We never thought being laid off would lead to so many opportunities. After the shock wore off, as the days passed, we went through a series of emotions – devastation, embarrassment, anger, fear, feeling largely unappreciated and perhaps misunderstood. We jumped into action and took immediate steps to secure work. This time around, we declared to God that we were more determined than ever to seek opportunities which were in line with our passions. The Lord seemed to answer our prayers by placing us in positions with people who would transition us into the next phase of our journey. Myriad things started happening for us, most of them unpaid pro bono opportunities. In between looking for work, we took the opportunity to hone our skills as entrepreneurs and freelance video producers. We offered to co-lead the process and produce a documentary for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Cook County. CASA of Cook County is the oldest and largest volunteer based advocacy program of its kind in Illinois. CASA of Cook County and its volunteers advocate for children who have been placed into the foster care system after being abused or neglected by their parents or guardians. The organization fell in line with our sensibilities prompting one to become a board member, the other, a volunteer. Now, we both function as volunteers. We felt a documentary highlighting their great contributions for children in the foster care system was a great way to help them make an impact for their 25th anniversary this October 13, 2011. The next exciting project was to co-produce a television pilot. Imagine, a show that speaks to the issues and beauty needs for women of color. For years, we and our peers had to watch a euro-centric twist on hair and beauty that rarely applied to us. We were intrigued by the concept and felt we could add value to the project. As a result, we became Executive Producers for the show. Although enamored, we recognized that we would not get paid unless it was picked up by a network. The show, which is still in development, is entitled “Stylistic Hair & Beauty Web and TV Program.” While working on the television pilot, as luck would have it, a family member connected us with Christ Our Savior Catholic School. They were in search of marketing and strategic planning to increase their school enrollment. We negotiated our first paid consulting engagement. Our work at Christ Our Savior connected us to Chicago’s south suburban area and was the catalyst for working with Thornton Township District 205. The aforementioned projects led to our journey of meeting several individuals who have made strong impressions in our lives.
Our journey began with CASA
As busy as our lives have become, we continue to be endeared to CASA of Cook County because we believe in the organization’s mission and we have the greatest respect for the Executive Director, Lanetta Turner. Lanetta’s story is truly one of perseverance. Lanetta Haynes Turner took the helm as Executive Director of CASA of Cook County, at the tender age of 30, in 2007. It is not her title or position at CASA, however, that make her story so compelling rather the journey she took to be where she is today. At the age of six, Lanetta vividly remembers coming home from school to find her and her sibling’s belongings packed and ready to go. Her mother, who had suffered with substance abuse issues, could not be found. Therefore, they were placed in foster care. Fortunately, Lanetta and her younger siblings were all placed in the same foster home and were able to grow up together. Those formative years, however, proved to be just as difficult due to the physical and emotional abuse they suffered at the hands of their foster mother. After spending 12 years in silence, Lanetta finally found the courage to speak out against her foster mother and all of the children were removed. Despite the difficulties caused by the disruption of her foster home, in the middle of her senior year of high school, Lanetta graduated at the top of her class and enrolled at Northwestern University. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education and Social Policy. Lanetta, then, went on to attend Loyola University’s Chicago School of Law. She had made a serious commitment, early in her childhood, to become an attorney and advocate for those less fortunate. The children that Lanetta and CASA work with are marked with indelible scars for the rest of their lives. Yet, Lanetta believes that with a CASA volunteer by their side, more children will be able to navigate the system safely and become successful members of society. In her spare time, she is a mentor with the Chicago Youth Center- Passages program and pro bono attorney for CARPLS (Coordinated Advice & Referral Program for Legal Services) and the Family Defense Center.
Our Connection with influential people in Chicago’s south suburbs —
Little did we know that Christ Our Savior would be our introduction to agents of change within the south suburban community. Zenovia Evans, more fondly known as Zee by her family and members of the community, is fiercely dedicated to keeping peace around her and in any environment that she touches. Her philosophy is to empathize not sympathize with everyone she encounters from the seniors to the youth of Riverdale. Even though she has a soft heart, she still takes care of business. Zenovia is a member of the Board of Directors for Major Creations School of Hair Design, Chair of the Board of Specified Jurisdiction for Christ Our Savior Catholic School and Commissioner for Ivanhoe Park District of Riverdale. She is the past president of the Village of Riverdale. She was the first African American and first female to serve in that position. Her commitment to her community is unparalleled. Zenovia changed the history of Riverdale. Phase I of the Pacesetter redevelopment, now Whistler Crossing, is the only suburban community to receive the Chicago Neighborhood Development Award. Under her leadership, Riverdale was the first south suburban community to implement crime free housing holding landlords accountable for their tenants. For years, Zenovia has balanced family, work and her community activism. After raising four children of her own, she didn’t stop there; she is currently raising one of her two grandchildren. Her passion for children, a faith-based education and the community has further endeared us to Zenovia because she takes seriously the African Proverb “It takes a Village to raise a child.”
Michael L. Nylen, Vice President & Trust Officer for MB Financial, is no stranger to community affairs. As a product of the parochial school system, Michael has a staunch belief that a faith-based education truly helps a child to become a well-rounded, socially conscious individual. Therefore, when the Archdiocese of Chicago asked him to become part of the school board for Christ Our Savior Catholic School, it was a no-brainer. As he put it, “The Catholic school system has given me more than I could ever give back to it.” His philosophy is that, “We can’t just care when we have a stake in the game, meaning your own children are in school. We need to be committed to helping all children so we can truly make a significant difference.” In the late 90’s, Michael became Chairman of the Southland Education to Careers Partnerships for Districts 205, 215 and 228. Federal funding was obtained to create a program geared toward youth who were not interested in college but saw themselves entering the trades. They created this program by working directly with the Southland Chamber of Commerce to connect businesses with schools. The goal was to motivate adolescents and teens to recognize career paths early in their education in an effort to determine the appropriate academic track in preparation for their chosen trade. This program was such a success that it has become a staple in Districts 205, 215 and 228. Michael didn’t stop there. He understood that the survival of the community also required a comprehensive approach touching the children and community at large. He accomplished this task by enhancing the communication between the Village Administration of South Holland and its residents. From this communication, the “Diversity Dinners,” now called “Community Dinners,” was born. The objective was to bring people together who might not normally interact due to racial, ethnic, gender, age or socioeconomic differences. To date, these dinners occur bi-annually during the second or third week in October. We have seen, and continue to see, the determination and tenacity that he brings to Christ Our Savior Catholic School and the community, which is what makes him an awesome individual.
Through our work with Michael and Zenovia we were introduced to Dr. J. Kamala Buckner.
During some rather intense work in the South Suburbs we had the pleasure of working with Dr. J. Kamala Buckner, Superintendent of Thornton Township High Schools District 205. She is a homegrown individual who has faced enormous challenges while on her path to the superintendency. Rather than walk away from the challenges, she embraced each one. Fortitude and the support of her family and community helped her overcome those obstacles. Dr. Buckner’s love for service is the driving force behind every area of her life. An avid and stellar grant writer for more than 30 years, she has generated numerous funds for District 205. Her membership with the National Superintendent’s Roundtable has allowed her to represent the District and travel with top delegations of school administrators, visiting students and classrooms around the globe. Most recently, she traveled to China. As a member of the South Suburban Chicago Chapter of Links Incorporated, Dr. Buckner dedicates her service to the development and coordination of projects such as the United Nations Summer Leadership Academy, the L.I.F.E. Program (Links International Foreign Affairs and Business and Empowerment for Youth) and the Financial Literacy Program. Additionally, she has traveled to South Africa to help build schools and to Uganda to help distribute Safe Motherhood kits, called Mama Kits. July 1, 2011, she will leave her position of 12 years as the first and only African American female High School Superintendent in the State of Illinois. Her journey won’t end there; she will continue to lobby for education reform to improve the lives of children. Moments of great change and opportunity have been paved for us by the relationships we have forged with these phenomenal people. We will continue to work in tandem with these extraordinary individuals. Their missions, values and philosophies are in line with our personal goals and passion.