship of pain and art.

James Baldwin said of the artist “that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him could not be divorced from one another.” Indeed, many of our greatest artists are in reality the walking wounded among us, feeling things most of us are too afraid or our common sense steers us away from feeling. Of course, lots of their troubles they bring on themselves—and others—but that should not turn us away from the wonder we feel as they turn their pain and turmoil into a beauty that does make us feel more deeply.  That’s another way of saying, Just listen to “Sacrifice.”

Or to the song in the VIDEO below.  Besides “Sacrifice,” it’s the one I think of when I think of Sinead O’Connor.  In 1995, two years after her Pope-picture-tearing episode, she appeared with Van Morrison and the Chieftans—in a gathering of some of Ireland’s greatest—to sing “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” on Late Night with David Letterman.  It’s one of my favorite pieces of TV, which I just happened to be recording on an ancient dvd recorder. I like to remember Sinead O’Connor this way because it’s such a contrast to the torturous aspects of her life.

“Have I Told You Lately” is very beautiful on one level, but on another it’s also kind of corny and cliché, and I believe Van Morrison knew that.  His version of the song has muscle, and distance, and a kind of knowingness absent from Rod Stewart’s cloying hit version of the song.  His performance here shows he didn’t take the song half as seriously as many others did, including Sinead O’Connor, who starts out singing with such utter seriousness, until she gives in to Van’s goofiness. Also, though Morrison gave us some of the greatest grooves in Rock history, he was often stiff and clumsy as a performer.  Here, among other things, he loses control of his mic as he’s singing blah blah blah into it, then bangs into her mic stand as he approaches her at song’s end. She can barely contain a giggle, and her smiles are luminous. I like remembering her like that just as much—maybe even more—than when she’s singing “Sacrifice” and we’re remembering the travails of her life.

Go to Reviews on this site.

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Take My People With Me: Juneteenth 2023

This post is part of a series on Juneteenth. Go to the series LEAD POST.

The video below shows a few minutes of Aurora, Illinois’ 2023 Juneteenth celebration at MLK Jr. Park.  It’s one of the oldest in the state (at 33 years Rockford’s owns the crown). “It’s been going 22 years,” said Congressman Bill Foster during his annual drop-in. “My smile muscles are almost broken.” “So are mine,” said our luminous emcee, whose name I again didn’t catch but am on a mission to find before next year’s celebration.  The last shot of the video is of him from behind, so you can read his t-shirt: “I’m steal healing b.u.”

Well, he literally was, as he wore a big brace on his left leg, a brace that didn’t stop him dancing all around during his energetic hosting.  The emphasis on healing, though, is symbolic of a larger emphasis growing in importance to the Black community.  One speaker you’ll see urged the crowd to become aware of themselves as a people again. “We’ve lost that,” he said, and in an inventive metaphor asked, “If the bear feeds the bear, does the bear hate the lion?” He was urging Blacks not only to love each other but spend with each other, support each other economically.  That’s what whites do, why not us?

His short talk blended perfectly with the next person on stage, a young lady who did a dramatic dance to Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up,” the theme song for Kasi Lemmons’ movie Harriet.  “Look at this,” said our emcee.  “She could have said I’m gonna do some Cardi B.  Instead she’s lifting up Harriet Tubman!”

A few acts later, up come three kids doing the latest dance, until the emcee asks, “Any body else can do this? Come up here!” Suddenly the stage is exploding with dancers.  I said to my daughter-in-law, Desiree, “Doesn’t it make your knees hurt just watching them?”  So this emphasis on supporting each other economically and celebrating the great figures of freedom like Harriet Tubman was, as usual, wrapped in fun, and food, and the market atmosphere of dozens of merchant’s tents, plus the cars and motorcycles that showed up for the parade that would end off the evening.

I’m writing this just as the big parades celebrating pride month are coming to an end, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the lessons the LGBTQ+ community can teach us about keeping the issue of race before the American public.  Though that community is suffering lots of backlash currently, and over 600 bills have been proposed in legislatures nation-wide to curb that community, the LGBTQ+ movement has seemed to turn a corner.  The general American public seems supportive—enthusiastically so in many cases—and ready to advocate for them.  In my church’s JEDI group (Justice-Equity-Diversity-Inclusion), there’s been so much progress on LGBTQ+ issues.  It’s much harder in matters of race.  For all the troubles LGBTQ+ people have suffered, and continue to suffer, it’s just easier for that movement.  There are many reasons for this, I believe. Here are just four: 1) people can inherently relate to sexuality more than race; 2) the bulk of that community—at least the out-front parts—are white; 3) Pride celebrations are just more fun, making the issue of inclusion easier to get behind; and 4) there’s more of a tradition of therapy in that population.  Only in the last 25 years or so has there been a growing, widespread acknowledgment of the mental health crisis—the trauma—caused by racism.*  And racism is woven so deeply into the fabric of American life that it’s hard to get to, and the tasks to change systems are often of gigantic proportions.

But at this year’s Juneteenth celebration in Aurora, I thought that maybe this holiday might be one of the things that helps more and more Americans embrace the fight against racism as much as the celebrations of Pride Month have helped that community.  I’m deep in thought about that, and maybe my hope might someday grow deeper as well.

* See my articles on Joy DeGruy and Resmaa Menakem for more on the rise of therapies to treat the trauma of racism.
Go to the lead post for the anti-racism workshop Becoming the Beloved Community and to the Diversity Training and Teaching main page.

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Five Years and a National Award

In late March 2023 Rick Guzman, executive director of The Neighbor Project, received the Emerging Leader Award from the National NeighborWorks Association in a ceremony in Washington D.C.  The 6:30 video below shows the announcing of this award, Rick’s acceptance, and Brian Schrader’s nomination video.  Schrader is The Neighbor Project’s board chair.

It’s been five years since The Neighbor Project was formed on April 1, 2018 through the merger of Joseph Corporation and Emmanuel House (read the founding story here). In that timespan, it’s gone from 7 employees to 20, partnered with the City of Aurora to co-launch Illinois’ first Financial Empowerment Center, and is equipping record numbers of neighbors to achieve financial well-being, build wealth, and become the primary drivers of growth in their neighborhoods.

On top of that NeighborWorks America* has issued two successive “Exemplary” ratings to The Neighbor Project—making the organization one of the few to ever move from the lowest national rating (its pre-merger rating was “Vulnerable”) to the highest possible rating in just over three years.

In his acceptance speech Guzman thanked his board of directors at The Neighbor Project, his family, and his “amazing, talented, diverse” staff. “No one person moves an organization from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘exemplary,’” he said.  In the nomination video that followed his speech, board chair Bryan Schrader noted that Rick would be the first to give credit to his staff, but it’s his great leadership and guidance that also deserves praise.  Schrader noted Rick’s leadership in creating the Financial Empowerment Center and his commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  In the beginning the board was super-majority white male. Now it’s nearly 50/50, the staff is 80% minority, 60% bilingual, and 50% female.  The Neighbor Project now also has a chief equity officer at the COO level to which all programs report.

Rick ended his acceptance speech by returning to the ideas he first articulated at the 2021 Neighbor Project gala.  There he urged us to “Flip the Hero Script,” positioning the people The Neighbor Project helps as the real heroes and the real drivers of community regeneration.

* The Neighbor Project (TNP) is a chartered member of NeighborWorks America, which is a Congressionally chartered Intermediary that provides critical training, funding AND organizational audits/assessments for TNP and nearly 250 similar organizations in all 50 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico.  Go Here for news and history of The Neighbor Project and its relationship to Emmanuel House and Bryan House. The latter is where it all began: a living memorial to Bryan Emmanuel Guzman started by Rick and Desiree Guzman.

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Healing Racial Trauma

Below is a 6:30 video showing a segment from Lenard McKelvey’s Comedy Central show Tha God’s Honest Truth.  He’s taken the performance name Charlamagne Tha God, which explains the name of his comedy show, which sometimes takes on topics not all that funny, as in the video below. He’s shown with three guests, but the clip I’ve edited down focuses on Resmaa Menakem, author most recently of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.  Earlier in the show McKelvey had interviewed two friends, Chico Bean and Ice Wave, about processing their racial trauma, and during the process had become triggered himself. “I thought I was past all that,” he says, and the video below begins just as Menakem says, “I saw it happen,” to which McKelvey just says, “Lord, have mercy.”  “That’s why when we came out I said to you, ‘We’re holding you, brother,’” Menakem says, and then we go on to watch Menakem lead everyone through a practice to help alleviate one aspect of racial trauma.

It’s been only 43 years since the American Psychiatric Association added, in 1980, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, to its central diagnostic guide, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM for short. This was the third edition, DSM-III, and the addition was controversial.  Today PTSD is accepted virtually throughout society, though it’s also misused, as its central component, trauma, is often attributed—sometimes jokingly, but many times not—to incidents that aren’t really that severe, intense, or injurious physically or emotionally. But who can deny that soldiers in combat or victims of rape haven’t been truly traumatized?

The same goes for victims of racism, though we’re just beginning to admit this to ourselves as a society. It’s taken so long because…well, because our racism blocks our full realization of how traumatic racism has been and continues to be.  Just over a year ago I posted on this site a five-minute video distilling the main ideas behind a 2008 lecture by Joy DeGruy.  As with many things, you have to go back to W.E.B. Dubois for someone who started a discussion pertinent to race, and it’s the same with the recognition of the trauma of racism.  But Joy DeGruy has been a key figure in bringing a growing recognition of race trauma to us today.  She calls it Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.  You see your children sold off, your sister raped, your husband lynched.  You endure the absolute traumas of this with no mental health intervention whatever.  This goes on for centuries.

“Trauma in a person can appear like personality over time.  Trauma in a family can appear like family traits over time. Trauma in a people can appear like culture over time.”  This is one of Menakem’s key insights, as is the idea of “bracing.”  We walk around waiting for the next shoe to drop.  We brace for it, and this continual “bracedness” turns up the adrenaline, turns up the cortisol, and our bodies suffer because of it.  Menakem’s focus is on the bodily damage racism causes—the body which houses our instincts, our fight-flee-or-freeze reactions.  Racism not only attacks our minds, our emotions, but the very fiber of the bodies we inhabit.  And we all suffer from it, even whites, who are also profoundly damaged by the white supremacy that damages and traumatizes Blacks and other people of color all the time.  The police suffer, too, and much of the brutality they commit—no matter what color they are—comes from the culture of racial trauma that surrounds them.  It surrounds all of us.

I was recently in San Francisco.  I grew up in Hayward, California, just across the Bay.  And because our Pandemic had renewed and intensified anti-Asian hate, had caused the number of violent incidents against Asian Americans to soar across the country, but particularly in California, and particularly in San Francisco, I walked around “braced” all the time.  I felt my mind, my emotions, my body continually “braced,” continually clenched, every moment I was outside.  I was guarding against the possible blow, continually turning to watch reflections in the windows of stores I walked past so I could check who was behind me.  In that hyper-vigilant mode I realized how much of my life I’d spent being braced, though the racial trauma of my life is just barely on the scales of the traumatic.

Go to the Diversity Training and Teaching page and to the LEAD POST for the anti-racism workshop Becoming the Beloved Community, where this article and video are also listed.

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Solving the Puzzle of Home Ownership: The Neighbor Project’s 2023 Gala

If we could solve the puzzle of home ownership, we’d go a long way to solving inequality in America. In the U.S. home ownership is, for most people, the most reliable way to build wealth and stability for their families and neighborhoods. Moving towards home ownership starts with controlling debt and saving.  In The Neighbor Project’s 2022 Annual Report, one graphic shows that its programs helped reduce debt by $839,159 and increased savings by $298,135, thereby adding $1,137,294 to family wealth.  The next step is home ownership.

That puzzle is the theme of The Neighbor Project’s 2023 fundraiser: solving the puzzle of home ownership.  Which led its gala planners to think of one of the great puzzle games of all time: the Rubik’s Cube. Though invented in the mid 70’s, its heyday was in the early 1980’s, so this year’s gala will also include lots of 80’s nostalgia. Lots of fun, and lots of information about how The Neighbor Project solves the puzzle of home ownership, and how you can be part of that puzzle solving.

Come to the gala on October 21st.  Click the banner below to go to The Neighbor Project website and purchase your tickets.

It’s from 6-9 pm at The Venue in Aurora, IL, right across from The Neighbor Project’s offices.

Scroll down the landing page on the website this banner takes you to and watch a video introduction to The Neighbor Project which I was privileged to narrate.

The website you’re on now is loaded with articles about The Neighbor Project, its predecessor Emmanuel House (which merged with the Joseph Corporation in 2018 to form The Neighbor Project), and where it all began for the Guzman family: Bryan House, a living memorial to Bryan Emmanuel Guzman started by Rick and Desiree Guzman in 2007.  Bryan House started by serving five refugee families. The Neighbor Project now serves hundreds of families. 81% of these families are low income, but we hope not for long.

Here are a few key articles on this site that offer more insight into The Neighbor Project’s mission. For example, the first article below explores the relationship of home ownership to our nation’s racial wealth gap.  That wealth gap is enormous and shameful for the U.S. as a whole, and even worse for people of color.


The Racial Wealth Gap and Home Ownership.” This article contains many links, including to “Graphic Inequality” (about the U.S. wealth gap in general), and to an article about Lorraine Hansberry, the legendary author of the iconic American play A Raisin in the Sun. It also contains a link to a piece about Bryan Emmanuel Guzman.
Five Years and a National Award.” Earlier this year Rick Guzman, The Neighbor Project’s executive director, was in Washington D.C. to receive the Emerging Leader award for his work at The Neighbor Project.
Emmanuel House in Top 100.” In 2016, shortly before it merged witeh the Joseph Corporation, Emmanuel House was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world. Rick once wondered how a small organization could have reached that honor. It was because, he felt, it emphazised everybody’s ability to contribute. See the next link below.
Every Person’s God-Given Ability to Contribute.” There’s no better way to catch a deep sense of The Neighbor Project’s vision than this speech given at the 2020 virtual gala.
Go HERE for an index of almost every article on this site about the history and purpose of, first, Bryan House, then Emmanuel House, then The Neighbor Project.
Another way to increase wealth is to start businesses. The Neighbor Project also contracts with the City of Aurora to run Illinois’ very first Financial Empowerment Center. In addition to free coaching on debt reduction, savings, and safe banking, the Center also offers free coaching on building credit and accessing capital. Learn more by clicking the second item on the Services Section of The Neighbor Project’s website.

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