I JUST CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THE TWENTY-ONE. That is the 21 charitable nonprofits and arts organizations that gathered in Chicago on April 4, ostensibly to commemorate my late husband Roger and his championing of empathy, but who really illuminated their lights for all to see. I think about them every day, and I hope I am able to help them as much as they are helping others. Between them they are doing some extraordinary things: feeding and clothing and providing shelter for the homeless, providing a safe space for children to do their homework without worrying about gun violence; bringing fathers back into the lives of their children, and fostering support systems to keep families together; helping to physically rehabilitate those with injuries and illness, providing a quality education and after school activities for youth in underserved communities; providing a beacon of hope and light through cultural exchange on stage and screen, teaching students to get behind the lens to document issues that are important to their lives, and more.
Back in 1989 when President George H. W. Bush (41st) spoke at his inauguration, he mentioned "all the individuals and community organizations spread like stars through the nation, doing good." He called them a thousand points of light. Back then some doubted his sincerity, and I must confess I may have been one of them. But throughout the years he showed his sincerity by teaming with President Clinton to carry out charitable works, and was even invited to the White House by President Obama in 2013 to celebrate the recipients of the Points of Light foundation. I hope to encourage a bipartisan spirit of compassion once again. But whether or not that becomes a reality, I want to take the time to thank and praise the 21 organizations for carrying out their missions to help others through education, charity, compassion and the arts.
I announced that the Roger & Chaz Ebert Foundation would be awarding each of them grants, but let's face it, my foundation is small and so the amounts we can donate are not life-changing. So I issued a challenge. I asked them each to brainstorm about creative ways to utilize the funds so that they could do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. I can't wait to see what ideas they come up with and I encourage you to click on each of the organizations listed below, and donate to their great causes. To read more about these organizations also see Mary Datcher's article in the Chicago Defender.
There was Tamar Manasseh, founder of the neighborhood watch group Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), who talked so powerfully about gathering the children in her community to give them snacks, help them with homework, and make them realize that they are loved. The mothers helped to make those blocks safe. This program can serve as a model for countless other areas in Chicago. It was so joyous to see Tim King, head of Urban Prep Academies—an all-black male high school with a 100 percent graduation and college attendance rate— joined by two students who had received acceptances from over 20 colleges and universities. There were representatives from Afterschool Matters, which supports life- and skills-building programs for youth; Free-Spirit Media, which offers hands-on, project-based media production opportunities for youth; and even students from my alma mater, Crane Medical Preparatory High School, which was saved from closure by a rally of the community and the class of 1969. Grammy and Oscar-winning rapper, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, joined his wife, Donnie Nicole Smith, to discuss their wonderful foundation, Donda’s House, which supports arts education and gives youth an outlet for creative expression. It was Rhymefest who coined the term that defined the event as a whole: "a revolution of love." All of these organizations seek to give families and students welcoming places to gather and create.
We also honored Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, which has for many years helped boys and girls escape abuse, poverty and neglect; Deborah’s Place, which provides supportive housing to homeless single women; Family Focus, which helps low-income families give their children the best start in life; Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international membership organization fighting for social change and founded by the Reverend Jesse Jackson; and 21st Century Dads, which improves the lives of children by raising awareness and resources for greater father involvement.
A year after appearing at Ebertfest to discuss Rebecca Parrish's humanistic documentary, "Radical Grace," the Reverend Pastor Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church was on hand to share his efforts in keeping the St Sabina community safe and thriving. I was also deeply moved to welcome representatives from the Ability Lab, formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which helped improve my husband's quality of life and has invested $600 million into bringing discoveries to patients sooner.
Dann Gire of the Chicago Film Critics Association earned well-deserved guffaws by combining the four themes of the day—"Forgiveness, Empathy, Compassion, Kindness"—into one unforgettable acronym, encouraging us all to "Get FECKed." Roger would've approved our support of such cinematic institutions as the Chicago Media Project, which brings people together to connect them with great media, support and amplify films, and do so in innovative ways; Creative Cypher, which champions diversity in the film industry to make it more accessible to independent artists; Independent Film Project (IFP) Chicago, which provides programming and services designed to strengthen diverse artistic visions and enable filmmakers to create sustainable careers; and of course, Kartemquin Films, the collaborative center for documentary media that produced Steve James' acclaimed documentary about my husband, "Life Itself"; not to mention the indispensable theatrical companies Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Lookingglass Theater.
Bringing the event to a joyous close was Quentin Love, founder of The Love Foundation, which feeds and clothes the needy every week at the chef's West Humboldt Park restaurant. He encouraged everyone in attendance to turn to their neighbor and say, "I love you," a beautiful encapsulation of the program's very essence.