Protests erupt during Kavanaugh confirmation vote

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of protestors demonstrated on the steps of the Capitol on Saturday before the Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. Demonstrators shouted “Shame” and “Who’s Court? Our Court” in the hours leading up to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Police arrested several who refused to leave the Capitol steps. As the day progressed, demonstrators moved to the Supreme Court building. When Kavanaugh’s confirmation was announced, protesters booed and galvanized the crowd to continue chanting into the early evening.

Senate Passes Bill to Ramp Up Programs to Fight Opioid Crisis

WASHINGTON – The Senate easily passed bipartisan legislation Wednesday to combat the nation’s opioid crisis by bolstering programs to treat addiction, more closely monitoring of prescriptions and updating information on alternative treatments to addictive drugs.

The bill passed 98 to one – Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah was the lone “no” vote and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was absent. The House passed the measure 393 to eight. It now goes to President Donald Trump for a signature, which is likely.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that more than 115 people a day die from opioid overdose and 21 percent to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.

Before the vote Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said that drug overdoses killed more than 72,000 Americans in 2017, including nearly 30,000 from opioid overdose.

“That’s heartbreaking — heartbreaking, as each person is someone’s loved one and someone’s family member,” Donnelly said.

The legislation would require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to implement programs for prevention and treatment, including drug management for at-risk beneficiaries to avoid over-prescribing opioids, medical assistance for incarcerated juveniles who need substance abuse treatment, and limits on e-prescribing  prescription drugs that are controlled substances.

The Food and Drug Administration is also be would required to update information on nonaddictive treatments for chronic pain and addiction. In January, the FDA released its strategic policy road map, which included bolstering efforts to prevent and treat opioid addiction.

Last month, the Senate passed another bill addressing the opioid crisis 99-1. The bill creates grant programs, including funding to help doctors get waivers for drugs that are especially good at treating opiod addiction, to help communities create addiction treatment centers and expands the use of naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses, to more first responders.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate health committee and author of the measure, said Congress has allocated $8.5 million for opioid treatment since March. Wednesday’s vote “is an important step toward dealing with the most serious public health epidemic in any of our communities,” Sen. Alexander said.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., emphasized how bipartisan efforts have helped curb overdose rates in West Virginia and nationwide.

“There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to the epidemic of opioids, but one thing is for certain, I and we will keep fighting,” Capito said. “We will fight back against those who are bringing deadly drugs into our communities.”

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Obama Presidential Center sparks debate amongst South Side residents, environmentalists, and bird watchers

CHICAGO – South Side residents and park enthusiasts clashed over the Barack Obama Presidential Center’s environmental impact following the recent destruction of trees in Jackson Park.

Although the Obama Foundation made a commitment to ecosystem preservation, the Chicago Park District chopped down 40 trees in Jackson Park two weeks ago to relocate a track and field that would create more space for the center according to reports from WTTW Chicago Public Media.

“The idea that you would cut down that many trees to erect a monument to yourself. It’s obscene,” University of Chicago Professor William John Thomas Mitchell said. “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in a man who I really revered.”

In January Mitchell, 76, coauthored an open letter that more than 180 University of Chicago faculty signed over concerns regarding the Obama Foundation’s promises and the lack of a community benefits agreement.

An Obama Foundation spokesperson stated, “Our landscape design provides more ecological variety and biodiversity than the more uniform grassy lawns that occupy almost the whole of this 19.3-acre site now.”

Blacks in Green, an organization focused on sustainability within black communities, has discussed the center’s effects on South Side neighborhoods with the Obama Foundation. The organization’s president, Naomi Davis, 62, of Woodlawn, is concentrating on the center’s potential benefits to the African American community rather than the center’s design.

“Our focus is not, do we love the president? We do. Our focus is not, is the design or the use of the Obama Presidential Center a good, bad or indifferent,” Davis said.  “We are focused on what’s good for black people.”

After the Obama Foundation unveiled the center’s designs in May 2017, many community organizations articulated differing concerns about the effects of a proposed 235-foot-tall museum tower on birds flying through Jackson Park.

Environmental activist Charlotte Adelman, 81, of Wilmette, filed a federal lawsuit with Protect Our Parks, Inc. to halt the construction of the center in the park. On Tuesday District Court Judge John Robert Blakey lifted the stay on the case and allowed legal proceedings to resume.

For Adelman, the center’s design is inconsistent with former President Barack Obama’s environmental policies and poses a threat to migratory birds.

“I don’t understand how Barack Obama who held himself out as being pro-environmental can choose a location to knowingly obstruct migratory birds and ensure many of their deaths or serious injury,” Adelman said.

Avid bird watcher Jennie Strable, 61, of Hyde Park, said the center will not have a significant impact on migratory bird populations. She has spoken with the Obama Foundation about redesigning the construction plans to account for potential risks to birds.

“There’s various types of bird safe glass that can be used,” Strable said. “Architects know how to build the building to minimize the impact to birds.”

Since Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the federal government must approve the center before construction begins. A recent delay in the federal approval process has pushed back the groundbreaking date until 2019.

Youth activists galvanize communities to fight gun violence

CHICAGO – April 4, 2006 is the day that Trevon Bosley became an activist. Twelve years ago, his brother Terrell Bosley, 18, was preparing for band rehearsal outside a church on the Southeast Side of Chicago when someone fired shots and killed him.

Since that day Bosley, 20, of Roseland, joined Chicago youth activist movements advocating for an end to gun violence so that no one else loses their brother.

“I didn’t want anyone else to go through the pain of losing a loved one,” Bosley said.

“I wanted to use my anger and my passion to try to do something positive in the community.”

Bosley is part of a new generation of young activists inspired to end the cycle of gun violence in their neighborhoods and nationwide.

Five months ago, Bosley led thousands of protestors in the chant “everyday shootings are everyday problems” during the Washington, D.C. March for Our Lives.

Bosley is a member of Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere, or B.R.A.V.E., and Chicago Strong. Both youth activist groups advocate for peace in the community and empower young voices to speak out against gun violence.

Diego Garcia, 16, of Brighton Park, led 50 Chicago teenagers to the March for Our Lives demonstration and recently participated in the die-in outside Trump Tower in June.

As a member of Chicago Strong, Garcia advocates for immigrants on the Near South Side who are afraid of speaking up about gun violence. Garcia said his motivation stems from fear of a shooting in his neighborhood or school.

“It’s always in the back of my head that I might be the next victim of a school shooting and nobody is doing anything about it,” Garcia said.

This past weekend Isabella Johnson, 15, of Naperville, organized a rally outside Trump Tower for Stand to Save Chicago, a student-led organization fighting for safety in schools and communities. Johnson plans to meet with politicians about legislation to protect students from school shootings.

“I’m not going to wait until my school gets shot up to start doing something,” Johnson said. “I’m going to take action now.”

Johnson’s mother, Cindy Johnson, was heartbroken for the parents who lost their children in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“I never ever want to get the phone call that a lot of parents have received or the text message from their kids that are in a high school locked in a classroom,” Cindy Johnson said.

According to the most recent data from the Chicago Tribune, there have been 1,876 people shot in Chicago this year. Of those shooting victims, 83 were youths ranging in age from less than a year old to 16.

Bosley said he wants people to remember the names and just not the number of those killed by gun violence so that victims like his brother do not become another statistic.

“I definitely want to see in the future that people understand that these are lives and not just numbers,” Bosley said.  “These were innocent kids, no different than your own child.”

Susan Richardson Williams embodies servant leadership with family, politics, and the Knoxville community

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – While working on a U.S. Senate campaign in the 1970s, Susan Richardson Williams learned a valuable lesson in her career – do not take politics too personally.

When incumbent Sen. Bill Brock, R-Tenn., lost his 1976 re-election bid, a 31-year-old Williams was devastated after losing her first campaign and witnessing the series of Republican losses post-Watergate.

Despite this initial defeat, Williams’ career flourished, and she later worked for three Tennessee governors as well as attend nine Republican national conventions.

Williams was the first woman elected Chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, an appointed member to the TVA board, and a 12-year member of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. She credits the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for changing the trajectory of her life and career.

“The University of Tennessee ignited the fires in me and made me know what I really wanted to do with my life,” Williams said.

While parenting her three young children in the mid-1990s, Williams commuted Monday through Thursdays to work for former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in Nashville, Tennessee. The commute put a strain on her family, but Williams’ youngest daughter Hallie Williams said the sacrifice opened doors for her future career.

Williams met Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., during her time in Gov. Sundquist’s office.  Sen. Corker later offered her daughter Hallie an internship that turned into a 10-year staff position in his office.

“It’s a direct result of her decisions that I have been so blessed,” Hallie said.

While Williams is well-known in state politics, she has served the community through other leadership roles. Williams took a break from politics in the late 1980s and worked for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols under former Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan.

“Her first passion I think is politics,” Cronan said. “I’m just glad her second was athletics and UT.  She certainly made a difference in our program.”

According to a 2012 article from the Knoxville News Sentinel, when Williams left her position as Associate Athletics Director, the program was raising $2 million yearly and had endowed 40 scholarships.

Williams surprises many people because she is a Republican who champions conservation. In 2007 the Tennessee Wildlife Federation named Williams “Land Conservationist of the Year.”

As a member of the Legacy Parks Foundation, Williams provides insight for the preservation of nature in Knoxville. The Executive Director of Legacy Parks Foundation, Carol Evans, has known Williams for more than 20 years and calls her a loyal friend.  Although they are political opposites, Evans admires Williams’ open-mindedness and leadership within male-dominated organizations.

“She’s had to lead in earlier times, a lot in a man’s world,” Evans said. “She had to be sometimes the one woman in the room.”

Over the last two decades, Williams launched her public affairs consulting firm SRW & Associates while also raising two of her grandchildren, Jordan and Janae.

In her spare time, Williams enjoys painting for family and friends. One of Williams’ paintings hangs in Hallie’s apartment in Washington, D.C. and Hallie said it is her favorite decoration. The artwork depicts a silver and gold architectural landscape of Knoxville.

Hallie said her mother has taught her an important lesson that defined Susan Williams’ career.

“She has been really helpful when I would take it too personally to remind me that it’s just politics,” Hallie said.

Anti-violence protesters ‘redistribute the pain’ through Lake Shore Drive and Wrigley Field disruption

CHICAGO – Over 100 hundred anti-violence protestors shut down Lake Shore Drive and marched to Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon to demand Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation and raise awareness of gun violence in Chicago.

The Chicago Police Department reported that about 150 protestors attended the demonstration and no arrests were made. Protestors began the rally at Lake Shore Drive at 4 p.m. and marched through the North Side after 5 p.m.

Lazaro Madrigal, 30, attended the protest because he is worried about the safety of his 8-year-old daughter in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood.

“I fear for my life every day, thinking about a bullet coming through my daughter’s living room,” Madrigal said. “We can’t live like this any longer.”

During the Lake Shore Drive shutdown, demonstrators wrote messages of peace, love and hope on the concrete as part of the Schools Say Enough Sidewalk Challenge. The initiative gives people the opportunity to express their thoughts about Chicago gun violence.

Jacqueline von Edelberg, 51, provided the chalk for the sidewalk challenge during the Lake Shore Drive shutdown and the Dan Ryan shutdown last month. Edelberg hopes that Chicago schools become places that are free from the threat of gun violence.

“I want to see kids being able to go to school and not worry that they are going to get shot on their way there or their way home,” Edelberg said.

Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston co-organized the shutdown and march as president of the Coalition for a New Chicago. Livingston’s main goal was to redistribute the pain of disparaged communities and open the eyes of North Side residents to the segregation of Chicago.

“Many of them have never witnessed a crowd like this,” Livingston said. “The only black people they see are on the field.”

While marching past the bars near Wrigley Field, protestors shouted at patrons to to leave the bars and join the demonstration in the streets.

Doris McGinness, 57, carried a sign that said “North Side Ignores Gun Violence” throughout the demonstration.

“The lack of opportunity that is so different from one side of the city to the other, it’s like it’s two cities,” McGinness said.

Alice Herron, 69, lives on the West Side of Chicago and said that the energy at the demonstration inspired her to continue marching.

“Everyone is so committed, and it touches my heart,” Herron said. “I’m am so very proud to be involved.”

Shedd Aquarium expert exposes the terrifying unknowns about single-use plastics

CHICAGO – Most Chicagoans are unaware that everyday plastic products such as straws, bottles and utensils contaminate local waterways, an expert from Shedd Aquarium said on Monday.

A packed audience outside the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum in downtown Chicago tuned in to a noon lecture on single-use plastics with Shedd Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Action Jaclyn Wegner.

“Our relationship to plastic is complicated,” Wegner said. “Plastic makes our life easier and its really cheap, but it’s also a detriment to the environment.”

The most recent data from the Alliance for the Great Lakes in 2017 shows that of the 36,128 pounds of litter picked up on Great Lakes beaches, 89 percent was plastic.

While strolling along the Chicago River, Alan Weninger, 75, of Wilmette, had not planned to attend the lecture, but he was intrigued by the discussion about  the repercussions of plastic straws.

“People don’t think about how it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces,” Weninger said.  “We’re going to be breathing it and eating it.”

Kelsey Walsh, 29, recently joined a local environmental team with her coworker at the American Medical Association and came to the lecture to learn more about minimizing her plastic footprint.

“Plastics are a problem, but it’s a complex problem and not one we can fix right away,” Walsh said. “It’ll take a lot of work.”

Wegner championed Shedd The Straw which is an initiative to reduce plastic straw use in Chicago.  Wegner said the campaign has persuaded over 250 local Chicago businesses to eliminate single-use plastic straws. She emboldened consumers to discuss their concerns about plastic consumption with local businesses.

“They are going to listen to their consumers,” Wegner said. “You have a lot of power as a consumer and your dollar really does show them what you care about.”

McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum Director Josh Coles said these campaigns have positively impacted plastic waste reduction.

“It’s on the minds of so many people,” Coles said. “A lot of people have it in their daily life now that they need to reduce the amount of waste they are producing.”

Englewood residents urge city leaders to fix affordable housing crisis

CHICAGO- Over 100 Englewood residents demanded solutions to the neighborhood affordable housing crisis at the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or R.A.G.E., meeting on Tuesday night.

Community members congregated at the Barbara A. Sizemore Academy for a legislative panel with Illinois state Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago.

Dr. Marcus Robinson, 59, has been a R.A.G.E. member for two years and he communicated that high housing prices are one of Englewood’s multifaceted issues.

“We have a majority of renters versus a majority of owners. Given that there was a flip, it would be a beautiful thing,” Robinson said.

In April 2018, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University reported a large affordability gap in the Englewood and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods where the demand of affordable housing exceeded the supply by 7,511 units.

The affordability gap is one of many reasons why African Americans are moving out of Chicago. The United States Census Bureau reported a loss of nearly 68,500 African Americans in the city of Chicago between 2010 and 2016.

Englewood community members wrote down their opinions on how to attract more residents to the neighborhood.

R.A.G.E. President Asiaha Butler, 42, asked residents for suggestions about what housing incentives might encourage to move back to Englewood.

She plans to include the feedback in a report to the City of Chicago’s Five-Year Housing Plan Committee.

“If you had to talk to your cousin or your brother, what do you think that they would need to come back to the city of Chicago,” Butler said.

A majority of residents said that lower property taxes and more economic opportunities would incentivize their family members to return to Englewood.

Jocelyn Mills, 47, is the principal of Barbara A. Sizemore Academy and advocated for stronger educational opportunities to attract families to Englewood.

“People base their housing options on the schools that their children will attend,” Mills said. “If you strengthen the schools, you do also strengthen people’s desire to want to move back into that particular neighborhood.”

The housing issues in Englewood have been difficult, but R.A.G.E. Program Manager Tonika Johnson, 38, is optimistic.

“This community that we have of concerned residents is very fulfilling,” Johnson said. “It constantly renews the hope so there’s not ever a point where any of us could say it’s hopeless.”

Irish Fest celebrates 33 years in Chicago

CHICAGO- The upbeat tempo of the fiddle and the smell of Guinness beer swirled through the air as crowds of people in green attire were entertained at the Irish American Heritage Center this past weekend.

Over 15,000 people celebrated the 33rd annual Irish American Heritage Festival on the North Side of Chicago in the Mayfair neighborhood from July 6 to July 8. The festival is the center’s largest event and fundraiser during the year.

Anna McGuiness, 72, originally from Donegal, Ireland, has sold wool sweaters and Celtic jewelry at the festival for numerous years. McGuiness admired the authentic Irish music and culture that reminded her of her homeland.

“It’s the next best thing to going to Ireland,” McGuinness said.

Ann Koeb, 68, lives one block away from the Irish American Heritage Center and has attended the event for several years. Koeb delighted in the festival’s music even though she is not Irish.

“You don’t have to be Irish to come here and have fun,” said Koeb.

The melodies from the flute and banjo reverberated through the festival as musical headliners such as JigJam, Gaelic Storm, and We Banjo 3 performed onstage.

Under a white tent outdoors, folk music enthusiasts tapped their feet and clapped their hands while Irish musician Rory Makem, 48, strummed his guitar. Makem beamed with pride as he spoke of the center’s preservation of Irish traditions.

“I like the community they have created at the cultural center,” said Makem. “It’s incredible.”

Inside the center, attendees ascended the wooden staircase to savor a cup of tea, scones, and jam in the Shamrock Tea Room. Downstairs in the auditorium, young girls sported embroidered velvet costumes and large curly hair while dancing the Irish Jig.

Kathy O’Neill, 50, of Chicago, was one of the festival’s organizers and she encouraged all people to experience Irish culture.

“We want everyone to come whether they want to be Irish at Irish Fest or for one day a year on Saint Patrick’s Day,” said O’Neill.

Tour de Fat raises thousands of dollars in Humboldt Park

CHICAGO – Bicycle and beer enthusiasts raised thousands of dollars Saturday afternoon in Humboldt Park for local nonprofit West Town Bikes.

Attendees cycled in the bike parade around Humboldt Park and returned to the mainstage for entertainment. In the afternoon the Tour de Fat festival offered a giant game of Twister, comedic acts and musical headliner Best Coast.

After biking in the sweltering heat, cyclists bought a tall glass of cold beer to cool down. Each year all proceeds from New Belgium Brewing Company’s beer sales are donated to West Town Bikes which is a nonprofit serving youth in West and Northwest Chicago neighborhoods.

Obesity, transportation and access to education are some of the main issues that the organization’s programs aim to solve.“We see bicycles as a solution to a lot of the problems that plague our communities,” said Michael Young, West Town Bike’s operations manager said.

With the profits earned from Tour de Fat, West Town Bikes has sufficient funding to mentor youth in the community.

In the past, Tour de Fat has raised $25,000 to $30,000 in a single day which is enough to fund a youth program for a year.

Sam Sawyer, the Tour de Fat brand manager, said that New Belgium Brewing Company has raised more than $5 million for bike nonprofits across the United States over the past 19 years. Sawyer reiterated the joy of knowing that Tour de Fat benefits local communities.

“We’re doing everything we can to make these super successful because it is an absolute labor of love,” Sawyer said.

Bicyclist Max Hertz has attended Tour de Fat for the past few years. Hertz viewed the festival as a win-win situation to support West Town Bikes and enjoy Chicago.

“You get to ride around and then you get to come here, drink delicious beer, and have a good time,” Hertz said.