Blog Article

Roots stop erosion

Executive Director Gabrielle Lyon poses on a ladder in the library at the Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, a wall of books behind her

A Letter From the Executive Director
May 2023

by Gabrielle Lyon, Executive Director of Illinois Humanities


*Photo of Gabrielle Lyon by Mary Rafferty.

Illinois Humanities partners with more than 400 community-based organizations around the state and we’ve been learning a lot from them about how the humanities happen.

We have also been learning that, nationally, that arts and culture – the lifeblood of the humanities – is one of the hardest amenities for people of color and low-income adults to get support for, following food, housing and transportation.

And we see every day that the ability to collectively engage with the humanities – in libraries, schools, and other public spaces – is, throughout the country, coming under duress in ways new and old.

For all of these reasons it really matters that we came together as an Illinois Humanities community on May 17.

2023 Public Humanities Awards honorees Rebecca Ginsburg, Alyson Thompson, Tracie D. Hall, and Stephanie Manriquez at the 2023 Public Humanities Awards celebration at City Hall/Recess in Chicago
L-R: 2023 Public Humanities Award recipients Rebecca Ginsburg and Alyson Thompson, 2023 Beacon Award recipient Tracie D. Hall, and 2023 Public Humanities Award recipient Stephanie Manriquez (Photo by GlitterGuts Photobooth.)

We gathered in Chicago and across Illinois to celebrate our Public Humanities Awardees Rebecca Ginsburg, Stephanie Manriquez, Alyson Thompson and Tracie D. Hall: four women from across the state whose work illuminates the power of the humanities to keep us creative, connected, and in community.

We gathered to tell Illinois’ humanities story.

We gathered because the humanities matter.

We gathered in the midst of erosive forces all around us:

The manufactured isolation and segregation that tells us, relentlessly, how polarized we are.

  • The false sense of scarcity; the idea that there isn’t enough money, food, housing, or resources for all of us to be able to care for each other.
  • The active disinvestment from the things that help us be empathetic with one another, like our ability to learn and share our histories, or to name and celebrate our identities.
  • These erosive forces don’t only affect us individually, they also wear at the very fabric of our society; they fray our ability to come together with a common purpose.

On May 17 at the Public Humanities Awards we contended against erosion with roots.

As we gathered, we reminded ourselves of our roots: that the humanities are required because a democratic society demands wisdom and vision;

As we gathered, we remembered that we are rooted in richness created by our diversity, by our lived experiences, and by engaging with one another;

As we gathered to honor awardees, and to hear their stories, we became more rooted in and with one another.

Because roots are what stops erosion.

For all of the ways in which you help Illinois Humanities be a rooted community, thank you.

To hear Faylita Hicks perform the collective poem, “Root Work,” that we created during the Public Humanities Awards, watch the live stream here.

About Illinois Humanities’ Public Humanities Awards Ceremony

Established in 1984, the Public Humanities Awards Ceremony celebrates people who have made an indelible impact on our state through their work in and support of the humanities, honoring them with the Public Humanities Award. This event is Illinois Humanities’ most important annual fundraiser and enables us to provide grants and free public humanities programs throughout Illinois.

Launched in 2020 as part of the Public Humanities Awards Ceremony, the Beacon Award honors an individual or organization who has been a champion for – or investor in – the humanities in Illinois, elevating the work of humanists in ways that have improved the quality of the state for its residents.

About Illinois Humanities

Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds.

Learn more at and on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.


Featured image:

words and phrases guests offered to the prompt, “What makes your story possible?” These words were used in the poem “Root Work” by Faylita Hicks.