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Chaz Ebert speaks at special grant ceremony at the Gene Siskel Theatre for the Ebert Foundation. Photo: Mary L. Datcher

Chaz Ebert is a force to be reckoned with in the film world. As the president and publisher of Rogerebert.com, a leading multimedia company, she and her team have continued to carry on her late husband’s legacy.

Just recently, the charitable arm of the Ebert family, the Ebert Foundation, awarded 21 grants of $1,000 each to 21 Chicago-based nonprofit organizations that exemplified community service in assisting women, children and families, along with recognizing educational programs in the arts.

In a special ceremony, in recognition of the legendary film critic’s 4th year anniversary of his passing, friends, family and grant recipients gathered in front of the Chicago Theatre to pay homage to Roger Ebert’s mission for empathy and change.

Some of the organizations included St. Sabina Church, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Afterschool Matters, Free-Spirit Media, Kartemquin Films, Chicago Media Project and Donda’s House, among others.

“I was impressed with the organizations. I tried to choose them very carefully. As you know, there are so many organizations that are worthy. It’s hard but I thought that I made some good choices.”

Chaz Ebert says, “What I try to do is I try to get a mix. The mission when we started, when I started the foundation, was to support women and children and families and the arts through education in the arts. Those that actually feed and clothe people like the Love Foundation and Mercy Homes for Boys and Girls, Deborah’s Place, Family Focus and Moms Against Senseless Killings.”

Quentin Love, Founder of the Love Foundation recieves $1,000 grant from the Ebert Foundation. Photo: Mary L. Datcher

Owner of Turkey Chop, located in the West Garfield Park community, Quentin Love has been in business for nearly two decades. Every Monday, he and his staff feed hundreds of people with a free meal.

His organization, The Love Foundation, was one of the recipients of the Ebert Foundation’s gift.

“Chaz is all about the community. I was blessed to be found out about on the West Side.”

In addition, Love says it’s a blessing to give back. “The $1,000 she’s giving me, I’ll be giving away to people in a program called the ‘Gifting Grant.’ So we give to people in four categories: education, business, single parenthood and community activism. Another person besides me will get that money, so I’m just paying it forward,” he said.

Speaking at the program was Tamara Manasseh, an Englewood resident and founder of Moms Against Senseless Killings. Chaz was deeply moved by her commitment to the youth in her community and encouraging many that it “takes a village” to combat the violence that takes the lives of so many.

“She was so powerful. They get those kids in Englewood after school. The mothers take them in and give them food, help them do their homework.” The Ebert Foundation added 21st Century Dads to the list of recipients.

“I say women and children, but I also include families because I’m a strong believer in stronger families in our communities.” She says, “The organization tries to improve the lives of children by raising awareness and resources for greater father involvement. To me, that’s so important.”

Growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Chaz Ebert attended and graduated from Crane High School, now Crane Medical Prep High School. Her commitment to reaching back to her alma mater goes beyond writing a check — she’s committed to bringing the necessary tools to continue arts within the schools.

Principal Fareeda Shabazz at Crane Medical Prep High School appreciates the work and contribution of the Ebert Foundation.

“What we wanted to do, we wanted to honor the legacy of our school. When we opened, we have four houses where the students are all a part of each of those houses. Naturally, one of the houses is named Ebert House. She’s one of our notable alums,” said Shabazz. “She didn’t know until a couple of years ago, we said, ‘Hey, we have a house named after you.’ The students take a lot of pride in it. They know she has a legacy and she’s really excited about what she was able to do while she was at Crane.”

Student Shows Appreciation

Crane Medical Prep High School senior, Jennifer Banks attends Ebert Foundation ceremony. Photo: Mary L. Datcher

Jennifer Banks, a senior at Crane, feels a sense of pride to be a part of Ebert House while attending high school. The Dartmouth College-bound student explains: “Within our house, we have a chance to research on what it means to be in there. We had a chance to research both Roger and Chaz Ebert. Since Mrs. Ebert graduated from Crane, it was really a close connection there and it was very amazing to be a part of that history.”

On hand to accept the Ebert Foundation’s gift was Grammy and Academy-Award songwriter and artist Rhymefest ‘Che’ Smith and his wife, Donnie Smith, co-founders of Donda’s House. The nonprofit was created five years ago in tribute to Dr. Donda West, the late mother of multi-platinum artist and producer Kanye West.

Their community outreach with working with youth in the arts includes teaching the essentials of understanding the business as well as providing ”hands-on” experience in various areas. Donnie Smith is honored by the Ebert Foundation’s latest significant gesture.

Executive Director of Donda’s House, Donnie Smith receives $1,000 grant from Ebert Foundation. Photo: Mary L. Datcher

“We’re so honored to receive this award from Chaz in honor of Roger Ebert. For Che and I who work so closely together as a married couple, they provide a model for what can happen when you partner with your spouse to create positive change. I believe if there were more people in the world like Chaz and her husband Roger, we would be in a better place,” Smith said.

As Chaz Ebert prepares for the 19th annual Ebert Festival this month, she doesn’t miss a step in her hectic schedule. When asked what she thought Roger would think of this extended gift that’ll touch so many lives?

After a long and thoughtful pause, she answered. “I think he would say, ‘That’s so Chaz.’ I mean that’s what I imagine him saying. He would love it. He would say, ‘Thank you for not putting the focus on me, but emphasizing all those other people and other organizations that are doing good work.’ ”

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