EPL Podcast: The Check Out

Welcome to the The Check Out podcast of Evanston Public Library! It’s the people of Evanston, Illinois who make this community great.  They’re active, engaged, and always working to make the community better. Many Evanstonians say there’s no other place they’d rather live! On The Check Out, we’ll be talking to people from across the diverse spectrum of those who live and work here. Along the way, you might also learn about the role the Library plays in the community. Your host is Jill Schacter, Community Engagement Coordinator at Evanston Public Library.

We welcome your feedback! Email us at: thecheckout@cityofevanston.org.  You also can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Episode 19: Nia Williams and Mollie Hartenstein: Evanston Fight for Black Lives

Evanston Fight for Black Lives is an activist group led by Evanston youth that formed in June 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, when racial justice demonstrations and conversations about White Supremacy in America were taking shape across the country. The group focuses on pursuing abolition and justice for the Black community, holding marches, virtual conversations, sit-ins, and more to help further their cause.

Evanston Township High School grads and EFBL organizers Mollie Hartenstein and Nia Williams discuss what it’s like being a young activist, what abolition means to them, and how they’ve been working through EFBL to combat inequality and injustice in Evanston. We’ll also discuss the concept of mutual aid and how EFBL is working to promote it with projects like Evanston’s Community Fridge.

To learn more, follow Evanston Fight for Black Lives on Instagram and Facebook.

Episode 18: Dr. Michael Allen

Dr. Michael Allen is the principal of Oakton Elementary School in Evanston. In 2020 he was named Elementary Principal of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association. Dr. Allen grew up in the projects of Zion, Illinois and experienced homelessness in childhood. Today he sees himself as a voice for and to empower marginalized people, both students and leaders. He’s the author of Brotherly Love, published in 2020. This book for middle graders describes the true story of how he helped his struggling youngest brother by removing him from an unstable home life, advocating for him, and enrolling him in high school in Valparaiso, Indiana where Michael himself was an undergraduate in college. This challenging experience, born out of love, made Dr. Allen realize his life’s mission: to be there for those who are vulnerable and to liberate everyone searching for the freedom to be themselves.

To learn more about the book Brotherly Love and Dr. Allen’s powerful story go to: brotherlylovebook.com

Episode 17: Tim Rhoze

Director, actor, and playwright Tim Rhoze is the Producing Artistic Director of Evanston’s Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre. Tim has directed and produced more than 30 productions during his tenure and also written, co-written, and directed world premiere performances. Tim has performed at theatres including Chicago’s Goodman, Victory Gardens, Northlight, Steppenwolf, and Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club. You may have seen him on Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago PD, and The Practice to name just a few TV shows in which he’s appeared. Enjoy this beautiful, resonant storyteller discuss his path to a life as an actor, director, and writer, starting out in Detroit and making his way to Chicago. We also talk about the current moment in the struggle for racial equity, the hope that our youth inspire, and why true activism around racism is a full-time endeavor. To learn more about Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, please go to fjtheatre.com.

Episode 16: Todd Hasak-Lowy

Todd Hasak-Lowy is the author of two books for adults, a book of short stories called The Task of this Translator and the novel Captives. He has also written several books for younger readers and young adults. Todd is also a translator of literature from Hebrew to English, taught at the University of Florida for eight years, and currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. In this episode, we focus on discussing his latest book for older kids–We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World, published April 2020. We talk about what non-violent activism is, how creative it can be, and how it can turn weakness into power. We discuss various non-violent movements and their methods. He gives some ideas for parents with curious children who ask how they can help make positive change in the world. Learn more about his work at toddhasaklowy.com

Episode 15: Meleika Gardner

Meleika Gardner has been on an inspiring path with a lot of creative twists and turns. Her early career in Atlanta and Los Angeles included dancing on the road for La Face Records, a joint venture with the recording artist Babyface and Arista Records, and working with the Concord Music Group, learning directly from famed producer Norman Lear. Starting in 2013, Meleika started Evanston Live TV, a social media and YouTube platform she uses to tell important Evanston stories related to politics, social justice, and community affairs. She serves on the board of WE WILL (Women Empowering Women in Local Legislation), and is promoting bills in the Illinois legislature to push for the teaching in our schools of a more complete history of African Americans. Find Evanston Live TV on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Learn more about WE WILL at wewillwomen.org.

Episode 14: Christine Wolf

Christine Wolf, a longtime Evanston resident, describes herself as an author and enterprise journalist. She wasn’t always a writer. She’s previously worked in advertising and spent years teaching. About 15 years ago, she decided to write and jumped in with both feet, often exhibiting a good deal of emotional bravery in the kinds of topics she tackles. In this episode, we talk about her writing path, stories that matter to her, and how she engages the community through a career that is now focused on storytelling and making connections that can make a difference. The Evanston Public Library has played an important role in her writing life. Learn more about Christine’s work at christinewolf.com

Episode 13: Karen Danczak Lyons

Sitting in for Jill Schacter, show producer Steve Johnson interviews Evanston Public Library Executive Director Karen Danczak Lyons. Karen has been at the helm of the Library since 2012 after nearly two decades in the Chicago Public Library system.

In this conversation, Karen and Steve explore how the Library is reimagining itself as it serves the community using an equity lens; they talk about access to programming and technology; budgets before, during and after the pandemic; and the viability of branches. Karen also gives insight into what issues keep her up at night related to serving the Evanston community, and what she loves about what she calls the “best job in the world” for her.

Episode 12: Miguel Ruiz

Miguel Ruiz is the librarian in charge of the brand new Robert Crown Branch Library in Evanston. He considers this to be a once in a career opportunity and is devoted to providing public service, programming, and community engagement there in the most equitable way possible.

In this episode, we discuss what it’s like to be a Latino librarian (hint: he’s very rare), some of the barriers on the way, and how he serendipitously found his way to the profession without really knowing it was happening. He shares his ideas on the unique value of libraries, the skills needed in 21st century library workers (they might surprise you), and his personal definition of what equity in library services means.

Episode 11: Robin Rue Simmons

Robin Rue Simmons is the 5th Ward Alderman for the city of Evanston. She grew up and currently lives in the 5th Ward. She is Chair of the city’s Reparations Subcommittee and is the lead behind the nation’s very first local reparations program, historic policy made right here in Evanston, Illinois. Her entire career has been profoundly influenced by the economic disparities she observed growing up in Evanston. She continues to work to improve opportunities for African Americans in the areas of housing, wealth building, and economic development with a solutions-only focus.

In this episode we talk about Robin’s childhood in Evanston and her early signs of leadership. We take a deep dive into the details of Evanston’s reparations plan, and discuss the many ways that others can get involved and support the plan. Robin talks about how she views this moment in time as we face a pandemic, civil unrest, and growing disparities. She talks about what keeps her in the fight for social justice and repair.

Episode 10: Kim Erwin

An Evanstonian of two decades, Kim Erwin is the author of the book Communicating the New: Methods to Shape and Accelerate Innovation. She is currently working with the Emergency Design Collective, a nationwide volunteer network of doctors and designers addressing COVID challenges, and the National Academy of Medicine measuring community engagement. Jill Schacter’s discussion with her focused on her research into the role communication plays in the innovation process. They spent a lot of time talking about whether communicating is enough, or if we want to actually make a connection. Kim discusses how wanting to be understood and make change is a human condition.

Episode 9: Rebeca Mendoza

Rebeca Mendoza is a longtime Evanston resident, having come to the city at age 5 from Mexico City. She is Regional Grants Officer for Rotary International and currently serves on the District 65 School Board; she is the first Latina to hold this position. Rebeca is a founding member of Evanston Latinos, an organization founded in the midst of the pandemic to respond to emergent needs. She is an agent for change, a successful nonprofit professional, and a servant leader.

In this episode, we talk about the unique features of Evanston’s Latinx community, the issue of “invisibility”, the strength of dual language, and a vision for an Evanston that is truly inclusive.

Episode 8: Jenny Thompson

Jenny Thompson is the Director of Education at the Evanston History Center. Jenny has an M.A. in American Studies from the George Washington University and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland. Her work focuses on 20th century American history and culture, the cultural history of American wars, and the history of images.

Jenny is spearheading the Evanston Community History Project at the Evanston History Center, documenting the pandemic in Evanston. We talk about what goes into making a worthy collection, the importance of history, Rapid Response Collecting, and the concept of “the necessity of ruins.”

For more information about the Evanston Community History Project and to be included in the project go to evanstonhistorycenter.org. Learn more about Jenny Thompson at jennythompson.org

Episode 7: Betsy Bird

Betsy Bird is recognized nationally as an expert on children’s literature. She is the author of five books, the host of two podcasts, and a blogger for School Library Journal. During the current COVID pandemic, she’s spearheading a Cozy Evanston Community Cookbook, an ebook of recipes from the community. (This episode was recorded pre-pandemic.)

She has been with the Evanston Public Library for six years as the Collections Manager since coming from the New York Public Library where she had a million dollar budget to purchase children’s books! As we learned, Betsy has had books in her blood from the very start. She also learns a few things about the people of Evanston by seeing what we are and are not reading.

Episode 6: Doug Haight

Doug Haight is an Evanston based photographer and video producer. He has been photographing people who are experiencing homelessness in Evanston in partnership with the Evanston organizations Connections for the Homeless, Interfaith Action, and the Perspective Gallery. We talk about the unique aspects of photographing this community and goals for the project which include destigmatization, raising awareness, building empathy, and raising the self-esteem of Evanstonians who are experiencing homelessness.

Learn more about: Connections for the Homeless, Interfaith Action of Evanston, and Perspective Gallery.

Episode 5: Karli Butler

Karli Butler is a fourth generation Evanstonian. She was the director of social services at Curt’s Café and is now at the Evanston Community Foundation. In 2006, on her way to earning her master’s in multicultural communications, she became the victim of an horrific acid attack by a complete stranger. This trauma forced her to reevaluate everything including her own identity and what it means to be strong, resilient, beautiful, and forgiving. We learn about how she found the strength to recover and continues to use that strength to help others.

Curt’s Café does a lot of good on the North Shore. Find out what that looks like at https://curtscafe.org/.

Episode 4: Mary Collins

In this episode, we visit with long-time Evanston resident and Community Development advocate Mary Collins. Mary spent more than a decade as Evanston Township High School’s Community Service Coordinator where she helped hundreds of teens get involved in volunteerism in Evanston. Now with Girls Play Sports and the Foster Center Group, she continues to bring focus to young girls’ lives and to emerging non-profits. Also, her mom used to drive the Evanston Public Library book mobile!

Find out more about Girls Play Sports in Evanston at https://www.teamgps.org/ and Foster Center Group at http://www.fostercenter.org.

Episode 3: Dino Robinson

Dino Robinson founded the Shorefront Legacy Center, an organization that collects preserves and educates people about Black history on Chicago’s suburban North Shore. Our conversation touched upon Evanston’s racist redlining past, and ventured into early business development in the Black community. The African-Americans who have been in Evanston since the beginning were much more than “the help.” They were energized entrepreneurs.

Dive into the history of African-Americans on the North Shore by visiting Shorefront at http://www.shorefrontlegacy.org/. Photo: Evanston Photographic Studio

Episode 2: Lisa Degliantoni

Most folks know Lisa Degliantoni as “Lisa D.” She has made waves in the Evanston art community from the minute she arrived here from Texas and established her home and accompanying art gallery in a former Polish Meat Shop. We talk about how she worked to galvanize the energy of Evanston artists, organize the scene through Evanston Made, and encourage residents to #collectevanstonart through greater awareness, openings and studio tours. Check out Evanston Made at https://evanstonmade.org/Photo by Jamie Davis

Episode 1: Patricia Efiom, Chief Equity Officer

Pat Efiom was the City of Evanston’s first-ever Chief Equity Officer. She has bachelor and masters degrees from Indiana University. She also has master of divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. In our discussion, Pat gives a report card on the state of equity in Evanston – and discusses how her own family has addressed hurdling the barriers to equity in a head-on manner.

You can learn more about the City of Evanston’s commitment to equity and its programs by visiting https://www.cityofevanston.org/government/equity-empowerment.  You can also review the Evanston Public Library Equity Assessment conducted by D’Etta Jones and Associates.

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