Passionate bridge-builder: Kevin Coval, author of “A People’s History of Chicago”

Voicing a fierce yearning for equity, justice and building bridges between those who are divided, Kevin Coval delivered a stirring presentation at the Oak Park Public Library on Wednesday evening.

He brought to life a sampling of the 77 pieces (one for each city neighborhood) in his 2017 book of poetry, “A People’s History of Chicago,” fielded questions from audience members, and provided insights about formative moments that have guided his development as a poet, spoken-word artist and community builder.

For those unfamiliar with Coval, he has had a far-reaching impact through his teaching in the classroom (among other stints, he is now a teacher of hip-hop aesthetics at the University of Illinois-Chicago) and beyond (he is the founder of Louder Than a Bomb: The Chicago Youth Poetry Festival). That influence is affirmed by Chance the Rapper in his foreword to the book, in which the star performer showers abundant credit on Coval for playing a key role in his development.

Having read the book a few weeks ago, I was struck by the force of its conviction and the depth of its desire to lift up those who historically have been marginalized. “Regardless of who you are and regardless of where you come from,” Coval told the library audience, “we all have essential stories to tell.”

One of the book’s icing-on-the-cake bonuses—and my recent Google search history would bear this out: many of the poems provocatively pointed me to people, events and entire movements in Chicago’s history of which I had little or no knowledge. Coval ushered this reader, time and again, into nooks and crannies of Chicago’s history I had previously never come close to encountering.

The library presentation was part of a larger programming initiative that includes book discussions and a walking tour of Oak Park that dovetails with themes explored by Coval in “A People’s History of Chicago.”

The book is a most worthy addition to the library’s “One Book, One Oak Park” tradition of rallying the community to get on the same page with a book selection. Spurred on by the passionate force of Coval’s visit, which was wisely recorded on the library’s Facebook page, it may well become the most successful summer-time selection yet.

One truth I discovered Wednesday evening: my silent reading of the book on a few plane flights was a pale shadow of Coval’s oral delivery. His lyrical, emotive and often-spellbinding performance deservedly drew hearty applause from the 100-plus of us who packed the library’s Veterans Room.

For a taste, tune in to this reading of the book’s first poem, Shikaakwa, in which Coval examines the dubious history of how the city came to be called, and spelled, “Chicago.”

Related Posts:

Oak Park and River Forest High School Business Incubator Helps Students Flourish
Redact This! A Recovering Journalist’s Look at the (REDACTED) Administration of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Stop Talking About All Your Cool Gizmos!

“The problem with most news releases: they mimic other news releases—which fall far short of furthering organizational goals.”

That was my closing remark in an email last week to a senior executive with a company that appears to be kicking butt in business. Alas, it is struggling to communicate its rapid growth–and the reasons behind that growth–in an effective manner.

The corporation’s momentum, which includes a recent “best place to work” recognition and multiple years of “fastest-growing” status, is proof that you don’t always need to have external and media communications savvy to thrive in business.

Of course, there’s no telling how much opportunity has been lost, and will continue to go untapped, as a result of not having a robust communications strategy.

One of the points I conveyed to the exec: rather than use vague cliches like “bring more offerings and values to clients,” use layman’s language and get specific: what are those offerings, and what value does your company add to others?

In short: why should people care, and what difference does it make in end users’ / customers’ lives? Stop talking about all the cool gizmos, and turn the spotlight on the profound impact those gizmos are having on the world.

Related Posts:
When’s the Best Time to Send a News Release?
The Case for Creating Case Studies

Celebrating Heroes in our Midst: Truck Drivers

Our minds have infinite imagination. Words effectively and artfully aligned can move us powerfully as we imagine, or picture, a scenario unfolding. That’s how books have “unlimited budgets”—grander than anything Hollywood could muster. In the reader’s eye, action plays out on a boundless platform.

Still, there’s nothing quite like actually “seeing it” with our eyes to move our hearts and stir our souls. This truth was reinforced recently when I heard about the compassionate actions of a group of truckers who responded to a request from Michigan State Police.

Watch this video clip, and see if emotions don’t well up as you see a trucker fill in the final gap of an ad hoc life-saving process:

The back-story:

On April 24th, a man was considering committing suicide over the Interstate 696 overpass in Huntington Woods, Mich. That’s when police put the call out to an often-unheralded group of heroes in our midst: truck drivers.

As officers directed traffic off the freeway system, they enlisted truckers to park beneath the overpass. That maneuver reduced the distraught man’s potential fall, whether he lost his grip or decided to jump.

For three hours, 13 of those tractor trailers stood sentry beneath that overpass. Finally, negotiators talked the man into their arms and to safety.

Cumulatively, those truck drivers sacrificed 39 hours of travel and invited, at minimum, myriad forms of professional and personal inconvenience. Their generosity of spirit echoes what I have heard for years from Leslie Allison-Seei and Greg Seei, the creative forces behind Robust Promotions, one of the top promotion marketing agencies in the nation.

Robust specializes in promotions and sweepstakes, from the restaurant industry to a variety of other business sectors. One of their clients, Travel Centers of America, has retained them to manage a nomination and recognition process for its TA/Petro Citizen Driver Awards.

Since the awards’ 2014 inception, 31 men and women have been selected—with hundreds of other nominees also reflecting the compassionate selflessness embodied by those 13 drivers in Michigan.

As Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said after the life-saving support in April:

“We’ve never been turned down by a truck driver. The trucking community is always very good to law enforcement. They report a lot of things that’s happening on the freeway to us. Every time we ask, the response is ‘absolutely.’”

Next time you see a truck driver—and chances are, it won’t be long—be sure to give them a thumbs-up for the above-and-beyond role they quietly play in our daily lives.

Related Posts:
A Bounce-Back PR Tale, In More Ways Than One
On the Heels of ‘Flight,’ Remembering My Encounter With Real-Life Hero Denny Fitch


An Uber-Important Lesson on The Impact of Brand Ambassadorship

The car horn was relentless. For at least 30 seconds this morning, someone in downtown Chicago was leaning on theirs to send an urgent message.

With ample time between meetings, I stopped walking to see what the fuss was about. A few car lengths past a busy intersection, just north of the Merchandise Mart, an Uber driver was expressing her angst at the SUV driver a few inches in front of her. The SUV was trying to back into a parking space, but the rear driver was so close behind—only a few inches—that the front driver could not complete the task.

A few minutes went by and traffic clogged the intersection. The Uber driver—let’s call her Angry Driver—intermittently pressed her horn while holding her ground. The next block was now at a standstill.

I walked up to the scene. There was plenty of room for Angry Driver to back up and make way for the SUV. Giving Angry Driver the benefit of the doubt, I informed her that she had plenty of room to put her car into reverse and resolve the problem.

“So now I’m the problem?!” she snapped at me.

“No, I didn’t say you are the problem,” I replied. “The situation is a problem and I am telling you how you can handle the situation.”

“That driver can drive around the block,” she huffed.

Shaking my head, I decided to play traffic conductor. I motioned for oncoming traffic to stop while I waved along a few cars that were stuck behind Angry Driver. But that was only addressing a symptom, not the root cause.

The SUV driver got out of her car and asked Angry Driver if she would please back up just a few inches. A.D. refused to budge.

Then it hit me: time to bring out the Smartphone video recorder. I walked behind Angry Driver and made it clear what I was doing. I noted the sizable gap behind A.D. that would solve the needless stand-off. Within 10 seconds, perhaps sensing the potential PR damage, she grudgingly made the move.

From what I could see, a customer was in the backseat of the Angry Driver vehicle the entire time. Maybe “customer” isn’t the right term—“prisoner” more aptly describes her status for the duration of this avoidable road-rage incident.

For anyone who witnessed this display, the experience likely left a much more powerful impression than the massive advertising campaign that Uber is rolling out. As noted in a San Jose Mercury News story today, “Uber is breaking out the checkbook to spend as much as $500 million on a worldwide ad campaign that is part of the ride-sharing company’s effort to fix an image damaged by at least a year’s worth of corporate controversies.”

Globally, Uber has millions of drivers, and they surely run the gamut in terms of customer service and road courtesy. But it would do well to emphasize to drivers bearing their logo that they are brand ambassadors with boundless potential impact on the company’s image.

Now that is something to get worked up about.

Related Posts:
Street Performance Art vs. PR Principle, Part I
In the Wake of Jared Fogle Scandal, Subway Must Step Up Beyond Lame ‘No Comment’

My 8th Round of “A Beer With Baron”: Forensic Accountant & Filmmaker Kelly Richmond Pope

Nearly three years ago, my interviews of local Oak Park notables for the village’s local cable access channel shifted gears. While I have continued the Q & A format that encompassed my smattering of segments dating back to 2009, the program’s alliterative hook has gone from “Oak Park’s Own” to “A Beer With Baron.”

In that time, buoyed by the skillful work of Village of Oak Park Media Production Manager Joe Kreml and the gracious hospitality of The Beer Shop downstairs from my office, I have had the pleasure of interviewing:

*Chris Neville, a top musician/entrepreneur, whose credits include co-ownership of Wire in Berwyn and co-founder of regionally renowned tribute band Tributosaurus;

My first round of “A Beer With Baron”–with Chris Neville of Tributosaurus, in July 2015.

*Dave Revsine, a national sportscasting studio anchor with the Big Ten Network and author of The Opening Kickoff, about college football’s early stages.

*Matthew James Collins, an artist who splits his time between Italy and the U.S. (and who taught me enough Italian so that I could introduce the show in that language);

*Donna Peel, co-founder of the Pro Bono Network, which provides legal outreach to those in financial need;

*Stephen Green, the Chicago Cubs team photographer (whom I also interviewed in 2009, when he had an exhibit of Cubs photos at the Oak Park Public Library);

*Robert Elder, a journalist and author who specializes in “side hustles” and co-authored “Hidden Hemingway,” a coffee table treasure that plowed new ground about Oak Park native son and literary giant Ernest Hemingway;

Chatting (and talking with my hands) with Isaiah Makar, in December 2017.

*Jamael “Isaiah Makar” Clark, an up-and-coming spoken-word artist/artrepreneur who is easily the youngest guest (though still of legal drinking age!) I have had on “A Beer With Baron.”

With Kelly Richmond Pope, rising filmmaker.

Then, yesterday, I was delighted to shoot my latest segment of “ABWB”: a conversation with Kelly Richmond Pope, the multi-talented director of “All the Queen’s Horses.”

A fascinating, thoroughly researched documentary, the film explores how Rita Crundwell pilfered over $53 million during a 20-year span as comptroller of Dixon, Illinois.

The community, known by many as Ronald Reagan’s birthplace, is now a classic case of what can happen when there are insufficient checks-and-balances on those in authority.

Pope, an accounting and accounting forensics professor at DePaul University and daughter of a former college president, provides keen insight on the psychology that underlies these types of large-scale embezzling. At the same time, she speaks blunt truth about the deference (to a fault) that people within organizations give to those in charge of the numbers (and the dollars associated with those figures).

“The person who knows the numbers,” says Pope, “is the most powerful person in the room.”

She’s speaking my math literacy language! (For more about my math literacy, or numeracy, training and workshops, visit Go Figure: Making Numbers Count.)

See the entire interview with Kelly Richmond Pope:

Related Posts:

‘Oak Park’s Own’ Returns, With Interviews of Jeanette Fields & Marc Stopeck
Oak Park’s Own: My Q & A With David Mendell