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The Legacy Project announces education initiative
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2012-06-20

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With Pride upon us and the dedication of the Legacy Walk on National Coming-Out Day—Oct. 11—fast approaching, come two announcements from The Legacy Project.

The Legacy Walk—a walking museum along the Boystown area of Halsted Street showcasing biographies of notable LGBT people from history—will consist of commemorative bronze plaques affixed to the rainbow pylons. Many of these plaques have already received sponsorships by a number of notable people and organizations. Also, The Legacy Project will be creating LGBT teaching materials for the classroom with their Legacy Project Education Initiative (LPEI).

During the first year of The Legacy Walk, approximately 17 people will be showcased with plaques honoring their memory and contributions to the LGBT community. In all, 34 plaques will be installed on the rainbow pylons along Halsted Street. The remaining plaques will be dedicated on National Coming-Out Day in 2013.

A diverse committee of noted LGBT historians and community leaders chose the initial candidates last summer noted Victor Salvo, founder and executive director of the Legacy Project. "In order for a plaque to make it up onto to the Legacy Walk, it has to be sponsored by an individual, group of individuals, an organization, or a business," said Salvo. Of the initial candidates for induction, Jane Addams, Reinaldo Arenas, Dr. Margaret Chung, Keith Haring, Barbara Jordan, Harvey Milk, Dr. Antonia Pantoja, Bayard Rustin, Two-Spirit People, Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde have received sponsorships.

Sid Mohn, president of the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, said of their sponsorship, "We support the Legacy Walk because it is important to recognize the contributions LGBT people have made to better our world. Hopefully, this will inspire future generations to be fully inclusive and affirming of LGBT persons in all sectors of society. Next year Heartland Alliance will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Jane Addams was one of our founders and we inherited her commitment to advance the rights of the poor and the newcomer, and to work to build a world of justice and peace. Given our work with vulnerable LGBT populations in the U.S. and around the world, we are honored to celebrate the legacy of our founder, Jane Addams."

Paul Highfield, senior manager-account marketing for Levi Strauss and Company, said, "Levi Strauss and Company values the pioneer. Harvey Milk, Dr. Margaret Chung and Barbara Jordan all resonate with the current Levi's "Go Forth" advertising campaign. They were chosen because they were pioneers in their field and time."

Highfield also decided to honor the memory of Haring, another inductee, along with a number of other individuals under the banner Paul Highfield and Friends. Paul DeSousa, Elizabeth Liechty, Myron Mix, Chris Pritchard, Eddie Seslowsky and Patrick Torres are helping him with this sponsorship.

"Keith Haring was an amazing openly gay artist. I fell in love with his work the first time I saw 'The Radiant Baby.' His art is full of energy and life. Although simple in design, it delivered/delivers an incredible message. I appreciate the fact that he made his work available to the masses. When he became an inductee for the Chicago Legacy Walk, I had to sponsor his plaque," said Highfield.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said, "The Legacy Walk is a unique opportunity to educate the community about contributions of LGBT people to our civilization. Knowing our history is both inspiring and empowering. Bayard Rustin was a key actor in the civil-rights movement, serving as an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King. Even in those days, Rustin was openly and unapologetically gay. His imprint on our nation's history is undeniable, and we felt a responsibility to that history to honor the legacy of Bayard Rustin."

Ralph Kennedy, vice president of compensation at BMO Financial Group and a member of the executive board for BMO Harris Lion's Pride the Bank's LGBT Affinity Group, said, "BMO Harris Bank has a long tradition of supporting its LGBT employees and causes in all of the communities we serve. Shortly after the Legacy Project was presented to us for the first time, the bank realized how great of an impact the project makes in our communities, and our endorsement was quickly made through our plaque sponsorship.

"The plaque we are sponsoring is the Two-Spirit plaque—one which we believe aligns with our own company's values and background. Since BMO Harris Bank is owned by a Canadian Bank, the Two-Spirit plaque held great significance as it pays tribute to the Indian tribes of the entire North American continent. It is truly an honor for BMO Harris Bank to be a sponsor of the Legacy Project."

Kennedy is also working with the friends of Tim Imse to sponsor a plaque as a tribute and permanent memorial to Imse. They have opted to leave the selection of their specific plaque open for the time being.

"Tim Imse was a very talented writer who lived in Chicago for a number of years. Unfortunately, this past year Tim lost his battle with cancer and was taken from us well before his time. A few months before his passing Tim learned of the Legacy Project and he was very vocal in his support of the Project and its mission. Therefore Tim's friends feel that a plaque dedicated in his memory would be a wonderful and fitting tribute," said Kennedy.

Salvo said, "My passion for exploring and preserving our rich history crystallized into an obsession when I learned about the astounding life and tragic death of Alan Turing. As a survivor of multiple suicide attempts when I was a lonely, terrified gay teenager, I was struck to the core by Turing's suicide and the loss to humanity it still represents.

"I am driven by the desire to create a place where our young people can come to find out about the lives and contributions of the LGBT people who came before them. By giving them an historic context for their own struggles and triumphs we hope to ease the social isolation and cultural marginalization that leads to despair, while at the same time challenging the ignorance from which bullying springs."

Judge Tom Chiola (Ret.) and Drew Jemilo, chief technology officer at Scaled Agile, Inc., emailed Windy City Times, "When Victor first mentioned the idea of a walk that features LGBT people from throughout history as our gift to future generations, we were instantly intrigued. The thought that LGBT kids would be able to learn about the amazing contributions of past and present LGBT folks—information that is not available to them due to censorship, filtering of information through homophobic 'education' programs, or simple neglect—was most appealing. We want to help provide information about these positive role models in order to support our LGBT youth and maybe to open a few eyes in the larger community to what gay men and lesbians have added to our culture and way of life."

"I've been involved in the law for decades, having served as a circuit court judge in Chicago for 15 years. Upon retirement, I began to pursue a second-chance career in acting. Oscar Wilde lived in those worlds as well. He was a consummate writer and performer who was put through hell by the legal system due to his sexual orientation. His trials have been dramatized. It just seemed like a good match," said Chiola on why he chose to honor Wilde specifically.

Andrew Hayes, vice-president of public relations at Fifth Third Bank, said, "We are proud to be among the first to step up and support the Legacy Project. Last year we helped the organization create a video to launch its effort and this year we similarly delighted to sponsor a Legacy Walk plaque. Victor Salvo, Lori Cannon and the other board members have been such stewards in Chicago's LGBT community we honor them through our support too."

Hayes added, "As the 'Curious Bank' we are drawn to discover the stories of those who've come before and contributed meaningfully to our community. We are certain that the Legacy Project and the Legacy Walk will inspire people to follow their dreams, live with purpose, and positively contribute to the world around us. We are happy to have the Legacy Project decide the bank's plaque as we fully embrace the entire spirit of the organization, its mission, and the its opportunity to empower others by telling the tales of those who helped paved the roads we enjoy today."

Other sponsors include Aspira of Illinois, who is sponsoring Pantoja's plaque, and Art Johnston and Pepe Pena, who are sponsoring the Arenas plaque.

Sponsorship of each plaque is $10,000 and any of the remaining 2012 inductees who aren't sponsored will return to the general nominee pool from which the 2013 candidates for induction will be selected next spring. Salvo hopes that all 34 spaces on the pylons will be filled at the 2013 induction ceremony. Each sponsor will receive a customizable dedication plaque that will be affixed to the pylon of the person they are sponsoring.

Funding for The Legacy Project comes from sponsorships of the plaques, corporate underwriting, community-based fundraisers and private donations. No public funds are being used to finance the project although the City of Chicago is co-sponsoring the installation and the museum will be promoted as an official tourist attraction by the city.

In 2014 or shortly thereafter, the plaques will be rotated to an indoor exhibit facility (plans for this indoor space on Halsted Street are still under discussion) to make room for the new inductees which will be installed on the pylons. Plaque rotation will continue each year on NCOD. The Legacy Project board of directors will determine the rotation process, Salvo noted, so that the exhibit remains dynamic each year.

The LPEI initiative will be using the research that was gathered to write each of the plaque's biographies to create educational materials for the classroom. The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (ISSA) is co-sponsoring LPEI, and will utilize its gay-straight alliance (GSA) network to bring this information to at-risk youth.

"Since most all of our inductees had to overcome one hardship or another to make their contributions, we believe these wonderful role models will also serve as an inspiration to our young people, most all of whom face considerable obstacles in their own lives," said Salvo.

The LPEI educational materials will be integrated into the larger Legacy Project website portal and new information will be added as time goes on.

The Legacy Project will be holding its "First Annual Legacy Pride Party" Saturday, June 30. To find out more information about the project or to purchase tickets, visit www.legacyprojectchicago.org .


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