The National Public Housing Museum’s long journey home

The museum’s future home, 1322 W. Taylor, on the Near West Side, was one of the first public housing buildings in Chicago. - MAYA DUKMASOVA

  • The museum’s future home, 1322 W. Taylor, on the Near West Side, was one of the first public housing buildings in Chicago.
  • Maya Dukmasova

When the National Public Housing Museum finally opens next year in a three-story brick building at 1322 W. Taylor—the last remnant of Chicago’s oldest federal housing project, the Jane Addams Homes—it will be the first cultural institution in the country devoted to chronicling and analyzing America’s attempts to house its people. Over the last 20 years, the idea for the museum has evolved into an ambitious plan that includes historic reconstructions of public housing apartments, a policy research center, and an entrepreneurial hub, along with programming that bridges social justice struggles past and present. But it all began with the dream of one woman, Deverra Beverly, who wanted to ensure her community wouldn’t be forgotten.

If any of the 7,000 public housing residents living in the Near West Side’s ABLA Homes in the 1980s and ’90s needed anything, from a job to a Thanksgiving turkey to a plumbing fix, Beverly was the person to see. A diminutive woman who wore bright colors and gold necklaces monogrammed with the letter D, Beverly was part alderman and part ward boss. Less bombastic than pragmatic, she was the long-tenured president of the Local Advisory Council, the elected resident leadership group for the four public housing projects that made up ABLA—the Jane Addams Homes, Robert Brooks Homes, Loomis Courts, and Grace Abbott Homes. While every project has an LAC, which serves as the voice of a public housing community before the Chicago Housing Authority, ABLA’s was particularly strong due to Beverly’s pull with city leaders and her keen ability to procure scarce resources from the cash-strapped, disorganized CHA. She was on good terms with local aldermen—who in 1994 christened the section of Loomis running alongside the ABLA community center Honorary Deverra Beverly Way—and with Mayor Richard M. Daley.

On any given day she could be found at her desk in the LAC office, the air thick with menthol cigarette smoke, the space stacked with boxes of T-shirts for community fun days, bottles of water, and food for residents donated by the Salvation Army. Beverly had been a fixture at ABLA from the time her parents moved there in the 1940s. Over the years she’d experienced the racial animus of the development’s neighbors in Little Italy and had seen the public housing community transition from a family-friendly paradise into a stigmatized ghetto. Despite the hardships, she raised six kids there, and juggled her LAC responsibilities with work in the city’s Department of Human Services before retiring in 1997 and devoting herself entirely to “my residents,” as she liked to say.

By that time the neighborhood all around ABLA was rapidly gentrifying, and the new base of affluent homeowners didn’t see public housing as an asset. As early as 1994, well-to-do residents were calling on the CHA to demolish the projects. One community organizer from this camp told the Sun-Times that the projects needed to go because of “random, violent crimes committed by some of the residents.” To this Beverly responded that most of the crime they too were victims of was perpetrated by people from outside the neighborhood who were taking advantage of the deteriorating physical condition of their buildings.

More than a third of the roughly 3,600 units that composed the ABLA homes were vacant. There were persistent maintenance problems. The heating sometimes was out for months, even in the winter. Like other public housing developments around the city, ABLA had trouble with gangs and drug dealing. They were neglected by public services from trash collection to mail delivery while at the same time being aggressively policed. As discussions and meetings about demolition and redevelopment on the ABLA site became more frequent, Beverly lobbied to make sure residents’ voices weren’t totally sidelined.

“She was the person who fought for everything,” says Mary Baggett, the current president of the LAC, which these days represents the Brooks Homes row houses—the only remaining part of ABLA. “She was the one who stood up at these meetings and spoke loudly and proudly for us.”

Longtime ABLA leader Deverra Beverly originated the idea of the museum to preserve public housing residents’ histories. The animal statues by Edgar Miller are being restored and will be returned to the building’s courtyard. - KEITH HALE/SUN-TIMES

  • Longtime ABLA leader Deverra Beverly originated the idea of the museum to preserve public housing residents’ histories. The animal statues by Edgar Miller are being restored and will be returned to the building’s courtyard.
  • Keith Hale/Sun-Times

In 1998 Mayor Daley announced a $430 million makeover of ABLA that was in line with the federal government’s preference for abandoning the high-rise buildings widely referred to by critics as “warehouses for the poor” in favor of new-urbanist mixed-income communities. The ABLA redevelopment plan, in addition to the ongoing rehab of the Brooks Homes, included the demolition of some 2,700 public housing units in the mid-rise and high-rise buildings, and the creation of almost 3,000 new mixed-income homes as well as a revamped community center. Units that would be lost in the neighborhood were promised elsewhere in the city.

Beverly ultimately backed the plan, particularly the idea that ABLA residents could remain in the neighborhood but shed the indignities and stigma of the deteriorating project landscape. “We don’t want [the new homes] perceived as public housing,” she told the Sun-Times in September 1998. “We want it to be a mixed-income community.”

At the same time, ABLA’s leader knew that such a redevelopment would risk the erasure of the community in ways more than physical. The demolition of the project buildings, she well understood, endangered the memory and history of public housing residents. And so, before publicly giving her blessing to the ABLA redevelopment, she secured a legal agreement with the CHA that guaranteed that an “interpretive exhibit” devoted to public housing would be part of the future site. Her dream was to see some kind of museum memorializing her community in the ABLA neighborhood, to make sure, as she’d often put it over the years, that no one would ever forget “we were here.”

As most of Chicago’s projects, including ABLA, were leveled without replacement and their communities scattered and vouchered into anonymity, the undefined interpretive exhibit developed into the National Public Housing Museum. What began as Beverly’s personal dream became a nonprofit organization with major backing from some of the country’s most influential philanthropists. Ironically, its biggest challenge has been securing a home.

Beverly’s lobbying in the early 2000s helped save one building in the Addams Homes complex from demolition in the interest of its being repurposed for a future museum. But NPHM organizers have weathered years of political, financial, and bureaucratic setbacks—from uncooperative CHA leadership to the philanthropic drought brought on by the recession—that kept them from claiming the site. Since the last of the residents moved out of the 37,000-square-foot walk-up on the corner of Taylor and Ada Streets 15 years ago, the structure has stood empty and deteriorating.

Beverly wouldn’t live to see her dream of the museum realized; after prolonged illness, she passed away in 2013 at the age of 79. But in May, the NPHM signed a 99-year lease with the CHA. Construction on the site is set to begin this summer, and organizers project the museum to open by the end of 2018.

The last two decades of struggle for the building were a boon to the NPHM in one respect—staff and board members have had ample time to refine their intentions for the museum and think through its potential impact. The passing years have also created ever higher stakes for the fledgling institution, as public housing in America slips further into historical memory. How it will manage to be a representative of poor people’s stories and a platform for their voices without co-opting, tokenizing, or excluding them is the most significant problem its leaders still face.

The Taylor Street side of the National Public Housing Museum building will be fitted with a large window intended to be a visual reference to the way demolitions of public housing buildings reveal intimate, interior views of people's apartments. - LANDON BONE BAKER ARCHITECTS

  • The Taylor Street side of the National Public Housing Museum building will be fitted with a large window intended to be a visual reference to the way demolitions of public housing buildings reveal intimate, interior views of people’s apartments.
  • Landon Bone Baker Architects

The Jane Addams Homes were designed in the 1930s by a team of architects that included John Holabird of Holabird & Root fame. Although the museum’s Taylor Street building has good bones, its guts are in disarray. For a couple of years after it was vacated in 2002, it served as a conduit for heating pipes from the Addams Homes power house just north of the building to the remaining ABLA structures. Steam corroded everything made of metal that hadn’t been illegally salvaged by scrappers. Squatters took up residence in the building, and the rooms of the old apartments are filled with debris—appliances, bathtubs, piles of bricks. Windows that hadn’t been solidly boarded up let in rain, plants, and animals.

One recent afternoon, the museum’s executive director, Lisa Lee, a bubbly 48-year-old, deftly navigated the dark, dilapidated building. The self-described cultural activist was previously the director of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, where she led the push to acknowledge Addams’s queer identity and made the institution’s resources and spaces available to an array of groups engaged in contemporary social justice struggles. Maneuvering through jagged holes in the walls and up flights of semi-obstructed stairs, she outlined the museum that she envisions will emerge from the wreckage.

“I actually like the ruinous aesthetic,” she says from behind a flashlight beam, explaining that the NPHM might preserve some elements of “poetic ruin” in the apartments. “Ruin somehow gives you a sense of historic time—it was good and then something happened to it. And there’s definitely a part of the museum which has to be committed to telling the story of neglect.”

“It’s important to show what happens in intentional neglect, and how people lived, and why they’re still committed to their communities and their buildings, even if [they’re told], ‘Take a voucher and move to Lincoln Park,’ ” Lee says, making a jab at recent CHA policies as we step gingerly through the remains of an abandoned kitchen. “It’s like, no, they would rather live in a space where they have their people and they have their memories. That’s the part that capitalism never understands.”

The rubble will be cleared, she says, and old closet doors, incinerator hatches, and medicine cabinets will help tell stories of the lives and social movements that sprang from public housing.

The interior of the National Public Housing Museum's future home has decayed significantly since 2002, when the last residents moved out. - AARON BARLOW

  • The interior of the National Public Housing Museum’s future home has decayed significantly since 2002, when the last residents moved out.
  • Aaron Barlow

Under the direction of Landon Bone Baker Architects, part of the building will be transformed into a visitor center, entrepreneurial hub, and exhibition space. The side facing Taylor Street will be fitted with a giant bay window intended to be a visual reference to the way demolitions of public housing buildings reveal intimate, interior views of people’s apartments. In the courtyard, a group of animal sculptures by modernist artist and onetime Hull House resident Edgar Miller will be restored and returned to their original home. Three apartments will be re-created to reflect those of actual families who lived in the Addams Homes—one Italian, one Jewish, and one African-American—to demonstrate the variety of experiences in public housing across time. Visitors will be invited to interact with these spaces—sit on the furniture, explore the bookshelves, pick up objects. Artifacts collected from residents, such as a family photo or a pair of shoes or a stove, will allow guides to engage visitors in discussions about the ways personal lives and public policy intertwined in the projects. The museum visit will be shaped at every step by oral histories of a multitude of current and former residents that the NPHM has collected over the last decade—whether told through audio installations or as part of the script of docents’ tours.

Lee shines her flashlight around a third-floor apartment cluttered with broken stone and decayed wood, and explains that the physical transformation of the building is bound to larger ideological challenges. The museum has to figure out how to strike the right balance between stories of joy and resilience and those of struggle and suffering, all while providing visitors a civic and political education, and avoiding a lapse into “poverty porn.”

Museum organizers have long wavered on whether the hallways should smell like urine—one of the oft-cited indignities of life in public housing. “Since it’s not the real urine, anything that you do is gonna be very Disney-esque,” Lee says of her position on this issue. In her mind, a sensory theme-park-style experience is out of the question. So how then can a museum effectively and engagingly communicate the harsh reality of living without heat and maintenance services, or in a building designed with flaws that could lead to a child falling to his death or a woman being killed by intruders coming through her bathroom mirror?

Lee points to successful precedents among the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, an umbrella organization of places that serve to educate the public about painful historical events. Along with the NPHM, the membership includes the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where New York City tenements are re-created and tour guides engage visitors in discussions about politics and policy. Another member site, the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in central California, features reconstructions of World War II-era barracks and latrines that highlight the total lack of privacy endured by internees.

Successful sites of conscience don’t just tell histories of oppression and survival. They also take a moral stance on the past and push visitors to think critically about current events. Lee says she’s in the camp of museologists who believe that “in order to politicize people, you never suture them in too closely so they pretend, ‘Oh, I felt like I was a public housing resident!’ You always make people aware of their own privilege, where they’re coming from, their historical distance.”

The gambit is getting visitors to understand their own relationship to the politics that created public housing initially as a working-class paradise, then as segregated warehouses for the poor, and finally erased it altogether, telling residents it was no way to live in the first place.

“The public housing of Chicago came down because people intentionally didn’t keep it up, because they had grand designs of restructuring it,” Lee says, referring to the events that would lead to Mayor Daley’s $1.5 billion Plan for Transformation.

The museum plan includes exhibition space, apartment recreations, and an entrepreneurial hub for public housing residents. - LANDON BONE BAKER ARCHITECTS

  • The museum plan includes exhibition space, apartment recreations, and an entrepreneurial hub for public housing residents.
  • Landon Bone Baker Architects

The failed promise of those grand designs is apparent in the area surrounding the NPHM’s future home. The 166 acres on which the dozens of buildings in the ABLA group once stood are now pockmarked by vast empty lots. While the Brooks Homes were rehabbed and remain public housing, the mixed-income redevelopment of the neighborhood was stalled by the 2008 recession. Three- and four-story buildings, made up of a combination of market-rate condos and affordable and public-housing rental units, dot the landscape between Taylor and 15th Streets, along with a handful of churches keeping vigil over a dispersed community.

The ABLA community center, however, was renovated, and the building remains a hub for resident activity, as it was in Deverra Beverly’s day. A photographic portrait of Beverly, approximately four feet tall, surveils the remodeled LAC office. Children run past a case filled with awards and plaques from various city organizations recognizing Beverly’s service.

Reflecting on the Plan for Transformation, Modene Jordan, vice president of the Brooks Homes LAC, says that when the old project buildings were demolished a sense of unity in the neighborhood went with them.

“Over the division of them bringing in new stuff and taking things away, it really made us all go in our own little direction,” she says. Losing the physical spaces, however tarnished, meant losing a record of their lives. “You took things that was sentimental and valuable to us as kids,” she says. “With our kids, where can we show them and have them go to where we had safe haven? It’s not here.”

The National Public Housing Museum will re-create apartments of three families who resided in the Jane Addams Homes. - LANDON BONE BAKER ARCHITECTS

  • The National Public Housing Museum will re-create apartments of three families who resided in the Jane Addams Homes.
  • Landon Bone Baker Architects
The Hatch family, residents of the Jane Addams Homes throughout the 1960s, will be the focus of one of the apartment re-creations at the National Public Housing Museum. - COURTESY MARSHALL HATCH

  • The Hatch family, residents of the Jane Addams Homes throughout the 1960s, will be the focus of one of the apartment re-creations at the National Public Housing Museum.
  • Courtesy Marshall Hatch

When local public housing residents talk about what the museum will be, they don’t mention politicizing visitors, challenging capitalism, or other high-minded ideals. Instead, they yearn for a memorial to ABLA.

“Hopefully, when they do open the museum, it has a reflection of us in there, the community itself, telling our stories,” says Baggett, the Brooks Homes LAC president. “I’m quite sure they’re gonna discuss other different public housing, but we want to make sure we are in there and part of the focus. . . . We want to make sure that they show how we lived inside these areas.”

The residents’ vision isn’t necessarily at odds with Lee’s, but it harkens back to what Beverly pictured the public housing memorial would be, before the museum experts and university professors and philanthropists got involved. Those who remember that early period recall that the initial objective was to create little more than a storefront room with some display cases of old photos and artifacts.

“In their vision, it was really about their community and their story,” says Tim Veenstra, who oversaw the CHA’s redevelopment of ABLA beginning in the late 90s and worked closely with Beverly and other residents. “It was more of an ABLA museum.”

Peter Pero, a historian of Little Italy and author of the book Chicago Italians at Work, was among the few white locals to support the museum from the start. He remembers Beverly describing the place in modest terms: “We’re gonna sit around the room and have coffee and we’ll talk about the good times, not the slums and the killing.”

No one seemed to have any objections to this idea in the beginning. But neither did it garner enough interest and resources to propel it into existence. The CHA, meanwhile, was busy leveling more and more ABLA buildings.

In the early 2000s, Beverly began to push for one of them to be saved for the museum. “We just decided that we would take it to the Chicago Housing Authority and put it in writing that we would like to have a museum,” Beverly told the Tribune in 2004, “so we could make sure that we could show our heritage here.”

The CHA contracted a consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study and concluded the museum would cost $20 million. It held several forums with residents and the community that never seemed to progress beyond talk. But one of those meetings was attended by photojournalist Richard Cahan, then a program officer at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea, an important, profound idea that needed more than a room,” Cahan says. “I saw the museum as a chance to talk about the issues so much bigger than public housing—about government’s responsibility to house citizens.” It seemed like something the foundation would be interested in funding.

Not long after the meeting, Beverly and Pero contacted the foundation. In a 2004 conversation with Driehaus director Sunny Fischer, widely respected in local and national philanthropy circles, they explained that they needed a $25,000 grant to secure and carefully board up the building on Taylor Street while they raised funds to get the museum off the ground.

“They were afraid that the building would be a mess by the time they felt they could raise the money to create the museum,” Fischer says. But after talking to Beverly and Pero, it became clear to her that they wouldn’t “have the capacity” to raise the $20 million the CHA had deemed necessary.

“As a funder you ask the questions—OK, if we give you $25,000, then what happens? And as I was listening to the response, they didn’t really have a plan at that time about moving forward,” Fischer recalls. “I think what I said to them was, ‘This is a great idea and we want to help you. I’m not sure that securing the building more than it is right now will be the best use of money.’ But that’s when we started figuring out how we could be helpful.”

As it happened, Fischer herself had grown up in public housing in the Bronx. Her husband, Lake Forest College professor Paul Fischer, has devoted much of his career to researching public housing. “I used to say I was related to public housing by birth and by marriage,” she says. But unlike the residents spearheading the push for the museum, she never thought about that element of her background as anything worth memorializing.

Her interest in the lives and welfare of the poor was rooted more deeply in her work. Then in her late 50s, Fischer was originally a high school English teacher at the elite North Shore Country Day School, but she also worked with the Upward Bound college prep program for low-income kids. Eventually she transitioned into social work. Volunteering at women’s shelters in the early 1980s, she saw how little funding was directed toward poor women. She later banded together with several influential local philanthropists to start the Chicago Foundation for Women.

Fischer came to the Driehaus Foundation in 1992, and over time she came to think that its money was being disproportionately spent on preserving the homes and history of affluent Illinoisans. Shortly before Beverly’s visit, Fischer had toured the new Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York and was intrigued by the concept. “The foundation is spending a lot of time and energy and resources on how really wealthy people lived,” Fischer recalls thinking. “Maybe we should put some resources into seeing how people without any resources lived in public housing.”

The alliance between Beverly and Fischer opened a new chapter in the museum’s history. With Beverly’s political and community pull and Fischer’s philanthropic connections, the museum was a step closer to reality. But it would also have serious opposition to contend with in the years ahead.

The museum has hosted temporary exhibitions at the site, including a 2015 event for which the cryptic phrase “House Housing” was painted on the exterior. - MAYA DUKMASOVA

  • The museum has hosted temporary exhibitions at the site, including a 2015 event for which the cryptic phrase “House Housing” was painted on the exterior.
  • Maya Dukmasova

The Chicago Housing Authority proved to be the most persistent obstacle, notwithstanding its apparent willingness to entertain the idea of the museum. In 2006, Fischer went to see the agency’s head at the time, Sharon Gist Gilliam, to discuss the logistics of getting inside the Taylor Street building. Gist Gilliam had been a deft city government operator for years. A former schoolteacher like Fischer, she rose to prominence in Mayor Harold Washington’s administration as the director of the Office of Budget Management and continued on to a variety of high-profile appointments. She reminded Fischer that the museum would have to raise $20 million and added the stipulation that organizers would need to do it within the next two years to get the agency to sign over the building.

The figure and the time frame were “daunting,” Fischer says. Raising that much money in two years is a big ask for any cultural institution. But for the fledgling public housing museum, $20 million might as well have been $20 billion. “Public housing,” Fischer says, “is not on a lot of radars of foundations or very wealthy people.”

She took Gist Gilliam’s requirements as a reflection of the agency’s desire to dispose of its buildings quickly in the heat of the Plan for Transformation. This could’ve taken the form of demolition or rehab, but a vacant walk-up standing indefinitely on a thoroughfare of what would ultimately be the CHA’s $600 million redevelopment of the ABLA area wasn’t exactly part of the program.

Gist Gilliam, who’s now retired, has no recollection of meeting Fischer, but she remembers hearing about the plan for the museum. Besides being troubled by the vacant building mucking up redevelopment, she simply believed it was a stupid idea.

“At the time I thought, Well, this is an idea going nowhere,” she recalls. “Who the hell is going to go to a public housing museum?” She adds that she was highly skeptical of entertaining discussions with a yet-to-be-established organization, even with backing from Driehaus. In true Chicago fashion, she wasn’t much interested in dealing with nobody nobody sent.

“You’ve got someone unknown purporting to be a new, never-heard-of museum, and you’re just handing them a building?” she recalls thinking. “It’s not like the MSI or the Field coming to you saying they want to put in an extension of an existing museum.”

Though the fund-raising goal seemed unattainable, Fischer walked away determined to stir up as much public attention and interest in the idea as possible. In October 2006 she convened a meeting of public housing residents, philanthropists, museum experts, civic leaders, academics, and journalists to tour the boarded-up building on Taylor Street and brainstorm strategies for moving forward. But the increased attention roused still more more opponents.

Some housing advocates thought there was nothing wrong with the idea of the museum per se, but took the position that using an entire CHA building for a museum, as well as all the resources required to create it, was a bad idea given the acute need for affordable housing in the city and the amount of displacement in the neighborhood.

“I felt it was misdirected energy,” says Janet Smith, a professor of urban planning at UIC who’d been scrutinizing CHA policies since the 90s. “I think the political capital they were expending to get [the museum] should have gone to development of housing first.”

click to enlarge “To have a museum that actually belongs to and is the voice of housing residents is sort of really scary,” says Lisa Lee, director of the National Public Housing Museum. - MAYA DUKMASOVA

  • “To have a museum that actually belongs to and is the voice of housing residents is sort of really scary,” says Lisa Lee, director of the National Public Housing Museum.
  • Maya Dukmasova

Others didn’t want a museum for public housing to exist at all, especially not in a big building in the the heart of Taylor Street. Foremost in this camp was the notorious political operator, disgraced attorney, and mustachioed “Mayor of Little Italy,” Oscar D’Angelo.

What Beverly was to ABLA, D’Angelo was to Little Italy. He’d lived in the neighborhood his entire life, and rose to become an influential, if not uncontested, leader in a community with a history of discord and violent clashes with its African-American public housing neighbors. But he was a much bigger power broker in city government than the public housing leader. While Daley respected Beverly enough to put her on the CHA board of commissioners, D’Angelo was frequently described as the mayor’s “confidant”—this despite being disbarred in 1989 for bribing county judges and other officials. D’Angelo finally fell from grace in 2000, after news broke that he’d made interest-free loans to Daley aides and illegally lobbied officials to put two friends of the mayor’s wife, Maggie, into business at O’Hare.

Despite these scandals, D’Angelo remained powerful and respected on the Near West Side. At the brainstorming session Fischer organized, he and Beverly got into it.

“We knew the community was going to change,” Beverly said, according to a column by Mary Mitchell of the Sun-Times. “What we wanted to do was leave a part of our own culture in this neighborhood. We had lawyers, airplane pilots, doctors, all kinds of professions came from ABLA.” D’Angelo scoffed at this respectability narrative. He made references to public housing families watching television at all times and not caring about when their children came home. “D’Angelo said he wasn’t interested in the ‘seven doctors, seven lawyers, and seven black pilots’ that came out of ABLA,” Mitchell wrote. “If that’s what it is going to be about,” he reportedly said, “then it’s not a museum, but a falsehood.”

Though the CHA was already working with Related Midwest to redevelop the ABLA area, D’Angelo organized a competing group of contractors and tried to convince the agency to pick them to work on the commercial strip along Taylor Street. Instead of saving the Addams Homes building, D’Angelo’s plan would’ve created a row of Italianate buildings along the corridor, with ground-floor retail to complement the existing restaurant row. As Veenstra recalls, D’Angelo proposed giving some space to the museum in one of the storefronts.

But D’Angelo’s clout wasn’t what it had been in prior decades, and the leadership turnover at the CHA didn’t help his idea gain traction. Despite D’Angelo’s opposition, Pero says people in Little Italy warmed to the idea of restoring the old building once the plan included telling the stories of Jane Addams Homes’ original Italian residents, in addition to opening an Italian deli on the Taylor Street side of the building.

With Gist Gilliam’s departure at the end of 2007, the pressure of the two-year time line fell away. Subsequent leadership didn’t seem particularly preoccupied with either the museum or the disposal of the building, especially once the recession hit a year later. By summer 2008, the agency had extended the museum’s deadline to raise the funds to 2011, and said it would need only $13 million instead of the original $20 million. As more CEOs came and went, those benchmarks, too, disappeared.

With each shake-up in the agency, “the museum people would come and explain what they were doing to the new CHA leadership and they would say, ‘OK, go ahead, keep going,’ ” says Veenstra, who left in the fall of 2015. For years, the CHA basically took a hands-off approach, not making any moves to sign the building over, but also not doing much to stand in the museum’s way.

“I think the CHA people in the beginning felt if they waited long enough we’d go away,” Fischer says. She’d heard through the grapevine that some within the agency saw the museum as a joke.

Rendering of the exterior of the National Public Housing Museum building - LANDON BONE BAKER ARCHITECTS

  • Rendering of the exterior of the National Public Housing Museum building
  • Landon Bone Baker Architects

Nevertheless, Fischer, Beverly, and other museum supporters, who eventually established a nonprofit organization with a board and a three-person staff, kept up the hunt for dollars.

Though it was tough to get people to give money to a museum without a home, especially during the recession, organizers started thinking of the NPHM as a “museum in the streets” and began to organize and sponsor events around Chicago to make its institutional presence known. In February 2010 in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart they created an exhibition about public housing that included a replica of a project apartment. In 2012 they mounted another exhibit on public housing as the “unsung cradle of American music,” tracing the careers of prominent recording artists back to the projects. They held book talks and events for residents to share their memories while exposing the wider community to the complexity of the experience of living in public housing. They helped the late American Theater Company artistic director PJ Paparelli create his last production, The Project(s), a critically acclaimed show based on residents’ oral histories collected over five years and staged in 2015.

In 2010, the Ford Foundation gave the museum a $1 million grant to fund the museum’s operating expenses for five years. The MacArthur Foundation, the Boeing Company, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Alphawood Foundation, among many others, also chipped in.

The organizers’ plan for the museum—both what they’d do with the space and how they’d use the platform—morphed through many iterations. Their goal shifted from taking over the entire building at once to today’s more modest target of opening a first phase in the 17,000 square feet of the Taylor Street side of the structure. For this the NPHM has raised nearly $3 million of a $7 million capital campaign.

Pitching the museum to attract philanthropists requires a broad vision for how it will become a noteworthy cultural institution with a national profile. And that’s required grappling with the fact that in Chicago as across the country, public housing is plagued by negative stigma. Lee says that to catch general public interest it has been important to “excavate” the history of American subsidized housing and challenge basic assumptions colored by decades of grim news stories about the projects.

The museum’s early PR efforts highlighted, as Beverly had at the meeting with D’Angelo, that exceptional people came from public housing. Lee describes that as the “ ’Did you know?’ phase.”

“Did you know that Jimmy Carter grew up in public housing? Did you know that Barbra Streisand grew up in public housing? There were all of these uplifting stories that the museum needed to tell of people who grew up in public housing and who grew up being traditionally quote-unquote ‘successful’ in society,” Lee says.

Most of those early exhibitions also carefully sidestepped any criticism of the CHA’s contemporary policies. Keith Magee, the museum’s first executive director, says “it was too soon to explore the Plan for Transformation” when he came on board in 2009. He adds that it wasn’t a matter of political pressure, but that the NPHM felt it couldn’t fairly evaluate the impact of the policy when emotions among displaced residents were still raw.

But in recent years NPHM organizers have moved away from a focus on famous people and become more active in current policy analysis through events that center on critical perspectives on the CHA. They’ve sponsored lectures by researchers who eviscerate the Plan for Transformation as a scheme to rid desirable city neighborhoods of poor African-Americans; they’ve also partnered with affordable housing activists to collect data on the impact of the CHA’s voucher policies. And residents themselves, four of whom are on the NPHM board, have been involved in organizing the events.

Lee doesn’t think that the museum should buy into bootstrap success narratives or sugarcoat present-day housing struggles. And while parts of the museum’s plan remain abstract, the pitch for what the NPHM will be when it opens has coalesced around certain foundational elements: the apartment reconstructions, the repository of oral histories, the housing policy research center, and the “entrepreneurial hub” for CHA residents to incubate ideas for starting their own businesses. Lee and company intend the museum experience to lead visitors to examine notions about house and home and confront received ideas about what it means to be American. But they also want it to be a place that gives back to the residents. The NPHM has promised to give residents museum construction and operation jobs. Once built, the site will serve as a space for assembly.

After Beverly’s death in 2013, other resident leaders stepped up to carry her torch on the board and keep the museum in touch with its fundamental values. But while the NPHM’s profile has steadily grown, a number of central figures have fallen away from the cause. Even Lee, the fourth director in eight years, admits to losing steam for a year. Periodic news reports over the last decade predicted groundbreakings one year or grand openings the next, yet the anticipated deals with the CHA never came to pass. “I was like, ‘This is never going to happen. We’re never going to get this lease.’ ”

Further complicating matters, the various stakeholders haven’t always agreed behind the scenes that the vision for the institution has been moving in the right direction. The discussion about what exactly the NPHM will be and what it will strive to accomplish continues. As more people outside public housing get on board, organizers are wrestling with how to hold true to the museum’s roots at ABLA, how to make themselves relevant to a wider audience without alienating their original constituents.

An ABLA building circa 1988 - SUN-TIMES ARCHIVE

  • An ABLA building circa 1988
  • Sun-Times archive

At an event cohosted by the NPHM in late March, several dozen public policy students from the University of Chicago and regular people who live with “housing choice” vouchers (aka Section 8) gathered at the ABLA community center. The students collected oral histories from the voucher holders about their experiences of trying to find affordable, accessible, quality rental housing in the city and any discrimination they’d faced during the process. “These stories,” a flyer for the event said, “will be recorded and used to advocate for fairer affordable housing policies in Chicago.”

Lee got up in front of the crowd to explain that this project was a reflection of the institution’s belief that voucher holders’ stories are also important, and that the museum wants to be actively involved in not just documenting but also directing public policy.

By the end of the evening what began as an awkward Q&A with the students had snowballed into impassioned conversations among the voucher holders themselves. No longer noticing the audio recorders, they commiserated with one another about dealing with landlords who openly told them they wouldn’t take vouchers, about having to move into substandard apartments in dangerous or far-flung parts of the city—and about the financial reprieve and security from homelessness the vouchers have nevertheless provided when they became unexpectedly ill or lost their jobs.

Jackie Paige, an organizer in the voucher-holder community, said afterward that she appreciated that the museum made it a priority to include Section 8 residents. She said it was also helpful for her to learn more about her peers’ problems, so she can attempt to address them with the CHA. Normally, Paige explained, she can’t so much as access a list of voucher holders’ contact information to solicit feedback about their experiences. “We have to go and stand outside of the [CHA’s] satellite offices and ask the voucher holders for the information,” she said.

Unlike public housing communities, who have officially recognized tenant representatives, voucher holders don’t have any comparable means to communicate with the CHA—another consequence of the Plan for Transformation. In its own small way that night, the museum was able to offer recourse and show its potential to help those dealing with present-day housing problems—to become, as Lee puts it, a “site of resistance.”

But Baggett, the Brooks Homes LAC president, didn’t see it that way. She said she couldn’t understand why the museum would organize and request to use public housing residents’ community space for an event focused on voucher holders.

“How can you have someone from Section 8 come and tell their story when their story does not pertain to the museum?” Baggett asked me after the event. “They didn’t come from Jane Addams or anywhere in ABLA, they came from somewhere else. So how can they tell a story and place it inside a museum that’s supposed to be about this area right here?”

The territoriality Baggett gave voice to is perhaps a by-product of fatigue from the museum’s long gestation and residents’ fear of erasure in a community where so many memories have been bulldozed. But Baggett isn’t alone in feeling skeptical about the museum’s direction.

Peter Pero, Beverly’s original ally from Little Italy, hasn’t kept up very closely with the museum in recent years, but he still lives near the building and laments its run-down state. He also regrets that the museum organization, which once had offices at nearby UIC, has left the neighborhood for Archeworks, a design incubator and coworking space in River North.

“I don’t want to be critical, because I want this thing to happen,” Pero says. But he allows that he’s confused by the broad scope of the museum’s public events. “They’re running seminars on the value of restoring public housing for the whole world . . . ‘What should public housing be in our times?’ ” There’s no more talk about an Italian deli on the ground floor or the homey conversation space Beverly once described to him.

During the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial parts of the building were cleaned up for several temporary exhibits; the name of one, “House Housing,” was painted in white on the plywood covering the windows and has remained on the facade ever since. “It makes no sense to the locals,” Pero says.

Despite his admiration for Fischer, Lee, and many others involved in the museum, Pero, watching from the sidelines, has gotten the impression that the problem with getting the NPHM open hasn’t really been a matter of wrangling the CHA for access to the building and raising the money, but of the programming for the museum straying too far from its roots. “I just say: show me the money, show me where they spent ten years of money. I bet it would have finished the deli and bookstore instead of drawing speakers [focused] on public housing in London, Holland, and South Africa,” Pero says. “Frankly, the neighbors around here are very frustrated,” he says, because the Taylor Street building remains empty. “And every day we talk, the rain trickles deeper down the walls.”

The interior of the National Public Housing Museum's future home is greatly dilapidated. - MAYA DUKMASOVA

  • The interior of the National Public Housing Museum’s future home is greatly dilapidated.
  • Maya Dukmasova

Though there’s no evidence that the museum has squandered its money or tried to intentionally sideline ABLA residents, Pero’s and Baggett’s questions get at the challenges that can’t be overcome by words—challenges inherent to wealthy, highly educated professionals taking up a cause born of a poor, marginalized community. And there will be more, especially once the museum transubstantiates from an idea expressed through renderings, temporary exhibits, and special events into an actual, physical place. The true test of the museum’s potential to at once honor and illuminate the housing struggles of the past and digest and engage with those of the present will come with myriad decisions NPHM organizers have to make before opening day. First, there’s making good on the promises Lee and the CHA have made to include ample construction and operation job opportunities for residents. The staff is also trying to find an approach to curation so exhibits aren’t relevant only to a bourgeois elite. Other considerations: Can the admission structure be both sustainable and fair? Will the operating hours jibe with working families’ schedules? Will there be a prominent security presence in the lobby?

Such decisions have shaped the fate of other social justice businesses and well-intentioned nonprofits. Theaster Gates’s Rebuild Foundation recently came under fire for allegedly tokenizing black artists while reserving management positions for whites; meanwhile, renowned chef Daniel Patterson’s healthy fast-food venture in low-income California neighborhoods, Locol, has been compromised because it caters to young, hip aesthetes despite being managed by locals.

Perhaps the most important unknown is whether a public housing museum built on the ruins of a displaced and disappeared community of low-income African-Americans will be capable of challenging Americans to grapple with racism and poverty, however progressive its ideology. Will the museum test the current problematic policies of its landlord, from the CHA’s years-long waiting list to its controversial reserve budget to its broken promises of public housing preservation at places like the Lathrop Homes and LeClaire Courts?

Ever the optimist, Lee believes the NPHM won’t shrink from the difficult conversations. “Over the last decade we’ve always been in this relationship with CHA, and we’ve done a lot of programs where we’ve been the space for resident voices, activism, and advocacy,” she argues. “If they tried to kick us out because of content, that would be a really big struggle, and I don’t anticipate that.” But she also adds that she thinks the museum’s dynamic with the agency won’t be “us versus them,” because she’s convinced that its administrators and staff are similarly committed to the “idea of public good.”

Eugene Jones, the present head of the CHA, is enthusiastic about the museum. “It’s not only for the citizens of Chicago, it’s for all the citizens across the country who’ve been involved in public housing,” he says. “We want this to be a destination point when people come to Chicago that will rival any museum across the country.”

After years of stalemate with the CHA, Jones’s arrival in 2015 turned the tide for the NPHM. Fischer says it immediately became clear that he “doesn’t think it’s a joke and he does want to help us.”

The moment that the CHA board finally approved the lease was, Lee says, both momentous and anticlimactic. “It was so celebratory and everyone was so happy. But it’s also like, ‘What happened? How did it happen?’ Like, all of a sudden, after years of activism, anxiety, hand-wringing, and thinking that it’s not going to happen, there’s a unanimous vote saying ‘Of course we can do it.’ ”

She likens the triumph to the fall of the Berlin Wall, where years of work to change politics and culture led to a moment of dramatic progress. (A more apt comparison might be to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which took a hundred years to come into being after it was first conceived by a group of black Union Army veterans.) “All of a sudden there was no resistance,” she says. “I was like, ‘All right, the CHA is giving us the lease—now this museum can open because the cultural work has happened.’ ”

In Lee’s mind the long road to opening the NPHM has been both inevitable and invaluable. She sees the idea behind the museum as a radical one—its purpose is in part to make visible and bolster stories of racism and corruption in the city, to give a platform to narratives that will speak truth to power. “They’ve always used museums to maintain power and privilege,” Lee says. “To have a museum that actually belongs to and is the voice of housing residents is sort of really scary.”

She describes all the hoops museum organizers have had to jump through with the CHA as the “bureaucratic processes that are set up . . . to not hand over a building for a group of marginalized voices to tell their stories.” But the CHA didn’t hand over the building to a group of marginalized ABLA residents. The residents had to be represented by a respected nonprofit with a roster of wealthy backers before a transaction could take place. In other words, the NPHM didn’t change the terms under which a museum in Chicago can be created, but rather successfully conformed to long-established expectations. In order to be worthy of the building, it had to become bigger than Beverly and her residents.

The CHA’s recognition of the museum, however monumental, shouldn’t be mistaken for a sea change in Chicago’s broader relationship to its poor. Still, Lee believes the National Public Housing Museum is now more urgently needed than ever. As privatization reshapes not just subsidized housing but also schools, health care, and infrastructure, American society is abandoning “the notion of the public itself and the idea of the common good,” she observes. “Part of the resistance is making sure people understand what is this thing we call public housing. How do we understand its future in the soul of what it means to be in America?” The museum will continue its attempt to answer that question when it finally opens its doors to the public next year.   v

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North Korea, CNN, Volvo: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

White House advisers are especially nervous about Mr. Trump’s sit-down with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which is scheduled for Friday.

Mr. Trump has already arrived in Europe, flying into Poland to deliver a major speech at the site of the Warsaw Uprising during World War II.



3. Today in social media controversies: CNN faced a backlash after it published an article quoting — but not identifying — the Reddit user who created the video of President Trump wrestling the network’s logo to the ground.

Some internet users accused the network of blackmailing the unnamed source, who had also posted racist and anti-Semitic content, by reserving the right to name him if he did so again.

Mr. Trump’s tweet of the video has become his most-shared post. We collected reactions from the right and left.



Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times

4. Some Senate Republicans skipped Fourth of July parades, fearing confrontations with voters angry over health care. (Senator Susan Collins of Maine, above, was among those who did attend.)

They’re back at work next week, and they face a mammoth legislative logjam. Pending items include the health care vote, an unresolved budget resolution and the tax plan. Some are even calling on Congress to forgo its sacred August recess.



Credit New York Police Department

5. The N.Y.P.D. was plunged into mourning after an officer sitting in a police vehicle in the Bronx was shot and killed in an unprovoked attack.

Our Metro reporters fanned out to find out everything they could. Our portrait of the attacker, a two-time convict who had voiced anger at law enforcement in an online video, is still developing, so please check back.

The victim, Miosotis Familia, 48, had been on the job for 12 years. She had three children. “She was a warrior, tell you the truth,” a relative said. “She was a fighter, she was tough — and that was the job for her.”



Credit Brynn Anderson, via Associated Press

6. Inside a national museum. Outside schools. On university campuses. Nooses, long a symbol of racial terror in the U.S., have been found across the country recently.

The latest was found at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia — an ultra-secure location, above, where employees know that they’re being filmed. A white coin maker left it at the workstation of an African-American colleague, setting off an uproar — and an investigation.

We asked the author of a book about nooses in the past and present why there were so many such episodes. “I think we’re in a historical moment where people feel like they have permission to be hateful,” he replied.



Credit Peter Foley/European Pressphoto Agency

7. Volvo, the Swedish-based automaker now owned by a Chinese company, said that it will introduce only hybrid or electric models starting in 2019. That’s a first for a mainstream car company. (Above, vintage Volvos at a car show.)

Volvo’s chief executive said that while the strategy has risks, “a much bigger risk would be to stick with internal combustion engines.”



Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

8. The Venezuelan police officer who staged a helicopter attack on government buildings last week and claimed to lead a dissident group resurfaced.

In a new video, the officer, Óscar Pérez, warned of a “new phase” in an insurrection.

Some Venezuelans suspect he’s a government plant, furnishing an excuse for its harsh tactics.



Credit Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

9. “Game of Thrones” returns July 16 on HBO — and it’s the beginning of the end. Only 13 episodes remain, seven this season and six the next.

We caught up with Lena Headey, who plays Cersei Lannister, at home in England. This is all she’d say plotwise: “Um, she’s not having a good time. Apparently winter is really coming, finally.”

Here’s a guide to where the last season left off. And our obsessive “Game of Thrones” experts are ready to email you roundups of the internet’s best articles on each episode, exclusive interviews and explainers.



Credit Mark Makela for The New York Times

10. Finally, in this season of ups and downs, we put together a comprehensive report on new roller coasters across America.

Above, the Hydrus in Seaside Heights, N.J., replacing a coaster destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The highlights: a 97-degree drop and three inversions in its 45-second running time.

And there’s a new genre that represents a real feat of technology: the water coaster. Texas — aptly — boasts the world’s largest (81 feet tall.)

Have a great night.


Photographs may appear out of order for some readers. Viewing this version of the briefing should help.

Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

And don’t miss Your Morning Briefing, posted weekdays at 6 a.m. Eastern, and Your Weekend Briefing, posted at 6 a.m. Sundays.

Want to look back? Here’s Monday night’s briefing.

What did you like? What do you want to see here? Let us know at

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Art along the Chattahoochee: Exhibits to see this Summer

Summer is a time for slow days and air conditioning. Lots of air conditioning. Beat the heat and expand your cultural horizons by visiting one of the many indoor art exhibits on display in our area this summer. Too many choices can be overwhelming, so we’ve gathered a list of our top exhibits not to miss this summer. Grab your calendar and schedule a trip to see these collections before they’re gone. Don’t forget that most of them are free!

Currently on display at the Columbus Museum:

‘From Flying Aces to Army Boots: WWI and the Chattahoochee Valley’

This comprehensive look at the way WWI impacted the Chattahoochee Valley examines the creation of Fort Benning, the lives of local residents who served in the war, how the region benefited from the service of women and the legacy of Columbus native and flying ace Eugene Ballard. On display through Aug. 27. Third Floor Galleries, Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road. Free.

‘Martha Clippinger: Hodge Podge Lodge’

Martha Clippinger is a living artist from Columbus whose work is featured in this new exhibit of art inspired by the artists’ connection with the work of Alma Thomas and Eddie Owens Martin. Ongoing through November. Leebern Gallery, Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road. Free.

‘Side Eye: Portraits in Profile’

Historically, artists have often painted portraits of their subject’s profile. Enjoy a selection of portraits from the Columbus Museum’s permanent collection and learn more about how the tradition of portraits began. Woodruff Gallery, Columbus Museum, 1251 Wynnton Road. Free.

Currently on display at LaGrange Art Museum:

‘In the Land of Pasaquan, The Story of Eddie Owens Martin’

The LaGrange Art Museum is the only off-site venue to exhibit St. EOM’s unattached work, and provides safe harbor to works that cannot be seen on-site and whose condition requires a climate controlled, indoor environment. Ongoing through Aug. 5. 112 Lafayette Parkway. Free for Troup County residents; $10 donation for non-residents. 706-882-3267 or

Currently on display at the Black Art In America (BAIA) Gallery:

‘Charles Criner, Civil War’

Charles Criner, a Houston-based artist, paints work primarily comprised of biographical images that are reflections of his childhood memories and cultural heritage. His painting “Civil War” is one of many paintings on display this summer at the BAIA gallery. 1433 17th St. Prices vary.

Summer Programming at the National Civil War Naval Museum:

Cool History 2017

In addition to their permanent exhibits, the National Civil War Naval Museum is offering Cool History 2017, a program designed for youth of all ages to learn and engage with Civil War Naval History. Patrons can expect a variety of activities from entertaining tours to hands-on activities taking place daily. 1 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday in July. National Civial War Naval Museum, 1002 Victory Drive.

Currently on display at the National Infantry Museum:

‘Fort Benning and Columbus Connections Gallery’

Enjoy a thorough look at how soldiers are made and the special relationship between Columbus and Fort Benning. Eras of Infantry Gallery, National Infantry Museum, 1775 Legacy Way. $5 suggested donation per person.

‘The International Stage: 1898-1920’

This exhibit explores our infantry’s history during the Spanish-American War, Phillipene Insurrection and World War I. Eras of Infantry Gallery, National Infantry Museum, 1775 Legacy Way. $5 suggested donation per person.

‘World at War: 1920-1947’

A comprehensive guide to our infantry’s history during the rise of Fascism, the European and Pacific Theaters, and the Holocaust Liberation. Eras of Infantry Gallery, National Infantry Museum, 1775 Legacy Way. $5 suggested donation per person.

‘The Cold War: 1947-1989’

Examine the history of our infantry during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Operation Urgent Fury and the Berlin Wall. Eras of Infantry Gallery, National Infantry Museum, 1775 Legacy Way. $5 suggested donation per person.

‘The Sole Superpower: 1989-Present’

Enjoy artifacts and an interactive exhibit focusing on the infantry’s history during Desert Storm, Somalia and the ongoing Global War on Terrorism. Eras of Infantry Gallery, National Infantry Museum, 1775 Legacy Way. $5 suggested donation per person.

‘Securing Our Freedom/Defining the Nation’

The National Infantry Museum’s newest permanent exhibit featuring artifacts that have helped define the infantry over the last 242 years. National Infantry Museum, 1775 Legacy Way. $5 suggested donation per person.

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Public Functionary introduces a new young curator; ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ is coming to the Fringe

Standing a head above many people in the room, CRICE Kahlil, aka Connor Rice, surveyed the crowd at Public Functionary on Saturday. It was opening night for “The Shop,” a new exhibition he curated at the Northeast Minneapolis art space that prizes diversity, accessibility and community.

A conceptual show about the black barbershop, a microcosm of the African-American experience, it’s small but powerful, and smart. CRICE has gathered 15 works by eight black artists: well-established and emerging, men and women, across generations. The art – paintings, photographs, drawings, prints, a video and an animation – is approachable by anyone who comes in off the street.

If you go, read the labels, because things aren’t always what they seem. At first glance, Candice Davis’ video features a young black woman sitting patiently while white people do her hair. In fact, “Fix,” filmed at the Soap Factory, chronicles part of a 2016 performance in which Davis invited audience members to straighten her hair, a tale of violence perpetuated by white beauty standards, told in a privileged white space.

Now 24, just three years out of MCAD, CRICE had been thinking about “The Shop” for a big part of his young life. “I was a sophomore, going to shows, starting to be immersed in the art scene here, and I noticed there weren’t a lot of black people or people of color, and even less shows and work that dealt with issues we are experiencing and subject matter that relates to us,” he said in conversation at the opening. “I had a group of a few black friends at school and started talking about doing this show small-scale, just for us. I based my senior project on this theme. I always carried the torch for it. I thought it would be cool to get artists from here, other voices, to see if the themes and images they were thinking of were the same as I felt.”

As CRICE got to know respected older artists Seitu Jones and Ta-Coumba T. Aiken, who both have work in “The Shop,” he found “a lot of universalities through some of the stories. Some of the things Seitu was talking about from the 1960s could have happened this year. It was surreal.”

“The Shop” was welcome at Public Functionary, where director Tricia Heuring is committed to mentoring and supporting young curators, particularly curators of color. “I believe this is much needed in the Twin Cities and something I can do to create change,” Heuring wrote in an email. CRICE said, “I feel like the beliefs of this gallery are very clear and very strong. They are about giving access to people of color and creating authentic events.”

Supported by a 2017 Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, CRICE put together an exhibition that explores blackness, culture, connection and self-reflection. It also celebrates black beauty and hair – most directly in Noah Lawrence-Holder’s animation “Undone!” and in two photographs from Bobby Rogers titled “Catch a Fade,” where black hair is a source of pride and strength.

Opening night of “The Shop” at Public Functionary.

MinnPost photo by John Whiting

Opening night of “The Shop” at Public Functionary.

“A lot of people I grew up with are doing creative things and killing it,” CRICE said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t have a robust arts scene here. Everybody says it’s so creative, but then people don’t want to go out and do things because there’s not that much going on. So I needed to do this.”

Of course, we had to ask CRICE who does his hair. “Me and my barber,” he said. “His name is Dre. Shout out to Dre over at Loc Starz in Bryn Mawr. It’s very popular. I snuck in today and he got me in. I knew I had to get it right for the show.”

“The Shop” continues through July 15. Go here for the hours and artist descriptions. On Thursday, July 13, Public Functionary will host an artist conversation called “Shop Talk” starting at 7 p.m. CRICE and a panel of Twin Cities artists, including some from the show, will discuss what it means to create art and space for art and expression as black artists/creatives in the Twin Cities. 

The picks

Starts tonight (Wednesday, July 5) at the Walker: “Reshaping Our World: Cinema Without Borders.” The travel ban targets majority Muslim countries and affects many Minnesota immigrants and refugees. In response and solidarity, the Arab-American arts organization Mizna and the Walker have joined forces to present a series of five films from Africa and the Middle East that counter stereotypes with human stories. Tonight: “A Stray,” starring a largely local cast of Somali American actors. (We gave it a brief review last October.) The film will be introduced by state Rep. Ilhan Omar and Ifrah Mansour, a member of the cast. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10/$8 Walker members, students and seniors).

Thursday at Magers & Quinn: Terry Tempest Williams presents “The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks” The latest from the author of “Refuge” and “When Women Were Birds” is a literary celebration of our national parks and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to America’s soul. 7 p.m. Free.

Friday at Studio Z: The All Originals Jazz Series: The Illicit Sextet. The series created and curated by trumpeter/Flumpeter Steve Kenny is back for its fourth season, with even more original music and world premieres. Kenny is calling this performance “the Illicit Sextet’s Greatest Hits,” and they have 25 years of music to choose from. With Paul Harper on saxophones, Chris Lomheim on piano, Nathan Norman on drums, Dave Roos on guitar, Tom Pieper on bass and Kenny on Flumpet, his all-original trumpet/flugelhorn hybrid. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8. $10 online or at the door.

Friday and Saturday at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater: Danger Boat Productions Presents “Conundrum: An Improv Show of Philosophical Quandaries.” Tane Danger and Brandon Boat, creators of The Theater of Public Policy, are back with a new idea: exploring questions without easy answers, then adding improvisational comedy. Questions like “Would you rather be able to read minds or to fly?” and “How many dates can you go on with someone and still break up with them via text?” Come prepared with a conundrum or two of your own. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12 advance, $15 door).

Tuesday (July 11) at Vic’s Dining: An Evening of Travel Talk with Kris & Tom of Bring your questions about travel in the era of travel bans. After selling their home and most of their possessions in 2010, Tom Bartel and Kristin Henning – the former owners and publishers of City Pages and The Rake – started traveling and have never stopped. If you have a question, they’ll probably have an answer, and a good one. 7-9 p.m. Free.

On sale

Passes and tickets to the 2017 Minnesota Fringe are available now, and the new website is up and running. A VIP Pass ($200) gives you access to as many shows as you can squeeze in. Quantities are limited. Day passes ($16) and individual show reservations ($3.75) are also available.


Lizzo to perform at the 5th Annual Hazelfest Music & Recovery Community Festival.

Tickets to the 5th Annual Hazelfest Music & Recovery Community Festival on Saturday, Aug. 5. Imagine an outdoor music festival with no beer lines. With Lizzo, Har Mar Superstar, Communist Daughter, Alex Rossi, DJ Last Word and host David Campbell. Did we say Lizzo? Lizzo Lizzo Lizzo! 11 a.m.-7 p.m. in Center City. $15 advance, $25 door.

On the radar

We’ll be writing more about the Fringe soon. But this show already stands out: “It Can’t Happen Here: A Benefit Production for ACLU” at the Ritz Studio Theatre. This will be an abbreviated version of the Federal Theater Project’s 1936 adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ dystopian political novel – the one the New York Times called “the classic novel that predicted Trump.” Like George Orwell’s “1984,” it became a best-seller in the wake of the presidential election. This could turn out to be a very hot Fringe ticket. Profits from the whole run – all five shows – will go to the ACLU. Everyone will work for free.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

An Outlet for Expression: New arts organization focuses on Newtown youth

Like most movements, Youth Artists Network started with a group of teenagers who wanted to make a difference.

Founder and Artistic Director Maureik Robison developed the idea with friends Mia Redding and Quayshaun Oliver over several lunch periods and passionate before-class discussions during their time in the performing arts program at Booker High School seven years ago.

“I think the arts are conditional in Sarasota,” Robison says of their reasoning. “I don’t think there’s a platform for black artists.”

Back then, YAN was just a vision, and the goal was to create a network to connect and support young artists of color in Sarasota.

Youth Artists Network Ambassador Teithis Miller is an aspiring photographer who specializes in portrait shots of Newtown residents. Photo by Teithis Miller

Fast forward seven years, and Robison is sitting in North Sarasota Public Library wearing a burgundy hat with the YAN logo. He recently finished his second year teaching fourth grade at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, and he just opened a small-business bank account for his organization that’s finally becoming a reality.

Teithis Miller, one of the five youth ambassadors for the program, crouches on the floor to snap photos of our interview. He’s dressed to the nines in a navy suit and collared shirt, and his movements are so quiet and graceful, it’s easy to forget he’s there.

But when he looks up from his lens, he makes his presence known.

“This has an impact,” he says. “It influences kids to follow their dreams and go for something that they’re really passionate about.”

The vision statement for YAN appears simple: “Providing enrichment opportunities for students and creating artistic spaces for them to interact with each other.” But there are several layers to it. As Robison says, this is only the beginning — he finalized the paperwork on April 4.

Through YAN, professional, amateur and student artists will come together through monthly (and eventually weekly) meetings and events to support and inspire each other in their artistic endeavors. For artists like Miller, it’s a chance to be guided by experienced artists from their community and an outlet to show or perform their original work.

But Robison wants to take that one step further.

Youth Artists Network Ambassador Teithis Miller displays much of his photography on the organization’s website and social media pages, helping him gain exposure. Photo by Teithis Miller

“In the immediate future what we’re working on is not only providing platforms for high school students but also giving them the tools so once they have the platform, they can successfully navigate it,” he says.

These “tools” could be anything from a paint brush to a DSLR camera. For Miller, a recent Booker High School grad who wants to pursue a career in photography, it’s the laptop he’s raising money for on his GoFundMe page.

Robison’s approach to gaining the funds for these tools is strategic. Being a Newtown-based organization, he says he wants to partner with individuals and organizations that want to help him uplift the community, which has been “disenfranchised and downtrodden for centuries.”

“It’s about reaching out to the right people so that things aren’t conditional,” he says. “I think that benevolence can easily be misconstrued, and it can become a tie that binds. I want to be really intentional about who I’m going to and who I expose this vision to.”

Program Director Mia Redding agrees, saying she wants to keep everything pure and honest.

Youth Artists Network Founder and Artistic Director Maureik Robison, Alisha Gaines, Cedric Hameed and Demar Pitman participate in a discussion during the film screening of “13th” on May 27. Photo by Teithis Miller

She adds that there’s an educational aspect to YAN because most African-American students aren’t taught much about the history of arts in their culture.

Just like Caucasian girls are taught the traditions of their European ancestors through ballet, she hopes to teach African-American students about the roots of their culture through art forms like West African dance.

About a dozen young people attended the group’s first community event, a film screening and panel for the documentary “13th,” on May 27 at North Sarasota Public Library.

Robison says the next event will be Aug. 4 and will be the first in a series of “nights of expression” in which high school students and local artists can show their work. It will be an open-mic style public event in which participants can sing, dance, act, recite poetry or show any other art they’ve produced. The location is to be determined, but like all YAN events, it will be around Newtown, where the organization began and where Robison wants its heart to remain.

Youth Artists Network Ambassador Teithis Miller with Founder and Artistic Director Maureik Robison — Photo by Niki Kottmann

Robison and Redding have high hopes for the future of YAN — Black History Month programming, curriculum contracts with school districts and a partnership with Sarasota Contemporary Dance, among others. But at its core, they want to help artists and non-artists in Sarasota and beyond learn to appreciate art as a form of self expression.

“I think that especially in the black community, the arts have always been at the forefront,” Robison says. “Art creates an alternative vision. It’s a very courageous and humanist act, so when you are an artist, you create that alternate vision so you can create freedom for people who are unfree — simply through changing their reality.”

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

KING: Why the United States is not the best country in the world

The Fourth of July is a complicated holiday for African-Americans. We love the food, family and even the fireworks, but the actual history and rationale behind the holiday have never sat well with us. It’s why Frederick Douglass, on July 5, 1852, gave the rousing speech in which he questioned the very soul of a nation willing to celebrate independence while simultaneously enslaving millions. Douglass declared,

“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”

When Douglass gave this speech, the United States had been celebrating its so-called freedom for 76 years — all while forcing millions of human beings into a permanent life of slavery. Now, 165 years after Douglass delivered this speech, it rings as true today as it did then.

This Fourth of July, I saw many of my closest friends, everyday people and celebrities alike, echoing Douglass — either by quoting him directly or by sharing their own versions of the exact same sentiments. Perhaps none were as succinct and to the point as those from my friend Blake, who tweeted “F–k the 4th. F–k the flag. F–k the national anthem.”

KING: Castile verdict painful result of laws rigged to guard cops

I see very little difference between what Blake said and what Douglass said. Mind you, neither said that they hate America — but they both have serious problems with a nation willing to gleefully tout symbols of freedom while it denies full, unfettered access to those freedoms to so many that call this land home.

Jackie Robinson wrote in his autobiography, "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot stand salute the flag."

Jackie Robinson wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot stand salute the flag.”

(Jim Kerlin/AP)

It’s why, in 1972, in his final days on this earth, baseball legend, civil rights pioneer and World War II veteran Jackie Robinson wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot stand and salute the flag.” Few people had seen America overpromise and under-deliver as up close and personal as Robinson. My guess is that most of his white fans would have assumed that he would’ve looked back on his years as an American with a big, grateful toothy grin. He did not. This nation wears out even its brightest stars.

It’s why a young Cassius Clay would return to the United States from Rome in 1960 and throw his Olympic Gold Medal into the Ohio River. It’s why that same man changed his name to Muhammad Ali. It’s why Muhammad Ali sacrificed his career and was banned from boxing for years when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War.

Douglass, Robinson and Ali are all celebrated today as the best this nation has to offer, but they were the staunchest possible critics of the United States. Tuesday on Twitter, I shared Blake’s tweet with the comment that what he said about the Fourth well-represented how so many of friends feel about the holiday. The backlash was severe — ranging from obscene bigotry to thousands of calls for he and I to find another country to live in. To be black in America, and criticize this country with confidence, seems to make one a traitor with conservative white America. To be white in America, and criticize this country with confidence, got Donald Trump elected President of the United States. His entire campaign was staked on the idea that America had tanked in every essential way and that he alone could make it great again.

KING: We’re losing the battle against police brutality in America

The United States of America is not the best country in the world. I say that without emotion like I can tell you that the Brooklyn Nets are not the best team in the NBA. Saying as much doesn’t mean I hate the Nets or hate Brooklyn or hate the NBA. The Brooklyn Nets may actually be the worst team in the NBA. They should’ve received the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, but they traded it away years ago for old veterans. They’ll lose this year’s pick, too. The men they have on the team are great guys. I’ve come to know several of them. I’ve also come to know many employees there — great people — all of them. But the team is still in rough shape.

To call the Brooklyn Nets the best team in the NBA tells me a lot about the person making the claim. First off, they clearly don’t understand the metrics of greatness. Greatness can be measured in the NBA. The Nets didn’t win the championship. The Nets didn’t even make the playoffs. The Nets don’t have any all-stars. The Nets aren’t seen as a remotely decent destination for top free agents. The Nets don’t have any league leaders in a single quantifiable category.

I’m not even sure a true fan of the Brooklyn Nets — that is, someone who values and loves the team and wants what’s best for them, would ever call them the best team in the NBA. If you truly love the Brooklyn Nets and want to see them grow and improve, calling them the best team in the NBA, is not just delusional, it’s dishonest. Teams cannot improve with honest assessments of where they are and how they got there.

The United States of America is the Brooklyn Nets. We are not the best country in the world. This is not my opinion. These are the facts. What makes a country great is measurable. And in every demonstrable category, our country is coming up very, very short. If it is your opinion is that the United States is the greatest nation in the world, your definition of greatness is likely skewed by blind patriotism, greed or white supremacy. Either way, you are wrong, and claiming that the United States is the best nation on earth, when we are far from it, is a peculiar lie to hold on to — a contradiction that exposes the hypocrisy of Trump’s most devoted supporters perhaps more than any other claim. Is it not weird to claim that Obama took the country to hell in a handbasket while also claiming it’s the best country in the world? You can’t claim both and mean it. Choose one.

KING: 2 Supreme Court rulings must change to end police brutality

Here I will press my case with facts and evidence.

America’s criminal justice nightmare

The United States has more black men either in prison or under the thumb of the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850. This is ugly. The United States locks up more people at a higher rate than any country in the world. It’s not even close. We are the incarceration nation. It is indeed true that we have just 5% of the world’s population but more than 25% of the world’s prisoners. Indeed, it appears that the United States not only incarcerates more of its citizens than any country in the world, but more of our people are locked behind bars than any country in the entire history of the world.

What that means is that the United States incarcerates about 700 out of every 100,000 citizens. Of the 222 nations with accurate data, more than half of them, lock up less than 150 people per 100,000 citizens. When race is considered, the numbers skyrocket with African-Americans being incarcerated an average of 500% more than their white counterparts — and as much as 1000% more in states like Oklahoma and New Jersey. The United States imprisons a higher percentage of African-Americans than South Africa did during apartheid.

I could stop right there. For me, the country that sets records with the number of people it incarcerates cannot be the best country in the world. Period. These abominable facts preclude our nation from such a position, but the nightmare of our justice system does not end there.

KING: Most Americans don’t know their DA or what they stand for

This year is on pace to be the deadliest year ever measured for the number of people killed by American police, since the national stats were tracked in 2013.

This year is on pace to be the deadliest year ever measured for the number of people killed by American police, since the national stats were tracked in 2013.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

No country with a remotely respected record on human rights even maintains the death penalty. In fact, only a few dozen countries in the world executed people in recent years, including Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and, of course, the United States. These are our peer countries when it comes to the death penalty. Canada to the north and Mexico to the South have banned executions. The entire European Union banned executions — and actually requires the ban of all of its member states.

And of course, no developed country in the world has more of its people killed by police officers than the United States — including more than 600 so far this year — compared with two for the United Kingdom. Police in Iceland went 71 years between police killings.

This year is on pace to be the deadliest year ever measured for the number of people killed by American police, since the national stats were tracked in 2013. If not for the crisis of Trump’s presidency, the worsening problem of police brutality in this country would likely be dominating headlines. Pregnant women, children, and the elderly are among the hundreds of people killed by American police this year. The deaths are so commonplace now, and receive so little coverage, that I struggle to name more than five of the 600-plus victims by name off the top of my head. Even in the most egregious cases, where the evidence is overwhelming, seemingly no cops are being held accountable for this crisis — which is only deepening a real sense of hopelessness on the issue among millions of Americans.

I could go on and on here — describing gruesome details of some of the worst human rights abuses and crimes against humanity that I’ve heard of the world over — all done by law enforcement officers in America. These abuses, and the absolute refusal of our nation to do anything substantive about them, make it such that calling this nation the greatest nation on earth is a slap in the face of the thousands of victims who’ve been unjustly mowed down, chewed up, and spit out by America’s justice system.

KING: Cops should cover billions paid out for police brutality

Our health care crisis

To be clear, health care and health insurance are not in the same. Our nation is at a crossroads on both issues and, like we do most of our biggest problems, we appear to be far more interested in talking big and doing nothing — or worse — deepening the crisis on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. Tens of millions of people in the United States have no health insurance coverage whatsoever right now. Now, Donald Trump and the Republican Party are proposing new legislation that could add an astounding 22 million more Americans to the rolls of the uninsured — which could push the total number of uninsured American men, women and children past 50 million.

To put those horrendous numbers in context, 100% of Canadian citizens have health insurance, 100% of British citizens have health insurance, 99.9% of the French have health insurance and 99.8% of Germans have health insurance. In the United States, before Trumpcare has even hit, at least 11% of Americans are currently uninsured. Our small states have more uninsured people than entire nations around the world.

Police carry away a protester after Republicans released a draft of their healthcare plan.


And we claim that our health insurance costs so much because the care is so great, but this just isn’t the case. Our health insurance costs so much because for-profit health insurance companies and ultra-rich drug companies are reaping billions of dollars of profits from the system.

Did you know that the United States has the worst rate of maternal deaths of any developed country in the world? In fact, of every developed country in the world, except for the United States, the maternal death rate is plummeting, while ours rises higher and higher. A full 300% more American women die during childbirth than our nearest peer nation. Again, these aren’t opinions. These aren’t liberal daydreams from a crazy socialist. These are facts. An outrageous number of American women are dying during childbirth at a time where they shouldn’t be.

KING: America needs fewer cops, laws, arrests and convictions

I had always assumed that the United States had more hospitals and hospital beds than other countries. This, too, is a lie. In the United States we have just 2.9 beds available per 1,000 people. France has more than double that at 6.2 beds per 1,000 people, according to the CIA World Factbook. Germany has nearly triple the number of beds per 1,000 people at 8.2 beds. I found this out the hard way earlier this year when I went to the ER after fracturing my shoulder. Alongside dozens of other sick or injured people, I was placed on a stretcher and rolled into a crowded hallway, not for a few hours, but for over a day, even waiting to see a specialist. Last month, one of our kids was hospitalized and we waited for seven outrageous days for a proper room to come available for her. And I pay an outrageous amount of money every month for the best insurance money can buy.

A recent study of 11 of the health care systems in world’s wealthiest nations, the United States ranked dead last. Again, these rankings aren’t based on opinions, but a complex set of 12 very real metrics, including quality, efficiency, safety, cost, timeliness, health, and more and our nation came in last place — not first, not second, not in the top five or even in the top 10, but last.

If the quality of a nation cannot be measured on issues of justice and health, maybe we can agree on education. How much a nation values the education of its children should not be a partisan issue.

Education in America is no longer our bread and butter

The U.S. News and World Report ranks the United States seventh for best education. Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany now make up the top three education systems in the world. A study from the World Economic Forum evaluated the top education systems in the world. In their list of the top 11, released in November, the United States didn’t even make the list.

KING: No, I won’t be writing about black-on-black crime

When evaluating the math and science education received by American students, the numbers are dismal. Out of 71 countries evaluated for their math education, the United States placed 38th. For science education the United States only improved to 24th place in the world. You should look at this data for yourself. It’s terrible.

Some of this is specifically about education and how outdated and outmatched our systems are, but this is also a conversation about poverty. Child poverty in America is an abomination. According to a UNICEF evaluation, of the 41 wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is ranked 36th in their child poverty measurement — with an astounding 32% of American children living below the poverty line. That’s nearly a third of the kids in our country that are living in poverty. That’s fundamentally outrageous — particularly in light of the fact that many like to brag about how wealthy this country is. While numerous countries during the past decade reduced the number of children living in poverty, the United States’ child poverty population increased by millions. It’s gross and it’s no wonder our education systems are struggling when roughly 1 in 3 children are also fighting through the effects of poverty.

Income inequality in America

In 1980, the bottom 50% of all Americans had an average income of about $16,000. Nearly 40 years later, the average income for the bottom 50% of all Americans has hardly budged. If a minimum wage worker making $9.25 per hour, which is what most make around the country, worked 40 hours per week, for 52 straight weeks, without taking a day off, they’d earn just $19,240 in yearly salary. Who can live off of that? While the cost of living has skyrocketed these past four decades, the average income for over 100 million Americans has been virtually stagnant for generations. The tiny increase in income from 1980 until now hardly even covers the increase in health insurance costs during that time. Do the math yourself and try to cover rent, utilities, insurance, automobile costs, food, childcare, clothing, and more with what a minimum-wage worker makes in this country. Mind you, now-departed Congressman Jason Chaffetz proposed last week that members of Congress be given a $30,000 annual housing allowance on top of their minimum salary of $174,000 per year because they simply couldn’t get by without it. Yet our nation has tens of millions of people who make less in a full year of hard work than he makes in two months.

While the rich are getting richer and richer, everyday people are fighting tooth and nail all over this country to increase the minimum wage to something they can actually live off of. It’s not just lack of work, which is a problem all by itself, but the unlivable wages made by the working poor, that have caused a third of all American children to live in poverty.

KING: Police brutality fight is David versus an army of Goliaths

What good does it do to brag about how much wealth this nation has, if the overwhelming majority of Americans have absolutely nothing to show for it? The United States as a nation is not wealthy — the 1% of the top 1% are wealthy. They don’t represent everyday Americans.

The quality of life in the United States sucks

Before Donald Trump was ever elected President of the United States, a powerful study was done to determine the happiness of the people in each country of the world. I say before Trump was elected because my best guess is that the score for the United States will plummet in the years to come. Anyway, I doubt it comes as a surprise to you that the United States wasn’t listed as the happiest place on earth. That’s Norway. Again, just like the measurements for the best healthcare systems, the United States didn’t come in a close second, or third, or place in the top five or even in the top 10. No, from 2014-2016, our nation was evaluated to be the 14th happiest country on Earth. Before you blast the study as some esoteric evaluation of emotion, it’s much deeper than that. The score is based on six key variables, including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, social freedom, generosity and absence of corruption. If our nation was an NFL team, at 14th place, we wouldn’t even make the playoffs when evaluated on those six factors. Forgive my sports metaphors, but in a country obsessed with sports that also claims it’s the greatest nation in the world, these studies help illustrate that we simply aren’t winning the way we say we are.

Another study evaluated 14 different metrics from the world’s top 136 economies to determine which countries are the best for travel and tourism. Again, this study from the World Economic Forum was conducted before the election of Donald Trump. I sincerely expect these numbers will get worse in light of our nation’s travel ban for majority-Muslim countries and horrific demonization of immigrants. Before Trump, the United States didn’t even crack the top five nations in the world for travel and tourism.

That same study from the World Economic Forum evaluated the safety and security of travelers visiting each nation. Where the United States ranked is so humiliating and ridiculous that it should be a national crisis. Of course it isn’t, though. The United States is ranked the 84th safest place to visit for foreign travelers out of 136 countries that were evaluated — lagging behind Gabon, Algeria, and Benin. Eighty-three other countries in the world have been deemed safer for foreign travelers than the United States. And it’s not just about crime, but about the treatment of foreigners in general as well as the reliability of police forces to assist in times of need.

KING: Seattle-area officers killed man wielding pen for no reason

We have a horrible human being as President

I didn’t lead with Donald Trump in rationale behind stating that the United States is not the greatest country in the world because Trump is simply a terrible symptom of all that’s wrong with this nation — not the cause of it. The deep systemic problems of our justice system, healthcare system and education systems existed long before he came to power. Trump, however, is the perfect symbol of just how deeply problematic our nation is.

More than a dozen different women accused the man of sexual assault or harassment before he became President of the United States. Over the course of his life he has been so profoundly insulting to so many different people and groups — particularly women — that the notion of someone with such a known history of insults becoming President once seemed like a cruel joke. He openly admitted to cheating on his previous wives. He has lied more than any politician ever measured in the history of Politifact — the Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking organization. He has used the Office of the President to target, harass and humiliate whoever is in his crosshairs at the moment. His signature policies, ranging from the Muslim ban to his recent voter suppression efforts, have been widely criticized. His healthcare plan would boot 22 million more people off of insurance and raises rates for the most vulnerable among us. He shoved a Prime Minister to get in the front of a picture. He refused to shake hands with German Prime Minister Angela Merkel. He made the bigoted head of Breitbart his Chief Strategist and another bigot his Chief Policy Advisor. He proposed a budget that slashed meals to the elderly and cut funding for PBS. Over dinner during his first week in office he approved a disastrous airstrike in Yemen that not only got a Navy Seal killed, but slaughtered scores of men, women and children.

Donald Trump is a nightmare. More people in this country are now calling for his impeachment than actually approve of the job he’s doing. Every single day that he tweets or opens his mouth to speak, he causes turmoil and stress where none was needed. Sincere people question his mental health. His own peers in the Republican Party have now been forced to ask him to stop his offensive rhetoric.

KING: Donald Trump’s presidency is a dumpster fire

Donald Trump is not the lone reason why our nation fails to be the greatest nation in the world, but as long as he’s President, this much I know: we will never be great. He doesn’t have the capacity for greatness. He’s a privileged, entitled 71-year-old longtime misogynist who has never really been held accountable for his sins his entire life. Outside of his kids, who are his protégés? Who has he taught, built, mentored or grown into something of note? Before he became President, what changes in society had he fought for and won that made our country into a better place? Name one.

Trump is the perfect symbol of just how deeply problematic our nation is.

Trump is the perfect symbol of just how deeply problematic our nation is.


A few people in our country may have a lot of money and our military may have a lot of guns, but we’re not the greatest nation in the world. We could sit here all day and debate who’s better, but I know it’s not us. Not with Trump and not with all of our core systems struggling in the most basic ways to be fair and just to everyday Americans who deserve so much better.

Like Jackie Robinson or Colin Kaepernick, I don’t beam with pride when I see the American flag or hear the National Anthem because I don’t believe the promises those things claim to represent are true. They were never true. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and most of America’s laws were never written with most of the country in mind.

Now, the lazy retort I see most often is that I have freedoms that people don’t have in Afghanistan or North Korea and that I wouldn’t last a day talking like I talk in those countries. That may be true, but if that’s the best you can do, you’ve already proven my point. Those places aren’t my barometer. They aren’t the pace cars for how well or how poorly our nation is doing. Instead, I’m looking at the countries that are running circles around us in every key metric available.

KING: Why I won’t be responding to Trump’s outrageous tweets

I have fought for my entire life to make this country a better place. I’ve mentored, taught, preached, counseled, advised, protested, marched and written in every way I know how to leave a mark that will make this nation live up just a little bit more to its ideals. For generations my family has fought for this country in military service. My mother labored for 45 years in a light bulb factory in pursuit of the American dream. I am here by choice. I could leave, but I criticize this nation out of a place of love and longsuffering — not hate. I have poured too much into this land to give up on it. I have also seen far too much of our ugliness to bring myself to lie about who and what this nation really is.

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Lena Horne Centennial


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Lena Horne in 1955. Horne was one of the biggest stars for MGM, helping to break the film studio color barrier in Hollywood in films like “Panama Hattie.”

June 30th marks what would have been the 100th birthday of the great Lena Horne. Horne was a singer, nightclub performer, actor, and activist, who broke down color barriers in the entertainment industry in the early 20th century. Her singing career began at the Cotton Club when she was just a teenager, and she introduced some of the biggest jazz standards by composers Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. This hour, we’ll learn more about Lena Horne’s life and career, and feature some of her best recordings along the way.

Cotton Club

Lena Horne was born into an upper-middle class black family in Brooklyn, New York on June 30th 1917. Her mother moved her into the south, and deep into poverty. But at age 16, she moved back to New York, and began singing at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. It was at the Cotton Club that she was first introduced to the music of Harold Arlen, a composer whose music would help define her career.

In 1936, she began to sing with Noble Sissle’s orchestra, a high-society African-American touring band. It was there she began to hone her craft, not so much as a jazz singer, but as an all-around entertainer. Her fame began to grow as an excellent singer and a knockout beauty. Within five years, she earned more mainstream success, performing at the Café Society nightclub, the radio program The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, and recording with bandleaders Charlie Barnett and Artie Shaw and earning her first hit records.

MGM and Panama Hattie

1941 was the year of Lena Horne’s life that would define her career. Her nightclub appearances got her noticed by people out in Hollywood, which led to two big breaks. The first was a chance to record six songs with RCA out in Hollywood, including her signature song “Stormy Weather.” The second was a film deal with MGM. With the help of Walter White, the head of the NAACP, Horne managed to negotiate a contract that was on par with white actresses at the time, something completely unheard of for an African-American actress.

In 1942, she was featured in the MGM film Panama Hattie. Her role was one of the first roles for an African American in a major studio feature that was not based on a demeaning stereotype. It was a watershed moment in civil rights in the US. This would later lead to other roles in films like Ziegfeld Follies and Stormy Weather, where she sang the title song, turning Lena Horne into a civil rights icon.

Lena Horne and Harold Arlen

By 1943, Lena Horne was one of the biggest stars in America, and someone who helped break the color barrier in the film industry. Her star in Hollywood began to grow, but from the music side, she developed close relationships with some of the biggest songwriters in the industry. Most notably, Lena Horne became associated with the music of Harold Arlen.

Arlen of course wrote Horne’s signature song “Stormy Weather.” Horne first sang in 1941 for RCA records, but would later sing in the film musical Stormy Weather, as well as dozens more times in her live sets. Arlen was also one of the composers working in the Cotton Club where Horne got her start, and a sixteen-year old Horne sang Arlen’s brand new song “As Long As I Live,” a song that she would later record.

Arlen wrote the song “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home,” as well another hit song “Come Rain Or Come Shine” specifically for Lena Horne. They were both part of his 1945 Broadway musical St. Louis Woman, Arlen was eager to get MGM’s newest star on board. However, Horne was opposed to the depiction of the black characters in the show as gamblers and prostitutes, and declined to star in the Broadway musical. However, she would record both of Arlen’s songs years later.

In 1945, Horne starred in the all-black MGM musical and morality play Cabin In The Sky. Arlen and Yip Harburg added new songs to the film version of the show, including the song “Ain’t It The Truth” for Lena Horne. In the film, Horne sang the song while sitting in a bubble bath. The scene was considered too risque by the censors, and cut from the film.

Lena Horne and Billy Strayhorn

Lena Horne had close friendships with many important composers, but none was as close as her friendship with Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s right-hand man. It was never a romantic relationship—Strayhorn was an openly gay man—but it was very personal to both parties. Horne called Strayhorn “her only real friend.” Strayhorn wrote songs for Horne, and she was the last person he visited before he passed away in1 967. Once when Strayhorn was mugged on the street, the only thing he cared about protecting was a ring he received as a gift from Lena Horne.

In 1955, Strayhorn wrote a love song for Lena Horne called “You’re The One,” a charming tune that captures their mutual admiration for each other. He also wrote the song “Maybe” for her, which she would record many times, including on her 1994 Grammy Award-winning album An Evening With Lena Horne.

The Lady And Her Music

Lena Horne’s music never really fell into the category of jazz, but she wasn’t really a pop singer either. She was first and foremost a nightclub performer, a class of entertainer that doesn’t really exist any longer.

Her performances were legendary. She performed at many of the most notable clubs, including The Sands in Las Vegas and the Cocoanut Grove in LA. Her 1957 engagement at the Waldorf Astoria in New York was turned into the record Lena Horne at the Waldorf Astoria, and became RCA’s biggest-selling album by a female vocalist.

In 1981, Lena Horne took her nightclub performances and transformed it into a one-woman show on Broadway. The Lady And Her Music, as it was called, had Lena telling personal stories and performing some of her biggest hits for over 300 performances on Broadway. The show earned her a Tony Award, a Drama Desk award, and a Grammy Award. The show opened with the vibrant Cole Porter tune “From This Moment On,” a song that showcases Horne’s unique brilliance as a performer.

Final Years

Lena Horne continued to perform and record in the decades after her award-winning Broadway music The Lady And Her Music. In 1994, she made another live album called An Evening With Lena Horne. She was nearly 80 years old when it was released, but she still looked barely 50, and sounded much younger too on the album. An Evening With Lena Horne would be the singer’s final live album, but it would earn her a Grammy Award for best vocal jazz album, beating out stars of several younger generation, including Abbey Lincoln, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, and Kurt Elling.

Lena Horne passed away in 2010 at age 92. In her career, she had helped pave the way for other black artists, especially actors, by holding herself to a higher standard and demanding more respect from the studios. Horne remained deeply involved in the civil rights movement throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s, even sacrificing her own film career for the cause of equality.

Horne’s final recording sessions came in the late 1990s for the Blue Note album Being Myself. At this time, Horne said of herself, quote “My identity is very clear to me now: I am a black woman. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.” unquote

On this record, she recorded many of her old hits, including the Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler song “As Long As I Live.” This song was written in 1934 while Arlen, Koehler, and a 16-year old Lena Horne were all working in New York City’s Cotton Club. It was first performance by Avon Long, and it was his idea to bring the unknown Horne on stage to sing eight bars of the song. It was her first time in the spotlight, but it caught the eye of Arlen, and newspaper columnists Walter Winchell and later Ed Sullivan. “As Long As I Live” was the song that made Lena Horne pursue a career in entertainment.

Music Heard On This Episode


RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Musician Honored For Contribution To African American Arts

CHICAGO (CBS) — Playing the electric version of the African finger piano is known as the Kalimba, and it’s just one of the many musical achievements of a Rogers Park man who’s made an international mark on Jazz and the Black Arts Movement.

Phil Cohran, who turned 90 on Monday, first made his mark as an internationally acclaimed Jazz trumpeter. However, he soon realized he wanted to do more, and set out to spread awareness about how culture motivates the arts.

In the 60’s, Cohran helped bring the writings of Paul Laurence Dunbar into Chicago Public Schools in African American dialect, and it was Cohran who electrified the Kalimba and made it relatable to a new generation.

“Phil Cohran is really one of the seminal characters in the development of black music in Chicago and for our country,” said musician Kahil El’Zabar.

The Jazz Foundation of America and the Chicago Music Academy are presenting Cohran with a lifetime achievement award concert Monday night at St. Adalbert’s Church in Pilsen.

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Kamala Harris Maneuvers To Help Democrats — And Build A National Profile

By Eric Bradner

California Sen. Kamala Harris criticized the Trump administration at length over the FBI director’s James Comey firing and said the situation was essentially unheard of.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. Kamala Harris is using her newfound progressive stardom to raise money for her Democratic colleagues — and amplifying buzz about the California freshman as a prospect for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination in the process.

In the first six months of 2017, Harris has raised more than $600,000 for a dozen Senate colleagues — including $365,000 from small-dollar online contributions, her aides said.

The email list Harris has used to raise the bulk of that money is 10 times the size it was at this time last year, during her Senate campaign. She’s used that list to raise money for incumbents up for re-election in the 2018 cycle, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Harris is also planning a travel schedule in the fall to raise money for Democratic Senate incumbents as well as the challengers for seven Republican-held House seats in California that the party is targeting.

The fundraising and travel comes after a quick star turn for the freshman senator, who just took office in January.

And as the Democratic Party searches for new leaders, the 52-year-old Harris is increasingly seen as someone who could follow the rare path trodden by Barack Obama — who was elected to the Senate in 2004 and the presidency just four years later.

Her grilling of President Donald Trump administration officials in nationally televised hearings — which led to her twice being shushed by the Senate intelligence committee’s chairman, Richard Burr — served as her introduction to many Democrats nationally.

Those moments with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also represented breakout moments for a politician who had been seen as overly cautious in her previous job as California’s attorney general.

That view, her allies have long said, was largely a result of her role: Harris was keenly aware that comments potentially related to court battles and investigations could jeopardize those efforts.

“She felt, obviously, a little bit handcuffed. And now she feels like the handcuffs are off,” said Sean Clegg, a long-time Harris consultant.

“The Kamala Harris that the public’s seeing now is the same Kamala Harris that we’ve seen behind closed doors, which is a person with a strong perspective with public policy issues, who’s passionate about those issues, but who’s now doing a different job that’s about direct advocacy and about position-taking,” Clegg said. “It’s almost like she’s playing a different position on the floor and is showcasing parts of her game that she’s always had.”

Aggressively challenging Trump nominees and administration officials is advantageous for Harris in part because she represents California — a hub of the anti-Trump resistance where Harris has little to lose in the types of moments that put her on the presidential radar.

But Harris has also demonstrated a keen understanding of what it takes to build her national profile. In part because she is new to the scene, her growth on social media far outpaces the two dominant progressive stars, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Harris also sought to extend her reach beyond normal political channels. In recent days, she released a widely praised Spotify playlist to celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month to Blavity, a site that targets Black millennials, and she wrote a scathing critique of the Senate Republican health care bill for Lena Dunham’s “Lenny Letter” newsletter.

She has also paid careful attention to growing her email list. Clegg said Harris found a 10-to-1 return on investment through Facebook advertising after the election to help build that list and raise money.

Harris plans an aggressive travel schedule in the fall to help 2018 Democratic House and Senate candidates.

Democratic operatives said those moves — rather than trips to early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire — are the right ones for any major 2020 contender in a party desperate for immediate wins and eager to reward those who are most effective at confronting Trump and delivering those victories.

“I would be as energetic as I possibly could be on behalf of 2018 candidates. Being on the road, speaking at fundraisers, speaking at events for those candidates, and using those trips to widen her circle of associations among Democratic activists would be the next thing that I would do,” said David Axelrod, who guided Barack Obama to the presidency four years after his election to the Senate.

She is likely to campaign and raise money for candidates who could benefit from her support — potentially including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown — and to focus on seven House seats in California held by Republicans, but where Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the 2016 election.

“Her greatest focus has been, how can we leverage this moment to build our online following, to help go win the fight in 2018,” Clegg said.

“She’s leveraging this growth to go fight the most immediate and important battle, which is to defend Senate colleagues and to help those House races.”

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