Children’s Author Campaigns to #DoGoodThings 

By Kristin Boza 

Faith and family are two touchstones in local author Chanelle Rogers’ life. Her first book, “Good Morning God & Good Night God” was written in honor of her three sons, Andrew, Gates and Bear, as a way to teach them about the power and thoughtfulness of prayer. 

The two-in-one book features a morning prayer and an evening prayer; readers simply flip it over to read the other side. With fun and colorful illustrations, children engage with the images while working on memorizing their prayers. 

After receiving a Master of Fine Arts in 2013, Rogers was sure that by now she’d have written several books. While focusing on her short stories and working on teaching her son, Gates, his prayers, she got the idea for this book.  

“We have always included prayer in our daily rituals, and my oldest son, Andrew, learned to pray by repeating after his dad; then later he said his own prayers to God. By the time Gates came along, I had grown in my relationship with God and my method of praying had really evolved into such a comfortable conversation with Him. I really wanted to show the simplicity of talking to Him in words and ideas that Gates could understand,” she said. “Gates’ lively, adventurous personality gave me the inspiration for the prayers and illustrations. I wanted Gates to be thankful that God gives him a new day every day to be a puddle-splashing, brother-taunting, thoughtful and loving little boy!” 

Reaching kids through words came naturally to Rogers, with many in the literary field telling her she had the great ability to do kid talk. “I think the best thing I could share with aspiring children’s book authors is to be genuine with your voice,” she said. “Children are incredibly perceptive and can sense disingenuous attempts at relating to them.” 

Finding the time to write with three young boys and a bustling real estate business is tough, but Rogers strategizes her day to ensure the boys are occupied while she stretches her creative muscles. “Thanks to a great babysitter, I can schedule my days and consistently dedicate time to the writing goal I set for the week,” she said. “I think the key is setting a goal and spreading it out over the week, because a mom’s day can get crazy sometimes. When I do miss a day, I don’t feel so bad when I know I can make it up later.” 

In conjunction with the book, Rogers and her family launched the #DoGoodThings initiative, which encourages families to do good things for others. She asks for social media users to use the hashtag when posting photos and videos of themselves giving to others. Find more information about Rogers and her book at GoodMorning-God.com. 

Program Highlights Chicago’s First African-American Banker 

 

The Ridge Historical Society (RHS) is sponsoring a program on Jesse Binga, Chicago’s first African-American bankerat the Givins Castle, 10244 S. Longwood Dr., Sun., Apr. 7, 2 p.mPresenter Don Hayner will discuss his book, Binga, The Rise and Fall of Chicago’s First Black Banker, scheduled for release in November.  

Jesse Binga (1865 – 1950) was a prominent real estate businessman who founded the first privately owned African-American bank in Chicago in 1908 to serve black clients denied service at white-owned banks. 

According to an article written by Hayner for The VillagerJesse Binga came to Chicago in 1892 with 10 dollars in his pocket and by 1919 he was a wealthy realtor, Chicago’s first black banker and a lightning rod for the worst race riot in Chicago history.” 

In 1908. Binga opened a bank at 36th and State — the first black-owned bank in Chicago. He built a home in a white area and his house and offices were bombed numerous times. Animosity between whites and blacks led to a major Chicago race riot in 1919. 

Hayner, a lifelong Chicagoan and Beverly/Morgan Park resident, retired as editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper in 2012. He has co-authored three books including Streetwise Chicago, A History of Chicago Street Names. 

The cost of the RHS program is $10 per person and all proceeds will go to the Givins Castle Restoration Fund. The Beverly Unitarian Church, owner of the Castle, has started an initiative to raise money for repairs to the Castle turrets. Donations to this fund will be used for preservation of the Castle, not for church operations.  

As space is limited, program reservations are suggested. Call 773881-1675 or email ridgehistory@hotmail.com. Tours of the Castle will be available following the program.  

You Are My Neighbor Explores Boundless Compassion

The Southside Catholic Peace and Justice Committee, in coordination with local organizations and faith groups, will host the next You Are My Neighbor event, “Disrupting Violence,” Thurs., Apr. 11, 7 p.m., St. Barnabas Church, 10134 S. Longwood Dr. The presentation features Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., author and founder of Homeboy Industries, along with local Chicagoans working on anti-violence initiatives.   

Fr. Boyle is the author of the New York Times-bestseller “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” and founder of Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention program in the world. In his Apr. 11 presentation, he will talk about his experiences in the poor and violence-prone neighborhoods where he began his ministry 30 years ago which led to founding Homeboy Industries.  

With Father Boyle as its leader, Homeboy Industries has grown from a small community effort to a $20 million organization that provides opportunities for young people in poor and isolated neighborhoods to change the direction of their lives through resources that “disrupt” the effects of past violence and trauma. 

Leading up to the event, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 9401 S. Oakley, invites are residents to join in exploring the theme “Boundless” at midweek Lenten discussions Wednesdays through Apr. 10. “At a time when the divisions between people seem to be growing stronger and more painful, Father Boyle’s work reminds us that God calls us to boundless love. We hope to explore practical ways to build peace by ‘standing with’ one another in solidarity and love,” said Bethlehem Pastor Jennie English-Dumont. More details can be found on the congregation’s web site, www.bethlehem-chicago.org. 

In his presentation in April, area residents will hear Father Boyle tells the stories of trauma and hope, and how a community built on the virtues of boundless love and radical kinship encourages us all to embrace the humanity and dignity of all of our neighbors, no matter how we differ by race, income, class and experience.   

Homeboy Industries provides opportunities for young people in poor and isolated neighborhoods to change the direction of their lives through resources that “disrupt” the effects of past violence and trauma. Services include counseling, high school classes, job readiness preparation, day care services and tattoo removal.  

Southside Catholic Peace and Justice, together with a coalition of local churches and organizations, has hosted two You Are My Neighbor events focusing on the plight of refugees and immigrants in our country. Both events drew close to 1000 attendees 

“The success of these events is the result of the community collaboration that took place among our churches and grass roots organizations,” said Maureen Gainer Reilly, one of the organizers. “The invisible lines that sometimes exist in Beverly/Morgan Park between residents and faith communities are fading by building relationships and focusing on our shared hopes for our neighborhood and City.  

These groups followed the example set by the community leaders who hosted the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” campaign, a collaborative neighborhood effort in 2016 to raise awareness and stem gun violence in the city for a single day.  

New Book is a Chicago Style Good Read

By Grace Kuikman 

The experts say to write what you know. Lucky for readers, local author Dennis Foley knows what makes the City of Chicago tick.  

In his new novel, “The Blue Circus,” Foley calls on his experiences as a lawyer, electrician, bouncer, teacher and coach to create a memorable cast of characters and a compelling plot that connects Chicago neighborhoods, dive bars, shady political deals and even great spots to grab a bite to eat.  

The book tells the story of a disbarred attorney who gets a job as a City of Chicago electrician with the help of a union boss, then makes the mistake of befriending a mob-connected city worker. Action takes place from one end of the city to the other, but the book’s two main characters are locals.  

“One of the main characters lives at 102nd and Bell while another lives at 106th and Whipple,” Foley said. “Much of the action takes place in the Beverly and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods with places like the Beverly Park baseball fields, St. Barnabas Church, the Dubliner (may she rest in peace) and more turning up in its pages.”  

While the inspirations for many of the characters in “The Blue Circus” can be found right here at home, Foley’s idea for the book’s main character evolved from a Chicago literary icon. “I pay homage to James Farrell and his Studs Lonigan trilogy in the book,” Foley said. “I often wondered what Studs Lonigan’s family would be like in contemporary Chicago. Enter main characters Danny Lonigan, a Streets and San worker, and Tom Lonigan, his union boss big brother.”  

Among the people we may recognize in “The Blue Circus” are Mary Lonigan who is modeled after Foley’s mom; Tom Lonigan, who is based on Foley’s brother; and a character who runs a neighborhood boxing program who is based on the late Marty McGarry. Foley;s friend and neighbor, Dr. Jim Valek, makes an appearance with his real name and identity.  

“The Blue Circus” is Foley’s first novel but third book. His first book, “The Street and San Man’s Guide to Chicago Eats,” is one of Lake Claremont Press’s all-time best sellers (and an excellent resource if you’re looking for a place to stop for lunch.) “The Drunkard’s Son,” is a poignant memoir.  

In all of his work – including his award-winning film, “Not a Stranger,” which was largely shot in Beverly/Morgan Park and surrounding communities, Foley employs a perfectly pitched Chicago patois that adds spot-on authenticity to his characters and a lot of fun for readers. 

The first incarnation of “The Blue Circus” came in the form of a television pilot screenplay about Chicago politics and how the city works. Foley’s hook was telling the story from the perspective of a city worker, “the common Joe,” he said. The work won best original television pilot in the 2013 Beverly Hills Screenplay contest.  

“I wrote a couple more episodes then decided to go for the book format,” Foley said. He spent the next several years writing and editing. “The Blue Circus” was released Sept. 12.  

Almost like the plot of one of his stories, there’s a chance that Foley’s new book may be made into a movie by a London-based film company. He recently sent them finished book, but said movie deal would be a long shot, “Like winning the Queen of Hearts at McNally’s” he laughed. 

“The Blue Circus” is available at Bookies, 10324 S. Western.  

Writer’s Work Takes Flight

By Abby Johnson 

David Sears’s niece wasn’t interested in “Flying Naked.” To the young girl, it’s simply a boring adult book about piloting. 

“You should write about an adventure,” she told him. “Something that has horses, trains and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry…oh, and American history — but only the interesting parts.” 

Sears, a Beverly/Morgan Park native and St. Ignatius College Prep graduate, is in the Air Force stationed at the Pentagon. He’s a former airline pilot and the author of “The Untimely Journey of Veronica T. Boone,” a young adult trilogy that explores friendship and Chicago history while featuring exotic travel, dramatic chases, tornados, presidents of the United States, millionaires, gangsters, bootleggers, monsters, and one helpful but ornery African dwarf mongoose.  

The trilogy is Sears’s first Middle Grade series, and the disparity between this genre and that of “Flying Naked,” a chronicle of his time as a pilot in South America, may be surprising to those unaware of Sears’s interest in Chicago’s backstory. He’s a self-proclaimed history buff, the result of growing up with a father who worked as school teacher for Chicago Public Schools and always pointed out the historic sites while driving throughout the city.  

“There is so much history that flies under the radar,” Sears said. “And when writing these books I was able to explore all of it. That’s why I enjoyed writing them so much.” 

While he may know the city’s rich past like the back of his hand, his experience in pre-teen entertainment was previously nonexistent. His research process was a rather hands-on one: He spent several hours talking to his niece and her friends, uncovering hidden interests and curiosities. What came of these conversations was a time-travel, historical fiction adventure about two girls from the present who try to save the country by stopping a crime that happened at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893.  

When asked why he chose this particular setting for the story, Sears said Hyde Park is often overlooked as a neighborhood when it comes to historical significance. Everyone thinks of Al Capone or the Sears Tower when they think of Chicago, he said  

“I wanted to bring attention to an area that is arguably the most important in Chicago’s history.” 

And there are still plenty of other areas whose stories are waiting to be told. Sears knows this, which is why he is already mapping out Veronica T. Boone’s next adventure. He gives up his lunch hours to write these stories. But it’s worth it, he said.  

“I never thought I’d be writing these kinds of books, but when the niece gives you a job, you do it, right?” He chuckles. “Seriously, though. I’m glad she did. It’s been good for both of us.” 

Chicago Writers Studio Inspires Local Authors

By Kristin Boza

Writers groups in Beverly/Morgan Park are gaining popularity. Now, local authors have another valuable resource with the opening of the Chicago Writers Studio, 1917 W. 103rd St., #4. Owned by neighborhood resident and author Cole Lavalais, the Chicago Writers Studio aims to educate aspiring authors on technique and structure and help them connect to the writing community.

From a young age, Lavalais knew she wanted to be a writer, but she lacked writing role models. “I didn’t see any working black women writers. I was a big fan of Mike Royko growing up, but I didn’t see anybody who looked like me having a column in the newspaper like he did,” she said. “I wasn’t familiar with black women writers until college, and even then I didn’t know any personally. It wasn’t until I started actually seeing women who look like me doing this that I realized I could be a writer too.”

Lavalais’ career goals shifted as she worked her way through undergrad, a Master’s Degree in Psychology, an MSA in Creative Writing from Chicago State and eventually a PhD in Creative Writing from University of Illinois at Chicago. “I started teaching classes at UIC and other universities. Along the way, I kept running into folks who wanted to write. I decided I wanted to start a community-based writing studio,” she said.

Lavalais chose the location for the Chicago Writers Studio mainly because she and her family live here. “There’s a lot happening lately in Beverly’s literary movement, which I’m happy to see. I think it’s a great opportunity for folks in this community to have another resource so they don’t have to go up to the north side,” she said. “Before I opened the studio, I would have smaller workshops at the Beverly Library. People always said they wanted a local writers studio here to avoid the drive up north and dealing with parking. There’s just not enough resources for folks who want to write in this part of the city.”

The Chicago Writers Studio is a perfect fit for anyone who doesn’t have the time or money to earn a formal degree in writing, Lavalais said. “Not everyone wants to be published, some people just want to get their life story on record. Hopefully the studio will help people do that as well as helping those who want to be published,” she said. Lavalais recommends any aspiring writer starts with a short story. “The short story really teaches you things that you need to write a novel.”

Classes are aimed at anyone who wants to write, from recreational writers to emerging writers. Most writers will start with the Intro to Fiction class, where they will learn the elements of a short story and begin writing one. The Studio also offers workshops on novels, screenwriting and starting a memoir.

For more information or to sign up for a class, visit ChicagoWritersStudio.com.