Viviana Gentry Fernandez-Pellon is a fourth-generation Chicagoan who has taken on an issue they suffer from personally: environmental racism. Co-owner of the Chicago Mushroom Company, Fernandez-Pellon lives in the Pullman neighborhood, a three minute alley-walk away from the community garden they codirect called the Cooperation Operation. It is located on a formerly toxic site that neighbors forced the EPA to remediate (remove contaminants and restore ecological balance) in 1983. That process created public records that Fernandez-Pellon could request to view through the Freedom of Information Act. They did, and used the information to learn the history of the industrial uses—and remediation efforts—within the site. Today, they are using mushrooms, a method of bioremediation—accomplishing remediation through living organisms—to heal that soil, which has suffered from decades of industrial contamination. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
If we can learn something valuable about people by looking at the “mundane, everyday objects” of their daily lives, as Rebecca Graff suggests, the assortment of items littered around her office tells us the obvious—that she is an urban archaeologist. Lanyards from academic conferences are pinned to the bulletin board in a messy gaggle, stray surveying equipment sits in the corner, and her shelves are full of glass bottles with worn-off labels, artifacts saved from digs. Even apparent signs of hobbies, like the half-shelf full of beer cans, lead back to her discipline: the cans are gifts from her students, finds from antique shows across the world.
Kevin “K-Max” Maxey is a DJ and Far South Side native. For nineteen straight years, he’s brought his passion for music to CTA Radio, the hip-hop radio show he hosts with Pugs Atomz and Aja the Cover’It’Girl on WHPK 88.5 FM in Hyde Park. In an interview with the Weekly, K-Max broke down CTA Radio and shared where his unique passion for hip-hop comes from.
Steve Badauskas is an artist, musician, and the owner of Bernice’s Tavern in Bridgeport. He’s perhaps best-known for the lively games of Stingo (Steve’s Bingo) he hosts every Wednesday. A lifelong Bridgeport resident, he inherited the bar from his parents, John and Bernice, reimagining it for a changing neighborhood.
Between her first mayoral run in 2014 and now, Dr. Amara Enyia hasn’t slowed down in her efforts to effect change in Chicago. She co-authored the book Chicago Is Not Broke and founded the Institute for Cooperative Economics and Economic Innovation, a social lab focusing on educating and assisting in the expansion of innovative economic models. On Tuesday, Enyia will launch her second mayoral bid at the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport. The thirty-five-year-old, running with the slogan “all people, all voices, one city,” draws on a legacy of activism stretching back to her great-grandmother’s village in Nigeria.
When I walk into Gabriel Piemonte’s campaign office, he’s leaning over a set of newly laminated 5th Ward maps, highlighting the South Shore blocks he plans to walk over the coming months. The office itself, in a storefront along 71st Street, is sparsely furnished—a single bookshelf, a few posters, chairs and a sofa near the door. During our interview, Piemonte notes that he’s hoping to turn it into a public art gallery, or maybe a lecture space. Still, he might be forgiven for worrying about bigger problems first, such as the fact that his opponent in the race for 5th Ward alderman, five-term incumbent Leslie Hairston, has approximately $20,000 more cash at hand than he does. (According to his last quarterly report, Piemonte’s got $750 in his campaign committee account, though he has spent about $20,000 campaigning over the last ten months.) He recently received his first endorsement, from the South Side chapter of Democracy for America, the political organization of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
This week, Chicago will host its first summit on issues of cooperative economics. Cooperatives—often called “co-ops”—are organizations that are mutually owned or operated by all those involved; decisions are reached together and resources are shared amongst those in the organization.
For a few hours last Saturday, thousands of people gathered along King Drive in Bronzeville to take part in the annual Bud Billiken Parade. Stretching from Oakwood Boulevard to Washington Park, the street turned into an endless flow of dance troupes, drill teams, and high school marching bands from across the South Side, all there to celebrate education and the upcoming school year—this year’s theme.
In May, Pat Frazier became the National Youth Poet Laureate—the first ever from Chicago—after being named the city’s Youth Poet Laureate last September. Inspired by poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Safia Elhillo and her activism work with Assata’s Daughters—an intergenerational collective based in Washington Park that organizes actions around the city—Frazier’s first book of poetry, Graphite, will be out this September via Haymarket Books. In a conversation with the Weekly, Frazier talks about the intersection of her literary and organizing work. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tania Unzueta is a fierce advocate for the rights of undocumented immigrants around the country. She helped found the three organizations that defend the rights of immigrants, including Organized Communities Against Deportation and its predecessor the Immigrant Youth Justice League, and Mijente, a national Latinx organization. She was first arrested for staging a sit-in in Senator John McCain’s office in 2010 in support of the Dream Act. These days, she continues to work with OCAD and serves as the policy director for Mijente, a political hub that calls itself pro-Latinx, pro-Black, pro-woman, pro-queer and pro-poor.