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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Rapper Vic Mensa: Chicago’s newest Black Panther?

Posted By on 08.28.18 at 02:35 PM

Vic Mensa helped give away 15,000 free shoes in Englewood on Sunday. - RICK MAJEWSKI/SUN-TIMES
  • Rick Majewski/Sun-Times
  • Vic Mensa helped give away 15,000 free shoes in Englewood on Sunday.

The timing of Vic Mensa's high-profile response this past weekend to a Chicago police sting operation was more than a little serendipitous.

Remnants of the old Black Panther Party gathered in Oakland on the same weekend of the young rapper's "anti-bait truck" event to mourn the recent death of Elbert "Big Man" Howard, one of the organization's founders. This week also marked the 50th anniversary of Bobby Seale's arrest in Chicago for his role in planning the anti-war protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

On Sunday, the 25-year-old Mensa looked ready to assume the Black Panther mantle—and not just because he's got one tattooed on his shoulder accompanied by the words "Free Huey."

Among the many organizations and individuals involved in the giveaway were the New Black Panther Party of Chicago and Fred Hampton Jr., the son of slain Panthers leader Fred Hampton. And over the course of a 15-minute conversation inside a scorching-hot room at the West Englewood Community Center, Mensa quoted Angela Davis and Mao Zedong and dropped the name of Huey Newton. When asked what role he might personally play in police reform in Chicago, he said, "At the end of the day, what we're doing right here is an extension of what we learned from the Black Panther Party, to police the police."

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Governor Rauner vetoes a tax break for Englewood while offering billions to Amazon

Posted By on 08.27.18 at 06:00 AM

The Gary Comer Youth Center helps to develop a former industrial property at 7270 S. Chicago Ave. into an urban farm. - JASMIN SHAH
  • Jasmin Shah
  • The Gary Comer Youth Center helps to develop a former industrial property at 7270 S. Chicago Ave. into an urban farm.

Back in July, Governor Rauner's pals from the National Black Chamber of Commerce gave him a lifetime achievement award for helping foster minority businesses.

I didn't think he deserved the award in the first place. But given Rauner's recent veto of state rep Sonya Harper's urban agricultural zone bill, I say the chamber should snatch it right back.

Because that veto shows the governor has a twisted double standard toward economic development when it comes to helping poor black communities as opposed to rich white ones.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

People of Culture will be taking over the DuSable Museum this weekend

Posted By on 08.24.18 at 06:00 AM

Tunde and Dupe will be hosting the red carpet. - COURTESY EFE IYARE
  • Courtesy Efe Iyare
  • Tunde and Dupe will be hosting the red carpet.

After moving to Chicago from Nigeria in 2014 to pursue a master's in marketing from Roosevelt University, Efe Iyare recalls the culture shock he had. "I realized that there was a huge bias about me being African and what that represented," he says."People had no idea, just based off what they have seen in the media, where I came from or my culture." The experience left him feeling inspired. "I felt obligated to represent [Africa] in my own way. It was my responsibility to show people the true colors and true values that Africa represents," Iyare says. So in 2016, he took to social media and decided to create an Instagram page, Culture Power (@culture_power), "to promote African culture and diversity." Now, two years later, the page has more than 1,200 followers, and Iyare’s efforts to foster cultural competency are growing beyond the Internet. Culture Power will be hosting its first event, People of Culture, this Sunday, August 26, at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

For Iyare, the history and significance of the DuSable Museum to Chicago's black community made it the perfect place for People of Culture. The evening's happenings will be based around music, dance, and fashion. A red carpet will kick off the event, followed by a light dinner and networking session, music performances, and a fashion display; the night will close with a talk.

The occasion will "show success stories and people from the continent who are doing extremely well," Iyare says. A few notable people who will be in attendance are Tanzanian fashion designer Rahel Mwitula Williams, Senegalese businessman Elhadji Gueye, and Ghanian Instagram fitness guru Jehu Graham. There will also be 12 musicians performing, which is very important to Iyare. "They don't necessarily have that audience and platform to promote like rock stars or African-American rappers, so this is the thing that will give them that platform for them to promote their talents," he says.

Iyare hopes that the event will attract not just Africans but those who are interested in learning more about the continent and what its countries have to offer. Anyone who wants to learn about and celebrate the African culture is welcome; tickets are available on the People of Culture website.

The event flyer - COURTESY EFE IYARE
  • Courtesy Efe Iyare
  • The event flyer

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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Urban Renewal Brewing’s cofounder says the controversial name ‘has nothing to do with urban redevelopment’ policies

Posted By on 08.01.18 at 06:00 AM

URBAN RENEWAL BREWERY
  • Urban Renewal Brewery

The cofounder of Urban Renewal Brewing says he hopes critics "can see the bright side" of the name of his new establishment.

On Monday, Block Club Chicago published a short feature about the brewery under the headline "Small But Mighty Urban Renewal Brewing Plans To Grow In Ravenswood." Some Chicagoans responded by taking to social media to express outrage about the "tone-deaf" name of the brewery and the name of its IPA—"Razed."
James Moriarty, the cofounder and head brewer of the seven-month-old Ravenswood facility (and not to be confused with Sherlock Holmes's fictional rival), says urban renewal wasn't meant to refer to the mid-20th-century public policy in which federal funds were used to raze neighborhoods for redevelopment. About 23,000 families in Chicago—disproportionately poor people and people of color—were displaced by urban renewal programs between 1950 and 1966 according to a study released by the University of Richmond earlier this year.

Moriarty says the term was instead meant to specifically refer to the renewal of the 4,500-square-foot facility at 5121 N. Ravenswood. (Metropolitan Brewing had previously operated out of the space for years before moving to Avondale in 2017.)

"There's the opportunity for the negative side of the term to come out, but people don't need to look at the bad side of our interpretation of [urban renewal]," says Moriarty. "It has nothing to with urban redevelopment, necessarily. Hopefully, people can see the bright side of what we're trying to do, and not harp on the past."  Moriarty, who says he's been living in Chicago full-time for about a year, claims he was unaware of any specific controversy about the name and also notes that the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce didn't have any problems with it. "Everyone knew the idea was supposed to be we were renewing this old brewing space and the community has been very supportive," he says.

He adds that picking a name was "a challenge" because so many names were already trademarked. His first choice, Wicked River, had been taken by a distillery in Tennesee. "With 6,600 breweries in the U.S., it was a challenge to come up with something." Urban Renewal was the last name on a list of 30 names he submitted for a DBA. "Once it came back clean, we committed to it," Moriarty says.

Urban Renewal Brewing isn't the only brewery whose name has generated controversy recently. Less than a week after a brewery in Lakeville, Indiana, announced it was naming its beers "Flint Michigan Tap Water," "Black Beer Matters," "Mass Graves," and "White Guilt," the Lakeville Brew Crew apologized and in a statement said, "the list of beer names has been wiped clean."

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Black Caucus members eject protesters from fund-raiser, call themselves ‘gangsters’

Posted By on 07.27.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters with the #NoCopAcademy campaign stage a die-in outside the Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser. - @NOCOPACADEMY
  • @NoCopAcademy
  • Protesters with the #NoCopAcademy campaign stage a die-in outside the Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser.

"Black Caucus, Black Caucus
They don’t really care
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
Always backs the mayor
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
They don't vote with us
Black Caucus, Black Caucus
Now your time is up!
Now your time is up!
Now your time is up!"

So chanted a cluster of young people gathered outside the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus's annual fund-raiser at a Loop cocktail lounge Wednesday evening. Just an hour before, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released body camera footage of the June 6 police shooting of 24-year-old Maurice Granton Jr. Inside the lounge, more activists from Black Lives Matter, BYP100, and other groups confronted black City Council members about their support of the Chicago Police Department. Ardamis Sims of GoodKidsMadCity and Assata's Daughters interrupted remarks by 34th Ward alderman Carrie Austin shouting "No cop academy! No cop academy!" in protest of the city's plan to build a $95 million, state of the art police training facility on the west side.

"Shut up," Austin bellowed in response. The fund-raiser attendees erupted in cheers of approval. "Goodbye!," she shouted as Sims was pushed out of the lounge by security. "We're here to have a good time; if you want to protest take it outside."

"They must not know we got gangsters in here," 20th Ward alderman Willie Cochran chimed in, egging on the crowd. Last year Cochran—a retired police officer who's been indicted on fraud, bribery, and extortion charges—announced he wouldn't be running for reelection.

"If anybody else wanna protest you better take it outside," Austin said, laughing. "'Cause I guarantee you ain't seen no gangsters like this city's aldermen."

All of this was caught on video by other protesters inside the lounge. Watching in the crowd outside were also the sisters of Granton Jr.


Joanna Varnado, Granton Jr's 31-year-old sister, said she'd come to the protest that night in the hopes of hearing a response from aldermen about the killing of her brother. Since the incident, she said her family hadn't heard from any elected officials. "I just wanted some answers," she said. "Everybody knows my brother was murdered, and I wanna know how [the aldermen] feel."

Her impression, she said, was that "they didn't care. Some of them were drunk. They was in there partying, eating, dancing, laughing." It stung especially hard, she said, because these were black officials. "These are our people. When you see stuff like that it's like, Is there gonna be justice?"

Varnado said she appreciated the support of the youth protesting the event. "They showed us love and respect for my brother—it felt good," she said.

Sims, a 21-year-old from Washington Park, said he wanted to interrupt the gathering of aldermen because "they were talking about stuff that didn't relate to us, our people, our community." Sims remained at the protest, chanting, and helping with the die-in outside after being ejected. Watching the video of Austin and Cochran's comments later, he said he was hurt. For the aldermen to call themselves gangsters seemed particularly crude to him given the violence in the city. He says it was a reminder that young people need to be registered to vote and to be self-reliant: "Use your head, think, 'cause we all we got."

Austin didn't return calls for comment. Cochran, reached at his ward office Thursday, laughed when asked what he meant when he referred to the aldermen as "gangsters."

"It was a joke," he explained.

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Lake Shore Drive marchers: Here's the real lowdown on the city's budget

Posted By on 07.27.18 at 01:57 AM

Tio Hardiman, Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston, and Eric Russell, organizers of the August 2 march intended to shut down Lake Shore Drive - SAM CHARLES/SUN-TIMES
  • Sam Charles/Sun-Times
  • Tio Hardiman, Reverend Gregory Seal Livingston, and Eric Russell, organizers of the August 2 march intended to shut down Lake Shore Drive

With activists Tio Hardiman and other activists preparing to march on Lake Shore Drive toward Wrigley Field next Thursday, demanding more equity in city spending, I figure it's as good a time as ever to make sure west- and south-siders are wise to a little scam called the tax increment financing program.

Oh, yeah, I see eyes glazing over as I write this.

That typically happens when I mention tax increment financing. The sleepier you are, the less you're paying attention.

So, to your first question: What's "tax increment financing?," otherwise known as TIF(s)?

Boiled down to the basics, it's in effect a surcharge slapped on your property tax bills that generates well over $500 million a year.

Property-tax payers think the money's going to schools, parks, police, etc, but it really winds up in bank accounts largely controlled by the mayor. It's his favorite source of slush.

As I may have pointed out a few times over the years.

This year, the generous property-tax payers of Chicago have funneled about $660 million to the TIF bank accounts, according to the latest report by Cook County clerk David Orr.

That's up $99 million from the $561 million in TIF money we gave the mayor last year, and up nearly $200 million from the $461 million we gave him in 2016. All told, Mayor Rahm’s TIFs have scooped up about $1.68 billion in property taxes in the last three years, even as he was swearing up and down that there wasn't enough money for schools or mental health clinics.

Man, you can open a lot of mental health clinics with $1.68 billion.

So your next question is: How can the mayor get away with running a slush fund of such proportions? And the answer is that a powerful mayor can get away with just about anything so long as no one’s paying close attention.

And, well, in all due respect, south- and west-siders, when it comes to TIFs, you've done a lousy job of paying attention.

The TIF program is intended to subsidize development in poor, blighted communities that without the sweetener of TIF assistance would find it hard to get any development at all.

Alas, instead, as you can see in Orr’s latest report, most of the TIF money goes to more upscale and rapidly gentrifying communities in and around the Loop.

It's the poor communities TIFs are supposedly intended for—like Englewood, Roseland, Austin, and North Lawndale—that get the least amount of TIF money.

A point I recently made with regard to the 79th Street TIF, where Saint Sabina, the church of Father Michael Pfleger, is located.

How does the mayor get away with spending so much anti-poverty money in neighborhoods that aren't poor? Like I said, folks—it pays to pay attention.

As you can see, I can go on and on about TIFs. It’s one of my favorite subjects—I’ve been writing about them for more than 30 years. I have to admit I'm impressed by the utter audacity of this mayor—and the one who went before him—for even trying to pull off such a scam.

Of course, they have many enablers—like most members of the City Council. With a few exceptions—what's up, Alderman Scott Waguespack?—they'll let the mayor do anything he wants with TIFs, so long as every now and then he slices them a little piece of the pie.

Though if they're south- or west-side aldermen, it's more like a crumb.

Can anything be done to end this scam, or at least redirect more money to the truly needy?

I suppose. But, first—you have to be paying attention.

For instance, a few years ago a group of public school parents from the Raise Your Hand Coalition learned that the mayor planned to spend $55 million in TIF dollars building a basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel for Marriott in the south loop.

They raised a ruckus, demanding that he not spend money on DePaul while he was closing public schools.

In response the mayor took away the TIF money from DePaul and Marriott.

Of course, he largely replaced it with assistance from the state. And he wound up spending the $55 million on Navy Pier, which as I never tire of mentioning, is neither poor, blighted, nor a community.

Can he get away with doing that? Well, he did. The sad news, folks, is that the biggest municipal crimes in Chicago are the ones that are apparently legal.

A final word of warning . . .

If you raise a ruckus about TIFs, be prepared to hear a whole lot of gobbledygook from the mayor and his favorite aldermen—speaking of things I've written about one or two times.

They're betting that if they fill your ears with misinformation and doublespeak, you'll get confused and you'll just go away. So they can go back to taking money for the poor and giving it to the rich.

I don't blame them for thinking this way. They've been getting away with it for years.

But you organizers calling for the heads of Mayor Rahm and police chief Eddie Johnson can take a tip from me: Questions about TIFs are to Rahm as water is to the Wicked Witch of the West.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Father Pfleger, top cop Johnson, and a tinge of hope for the city’s future

Posted By on 07.13.18 at 12:00 PM

Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at the protest that shut down the Dan Ryan last Saturday. - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at the protest that shut down the Dan Ryan last Saturday.


At the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, I must say the sight of Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson and Father Michael Pfleger walking arm in arm down the Dan Ryan at last weekend's protest march left me with a tinge of hope about the future of Chicago.

Oh God, I feel really naive just writing that.

Yes, I realize Johnson was at the march only at Rahm's permission.

And of course, I understand that Father Pfleger has generally been an ally to Emanuel, as he was to Mayor Daley—despite the major roles both have played in perpetuating the economic inequities Pfleger denounces.

But as long as Johnson and Pfleger are united in demanding that something must change to lessen the inequities in this town, I'm eager to join the chorus.

So allow me to direct them to the giant cookie jar the mayor doesn't want any of us to know even exists.

It's called the tax increment financing program, and each year upwards of $500 million or so of property tax dollars pours into it. Last year, the take was $566 million. The county has'nt itemized this year's TIF take yet.

Basically, state law allows the mayor to slap a surcharge on the property tax we pay for things we want—like schools and cops. And then that money gets diverted into bank accounts controlled by the mayor, who's pretty much free to spend it on things we might not want.

One of the worst parts of the TIF scam is that the money is not evenly distributed ward by ward. Instead, most of the money goes to gentrifying communities, even though the program was intended to eradicate blight in low-income communities.

For example, there's the North Branch South TIF district near North Avenue and the Chicago River—in one of the hottest areas of town, where Jeff Bezos is thinking of moving his second Amazon headquarters.

Since it was created in 1998, it's gathered about $89 million in property tax money.

In contrast, there's the 79th Street Corridor TIF, which was also created in 1998. Pfleger's church, Saint Sabina, happens to be located in that TIF district. It's gathered about $12.7 million.

So let's get this straight. In the same 20 years, the booming north-side community has collected $89 million and the struggling south-side neighborhood has collected $12.7 million in TIF dollars.

In what universe is that fair, just, or right?

Pfleger's community isn't the only victim of the TIF scam. TIF dollars are diverted from all Chicago's schools, parks, libraries, and police.

I tend to focus on how schools have been shortchanged by the TIF program. But the police department could also use some of that money.

Wednesday's Sun-Times had a somber story by Fran Spielman about Brandon Krueger, a 36-year-old police officer who committed suicide last Sunday while sitting in his squad car in the parking lot of the Calumet District station.

"Officers have very high rates of exposure to trauma similar to the communities in which they serve," Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Sun-Times. "You wear your vest. You carry your weapon. You make sure you go home at the end of the night. We do everything to mitigate physical injury to our law enforcement. We have to do the same for their mental wellness."

And yet, according to the Sun-Times, the CPD's "employee assistance program has only three full-time counselors to provide mental health services to 13,500 employees and their families."

You could hire a whole lot of police counselors with just a little of the TIF cash that flows into the one north-side district.

Just to remind you, Mayor Rahm infamously closed mental health clinics in low-income, high-crime areas as part of his infamous budget, unanimously approved by the City Council in 2011.

There wasn't enough money to keep the clinics open, the mayor said.

Apparently, black people have more in common with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods than anyone realized.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Rahm and Rauner's phony Ryan feud: Don’t be fooled by the Twitter barbs

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters took over the Dan Ryan this weekend. - SUN-TIMES
  • Sun-Times
  • Protesters took over the Dan Ryan this weekend.

With all the faith I have in the sophistication of Chicago voters, I'm confident no one will be fooled by the phony-baloney "feud” that has supposedly erupted between Mayor Rahm and Governor Rauner over Father Michael Pfleger’s great Dan Ryan protest.

What's that you say? You don't really believe I have any faith in the sophistication of Chicago's voters?

OK, it's true I believe they blew it in the mayoral election of 2015.

And 2011.

And 2007.

And, now that I think about it, every mayoral election since Mayor Harold Washington took office in 1987.

However, that doesn't mean I think they're dumb enough to believe Rahm and Rauner are really feuding.

In case you've forgotten, let me remind you that Rahm and Rauner are more than good pals who once shared expensive bottles of wine while vacationing at Rauner's Montana ranch.

They were also business partners, each helping the other make millions on a 2001 deal back in 2001, when Rahm was an investment banker and Rauner ran a private equity company.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Boots Riley on the ‘regular’ revolutionary messages of his radical debut film

Posted By on 07.06.18 at 06:00 AM

Boots Riley on the set of his debut film Sorry to Bother You - ANNAPURNA PICTURES
  • Annapurna Pictures
  • Boots Riley on the set of his debut film Sorry to Bother You

Boots Riley had been waiting nearly three decades to make a movie. The Chicago-native turned Bay Area resident studied film as an undergrad at San Francisco State but didn't immediately become the next Spike Lee. He earned a record deal in the early 90s and focused instead on spreading his leftist messages through the medium of hip-hop. Riley released half a dozen raucous party rap/funk-rock albums with the group the Coup starting with 1993's Kill My Landlord while managing to balance his art with political activism and community organizing—most famously as the public face of the Occupy movement in Oakland. But that doesn't mean Riley ever gave up on his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

Eight years ago he penned the script for Sorry to Bother You, a surrealistic satire about his own experience as a telemarketer, and hustled his ass off for years to get it made. Eventually, he won over comedians David Cross and Patton Oswalt, and McSweeney's editor Dave Eggers—who published the screenplay through his book-publishing house in 2014. That led to some financial support and interest from a handful of actors, including Jordan Peele and Donald Glover. In the end, Riley cast Glover's Atlanta costar, Lakeith Stanfield, as the director's surrogate and shot the film over 28 days last summer.

The result feels like 30 years of Riley's ideas stuffed into one nervy and provocative 105-minute feature that simultaneously feels like a kaleidoscope of cinematic influences (critics have most commonly compared it to Get Out, Office Space, Being John Malkovich, and Brazil). It's a magical realist, sci-fi horror comedy with commentary on race and Marxist messages about class relations and the soul-sucking machinations of capitalism, and quite possibly the most bat-shit insane union recruitment video ever.

Riley, a self-described communist, says the movie's ideas aren't "revolutionary," they just seem that way. Over the last generation, he says, the political left abandoned the working class and union halls in favor of the university and the professional class, in doing so influencing speech, art, and self-expression, but not money or real political power. This movie, he insists, offers a way of path toward changing the status quo.

Sorry to Bother You opens in seven cities—including Chicago—today, and nationwide next week. Riley celebrated with the opposite of a red-carpet event. He spoke Thursday night at Socialism 2018, a four-day conference of 2,000 leftists that meets annually in Chicago, and then did a postscreening Q&A in the South Loop. The Reader chatted with Riley on-site at Socialism 2018 about Hollywood, class politics, and more. ✖

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Monday, June 25, 2018

South-side poet Kwynology wants you to fall back in love with Chicago at her open mike

Posted By on 06.25.18 at 04:13 PM

Kwyn Townsend Riley, aka Kwynology - MATTHEW HARVEY
  • Matthew Harvey
  • Kwyn Townsend Riley, aka Kwynology

South-side native Kwyn Townsend Riley, aka Kwynology, is in love with the city of Chicago. Her hopes for its people, her pride in its culture, and her appreciation of its influence on her individually were recurring themes in my conversation with her. They also appear in her recent poem "Windy." In the emphatic spoken-word piece that is as sobering as it is starry-eyed, Kwyn delivers a sermon on what her hometown means to her and expresses her gratitude, optimism, criticism, and vision for "Windy," which she personifies as a hurt person who only wanted to "burn blunts, blow trees, and do poetry, and be free" but has ended up burning "childless dreams."

"I want people to fall back in love with the city," Kwyn said. "It just feels like so many people have given up on it and are leaving it behind."


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