How can they maintain their cultural distinctiveness and vitality and their sense of place in the face of economic, technological, and social changes?
Is it possible to achieve a mutually beneficial relationship between cultural conservation and economic development, or are those two pursuits intrinsically opposed?
Urban and rural communities throughout Illinois regularly confront issues that relate in one way or another to cultural sustainability and the pursuit of community. Six panelists – three from rural settings, three from urban settings – who have addressed such issues in their communities will discuss these questions and more.
In doing so, they will draw upon their own experiences as well as Part I of “Philadelphia Flowers,” a poem by Roberta Hill (1996). Members of the audience will have opportunities to participate in the conversation, as well. The rural counterpart to this event took place in Pittsfield on September 18, 2018.
Doors open and refreshments available: 5:30 PM
Representing Rural Communities:
Jim Nowlan of Toulon, Illinois, describes himself as “a jack-of-all-trades in Illinois public affairs.” He has been a state legislator, candidate for statewide office, state agency director, senior aide to three governors (none of whom, he notes, were indicted), campaign manager for U.S. senatorial and presidential candidates, professor, newspaper publisher, and columnist.
Nowlan received B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is a senior fellow of its Institute of Government and Public Affairs. He has taught courses in American politics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Illinois Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and Knox College.
He is designated a “foreign expert” with the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai. He has taught several classes in American government there in recent years and has lectured at major universities throughout China.
Nowlan is author or co-author of seven books, including Illinois Politics (2010) and Fixing Illinois (2015), both published by the University of Illinois Press. He recently served as chairperson of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission.
His many awards include recognition as the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Alumni Association’s 2005 Educator of the Year and the 1995 Ben C. Hubbard Award from Illinois State University for “longstanding service as an effective advocate for public education.”
Currently, Nowlan is president of Stark County Communications, which publishes newspapers in his predominantly rural home county in central Illinois.
Jane Ann Petty has a penchant for designing welcoming spaces that reflect the souls of the neighborhoods in which they are located. A native of Springfield and a graduate of Webster University, Petty studied graphic design, art, history, and hospitality. Her studies are reflected in the work that she does today with her husband, Jonas.
In 2006, Jane Ann and Jonas Petty purchased a property on the Pittsfield square that was built as a hotel in 1838. Two years later, they reopened the establishment, which they named the William Watson Hotel in homage to its original owner, Pittsfield’s first settler. After ten years in business, they are confident of their mission to revitalize the historic square.
In 2014, Petty brought her passion for coffee to Pittsfield, opening Free Press Coffee House adjacent to the hotel. The café is named after the Pike County Free Press, a newspaper edited by John Nicolay, who became President Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary. The Free Press had been the first publication to recognize Lincoln as a potential President. Free Press Coffee House has expanded to three locations, the others being in Mount Sterling and Springfield. Petty attributes the business’s success to its excellent products and small-town hospitality.
The core of the Pettys’ business is J. Petty Design & Build. Together, they have renovated more than twenty historic properties, reflecting their respect for yesterday, today, and what is to come.
Claudia Zabala, a Mexican immigrant who became a United States citizen in 2004, lives in Beardstown, Illinois. She and her husband moved to the United States in 1991, when she was twenty years old. They have three children: two who are in college and one who has completed a degree in biology.
Zabala did not know English when she moved from California to Illinois in 1995. She obtained a job with a corporation the same year but was dismissed because she lacked the documentation necessary for legal employment. That experience strengthened her determination to learn English and pursue a career.
She studied English as a second language at Lincoln Land Community College and joined the waiting list to become a legal resident of the United States. She completed additional studies at Lincoln Land and earned a bachelor’s degree in bilingual/bicultural education at Western Illinois University.
Zabala soon became a fourth-grade teacher in Gard Elementary School in Beardstown. She was later asked to teach sixth grade at Beardstown Middle School. She teaches several subjects and especially enjoys teaching English as a second language, level II, to students of different nationalities.
She remarks, “As a professional, my greatest reward is to see my students be successful in school by moving to all-English classes while keeping their native language.”
Representing Urban Communities:
Leone Jose Bicchieri is executive director of Working Family Solidarity in Chicago. The proud son of Mexican and Italian immigrants, he has thirty years of experience in organizing workers and working families for racial equity and economic justice.
Bicchieri has worked with farmworkers in the Northwest, poultry farmers and processing workers in the Southeast, meatpacking workers in the Midwest and Plains states, janitors in Midwestern cities, and temporary staffing workers in the Chicago area.
He was on the national staff of the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride and was a long-term volunteer in Nicaragua during the Contra War. He recently served as executive director of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, establishing the “Bringing Down Barriers” program to unite African American and Latino temporary staffing workers to win more rights. He was a founding board member of Raise The Floor, an alliance of eight worker centers in Illinois.
Working Family Solidarity was formed to build racial alliances between low and moderate-wage workers. The organization pursues workplace justice, opposes gentrification, and supports urban development that aims to benefit all families. The organization combines workshops on labor and housing rights and related issues with direct workplace organizing, community outreach, and Racial Unity Dialogues intended to build long-term alliances.
Bicchieri has lived in several countries and is multilingual.
Vincent G. Thomas is a Rock Island Township trustee and adjunct instructor at Black Hawk College, Moline. For 29 years, he was director of Project NOW Community Action Agency, which serves Rock Island, Henry, and Mercer counties, retiring in 2001.
Thomas was a reporter for two newspapers in the Quad Cities and co-published the New Times, a local monthly alternative newspaper (1969-1985). He worked in public relations for Franciscan Hospital in Rock Island; coordinated a branch of Rock Island Public Library; and taught at East Moline Correctional Center for Roosevelt University.
He has served on boards of local and statewide organizations, including the NAACP, Left Bank Art League, Native American Coalition of the Quad Cities, U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association, and Casa Guanajuato in Moline. He is a founding member of the Quad Cities African American Museum.
Thomas was among the first recipients of the Dr. Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” award (1986) and has received awards from the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, Community Caring Conference, Quad Cities League of Native Americans, Illinois Citizen Action, Illinois Statewide Housing Action Council, and Christian Women United.
A certified Community Action professional, he holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Charleston, another in journalism from Drake University, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Iowa.
Originally from India, Thomas has lived in the United States since the mid-1950s.
Artist-scholar Cindy N. Reed is a native of East St. Louis, a graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and a doctoral student in the Department of American Studies at Saint Louis University.
Reed studies twentieth-century African American literature situated in cities, representations of black girls and women in American literature and multi-media texts, and the culture of East St. Louis. She seeks to understand how race, gender, class, and urban environments converge in black literature from an interdisciplinary standpoint.
She is a 2018 fellowship recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s Divided City Initiative through Washington University in St. Louis. Her work as a poet is featured in Denise Ward-Brown’s Never Been a Time, a 2017 documentary film that reframes the 1917 East St. Louis race riots.
Reed has contributed to a variety of cultural activities in the St. Louis Metro-East region. She gave the inaugural reading at the Eugene B. Redmond Learning Center in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Lovejoy Library.
Her writings have been published in I Am East St. Louis, the Magazine and the online Project on the History of Black Writing. Her most recent publication, “From One First Lady to Another: The Speculative Worlds of Michelle Obama and The Walking Dead’s Michonne,” appears in the 2017/18 (Vol. 40.1) issue of Women & Language.
“Philadelphia Flowers” By Roberta Hill
In the cubbyhole entrance to Cornell and Son,
a woman in a turquoise sweater
curls up to sleep. Her right arm seeks
a cold spot in the stone to release its worry
and her legs stretch
against the middle hinge.
I want to ask her in for coffee,
to tell her go sleep in the extra bed upstairs,
but I’m a guest,
unaccustomed to this place
where homeless people drift along the square
bordering Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
From her portrait on the mantel,
Lucretia Mott asks when
will Americans see
how all forms of oppression blight
the possibilities of a people.
The passion for preserving Independence Square
should reach this nameless woman, settling
in the heavy heat of August,
exposed to the glare of every passerby.
What makes property so private? A fence?
No trespassing signs? Militia ready to die for it
and taxes? Lights in the middle storeys
of office buildings blaze all night above me.
Newspapers don’t explain how wealth
is bound to these broken people.
North of here, things get really rough.
Longshoremen out of work bet on eddies
in the Schuylkill River.
Factories collapse to weed
and ruptured dream. Years ago, Longhouse sachems
rode canoes to Philadelphia,
entering these red brick halls.
They explained how
the law that kept them unified
required a way to share the wealth.
Inside the hearths of these same halls,
such knowledge was obscured,
and plans were laid to push all Indians ,
west. This city born of brotherly love
still turns around this conflict.
Deeper in the dusk,
William Penn must weep
from his perch on top of City Hall.
Our leaders left this woman in the lurch.
How can there be democracy
without the means to live?
Every fifteen minutes
a patrol car cruises by. I jolt awake
at four a.m. to sirens screeching
and choppers lugging to the hospital heliport
someone who wants to breathe.
The sultry heat leads me
to the window. What matters? This small
square of night sky and two trees
bound by a wide brick wall.
All around, skyscrapers
are telling their stories
under dwindling stars. The girders
remember where Mohawk ironworkers stayed
that day they sat after work
on a balcony, drinking beer.
Below them, a film crew caught
some commercials. In another room above
a mattress caught fire and someone flung it
down into the frame. A woman in blue
sashayed up the street
while a flaming mattress,
falling at the same speed as a flower,
bloomed over her left shoulder.
Every fifteen minutes
a patrol car cruises by. The men inside
mean business. They understood the scene.
A mattress burning in the street
and business deadlocked. Mohawks
drinking beer above it all.
They radioed insurrection,
drew their guns, then three-stepped
up the stairs. Film crews caught the scene,
but it never played. The Mohawks
didn’t guess a swat team had moved in.
When policemen blasted off their door,
the terrified men shoved a table
against the splintered frame.
They fought it out.
One whose name meant Deer got shot
again and again. They let him lie
before they dragged him by his heels
down four flights of stairs. At every step,
he hurdled above his pain
until one final leap
gained him the stars.
The news reported one cop broke his leg.
The film’s been banished to a vault. There are
no plaques. But girders whisper at night
in Philadelphia. They know the boarding house,
but will not say. They know as well what lasts
and what falls down.
Passing Doric colonnades of banks
and walls of dark glass,
Liberty Townhouses, I turned
up Broad Street near the Hershey Hotel
and headed toward the doorman
outside the Bellevue. Palms and chandeliers inside.
A woman in mauve silk and pearls stepped into the street.
I was tracking my Mohawk grandmother
through time. She left a trace
of her belief somewhere near Locust and Thirteenth.
I didn’t see you, tall, dark, intense,
with three bouquets of flowers in your hand.
On Walnut and Broad, between the Union League
and the Indian Campsite, you stopped me,
shoving flowers toward my arm.
“At least, I’m not begging,” you cried.
The desperation in your voice
spiraled through my feet while I fumbled the few bucks
you asked for. I wanted those flowers—
iris, ageratum, goldenrod and lilies—
because in desperation
you thought of beauty. I recognized
the truth and human love you acted on,
your despair echoing my own.
Forgive me. I should have bought more
of those Philadelphia flowers, passed hand
to hand so quickly, I was stunned a block away.
You had to keep your pride, as I have done,
selling these bouquets of poems
to anyone who’ll take them. After our exchange,
grandmother’s tracks grew clearer.
I returned for days, but you were never there.
If you see her — small, dark, intense,
with a bun of black hair and the gaze of an orphan,
leave a petal in my path.
Then I’ll know I can go on.
Some days you get angry enough
to question. There’s a plan out east
with a multitude of charts and diagrams.
They planned to take the timber, the good soil.
Even now, they demolish mountains.
Next they’ll want the water and the air.
I tell you they’re planning to leave our reservations
bare of life. They plan to dump their toxic
wastes on our grandchildren. No one wants to say
how hard they’ve worked a hundred years.
What of you, learning how this continent’s
getting angry? Do you consider what’s in store for you?
Roberta Hill Whiteman, “Philadelphia Flowers” from Philadelphia Flowers. Copyright © 1996 by Roberta Hill Whiteman. Used by permission of Holy Cow! Press, holycowpress.org.
Source: Philadelphia Flowers (Holy Cow! Press, 1996)
This event is part of “The Country and the City program: Common Ground in the Prairie State?,” a year-long, statewide initiative will feature text-based discussions of issues that affect both rural and urban Illinois communities, involving panelists who are well-versed in those issues from both perspectives.
For more information, please contact Matt Meacham at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 468-5580.