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Thornton Township Black Panther event unites past and future

Hundreds line up to see a real Black Panther and enjoy the Black Panther movie

BY ERNST LAMOTHE AND MELANIE JONGSMA

LANSING, Ill. (February 18, 2018) – “Learn the true significance of the Black Panther Party during the 60s and 70s first hand, and then watch a free private screening of Marvel’s Black Panther, the first major movie featuring a Black superhero,” read the February 7 email invitation from Thornton Township. The township hosts an event every year in observance of Black History Month, and this year’s release of the Black Panther movie opened up some new opportunities.

The February 16 event combined a free, private showing of the movie with a 20-minute presentation by Dr. Jamal Turner, a former member of the Black Panther Party. An estimated 600 people lined up outside the doors of Lansing’s Cinema 8 theater, per instructions they had received via email during the week leading up to the event. Clear communication and plenty of volunteers helped ensure efficient flow of the excited crowd into two separate theaters, beginning at 9:15 on a Friday morning.

Rather than simply provide a description of the event or a review of the movie, The Lansing Journal and Thornton Township decided to take a different approach. Ernst Lamothe, Thornton Township’s Director of Community and Public Relations, and Melanie Jongsma, Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal, interviewed each other about the experience. That conversation appears in question/answer format below:

Planning

Jongsma

How did the idea come about to have a Black Panther event? Did you book Dr. Jamal Turner first, or did you think of the movie first and then work to make a connection with the Black Panther movement?


Lamothe

The event was the brainchild of Dr. Jerry Weems, our Youth and Family Services Director. He thought about ways to continue to elevate our Black History Month program. Last year, for example, we had the outstanding Dick Gregory—a civil rights activist, author, comedian, and leader. (We were fortunate to have him, especially since he passed away late last year.) Then the idea came around connecting the Black Panther movie but finding a way to also educate people about the Black Panther organization. It almost happened simultaneously—the idea of a private screening of the movie as well as connecting with Dr. Turner, who is a good friend of Dr. Weems.

What did you find interesting about the event? Why did you want to participate?


Jongsma

I first learned about the Black Panther superhero from Ta-Nehisi Coates a couple years ago. I have followed Coates’ writing for The Atlantic, and when he began scripting a new Black Panther graphic novel, he shared that experience with Atlantic readers. It was a new kind of writing for him, and he talked about the similarities and differences between comic book writing and journalism. Coates also talked about what superheroes meant to him as a child in Baltimore, and how meaningful it was for him to be working on Black Panther. So I was eager to see the movie because of what I learned about the character from a writer I respect. For Thornton Township to add Dr. Jamal Turner and make the connection to the real-life Black Panther movement—that was just the perfect bonus.

Learning

Lamothe

There is a lot of misinformation about the Black Panther organization. This is an organization that cooked thousands of meals a week for poor children, set up free health clinics, set up tuition-free schools, went to schools like Yale University to preach about the importance of being drug-free, and helped various other marginalized groups get the fair treatment they deserve. PBS had an excellent special about some of the incredible work that the organization did. Unfortunately not everyone gets taught the nuances and rich history of many people. So often, when history is not taught thoroughly, then people don’t always seek out the truth.


Jongsma

You’re right. The impression I grew up with was that the Black Panthers were a militant, angry movement, and I never thought to question that perception. But Dr. Turner gave us a more well-rounded understanding. He talked about the real sense of community that was so important to the movement, and the sacrifice and brotherhood that were necessary in order to create that community. It really shifted my perception of the Black Panthers. I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn that.


Lamothe

That’s in line with our biggest hope for the event—we wanted people in the community to not only celebrate the rich history and contributions that black people have made throughout the world, but also remind people that Black History is American History. This was more than just a private screening of one of the most hyped movies of the year. This was an awareness opportunity. In fact, one of the giveaways we gave each attendee was Black History flash cards—we want people to know this history! We want people to know these incredible facts about a lot of incredible people.
You might have noticed we had a lot of teenagers at the event. What message do you hope they took from the speech and the movie?

Community

Jongsma

Both Dr. Turner and the movie gave a picture of what it’s like to have a purpose beyond yourself. The movie in particular showed the struggle between wanting to isolate and protect “our own,” or choosing to help others and broaden the community. I like that the movie presented those as both valid, understandable choices that will each have different complicated consequences. I hope the teens at the event left with an eagerness to find ways to keep making life better. I hope they feel inspired to keep learning, keep improving, keep exploring. I hope they know that whatever their passion is—technology, music, labor, leadership, family—they can use that to contribute to a community we can all be proud of.


Lamothe

That’s interesting that you mention that. A young woman told me something after the show that will really stick with me. She said there was so much to learn about how much stronger we are when we’re together than when we’re apart. She said we sometimes only talk about the small amount of things that we disagree on, and we don’t really spend much time talking about what we agree on—even though that’s probably the majority. Her takeaway from the movie was that it showed that divisiveness and isolation never help anyone. Those are strong words that you don’t often get from someone who just saw a superhero movie! That’s why this movie was so much more than just another superhero movie.


Jongsma

I agree. I mean, if you want to see a good superhero movie, yes, Black Panther is a great choice. It’s filled with action and surprises and fights and chases! But it’s so much more than that. It was like a history lesson, and a glimpse of the future, and inspiration for now—all wrapped up in elements of Star Trek, the Chronicles of Narnia, Jumanji, and James Bond.


Pride

Jongsma

Before opening weekend, the movie was being called “historic,” “groundbreaking,” “momentous.” Did you think it lived up to all that hype?


Lamothe

Definitely! And that really is an incredible thing to say because there was a lot of hype about this movie—not just for weeks, but probably for the last six months. You do not see a lot of movies that have an all black cast that open number one at the box office! Even though recently there has been more success in that area, there is still a stigma that a movie with an all black cast that performs well in the United States won’t do well overseas. However, when you look at the opening weekend numbers for Black Panther, it has shattered both those stereotypes.


Jongsma

I’m glad Thornton Township came up with this innovative idea. An event of this stature really has to be initiated at the township level. I’m also glad that Mayor Eidam was able to give the necessary support so that Lansing could host the event. This is something our community can be proud of. And Thornton Township’s motto— “People helping people” —really takes on additional significance in light of the Black Panther themes.


Lamothe

I got to Cinema 8 early that morning to set up, and I could see people starting to line up outside in the cold already at 8:20am. The doors wouldn’t open until 9:15am, but they wanted to be able to get the perfect seats to see the movie. That meant a lot to me. And then, when the show started, to see and hear people clapping, laughing out loud, and just joyous throughout both screenings—that was wonderful. It was heartwarming to know that this event truly resonated with people.

I’m glad so many people enjoyed it. It really turned out even better than I thought. It was a lot of work, but when you see that many people happy with the experience—it’s all worth it.

Black Panther Premiere

By Briyana Kelly

I had the pleasure of connecting with Thornton Township to witness the debut of Black Panther with the community, Feb. 16 at Cinema 8 in Lansing. Royal purple carpets, wristbands, goodie bags with Black History Flashcards, including free snacks and beverages were gifted to the community members for their support in making the day great. The Movie theater was filled with love from the Elders, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Millennials who all seemed to take away the great message the movie had to offer which was “We are stronger united than we are divided”. Can you think of any significant way to spend black history month?

There were many other messages that were encoded but the message mentioned above was commonly received by the guest. I cried many times during the movie: tears of joy, tears of realization, tears of sadness, and tears of anger. Black Panther reminded me of my constant duty to the community, and Dr. Jamal Turner, the keynote speaker in theater one, spoke to us about his experience as a real life Black Panther. Thornton Township was thanked by many guests for doing such a wonderful thing for the community because they provided an opportunity, “To those who probably couldn’t afford movie tickets” as said by Jouhan Sawe, a Thornton Township community member and employee. Another guest, Jeanette Quin said “Everything was perfect. The movie, how the event was put together, and how smooth it flowed. We were right on time and I thank them for hosting the event.” It’s more than safe to say that the community is looking forward to more remarkable things happening in Thornton Township. I know I had a marvelous time dressed in full regalia, bonding with the people, and being of service to the community. Can’t wait to see what they have in store for the rest of the month, and I hope to see you at the next outing or social.

Coat Drive

Due to the really cold weather, Thornton Township Supervisor Frank M. Zuccarelli and the Board of Trustees arranged a free coats giveaway for kids and adults. The township gave away hundreds of new coats to residents.

“We understand the need in the community is great, and we are here to support our residents in any way possible,” said Zuccarelli.

This was the first time the township did a large scale coat giveaway. Officials said they saw a significant need in the community. The township also reached out to homeless and battered women shelters as well as veterans.

“It has been an incredibly early cold winter this year, and we know there are residents that could use coats and hats. We enjoy helping out our community,” said Ernst Lamothe Jr., Thornton Township public and community relations manager.

Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Program

Thornton Township will celebrate its annual Martin Luther King Jr. program at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 15. Thornton Township Supervisor President Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township Board of Trustees, Thornton Township Human Relations Commission (HRC), South Suburban College (SSC), and Thornton Township High School District 205 have coordinated for the celebration. The guest speaker is Rev. Dr. Ozzie E. Smith Jr. and there will be performances by students from District #205 along with Coolidge Middle School Jazz Band. For any questions, call 708-596-6040. Ext. 3168._

REFLECTIONS OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR:
Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township President said, “Love and unity overpowers division and anger. Dr. King said human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle.”

State Senator Donne Trotter (IL 17th Senatorial District) commented, “Martin Luther King was a great man that represent justice and equality for all.”

State Senator Kwame Raoul (IL 13th Senatorial District) stated, “Martin Luther King said our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. This Martin Luther King Day, I’m asking that we all speak out against the injustices that are taking place in our communities and across the state. We must speak a little bit louder against hate. We must speak a little bit louder against fear. We must speak a little bit louder against those who seek to divide us. And we must speak a little bit louder against the inequities in our society. If King has taught us anything, it’s that human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.”

Loretta Wells, MLK Event Chairperson and Member of Thornton Township Human Relations Commission stated, “I have been chairing the program for about 6 years. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was dynamic. Celebrating him brings our youth together. It’s a phenomenal program that we celebrate yearly – MLK Day.”

John Arrington, MLK Program Chairperson and HSD205 Director of College and Career Programs, which is a Partnership between HSD205, SSC and Thornton Township said, “Martin Luther King Jr Celebration is a constant reminder of his legacy and what it meant, what he stood for and sacrifice. King stood for nonviolence and forgave his enemies. That is phenomenal and unforgettable.”

Thornton Township Trustee Joyce M. Washington, Chairman of the township’s Human Relations Commission said, “Dr. King gave his life fighting for equality. This celebration reminds us of the struggle to make things better in America.”

Thornton Township Trustee Stafford C. Owens commented, “Martin Luther King Jr stood for equality, diversity, and justice for all.” Thornton Township Trustee Norbert Cipowski said, “We should celebrate Martin Luther King Day. I will be there for the celebration!”

Thornton Township Clerk Jacqueline E. Davis-Rivera commented, “Martin Luther King Jr has been a role model and inspiration to me. He broke a lot barriers being nonviolent. It was not popular to be nonviolent at that time and he received the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Alderman Joseph Whittington Jr, 2nd Ward, City of Harvey, IL said, “Martin Luther King is a man who gave his life in the fight to bring equality for all people, and this celebration means that he will never be forgotten.”

Alderman Christopher J. Clark, 3rd Ward, City of Harvey, IL stated, “Martin Luther King’s birthday is a great celebration. This is a constant reminder that we can always do better. Reminds us that we made strides and we have a way to go. Golden Rule is: do onto others, as you want them to do onto you.”

Christmas Giveaway Program

Thornton Township, the largest township in Illinois, is giving away more than 4,500 toys to community residents as well as 7,000 free holiday food baskets during its annual Christmas Care program. The program has been going on for more than a decade. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16 at one of our Thornton Township Building, 16910 Westview St. in South Holland.
Quotes
“This is one of my favorite programs all year,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor. “It’s a great feeling when you see the excitement in a child’s eyes when they see all the wrapped presents, and then you see the parents so thankful that they can provide a good Christmas for their children.”

“The township enjoys helping families. That is what local government is supposed to do,” said Jill Manning, director of special projects and coordinator of the Christmas Care program. “The community really comes out for this program and we are going to continue having this event for our residents.”

In addition, we wrap presents from Dec. 5 to Dec. 13 at the same building in case television stations want B-roll of that before they come.

Thornton Township Holiday Dinner

Thornton Township held its annual Holiday Dinner at South Suburban College with more than 1,500 people served.

Thornton Township President Frank M. Zuccarelli, its Board of Trustees along with Township Clerk Jacqueline E. Davis-Rivera hosted its holiday dinner to residents. According to Clerk Rivera, “I am so grateful that we have made it another year and this is our 17th year doing this.” Rivera continues, “We gave away hundreds of turkeys because we are here to serve the community.” Zuccarelli said, “We enjoy any opportunity that we have to bring the community together for fellowship and to serve them in any way that they need. This annual holiday dinner is something that people look forward to every year and it will continue to grow. We appreciate our residents and want to show them support in every way.” Zuccarelli walked the fieldhouse shaking hands as people lined up to receive holiday dinners.

The Human Relations Commission volunteered and helped serve dinner. Trustee Joyce Washington is the Chairperson of the Human Relations Commission. “We are very thankful this holiday season to give to those that have given so much to the township,” said Washington. The dinner also included live entertainment.
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Thornton Township Wins Two Prestigious Awards

Thornton Township was awarded two prestigious media awards at the annual Township Officials of Illinois honors. The township won best Illinois Township Website and best Illinois Township Social media.

“Thornton Township underwent a complete Website overall this year. The purpose was to create a more informative, interactive, and visually appealing site that would be useful to all our residents regardless of age,” said Ernst Lamothe Jr., community relations manager for Thornton Township. “We consider a Website the front door to the township. When people want to know about your government body, the first thing they do is search your Website. The expectation is that they should be able to find the information quickly and clearly.”

“We have never won an award for our communications before and I am proud of our department that they are doing such great work to educate the community about our services,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli.

Some of the changes included:

  • Department pages: Created a detailed department site for each of our 11 departments: Assessor, Clerk, Community Relations, Food and General Assistance, Other Services, Senior Services Special Services, Transportation, Youth and Family Services, ZAP. Each page has a blue header that describes in a few short sentences the department’s goal along with a photo of the head of the department and a phone number to reach them. It also has a short video of the director of that department explaining the highlights of their program.
  • Jobs page: Even with the economy doing better, people are still either looking for work or are underemployed. We believed it was important to also host a job pages on our Website. Any company from within or outside the township can give us a flyer and we will post available jobs for the community. Thornton Township looks to be a resource for our residents who are both in general assistance and those who are not. We want to be a one-stop shop for many of their needs.
  • Social Media: At the top of the page are all our social media icons that people can click directly to log onto. Also, we made it easier to always get back to the homepage by clicking on the Thornton Township icon.
  • Community Page: We believe in the importance of local government connected to schools. They are the future leaders and we wanted to highlight their achievements. We have a separate page within our Website that focuses the public high schools within the township and various students doing incredible things.

“We have never won an award for our communications before and I am proud of our department that they are doing such great work to educate the community about our services,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor.

In addition, Zuccarelli received the Friends of the Youth Award for his diligent work of expanding services and programs for the youth and adult services department.

Veterans Day Celebration

Thornton Township Supervisor Frank M. Zuccarelli understands first-hand the importance of veterans. As an Air Force man, he served his country and admires the determination and integrity of the men and women who have served our country. The township hosted a Veterans Day event attended by more than 100 people.
“The strength of America has always been its people. We have men and women of all cultures and religions who volunteer to go into service,” said Zuccarelli. “We understand it’s a great responsibility and honor to serve a country that has done so much for us. People even today risk their lives trying to come to America.”

Each veteran who came to the event received a personal pin that was placed on their jacket by Zuccarelli.
Keynote Speaker Commander Marvin Gardner for the Veterans Strike Force organization addressed the Veterans Day audience.

“I’m proud to be among a group of men and women who have shown determination and integrity,” said Gardner. “In the military, they teach you to work together as one team. Even though we live in times that are sometimes divided, we must have that same attitude that we learned in the military of respecting each other, fighting for each other and loving each other. It is the only way we can truly be stronger together.”

This holiday started as a day to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in our country’s service, and was originally called Armistice Day. It fell on Nov. 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to “Veterans Day” to account for all veterans in all wars.

Thornton Fractional School District 215 and Thornton Township Join Forces In Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Chicago, IL – In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Thornton Township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli and the Board of Trustees along with Thornton Fractional School District 215 present the Pink Out Football and Volleyball event. The games featured a Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign featuring Thornton Fractional North High School, 755 Pulaski Road, Calumet City, IL.

Thornton Fractional North High School will battle the number 1 team in their conference – Lemont High School.

According to Athletic Director Omari Garrett for Thornton Fractional North High School, “Football and volleyball players and coaches will participate by wearing pink paraphernalia like shoes, arm bands and socks. Students who wore pink got into the game free. We definitely want to continue to bring awareness. We had have a moment of reflection prior to the National Anthem for anyone who has loss a love one to breast cancer, know someone who is currently battling it, or survived it.”

Ernst Lamothe Jr, Thornton Township Public and Community Relations Manager said, “This is the second year we are partnering with a school district to bring a Pink Out event to the area. Last year, we worked with several high schools. We are excited to be teaming up with District #215 and TF North.” Lamothe further stated, “We understand that breast cancer is an important issue and we want to keep it in the forefront.”

What is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins on October 1st and ends on October 31st.

Breast cancer is the second most common kind of cancer in women. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.

The good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early. A mammogram – the screening test for breast cancer – can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a chance to raise awareness about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Make a difference! Spread the word about mammograms and encourage communities, organizations, families, and individuals to get involved.

The good news is that most women can survive breast cancer if it’s found and treated early.
If you are a woman age 40 to 49, talk with your doctor about when to start getting mammograms and how often to get them.
If you are a woman age 50 to 74, be sure to get a mammogram every 2 years. You may also choose to get them more often.

Talk to a doctor about your risk for breast cancer, especially if a close family member of yours had breast or ovarian cancer. Your doctor can help you decide when and how often to get mammograms.

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