Blog Article

Illinois Speaks is Sparking Conversations

Illinois Speaks is our new community-driven, small-group conversation program. We’ve started having some events from our first cohort and we’ve been excited to see what a variety of groups are doing. Here’s a brief look at three of our first Illinois Speaks events. If you’re interested in hosting a conversation in your community, let us know!


People gather for a screening and discussionOn Tuesday, June 14, the Japanese American Citizens League hosted the first Illinois Speaks dialogue supported with an Illinois Humanities micro-grant. Held at the Christ Church of Chicago, the discussion featured a free screening of The Manzanar Fishing Club and a Q&A with director Cory Shiozaki. Expecting some 30-50 attendees, the organizers were surprised when 135 people showed up.

The goal was to educate attendees on the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and through discussion to connect these stories to current issues. The film focuses on the historical backdrop on Japanese American incarceration during WWII, but also tells the story of men and women who would sneak out of the Manzanar concentration camp to go fishing and then return to the barbed wire enclosure. Shiozaki, a third-generation American and licensed fishing guide and docent at the Manzanar National Historic Site, said that growing up his parents never really liked to talk about their experience in the camps, because it was a difficult experience to share.

During the discussion, several former internees shared about their experiences and how important it was to them that this story is being told. Cory asked for former internees to stand and be acknowledged; there were a half dozen former internees there. Attendees commented on how this film relates to current issues of discrimination and oppression including anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric.


People gather for an Illinois SpeaksOn Wed. June 22nd, Edgar Miller Legacy held the second Illinois Speaks public conversation supported by an Illinois Humanities micro-grant, on the topic of “Risk Dialogues” for artists and educators. Held at the awe-inspiring Edgar Miller ‘handmade home,’ the event included 12 total participants. It aimed to pose several key ‘guiding’ questions:

Think of a time when you and/or your organization took its biggest risk. What was the story behind that moment? What was gained or lost in the process?

What are the fears or blocks to taking big or small risks in our lives either as artists and/or educators? What keeps us from taking bolder steps?

What’s your next big risk? What are the conditions you need to take that next big risk in your own practice and/or in your role in your organization?

Some of the highlights included the following quotes:

  • “Risk is about an unknown, better future state. Thought I was alone – realized there were many behind me, but I had to take those first steps, and they were scary. I didn’t sleep for six weeks.”
  • “Someone has to take those first three steps, it’s like walking out on a plank. But you know you have to because there’s a group of children waiting for escape. Sense that you can’t not take the risk.”
  • “Risk is measured by links to institutions. Once I was unleashed from the safety and comfort of the institution I was part of, I realized I was free to take greater risks. The institution says, “don’t take risks in our name” but alone, I was stronger.”
  • “What’s the difference between confidence and arrogance when we step out on a limb with artistic risks? Am I too awkward? Too honest? Too political? That’s how vulnerability functions – when we are no longer ‘safe’ we can take the greatest risks, as there’s less to lose and everything to gain.”

At the end of the dialogue, participants were asked to pull the name of another member of the group with the challenge to follow up with that person in the next month to ‘check in’ on the role that risk was playing in their lives.


An Illinois Speaks event in AugustOn August 3rd, the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Associate Board hosted the third Illinois Speaks dialogue funded with an Illinois Humanities micro-grant. Held at Loyola University’s Law School, 25 E. Pearson, the event featured a screening of the film “Just Eat It,” on the topic of food waste and food rescue. The dialogue featured panelists Brendan Dailey (moderator), Raj Karmani (Zero Percent), Amy Laboy (Sr. Director of Programs of GCFD), and Lindsay Zimmerman (Cook County Health Foundation Associate Board).

The audience, numbering 44 people, included Food Depository staff, volunteers, supporters, member agencies, and Associate Board as well as Cook County Health Foundation Associate Board and guests, and staff and students from Loyola Law. Themes included:

  • Reducing food waste in your own life
  • Spreading the word
  • Volunteering with local food rescue operations
  • Supporting businesses with good food waste practices
  • Engaging elected officials and local governments
  • Becoming an entrepreneur

Kudos to GCFD for doing a great job! The dialogue was fast paced and offered everyone who wanted a chance to speak up. This was just the first of four Illinois Humanities-sponsored dialogues; we look forward to future ones being just as compelling.