Report for America

Connie Kuntz

People are still buying houses during the pandemic. But what happens when the demand is greater than the supply? You get a seller’s market. This June marked the biggest year-over-year housing inventory drop in Rockford’s history.  

Conor Brown is the CEO of Rockford Area Realtors. He said there were a number of factors contributing to this housing shortage. COVID-19 was one of them.

Sarah Holmes

This year we witnessed numerous protests across the country. But protesting isn’t new to America. A northern Illinois music library showcases different protest readings and music from the past through an online exhibit.

Sarah Holmes is the music catalog librarian and the interim music librarian at Northern Illinois University. She said the library wanted to do an online exhibit since, because of the state shutdown, there wasn’t anyone in the building.

Mona Buss

Many artists have had to put their shows on hold due to COVID-19. A Lincoln presenter found himself in the same boat until he had a conversation with a musician friend.  

George Buss has presented himself as Lincoln for the past 30 years. He became a full-time Lincoln presenter after he retired from teaching. He said his interest in Lincoln was piqued as he read a history book in seventh grade. It mentioned the City of Freeport.

Farmworker & Landscaper Advocacy Project

The Farmworker & Landscaper Advocacy Project just this week collected upwards of $30,000 in grant money to address the impacts of COVID-19. The group’s mission is to improve working conditions in low-income households including farmworkers, restaurant workers, and meat and poultry workers.

 

To date, the organization has distributed more than a half million dollars in direct cash distributions in the form of one-time $500 cash donations to more than 1,000 Latinos in the region.

 

https://www.facebook.com/CultureStock/

An Aurora-based nonprofit with a mission to cultivate community through the arts had to leave the space that housed its bookstore and community center two years ago. The group is now looking to purchase a new building but needs help to do so.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Governor J.B Pritzker was in Rockford Thursday to encourage everyone in northern Illinois to take the census.

 

He announced that Rockford is running a percentage point behind the rest of the state in its census response rate.

 

Rockford's average response rate is 65.5% compared to 66.9% for the state. And that number ranges within Rockford with some neighborhood neigborhood response rates below 35%.

 

Belvidere is currently well above the state's response rate with 73.1%.

Yvonne Boose

You may not see many young people spending time at coffee shops. A Black business owner wants to change this by making his shop an art resource for more Brown and Black youth in DeKalb.

Jeff Foster is an artist and the owner of Common Grounds Coffee. This shop opened in 2016.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

 

Rockford University announced a new scholarship this week aimed at Black students interested in pursuing business.

 

Between Rockford University and the Puri Foundation, twelve Black students per year will be able to pursue a business degree and graduate with zero debt. That’s thanks to a new scholarship, named after Rockford’s first Black mayor, Charles Box.

 

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An Illinois coalition that advocates changing the state from a flat to a progressive income tax is highlighting public support for an amendment on the November ballot that would do just that.

July 15th is the deadline for filing this year’s income taxes. The Vote Yes for Fair Tax group is using this week to remind people of the upcoming Fair Tax amendment.  This includes voters from Rockford, DeKalb, Peoria, Springfield, Chicago and Metro East.

https://www.gorockford.com/things-to-do/public-art/

Lots of art is exhibited in downtown Rockford. But most times, there is a cost associated with this. Donor support is allowing the continuation of a certain public display.

The Rockford Sculpture Walk is normally presented for two years.  

Kristen Paul is the director of destination development for the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

She said the 13 sculptures were due to come down in June but the pandemic spoiled that plan.

Photo provided by George Buss

Creativity is not taking a back seat to COVID-19. Some performances are happening with the use of the technology. An Illinois history group is joining in on the fun.

The Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition will virtually host: “Lincoln, The Great Communicator.”

Sarah Watson is the executive director of Looking for Lincoln and the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area. She said seven shows will take place live. Partner communities will host them on their Facebook pages.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

Rockford’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners voted unanimously to dismiss a formal complaint against the city’s police chief.

Commissioners found no probable cause to proceed to an evidentiary hearing over a formal complaint alleging that Police Chief Daniel O’Shea violated policy by showing bias and discrimination.

The complaint arose over a comment O’Shea made in May during a news conference.

https://www.sandwichfair.com/

COVID-19 has changed the landscape of the world. Not only does it threaten our health, it’s removed things we may have taken for granted. One is attending large gatherings. A northern Illinois county fair is the latest to feel the blow.

The 2020 Sandwich Fair has been canceled. This is the first time that’s happened since its inception in 1888. It's normally held Wednesday through Friday after Labor Day. 

https://www.cedu.niu.edu/c-and-i/about/faculty-and-instructors/koss-melanie.shtml

Conversations about racism have spiked since the killing of George Floyd. Some people have shown interest in learning about different cultures. A northern Illinois educator said there’s a simple way for people to do this.

Melanie Koss is an associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at Northern Illinois University. She teaches young adult and children’s literature.

New Genres

We are officially in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan. This means summer programs can return but COVID-19 safety precautions must be taken. Some programs were canceled before this new phase. Two northern Illinois communities came up with alternate options.

The Rockford Area Arts Council, New Genres Arts Space and United Way of Rock River partnered to create New Ways. This summer art program is for children ages 11 to 15. The focus is on new media. This includes animation, video editing and audio art.  

Rockford Art Museum

Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan is now in place. Some businesses are preparing for the public’s return. A northern Illinois museum is one of them.

The Rockford Art Museum is opening its doors again on Monday, July 6.

Carrie Johnson is the executive director and curator of the museum. She said the staff started to plan for this about a month ago.

https://www.facebook.com/firstumcdekalbillinois/

A lot of summer programs are not taking place due to COVID-19. Some children depend on lunches from these programs. A northern Illinois church is making sure meals are still being provided this summer.

  

Vicki Boone is the summer lunch coordinator for First United Methodist Church in DeKalb. She said for the past eight summers children came to the church to eat. This year they’re grabbing lunch at the park. 

http://www.jenevansart.com/

Some people may ask the question, “Are race relations changing in America?” Others aren’t just thinking about it. They’re taking action. An Aurora artist is helping to lead this change in her city.

Jen Evans is Aurora’s director of public art. She’s held this title since October 2017. Before that she worked as the interim executive director at Water Street Studios in Batavia. She also taught college art classes for about nine years and worked as a refugee health coordinator for DuPage County.

Pixabay

 

This week the Illinois minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10 an hour.

The increase is part of the state’s path to a $15 minimum wage by the year 2025. Jason Keller, the assistant director of the Illinois Department of Labor, said workers putting in 40 hours a week should expect about $30 extra dollars a week.

“You know, the intent of the bill is put more money back into the economy when you put it into the workers pockets," said Keller. "They'll spend it in the local economy and everyone will benefit.”

 

Karen Fullett-Christensen

We all know that money doesn’t grow on trees. But what about poems? Aurora’s poet laureate is giving that illusion to those who pass by her home.

Karen Fullett-Christensen has a "Poet Tree" in her yard.

She said she read an article in the Illinois State Poetry Society newsletter that highlighted an Evanston woman with a Poet Tree.

Jenna Dooley

 

Conversations at the DeKalb County government’s second virtual forum on race relations broadened this week. Demands for improved housing agreements took center stage.  

 

Jacob Maas voiced concern about uneven housing conditions and agreements that he says are prevalent in the county. 

“You know, we live in a community where it's not uncommon for people who rent to go without hot water, clean water, heat in the winter air conditioning in the summer,” said Maas.

 

Rockford Area Arts Council

Corporations like Netflix, Amazon and HBO have all taken a stand against racism. Some northern Illinois arts organizations are doing the same. This comes after countless protests against racism in America. 

The Rockford Area Arts Council released a statement June 5 saying that they are standing in solidarity with Black and Brown communities.

Mary McNamara Bernsten is the executive director of the Arts Council. She said it's important to speak out.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco

This month, people across northern Illinois came together in Rockford to celebrate Juneteenth. They also used the gathering as an opportunity to protest police brutality. Rockford Youth Activism organized the event.

 

But what exactly is Juneteenth? Here is a brief history as told by those who gathered at Ellis Elementary on June 19th, 2020.

 

Those are the voices of Aija Penix, Laura Bates, Carolyn Cadigan, Aaron McAllen, Harlan Johnson, Toni Thomas, and Minister James Davis.

https://www.gorockford.com/resource-center/our-journey/

Last month a coalition of Rockford nonprofits and one small business announced micro-grants for Winnebago County artists. The first recipients were announced June 23.

Rockford Art Museum

 

  

Due to the pandemic, the deadline for entries has been extended for a juried art exhibition that takes place every two years in Rockford.

The 76th Rockford Midwestern Biennial’s deadline was originally June 15. It is now June 29.

Carrie Johnson is the executive director and curator of the Rockford Art Museum.

She said the museum understands that many artists are caught up in dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

Jenna Dooley

 

Some DeKalb residents want the city’s Mayor Jerry Smith to be more specific on plans to address police brutality.  

 

The mayor spoke at a town hall Thursday night at Hopkins Park. The gathering was a forum on reforms related to justice and equality. Smith expressed support for its aims, but said he couldn’t talk details at the forum. 

 

Dana Chaplin of Preservation Heart Photography

A DeKalb chef is partnering with a nonprofit to supply residents with warm meals.  

The DeKalb County Community Gardens started serving “Pay-As-You’re-Able” meals at the Genoa Area Community Food Hub back in January.

The plan was for this to take place monthly but COVID-19 changed that.

Heather Edwards is the associate director of DCCG. She said the organization has worked with personal chef Rudy Galindo before.

https://pixabay.com

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 Thursday to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Two northern Illinois legislators are applauding the decision.  

The DACA program gives individuals who came to the United States illegally as children the option to stay. They can request a two-year deferment, which is renewable. There are several conditions that must be met.        

Rockford United Labor has canceled the Labor Day parade due to concerns over the coronavirus.

 

This will be the first time in the parade’s 66-year run that it is altogether canceled. Jay Ferraro, who is a delegate on the Labor Day Committee, says that putting together a parade in the middle of the ongoing pandemic felt impossible. 

 

Freeport Art Museum

Many nonprofit organizations across Illinois are feeling the financial blow of COVID-19. A northern Illinois art museum is working to stay afloat -- despite the setback.

Staff at the Freeport Art Museum jumped into action when Governor J.B. Pritzker announced the stay-at-home order back in March.

Jason Judd is the executive director of the museum. He said the first thing they did was look at legislation that could help them.

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