Awards gala honors former CHA tenants

The 2nd Annual “Night with the Stars” gala was held Dec. 12 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel to recognize the achievements made by former Chicago Housing Authority tenants.

The 2nd Annual “Night with the Stars” gala was held Dec. 12 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel to recognize the achievements made by former Chicago Housing Authority tenants.

But this year’s honorees were not ordinary residents. They are all public servants, and their positions directly impact minority communities.

The honorees were: Cook County Commissioner Jerry Butler, Board of Review Commissioner Joseph Berrios, state Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-3rd), Dana Starks, commissioner for the city’s Human Relations department and Lewis Jordan, executive director for the CHA. Harris Bank and Calahan Funeral Homes Inc. received the business and corporate awards in part for its continued financial support of community programs in Black neighborhoods.

Butler and Berrios are alumni of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex on the Near North Side; Hunter, Robert Taylor on the South Side; Starks, Altgeld Gardens on the South Side; and Jordan, Rockwell Gardens on the West Side.

Other former CHA tenants presented the “Touching the Spirits Awards” to Sam Mendenhall, equity partner, Winston & Strawn law firm and Jackie Heard, press secretary to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

After accepting their awards, recipients reflected on what it meant to live in public housing and how it changed them for the better.

“Each generation should be better than the next,” Lewis said. “Success should be the rule and not the exception for African Americans.”

Starks, a retired Chicago police officer, said there’s one thing he wants people to know about him.

“I am just like them. It doesn’t matter where you came from. It matters where you end up,” he said. “I am proud of where I came from and where I am today.”

About 200 people attended the event, including many current CHA residents.

“It’s good to know that there is hope for everyone. That just because you start off struggling does not mean you will end up that way,” said Michelle Robinson, 43, who lives in the Harold Ickes public housing complex. “I may not have much now but wait until five years from now. That is when I expect to finish school and start my own medical coding business.”

Windows for Opportunity, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to help families in Chicago who live in public housing, presented the gala.

Crystal Black, executive director for Windows of Opportunity, said the purpose of the gala was to highlight the success achieved by those who once lived in public housing.

“This night truly belongs to all the recipients for all that they have achieved in their careers,” she said. “I hope by highlighting these individuals, it will inspire others facing difficult times to never give up on their dreams and to know that they too can excel in life.”

Carl King, a manager at Calahan Funeral Home, was presented as a prime example of hard work paying off.

He attended Malcolm X College on the West Side where he studied to be a mortician. After completing his studies, the school helped him secure an internship at Calahan. The owners were so impressed with him that they hired him full time.

“Carl King is a good man,” said Edward Calahan, founder of Calahan Funeral Home. “We are blessed to have found him and glad he is a part of our family.”

The trophies that each recipient received were designed by Debra Hand, a Chicago artist whose work can be found at the DuSable Museum of African American History on the South Side and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

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