CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy

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A MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember those individuals who have fought and died for the freedoms we so often as a nation take for granted. It is also a time to honor their loved ones who know all too well the sadness that loss on such a great emotional scale brings.

Every day is a day of memorial for these families. To say that we will never forget their sacrifice is important, but it is not enough. Over the course of the next several days, we will see and hear many tributes to our fallen and to the Gold Star family members who carry the weight of their sacrifice and loss. It is important to show our respect and to honor them. 

On Saturday, May 26, 2018, the City of Chicago will host the 2018 Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade along State Street. This event is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, a testament to the commitment of the City of Chicago to honor the generations of families and friends from all wars, who have lost a loved one in military actions in the name of freedom.

The ceremony and parade are coordinated by a City of Chicago committee with 20 staff and volunteers who work in the months leading up to the parade to plan the event. Here you will find representatives from all branches of the military, the CPS JROTC, the Chicago Loop Alliance, USO and many others joining with the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to make it happen.

   Jim Frazier  A memorable 2016 program. 

Jim Frazier A memorable 2016 program. 

You will also find James Frazier. Jim’s son Jake was killed in Afghanistan on March 29, 2003. Today, his family is among over 270 other Gold Star families in Illinois who have lost loved ones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat actions. Jim has brought a strength of purpose to the table in his position as the Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator and continues to support the Gold Star Families of Illinois. You can listen to more of Jim Frazier's story in our 2016 podcast.

The Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. at Daley Plaza. It is a moving and poignant program dedicated to the memory of those members of our armed forces who did not come home.

The Chicago Memorial Day Parade is like no other. In another time, newspapers published advance pull-out sections with the parade route, photographs and tributes to the fallen. Until only a few years ago, the parade itself was broadcast, first live, and then a shorter version on a tape-delayed basis the next day. Budgets being what they are, this is no longer possible. You will still see early morning features about the event on local television and broadcast news pool reports covering the ceremony.

Public awareness, of course, is not the point. The fact is less than one-half of one percent of the population today has a family member in active military service. Based on a 2011 Pew poll, 4 out of 5 aged 50 to 70 have a relative – perhaps even a direct relative – who has served in uniform. The numbers drop to 2 out of 5 for those aged 20 to 30. Although current statistics are slim, the younger generation may actually know someone who has or is currently serving. 

Events like the Chicago Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade bring together over 8,000 participants and 100 organizations. Since there may be no other way that you could know, for example, there are over 5,000 Chicago JROTC cadets -- young men and women -- marching from programs throughout Chicagoland. Here are a few highlights:

Lincoln Park High School Army JROTC will be marching with a 76 member unit, a Color Guard and a 10 member Drum & Bugle Corps. Known as the “Lion’s Battalion” the unit is one of the original JROTC programs established in the city of Chicago in 1916 and today, is a premier International Baccalaureate School with Wall to Wall IB programs.

The Lane Tech College Prep JROTC was established in 1930. The school has over 250 alumni who sacrificed their lives in our nation's wars, and they have dedicated a Memorial Garden at Lane Tech in honor of those graduates. Never forget.

The Carl Schurz JROTC “Bulldog Battalion” with 280 cadets is one of the original Chicago JROTC programs, established in 1919. The “Bulldogs” participated in more than 100 school and community events and competitions this year including multiple veterans support events. Service over self.

Edwin G. Foreman College and Career Academy Army JROTC will be marching with 175 of the 415 cadets in their program led by a Color Guard and a 10 Member Drum & Bugle Corps. In case you did not know, Edwin G. Foreman is an outstanding Chicago banker and civic leader. The school first opened in October 1928, as a Junior High School and became a senior high school, graduating the first senior class in 1937. JROTC has been a fixture at Foreman since 1934.

There are dozens of other JROTC units represented in this year’s parade. They are marching alongside veteran’s groups, service organizations, military-themed floats, bands, mounted color guards and one of the largest contingents of antique military vehicles you will ever see. 

A personal favorite is the Triple Nickles. The esteemed veterans of this storied battalion known as "The Smokejumpers" will not be marching, but riding in a trolley, a ride they earned a long time ago.

If you are an early riser, you will see a few televised morning features about the ceremony and parade on local television. Jim Frazier may be among those individuals who will be telling you about it.

Jim will also tell you to ask about the son or daughter of a Gold Star family member when you meet them ... what was their name... what did they like to do ... what career path they were on.  Jim will ask you to then stop, take a moment, and listen to their story, feel their resolve, and recognize the unlimited strength of will of our Gold Star family members.

Only then will you begin to understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Ed Tracy
May 24, 2018

MEMORIAL DAY EVENTS

RISHI SHARMA: Preserving World War II Combat Stories, One Veteran at a Time

Rishi Sharma has logged a lot of hours on the road in recent years, connecting, meeting and filming interviews with combat veterans who served in World War II. To date, he has amassed a comprehensive archive of over 850 interviews – easily over 4,500 total hours and counting — all part of his ambitious plan to honor America’s World War II heroes and preserve their stories for generations to come.

It is a lofty goal and he is determined to press on until there are no stories left to tell. In a relatively short time, Sharma has generated impressive public exposure and private support for his project. He is patient, polite, responsive and well-prepared, treating each veteran he meets with respectful reverence for their service and sacrifice.

There is one more thing that Rishi Sharma brings with him whenever and wherever he is conducting his interviews: a youthful curiosity and enthusiasm that has no seeming limitations.

That’s because Rishi Sharma just turned 20 years old.

It is hard not to be inspired by Sharma or his vision for a perfect world where veterans of World War II never die. He is driven to do all he can every day to meet and thank veterans while recording video of their story. He wants more people to reach out to the veterans in their communities before it is too late, and has created a step-by-step guide with sample questions to make the process easier.

His mission has garnered local and national media attention. CBS Sunday Morning has profiled Sharma twice in recent years, helping to catapult the program that he started in high school by visiting local veterans homes and senior centers to a broad-based national campaign. He has established a not-for profit organization that has already raised over $180,000 through a successful GoFundMe campaign started in May 2016. That funding has allowed Sharma to travel greater distances for his interviews, typically conducting two or more per day depending on the location. He provides a copy of the finished product to each family and is exploring options now for a permanent home for the collection.

What moves you most about Sharma is his determination to inspire others. His hope is that his generation will mobilize and embrace these extraordinary veterans as mentors, thank them for their service and utilize all the technological resources to post their stories online as part of a national archive at: #ww2vets.

Rishi Sharma joined the conversation as he was travelling by car from Fond De Lac, Wisconsin — where he met with James ‘Maggie’ Megellas, the most decorated veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, on the occasion of his 101st birthday — by way of an interview in Rockford, Illinois toward his final destination, a veteran meeting in Champaign, Illinois …  just another day in the life of a young man on a mission to preserve World War II combat stories, one veteran at a time. PODCAST

Rishi Sharma ...“Ever since I was a little kid, I've always been interested in World War II and I've always been fascinated talking to the older veterans. In high school. I visited a lot of nursing homes and I interviewed a lot of the World War II veterans there and I got hooked on it. I started calling up veterans who I'd read about in books with the idea that I could talk to like a real-life hero about what was written about them in a book and hear their side of what they went through.”

For future generations ...“I know that it means a lot to the families of the veterans I have interviewed to have that 4 to 5 hour filmed interview of their grandpa or their dad talking about what it was like going through hell. For future generations, that's going to mean a lot. They won't just get to know their grandfather's name, but they'll get to know what their great, great grandpa looked like, how he talked, how he laughed, how he cried and who he really was.”

Following their life journey ...“I prioritize combat World War II veterans and tend to focus on the infantry. My purpose is truly to highlight the sacrifices made in combat so that we could have a chance at life today, 75+ years later. … when I meet the veterans, basically the interviews follow a pattern. We talk about growing up in the great depression, what it was like as a kid, how they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. And then we dive straight into following their life journey. It's a chronological interview. … how they ended up in the service, whether they enlisted or they were drafted, and then the focus is on the battles that they saw, what their role was, their friends who didn't make it, the things that they had to see, the things that they had to do, the struggles of the living conditions in combat, the fear of not knowing if you're going to make it another day.”

One-on-One ...You're talking to people who saw the worst of the worst and had to do the worst of the worst and now to bring back those memories after 70+ years, it takes a lot out of the person being interviewed but also out of the interviewer because it's a tough thing to talk about killing people and seeing your friends die. I'm in a very fortunate position because I have three major things going for me. … my age, I just turned 20 and I'm the same age as a lot of the veterans were when they were in combat. … I do a lot of research before our interviews. It's important to know the difference between a company and a platoon, a division or what a certain division did in a certain battle. … it's hard enough for the veterans to talk about the worst days of their life, but it's even harder when they have to talk about it and try to explain it in terms that a civilian would understand. … the most important thing that I have going for me is that I'm not related to any of these veterans, so there's no emotional attachment and these men can sit down one-on-one with me and just talk as if I'm one of the guys and they know that they won't be judged.”

#WW2VETS ...“A lot of people will come to me and say, “My grandpa never talks about it. He wouldn't talk about the war.”  “My father never talks about it.” … but in all honesty, it's really because people don't ask. If you don't ask, they won't bring it up on their own. … all you have to do is whip out your phone and instead of taking a selfie, why not actually contribute to history, take a photo of a World War II veteran, add a caption to it and post it online at #ww2vets. A hundred years from now, historians will be digging through the online archives and they will find a composite image of all these different social media posts and videos that people have made. It took them like two seconds to make, to take a short video or take a picture, but they've contributed to this big composite image of what it was like to be a World War II combat veteran and what they went through.”

Comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rishi Sharma|Heroes of the Second World War

WEBSITE
PODCAST

Rishi Sharma's website(www.HeroesOfTheSecondWorldWar.org) offers detailed information about conducting interviews in your community, the World War II Veteran for A Day media initiative and how you can make a donation to support this initiative at: www.gofundme.com/ww2heroes.

Special thanks to Regus Chicago, the market leader for office space, for their support of our program.

PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher
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PLAYING IN 'THE YARD' - Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Few things are more rewarding than spending time with students who are discovering something for the first time. On a brisk day in March, the topic was Shakespeare: a crisp, shortened version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, in fact, with formidable Chicago talent presented by Chicago Shakespeare Theater in the glorious new versatile performance space known as 'The Yard.'  Part of the fun, a terrific experience from beginning to end, is that this is an old-fashioned field trip with six Chicago school groups filling up the place. It is all part of the educational program that provides over 40,000 students access to world-class productions at CST.

For me, it was a little like going back to school again, but without the bus ride. All of a sudden I am in and among a hip, sea of exuberant, young people for a 21st century cultural happening - an extraordinary example of just one of many opportunities offered up by the arts community for students across the City of Chicago.

At CST in years past, the educational outreach was designed alongside the main stage program, often competing for valuable space, time and resources. Fewer students were served in those days and there were all kinds of logistical challenges. Add in that Navy Pier has been constantly evolving and it gets complicated. That expansion – the new Centennial Ferris Wheel, food court, a state-of-the-art upgrade to the IMAX Theatre, the reconstruction of the plaza and main pavilion - is moving briskly and there is more to come.

At the epicenter, however, tucked magnificently in the middle of all the rest, is The Yard.

Not so quietly, the CST has been executing a long-range plan to transform the former Skyline Stage area into a new performance space. On this day, like many when there are two shows, 300 students from six schools attended the 10:30 a.m. performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream. 

From the main lobby, The Yard is a sunlit stroll west along a window wall - the technical term is 'electrochromatic facade' - that reaches 30 feet high. The facade panels can be individually adjusted to block UV rays - think transition lenses in eyeglasses.

The hallway leads to access on both sides of the main floor. As you come around the corner and enter The Yard for the first time, you never really know what you might find. The 90 ft. towers that move independently to frame the performance area encircle the thrust stage for this production which was mounted and performed primarily for students. Except for a few chaperones, there appeared to be no one much over 18.

Cast member Chris Sheard (Lysander) welcomed the group from the stage, telling the students Shakespeare's language is like music, you have to adjust to the language, listen to the tone and watch the expression on the actors faces as the story unfolds. He encouraged everyone to stick with it and the context of the story will reveal itself.  

The play was superbly condensed into a lean and understandable Elizabethan fairy tale with a delightfully talented cast including Christina Clark(Hippolyta/Titania), Sean Fortunato(Theseus/Oberon), Travis Turner(Philostrate/Puck) and Jarrett King (Eqeus/Quince). The lovers played by Ally Carey, Faith Servant, Andrew L. Saenz and Sheard brought youthful cheers from the students when they kissed. This crowd was attentive, respectful and definitely 'stuck with it.'

The entire cast participated in the post-performance talk back. The engaging questions asked by the group included the challenges of "doubling" characters, stage construction and elevation, the actor crossway underneath, the production process from adaptation, tablereads, rehearsal, tech, opening, and, what the actors favorite part of the story was. Carey was asked how she got interested in Shakespeare recalling a touring company performance of Midsummer, following which she wrote a letter to her teenage self predicting to someday be a Shakespearean actor. Not so many years later, Carey admits that the older you get, Shakespeare becomes "more right!" When asked about character development, King said that he starts by trying to find elements of the character that are like him. Every student was leaning forward by this time.  

Watch how Navy Pier's former Skyline Stage was redesigned into a forward-thinking, new venue and how its nine mobile towers are creating a space that reconfigures with each production. Video courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

We all have stories like this in our lives, which is, in essence, why CST has invested resources into this program. As more students participate, there is a higher likelihood that they will support the arts as adults. When you factor in the highly successful summer programs, CST’s outreach is a model for arts educational programming. Every student I spoke with understood the play, appreciated that they could attend and were looking forward to telling others about what they saw and how it influenced them. It was a first for every one I spoke to.

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is aligning schools with programs for 2019. If you are interested, there is more information on the website. Additional performances of Midsummer have been held in schools who did not have the ability or resources to attend the performances in The Yard. And the popular Shakespeare in the Park series is gearing up for another amazing season. 

  Model of stage for CST's MACBETH in The Yard. More in the CST's  Behind the Scenes Gallery  

Model of stage for CST's MACBETH in The Yard. More in the CST's Behind the Scenes Gallery 

All of this would not be possible without an extraordinary commitment to education by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the vision of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson that has created the award-winning new facility. The Midsummer thrust stage is the fourth configuration since the facility opened last fall with the largest proscenium at 850-seats for "The Toad Knew," a 350-seat proscenium for Teatro Linda de Sombra's "Amarillo," and the 400-seat cabaret for "Q Brothers Christmas Carol."

The next show to be bubbling up: the highly anticipated production of that “Scottish" play directed by Aaron Posner and Teller (Penn & Teller) which opens April 25th. 

Looking forward to coming around the corner for this one.

WEBSITE

MACBETH
THE YARD
Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
800 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
April 25 through June 24th
(312)595-5600
TICKETS
EDUCATION


PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher
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DR. HAL M. LEWIS - CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS AT SPERTUS INSTITUTE

The genesis of the idea for Critical Conversations, the spirited new Spertus Institute series debuting March 18th, was framed by another series of critical conversations between President & CEO Dr. Hal M. Lewis and former trustee, the late Eric Joss. They envisioned a series that would bring together strongly divergent perspectives on hot-button issues of the day under the Spertus philosophy that, above all, the conversations strive not to change opinions, but to enhance understanding of individual viewpoints with civility and respect for one another.

It sounds like a tall order amid the current news cycle and polarized opinions on topics ranging from gun control to immigration. So, to succeed to the level of their expectations, Lewis and Joss agreed that they would strive to present opposing views in a moderated format, one that both informed the audience on a range of opinions and promotes the ability to listen and respectfully engage, qualities that have been fractured in the non-stop political discussions in the media, among family members and throughout our day to day interactions.

Generously endowed by Joss following his passing in 2016 and in collaboration with his family, Lewis and the Spertus leadership team have crafted the first in the multi-year series, appropriately titled: “Episode 1: Can We Talk?” The event will be presented on Sunday, March 18th in the Feinberg Theater of Spertus Institute at 610 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The program pairs progressive Jennifer Granholm, former Democratic governor of Michigan and conservative Mike Huckabee, former Republican governor from Arkansas. The discussion will be moderated by Frank Sesno, former CNN Washington Bureau Chief and Anchor.

In our conversation on March 5th, Lewis talked enthusiastically about the series as an essential element of the mission of the organization, founded in 1924.  Lewis has been a member of the faculty and administration since 2003, and appointed President and CEO in 2008. It was during that period of change that the award-winning new facility was going up and, the economy was on its way down. Things were not good, as Lewis vividly recalls, citing public knowledge of the dire financial situation that Spertus was facing at the time – a startling wake-up call shared with scores of aspiring nonprofit institutions, many of whom ceased to exist as a result.

It was in this climate that Lewis began to inspire everyone involved to practice the principles of leadership they profess to teach and develop a new foundation of support in the Jewish community. Over the next several years, Spertus would dramatically stabilize and, today, continue to enhance their reputation as a both a cutting-edge academic center and a thought leader in the dialogue of important issues of the day.

It is all part of our in-depth look at what leadership qualities are necessary for organizations in our society, how the new series will venture beyond the headlines to the core issues and what is ahead for Spertus Institute as they transition to new executive leadership in June 2018 with the appointment of Dr. Hal Lewis as the Institute’s Chancellor.  PODCAST

Succession planning ... “I had a position in the administration and a faculty appointment. After 10 years as the chief executive, I will be stepping down from the presidency and the Board has asked me to retain a part-time position as Chancellor to help effectuate a smooth transition. This is part of a long term, more than three-year succession plan where I have worked with my board, my executive committee, and my successor to lay the ground work for as seamless a transition as possible. ... the late Peter Drucker, the great teacher of leadership, used to say: "There is no success without a successor." ... in the ancient world, and in contemporary events, the sign of an effective leader, and by extension, the sign of an effective organization, is one that doesn't take transitioning or succession planning for granted.”

Episode 1: Can We Talk?
CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS
Sunday, March 18th 4:30 p.m.


Former Governors Jennifer Granholm and Mike Huckabee debate hot-button issues from gun rights to immigration reform. Moderator: Frank Sesno Former CNN Washington Bureau Chief.

Spertus Institute
610 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
TICKETS WEBSITE

Characteristics of effective leadership ... “first and foremost, tenacity. There are simply too many curves that come our way. ... part of what we do as leaders is identify challenges — sometimes the obvious ones, and sometimes the ones we had not yet imagined — and respond to that. ... a key to effective leadership is surrounding yourself with people who bring to the table different world views, different perspectives and different skill sets than you yourself have. ... the old notion of a renaissance leader — the person who had all the answers, who could do it all, who knew it all — is simply a myth. I am not sure it ever existed, but it certainly doesn't apply in a very fast-paced, rapidly-changing 21st century environment. ... you better not be conflict averse because surrounding yourself by different points of view means there are going to be multiple perspectives. ... the telltale sign of effective leadership is a humility that you bring to the experience. Humility does not mean weakness. It does not mean indecisiveness. It means a willingness to say: 'I think I am right, but I might be wrong.'"

Renaissance teams vs. natural leaders ... “most effective leaders today will speak, even if they do not use these exact words, in terms of a renaissance team, not a renaissance leader. That is the notion of multiple people around the table of discourse, who bring those diverse perspectives, as opposed to the mythology that any one individual embodies all of those. There is a notion, that fortunately we don't see much in contemporary studies of leadership, but that was once popular, the idea, of a natural leader: "She’s a natural at this...” or "He's a natural at this...” and I think that is a dangerous concept. I do think that there are some people who are, at the beginning, more comfortable public speaking, more comfortable being the center of attention, more comfortable attempting to articulate a vision and then influencing others. But the problem with the concept of a natural leader is that it is immediately exclusive or exclusionary. If 'So and so is a natural leader', that means the rest of us are not natural leaders and it is a quick jump to say we are not leaders. Plato first talked about this in the notion of the philosopher king in which he said quite clearly there are some who are predisposed to leading and the rest of us are predisposed to following. This is a terrible concept when you play it out because what was the 'natural leader'? The natural leader was a code word for saying: "male”. So, no women could be natural leaders in that antiquated context. Natural leaders were often people who had the money or the connections or the heritage to assume positions of leadership. I find it a concept that is rife with potential negatives. ... I believe that leadership, for all of us, is about behavior. It is not about rank or title or position in the org chart. Which means it can be learned. I do not mean to suggest that it does not come easier for some people than others, but if one wants to lead, we can teach certain key concepts of leadership and, most importantly, give individuals the chance to do what leadership theorists talk about: practicing leadership.”

Critical Conversations ... “We looked around at the world in which we find ourselves — in the general world of politics and religion and social relationships — and it became clear, as it is clear to most people today, that we have lost the ability, to have robust conversations in a civil manner. This is true not just in the halls of Congress. It is true at our Thanksgiving tables, at our Friday evening dinner tables, at our holiday family gatherings and when we get together with friends and neighbors. ... we wanted to bring to the Spertus stage real partisans on a variety of hot button issues ranging from gun control to immigration, to environmental issues, to the role in places of government to issues associated with the media and a variety of other issues. ...we believe at Spertus Institute, that we have an obligation to advance this concept of robust debate and civility because that is very much the inherited Jewish tradition that we are committed to teaching about on a graduate level and in our public programs. There is an old quip: 'Two Jews, Three Opinions.' While it is funny, it is also an indicator of a long-term historic commitment to a serious debate over serious issues, issues of passion, of faith, of commitment where we do not ask people to soften their opinions, but we do ask people to be able to listen and respect the perspectives of others and to be challenged by those perspectives. Throughout the literature of the Jewish people for millennia have been examples of point|counterpoint. Our most sacred texts, beginning with the Talmud, is a compilation of debates and disagreements and arguments that are, and this is a critical point, preserved for people to see whether they agree with those opinions or not. … Each one of these arguments are preserved on the page for scholars and students in general to read, study, challenge, be challenged by and to learn from. And so we thought this is perfect. We live in a world in which civility and respect for differences of opinion is critical and we are the heirs to a tradition that has for a long time embraced this notion of tolerance, respect, and, serious disagreement all wrapped up into one. Hence, Critical Conversations. ... On stage Sunday, March 18th will be two former state governors — Jennifer Granholm, Democratic of Michigan, and Mike Huckabee, Republican of Arkansas — moderated by Frank Sesno, the former Washington Bureau Chief of CNN —  a more partisan panel I don't think we could have assembled — to talk about some of these real core issues in America. Both speakers have pledged their commitment to our vision of robust dialogue with civility and a willingness to hear and learn from the other side. ... "I do not have any illusions that anybody will walk into that theater Sunday with one set of opinions and walk out with an entirely different set of opinions. That is ludicrous. What I would hope is that somebody may walk out and say, I have not changed my mind, but I must say I learned something about the position on the other side that I never knew before that is worth considering.”

Commentary has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

PODCAST

CRITICAL CONVERSATIONS
Episode 1: Can We Talk?
Sunday, March 18th 4:30 p.m.

Spertus Institute
610 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
TICKETS    WEBSITE

CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy
Season 3|Episode 4 - March 12, 2018
PODCAST available on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher
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IMERMAN ANGELS - One-on-One with Benjamin Bornstein

As he faced his own cancer treatment in 2003, Jonny Imerman decided that no one should fight cancer alone. Three years later, Imerman Angels was born. Whether you are on or have completed a cancer journey, or have a loved one fighting the disease, our conversation with Imerman CEO & Executive Director Benjamin Bornstein, a three-time cancer survivor, just might be a game changer.

Imerman Angels' Founder and Chief Mission Officer, Jonny Imerman recounts why he started the organization that provides free one-on-one support to cancer fighters, survivors and caretakers in all 50 states and in 60 countries worldwide.

Imerman Angels is a Chicago-based non-profit that brings people dealing with cancer together with a "Mentor Angel",  that is, someone who is of the approximate age and who has fought the same type of cancer. According to Ben Bornstein, since 2006, Imerman Angels has expanded operations to 50 states, 60 countries and made over 34,000 connections with the support of 8,000 mentor angels matching up a staggering 137 cancer types. 

Full disclosure: In July 2008, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C colon cancer and faced colorectal surgery followed by a 6-month, 12 session chemotherapy treatment that ended in February 2009. So, it is safe to say that the wide-ranging conversation on August 8th was both personal and relevant, all about recent advancements in medical treatment, the importance of early detection, innovations in patient aftercare and what’s ahead for an extraordinary organization that is changing the outlook for cancer patients one survivor at a time.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST  ITUNES  STITCHER

 Imerman Angels Wings of Hope Gala Four Seasons Chicago - September 9, 2017  

Imerman Angels Wings of Hope Gala
Four Seasons Chicago - September 9, 2017
 

Benjamin Bornstein on Imerman Angels - A missing link in the cancer fight ..."The medical advances have been tremendous in the past thirty years. In contrast, the psychosocial support services available to cancer fighters has not evolved quite as quickly. One of the things we look at here at Imerman Angels is providing that missing link of a mentoring experience – a like for like experience – to provide a cancer fighter who is also going through great emotional stress and trauma with that mentor angel who has been through it before … to help guide you through your tough experience, and help emerge on the back end as positively as you can."

Imerman Angels Core Values

These are the operating philosophies and principles that guide our internal conduct as well as our relationship with the outside world.

Mission first, people first - We focus on profoundly impacting those touched by cancer through delivery of our mission.

Create awareness and inspiration -The more people that know about our mission and service, the more people we can help and inspire.
Fundraising as mission focused - While personalized one-on-one cancer support always remains the primary focus, fundraising is essential to ensure we maintain ample resources to carry out our mission.
Create community - We strive to be inclusive, to build long-term relationships and to treat everyone with empathy and compassion.
Build alliances with everyone - We are happy to share and help any good cause. We don't compete - we just hug back!
Stay relaxed, laid back and have funnnnnnnnnn! - While the work we do is serious, there's a joy and fulfillment in making an impact in people's lives.
Stay innovative and always improve - We believe in excellence and must never settle for being "good enough." We set and exceed our own high standards in order to best help those touched by cancer.
Be humble - Cancer is an equalizer. There's no room for ego in the cancer fight.

 

On the importance of early detection and understanding family health legacy … "There is no doubt that there is a genetic component to cancer …lot’s of concern in my own family, so for me, I am particularly sensitive to any unusual symptoms of fatigue ... blood in stool, lumps, sores that do not heal as quickly. … One thing we emphasize at Imerman Angels is to be sure to be in touch with your body. Don’t be afraid of going to the doctor. Many young adults are the most reluctant group, men in particular … It can make the difference between surviving and not making it through your cancer journey to find tings early. Early detection fro cancer, like most medical conditions, is the name of the game for survival."

Founder Jonny Imerman’s inspirational message"Everybody needs something more than just the medical care and the positive relationship and support from family and friends. What (Jonny Imerman) brings to the table is that element of ‘Never give up!’, positive energy and always thinking towards making it to the other end of your cancer journey and doing a great job of transmitting his own energy into the organization we now call Imerman Angels and this army of 8,000 Mentor Angels who are survivors of cancer ... who mentor and give back to those going through a similar journey themselves. ... Culturally, that has been a big part of the footprint of Imerman Angels – Cancer is an equalizer. Cancer humbles you. We can stay positive, still try to have some fun and be a little bit  laid back as a culture here, as we are helping people deal with something very serious – that their life is on the line through a cancer diagnosis."

Overall impact … "The impact can go in a lot of different directions. This is a human connection, a human relationship between two people. We train our Mentor Angels, but we then are not recording or monitoring the interactions. It takes on the personalities, if you will, of the two people involved. So, sometimes that means that encouragement to get a second opinion or to check out a clinical trial for a tough-to-beat cancer … and in those cases, this can really be a life saver."

On the importance of matching age and cancer type … "We call it a ‘Connection Perfection’ mentality … we have a database … we score the way we feel (the fighters) are most important and then we add a human overlay on top of it through our call center so that a fighter can tell us what is most important for them. We try to make it as ‘like for like’ as possible."

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  • If you or someone you know is interested in the Imerman Angels or you would like to learn more, visit the website at: imermanangels.org. You will also find information there about the Wings of Hope Gala on September 9th at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago.

2017 Wings of Hope Gala
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DE USURIS - Arnie Bernstein on Fritz Kuhn 80 Years Later

Charlottesville, August 12, 2017. Three deaths. Nineteen other serious injuries reported. Many more if you consider the psychological trauma inflicted on the scores of individuals there that day. Historian Arnie Bernstein sees comparisons and contrasts to another troubling time in our history.

 Historian Arnie Bernstein on Charlottesville and the 1930s German American Bund movement

Historian Arnie Bernstein on Charlottesville and the 1930s German American Bund movement

As we process these events, individual and corporate stands were swift, condemning racism, hate and bigotry, and awakening, even as the story continues to unfold, a new cycle of activist movement against the forces of evil exemplified in the KKK, neo-Nazi and white supremacists. With history as a barometer, words and boycotts are not enough to stem the tide of domestic terrorism in our Nation and around the world.

In the decade leading up to American involvement in World War II, the rise of the German American Bund Movement, a neo-Nazi organization led by Fritz Kuhn, is a harbinger of the kind of polarization we have witnessed that led to violence and death in Charlottesville this weekend.

Arnie Bernstein, author of Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund, joined me for a program last year during our live series at Skokie Theatre, a conversation about the life and times of a man whose rise and fall in 1930s America provides a glimpse into another troubling period in our nation's history.

This week, we asked Arnie Bernstein to expand on our conversation in the context of the events in Charlottesville.  ET 8/15/2017

ET: Talk about the social climate in the mid-1930s, the political divide that fostered Fritz Kuhn and the German-American Bund movement and how it compares or contrasts to the polarization in our society today?

AB: The German-American Bund movement was largely what the name said: German Americans, mostly naturalized immigrants escaping from the terrible economic conditions of post-WWI Germany.  But post-war America was rough for them, given the anti-German fervor in the United States during the war years and afterwards.  They banded together during the 1920s under various groups, culminating in the founding of the German-American Bund in 1936.  Instead of embracing American ideals, the members of these groups looked to Hitler and the rise of National Socialism back in the Fatherland. But the vast majority of German-Americans (both immigrant and those who had been here for a few generations) had no interest in the Bund and despised what it stood for.  The Bundists were a loud group of maybe 15,000 nationwide.  They never revealed official numbers, and estimates vary depending on what resource you look at, such as the FBI or the American Legion.

ET: The rise of the Bund had immediate detractors. Who were some of the more prominent individuals and organizations involved and how did they express themselves?

The Bund’s opponents were a disparate association of legal authorities like the FBI, elected officials including New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and his district attorney Thomas Dewey (later governor and presidential candidate), citizen groups and veterans, Jewish organizations, and journalists, most famously Walter Winchell, who delighted in attacking the Bund’s leader Fritz Kuhn.  Others who went after the Bund included major players in the Jewish criminal underworld, like Mayer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Mickey Cohen.  They were approached on the sly by important figures in the Jewish community.  The boys in the mob responded, and refused to take payment for their services.  They busted up Bund meetings and busted up Bundists’ bones in the process.

ET: What impact did they have?

AB: As varied as the groups.  LaGuardia and Dewey were effective taking down the Bund by cutting off the dragon at the head: they found that Fritz Kuhn was embezzling the group’s money and eventually got him sent to prison on those charges, sort of like how Al Capone got tripped up not by his crimes but through tax evasion.  As I said, the mobsters broke up meetings with fists and Winchell attacked them in his column and on his radio show.  The FBI worked their wiles on the Bund, with something like 3,000 pages of files accumulated on their activities.  In one case, the community of Southbury, CT banded together so the Bundists could not open a private retreat on the outskirts of town.  The efforts around the country were considerable on so many fronts.

ET: Compare the rhetoric of the time to what is occurring now.

AB: Similar and different, to be sure.  The fascist Nazi standards of anti-Semitism, racial hatred, anti-Communist (which they associated with Jews and African-Americans), and the “purity” of the Aryan race sound exactly the same.  They are separated by decades but not rhetoric.  On the other hand, the groups today are much more violent in what they say and much more open about it.  You didn’t see Bundists walking around with tattooed swastikas on their arms, marching through streets of towns like Charlottesville wielding semi-automatic weapons.  The Bundists were scary, to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the things we’re seeing today.  Sure, they attacked people, but it was with fists and baseball bats, not wielding menacing heavy-duty firepower and driving cars into groups of protestors.

 More at   DE USURIS - ARNIE BERNSTEIN   or listen to the podcast on   iTunes   Libsyn   or   Stitcher

More at DE USURIS - ARNIE BERNSTEIN or listen to the podcast on iTunes Libsyn or Stitcher

ET: In your book, Swastika Nation, you attribute the collapse of the Bund movement to a series of factors. Talk about these and by example how they may or may not apply to what is happening today.

AB: The factors really are different.  The Bund was an organization with a strict constitution and bylaws that were enforced.  Fritz Kuhn brought them down himself in late 1939 by embezzling the group’s money to fund his romances.  He was a dynamic presence who made the Bund what it was, and when he was gone, they struggled.  With the rise of Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, members jumped ship—it just wasn’t safe to be associated with a pro-Hitler movement in the United States.  Then came Pearl Harbor, America’s entry into WWII, and that was the end of the Bund.

ET: Historians often tend to examine social injustice, racism, gender issues and bigotry as having been the product of another time long past. And yet, today, we are grappling with extreme anger, hatred and a new strain of lawlessness fueled in growing numbers by fear, oppression and domestic terrorism.

Learn from the past … or doomed to repeat it?

AB: I think a bit of both.  The Bund was an overt group, while for a long time the people like what we’re seeing in Charlottesville were more underground and outcasts.  During the 1930s social conditions certainly fostered many alienated German immigrants and their sympathizers in the United States.  What they did not have were like-minded individuals in high positions engendering that anger and hatred, such as we’re seeing today.  There’s no question in my mind that what happened in Charlottesville was a culmination of many factors: a right-wing propaganda machine fostering hatred and playing to the lowest common denominator and using well-understood code words and social dog whistles.  “Liberals control the media” sounds just like what the 1930s counterparts said, only it was “Jews control the media.”  

Ultimately, though, there are many more good people in the world than there are of these types.  We’re always going to have to face the reality that they exist and they want to do damage in order to protect a mythical ideal of something that never was. But the world is changing. People who didn’t have a voice before are speaking out and standing up to these groups.  That happened in the 1930s and it’s happening now, as we’ve seen since the deadly events in Charlottesville.  We’re standing up to those who want to pervert American ideals.

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DOES LIFE IMITATE ART?

A centuries old debate leads us to wonder if we are a product of the art we create or is art, in this case performance art, a true reflection of the world around us. After a closer look at a handful of recent musical theater offerings this season, the answer is a resounding yes ... and yes. Some reflection on these fine, insightful works is necessary. There is no doubt that if you saw all these productions, you too will be thinking a bit more earnestly about the immigrant experience and race relations in 20th century America and how it might apply to our lives today. Each producing organization deserves a healthy dose of respect for taking the artistic – and potentially commercial – risks to tell these important stories.

It comes as no surprise that it is all happening in and around Chicago. Our arts community has a reputation for risk and innovation. So, the conversation turns this week to the contributions of five musical theatre productions that have confronted racial bias, anti-Semitism and social injustice as a reflection of our society.  

The Scottsboro Boys


Earlier this year, we spoke to James Earl Jones II who portrayed Hayward Patterson in Porchlight Music Theatre’s superb production of Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys. This was the last production by director Samuel G. Roberson, Jr., a young and gifted theatre artist who passed on May 21, 2017 at 34 years old. Documented in extensive news reports of the day and many books, including an autobiography by Patterson, the story revolves around the fate of nine African American teenagers accused, tried and convicted of a crime they did not commit. The musical adaptation is framed in the style of a minstrel show by an all-black cast. The most poignant moments of this production were amplified because of the musical structure. The overall message of injustice is delivered by the silent and determined presence of Rosa Parks foreshadowing the social changes and civil rights movement that follow.

We have a deeper understanding of this story today because the central character, Haywood Patterson sentenced to life in prison and unwavering in his innocence, taught himself to read and then with the help of journalist Earl Conrad wrote Scottsboro Boy, published in 1950. As Jones tells us in our conversation, the minstrel show context is appropriate for the all-black cast for which the piece was written. With the ability to reflect months later, the Porchlight production of The Scottsboro Boys is one of the most powerful seen of late – a testament to the inspired talent and creativity of the cast and, especially, Roberson, whose bright and inspirational message casts a beacon of strength and perseverance.

Parade


The brilliantly conceived production of Parade currently playing through July 2nd at Writers Theatre in Glencoe is the story of Leo Max Frank, a factory superintendent who was convicted in 1913 of the murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old employee. It is a rush-to-judgment story that ended in what is largely considered today a wrongful conviction. The love story/murder mystery, as seen through the political ambitions and deception of the principal characters, is told this time from the formal sitting and court rooms of Atlanta. After years of appeals and shifting public opinion, key witnesses recant their testimony, exposing the overwhelming prejudice of the day. This parade, however, then takes a very severe and tragic turn.

It is not hard to imagine all this happening because it did. Hal Prince produced the Broadway production that debuted in 1998 and received nine Tony Award nominations, winning Best Score (Jason Robert Brown) and Best Book (Alfred Urhy) and 13 Drama Desk nominations, winning six. A revival in 2009 also received seven Tony nominations. Urhy’s book, based on news reports and personal reflections, is the third part of his “Atlanta Trilogy” that includes Driving Miss Daisy and The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Parade is a particularly emotional heart-wrenching story of prejudice. And while the topic may not be at the top of your list for entertainment, the Writers Theater production should be. This is a musical that makes you think, feel and react to what is happening around us every day. It also highlights the importance of power, influence, factual reporting and the court of public opinion.           

Jesus Christ Superstar


The critically acclaimed Jesus Christ Superstar, which recently finished its run at Paramount Theater, was bold and inspiring. This dynamic production took on new meaning with an all-black cast providing a highly-charged version of the driving musical score, framed in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, portrayed by Evan Tyrone Martin. In our conversation, Martin talked about his own spiritual roots and how that foundation influenced his interpretation of the work. Regardless of your religious affiliation, this production had something significant to offer. A powerfully performed, moving and unsettling depiction of a very familiar story.

Jesus Christ Superstar was a turning point in 20th century musical theater, coming at a time in the early 70’s when Hair and Godspell had already spoken to a new generation of audiences. First appearing as a musical concert album, a 1971 Broadway debut and run followed. Audiences were apprehensive about the treatment of this story in a staged musical version. It was only after the phenomenal world-wide success of the film version in 1973 that the iconic nature of Superstar was achieved.

The themes of persecution, betrayal, redemption and unconditional love were at the center of the superb Paramount production, a bold reimaging of a timeless story performed by an extremely talented company.

My Brother’s Keeper- The Story of the Nicholas Brothers


Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theater, the mission of which is to stamp out racism, mounted an exceptional original work about the Nicholas Brothers entitled My Brother’s Keeper – The Story of the Nicholas Brothers. In our conversation with writer, choreographer and star Rueben D. Ecoles (Harald Nicholas) and co-star Rashawn Thompson (Fayard Nicholas), early in the rehearsal process, we explored the challenges of recreating one of the most celebrated dance teams of the 20th century. Along the way, we began to understand the personal obstacles they faced in a career that spanned over five decades.

In production, the Ecoles/Thompson teamwork proved to be formidable and this was an inspiring piece of musical theater that we hope will find a life elsewhere. The Nicholas story is a natural for a larger musical theatre treatment, a true-to-life historical story including prominent characters of the day like Cab Calloway, Dorothy Dandridge and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Overcoming adversity and prejudice are key to the Nicholas Brothers story.  (Note: Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker is currently playing at Black Ensemble Theater.) 

Ragtime


Griffin Theatre’s brilliant production of Ragtime, brings together all aspects of the American immigrant experience at the turn of the 20th century in a rich, diverse musical journey. Directed by Scott Weinstein, this larger-than-life production is raw, compelling, fresh, edgy and innovatively staged in the very intimate confines of the Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage and is now playing through July 16th.

Based on a work of historical fiction by E. L. Doctorow published in 1975, Ragtime was adapted as a film in 1981 and debuted on Broadway in 1998 where it received 13 Tony nominations, winning four, but losing Best Musical to Disney’s The Lion King. A decade later, the revival on Broadway opened to critical acclaim in November 2009, but closed in early January 2010.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but this Ragtime seems more in step and has much more to say at this moment than perhaps at any other. This is the story of three families in the tapestry of our evolving cultural heritage. Mixed with real life characters like J. P. Morgan, Booker T. Washington, Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini, the fictional characters of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Sarah, their baby and a New Rochelle family remind us that our freedom was born from the resistance to racial prejudice and violence. The American dream is embodied in the poignant story of the Jewish immigrant Tetah and his young daughter whose vigilance and spirit is a central theme.

The challenges of these works speak directly to our ability to accept art that places us in uncomfortable territory, moves us, exposes our own bias and even threatens the essence of our perception of the American dream and spirit. In other words, in order to understand more about our interrelationships, we need look no further than our own musical theater community who is encouraging the conversation, and enlisting hundreds of talented, committed artists who view their responsibility to present meaningful and important work to expand our understanding of the world.

There are many more musical (and non-musical) works that could have been included in our conversation. Endorse the fine work of artists, actors and organizations who encourage us to explore issues outside of our comfort zone and, by doing so, help us to understand not only how far we have come, but also how far we have yet to go.  

MORE INFORMATION | TICKETS 

Parade -- Writers Theatre

Ragtime – Den Theatre

Pearl – Black Ensemble Theatre

Porchlight Music Theatre moving to Ruth Page Fall 2017 | Billy Elliot 

Paramount Theatre

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A MEMORIAL DAY MESSAGE

Each year, Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember those individuals who have fought and died for the freedoms we so often as a nation take for granted. It is also a time to honor their loved ones who know all too well the sadness that loss on such a great emotional scale brings.

Every day is a day of memorial for these families. To say that we will never forget their sacrifice is important. Over the course of the next several days, we will see and hear many tributes to our fallen and to the Gold Star Family members who carry the weight of their sacrifice and loss. It is important to show our respect and to honor them. 

That is why once again this year, on Saturday, May 27, 2017, the City of Chicago will host the Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade along State Street. This event is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, a testament to the commitment of the City of Chicago to honor the generations of families and friends from all wars, who have lost a loved one in military actions in the name of freedom.

The ceremony and parade are coordinated by a City of Chicago committee with 20 staff and volunteers who work in the months leading up to the parade to plan the event. Here you will find representatives from all branches of the military, the CPS JROTC, the Chicago Loop Alliance, USO and many others joining with the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events to make it happen.

You will also find James Frazier here. Jim’s son Jake was killed in Afghanistan on March 29, 2003. Today, his family is among over 270 other Gold Star Families in Illinois who have lost loved ones in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat actions. Jim has brought a strength of purpose to the table in his position as the Survivor Outreach Services Coordinator and continues to support the Gold Star Families of Illinois.

The Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. at Daley Plaza. It is a moving and poignant program dedicated to the memory of those members of our armed forces who did not come home.

The Chicago Memorial Day Parade is like no other. In another time, newspapers would publish advance pull-out sections with the parade route, photographs and a tribute to the fallen. Until only a few years ago, the parade itself was broadcast, first live, and then a shorter version on a tape-delayed basis the next day. Budgets being what they are, this is no longer possible. You will still see early morning features about the event on local television and broadcast news pool reports covering the ceremony.

Public awareness, of course, is not the point. The fact is less than one-half of one percent of the population today has a family member in active military service. Based on a 2011 Pew poll, 4 out of 5 aged 50 to 70 have a relative – perhaps even a direct relative – who has served in uniform. The numbers drop to 2 out of 5 for those aged 20 to 30. Although current statistics are slim, the younger generation may actually know someone who has or is currently serving. By and large, however, it seems that if the concept of military service is not part of your culture, a meaningful understanding probably does not exist in your daily consciousness.

So what can we be doing to show our support. Events like the Chicago Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony and Parade bring together over 10,000 participants from well over 100 organizations. Since there may be no other way that you could know, for example, there are over 6,000 Chicago JROTC cadets -- young men and women -- marching from programs throughout Chicagoland. Here are a few highlights:

Lincoln Park High School Army JROTC will be marching with a 76 member unit, a Color Guard and a 10 member Drum & Bugle Corps. Known as the “Lion’s Battalion” the unit is one of the original JROTC programs established in the city of Chicago in 1916 and today, is a premier International Baccalaureate School with Wall to Wall IB programs.

The Lane Tech College Prep JROTC was established in 1930. The school has over 250 alumni who sacrificed their lives in our nations wars, and they have dedicated a Memorial Garden at Lane Tech in honor of those graduates. Never forget.

The Carl Schurz JROTC “Bulldog Battalion” with 280 cadets is one of the original Chicago JROTC programs, established in 1919. The “Bulldogs” participated in more than 100 school and community events and competitions this year including multiple veterans support events. Service over self.

Edwin G. Foreman College and Career Academy Army JROTC will be marching with 175 of the 415 cadets in their program led by a Color Guard and a 10 Member Drum & Bugle Corps. In case you did not know, Edwin G. Foreman is an outstanding Chicago banker and civic leader. The school first opened in October 1928, as a Junior High School and became a senior high school, graduating the first senior class in 1937. JROTC has been a fixture at Foreman since 1934.

There are dozens of other JROTC units represented in this year’s parade. They are marching alongside veteran’s groups, service organizations, military-themed floats, bands, mounted color guards and one of the largest contingents of antique military vehicles you will ever see. The parade will stop mid-way through for a swearing-in ceremony for the next generation of servicemen and servicewomen.

A personal favorite is the Triple Nickle. The esteemed veterans of this storied battalion known as "The Smokejumpers" will not be marching, but riding in a trolley, a ride they earned a long time ago.

If you are an early riser, you will see a few televised morning features about the ceremony and parade on local television. Jim Frazier will be among those individuals who will be the spokesman telling you about it. He will also tell you when you ask what you can do when you meet a Gold Star Family member, and that all you really ever need to do is ask about who their son or daughter was, what they liked to do and what they wanted to be.

Jim will also tell you that it would be a great time to stop, take a moment and listen to their story. It just might change the way you look at everything.

I can assure you that, in that moment, you will feel their resolve and recognize their unlimited strength of will.

And, then, you will understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Ed Tracy
May 23, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY EVENTS 

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