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Jeff Kelly Lowenstein
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Jeff Kelly Lowenstein blogs about books and life, is a writer, a lecturer at Columbia Columbia College and the former database and investigative editor at Hoy, the Chicago Tribune's Spanish-language newspaper. He has returned to Evanston after living in Santiago, Chile, where taught as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Diego Portales.

Entries by Jeff Kelly Lowenstein

Mayor Emanuel's Love for JRW's Team, Not Neighborhoods

(1) Comments | Posted August 27, 2014 | 5:42 PM

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(Photo by nathans226, Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Like Chicagoans across the city, Rahm Emanuel loves the plucky and gritty youngsters from the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

He tweeted repeatedly about them.

The city hosted...

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The Hidden Concerns Behind Northstar's Firing

(0) Comments | Posted August 27, 2014 | 2:39 PM

Northstar Lottery Group, the company Gov. Pat Quinn chose in 2010 to be the first private entity in the country to administer daily lottery operations, has been fired.

Local media have chronicled the company's failure to meet project revenue targets each of the past three...

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In Champaign, Similarity and a Possible Way Forward for Ferguson

(4) Comments | Posted August 21, 2014 | 6:29 PM

Virtually unknown a little more than a week ago, Ferguson, Missouri has, in part through social media's ability to bring light to many of the world's dark corners, come to dominate national, and even global, attention in  the days since police officer Darren Wilson ended Michael...

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RIP, Anita Moore-Hubbard

(2) Comments | Posted July 28, 2014 | 3:28 PM

I made these comments during a memorial service for Anita Moore-Hubbard, who died on July 12.

Good evening. My name is Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, and I had the privilege to know Ms. Anita through Sonja for close to a decade.

I'm honored to be here tonight with my wife...

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On Receiving and Giving, Minute by Minute

(0) Comments | Posted January 27, 2014 | 2:59 PM

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Adelaide Reisler Yanow, left, pictured with Judge James Moran, gave to family and friends throughout her 93 years of life. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Moran.

I've written a lot the past few years about the abundance of gifts I have been...

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On Dr. King's Struggles and Sources of Strength

(0) Comments | Posted January 16, 2014 | 3:45 PM

The arrival of the King holiday prompts reflection on the state of the country, relative to the lofty dream he articulated first in Detroit, and then most memorably on the Washington Mall in August 1963.



But it's also an opportunity to consider the man and how he was able to persevere in the face of the consistently vicious opposition he encountered during the final third of his life.

One part of the key may lie in a speech he gave in Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago in 1967, about a year after his campaign to bring about the "unconditional surrender" of slum housing conditions in what was then the nation's second-largest city.

The experience he recounted happened late one night in the kitchen of his Montgomery home.

King, who had not originally sought out a church that would become the center of international activism, had emerged as a leader in the boycott sparked by seamstress, NAACP member and former Highlander Center alumnus Rosa Parks. (An interesting side note is that then-teenager Claudette Colvin had been arrested for the same violation the year before Parks, but had not been considered a sufficiently appropriate face of the moment by the local black power structure).

The decision came with heavy costs.

King's house was bombed one night while he and his family were in it.

He received daily death threats for the following 13 years until his assassination in Memphis by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968.

The call came at midnight, King told the Chicago audience (you can hear King start to tell the story at 18:32 on the recording).

The message was simple and laced with a racial epithet:

We're tired of you and what you're doing. Get out of town in three days, or we'll kill you and blow up your house.

Although he had encountered many similar such threats, this one jolted King.

He could not return to sleep.

He eventually went into his kitchen for a cup of coffee to calm his nerves.

He started thinking about the theology he had studied for years, about his beautiful little girl, about his dedicated and loving wife.

Nothing worked.

King then thought of reaching out to his father, a well-respected preacher, but he was 175 miles away in Atlanta.

He even considered contacting his mother.

Then he realized he needed to pray, to call on his profound belief, and to ask for help from the god in which he believed so fervently.

With the crowd clapping and calling out its approval and support, King said that he bowed down over the cup of coffee and uttered the following prayer:

Lord, I'm down here trying to do what's right. (Yes) I think I'm right; I think the cause that we represent is right. (Yes) But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now; I'm faltering; I'm losing my courage. (Yes) And I can't let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.

King's voice rose as he told the crowd that he heard a voice telling him, "Martin Luther, (Yes) stand up for righteousness, (Yes) stand up for justice, (Yes) stand up for truth. (Yes) And lo I will be with you, (Yes) even until the end of the world."

It rose even further as he roared his belief:

And I'll tell you, I've seen the lightning flash. I've heard the thunder roll. I felt sin- breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, (Never) never to leave me alone.

Based on the strength he drew from the voice he heard, King gathered himself to continue the fight for justice and equality.

He fought from victories in Montgomery and Selma to setbacks in Albany, Georgia and here in Chicago.

He expanded his geographic focus from the southern part of the United States to the north to the entire world (the bombs dropped in Vietnam fall in American cities, he said in one address).

Animated by his faith and the comfort he received by not being left alone, motivated by what he called the fierce urgency of now, King gathered himself and fought until he drew his final breath in Memphis.

He did so in the face of disappointment, and, as he told the church crowd, in spite of battles with discouragement:

And I don't mind telling you this morning that sometimes I feel discouraged. (All right) I felt discouraged in Chicago. As I move through Mississippi and Georgia and Alabama, I feel discouraged. (Yes, sir) Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged sometimes. Living every day under extensive criticisms, even from Negroes, I feel discouraged sometimes. [applause] Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged and feel my work's in vain. But then the holy spirit (Yes) revives my soul again. "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul." God bless you. [applause]

The message he delivered in our city, a place where he achieved decidedly mixed results, can help us arrive at a different understanding of the man than one often reads and hears about in history books.

That King is portrayed as a lofty dreamer, a towering giant who stands enshrined in a massive statue on the very mall where he delivered his most famous address.

But his Chicago sermon reveals an imperfect man who grappled with insecurity, yet who found through his faith, his circle of loved ones and his own inner resources, the strength and courage to continue to fight for a cause he believed in so deeply he gave his life to it.

We are grateful and better as a country for his sacrifice, and closer to him as a man for his having shared his inner struggle.

This post first appeared at...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 12: Returning Home to Chicago

(0) Comments | Posted December 31, 2013 | 10:43 AM

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Our view as we approach O'Hare. Photo by Jeff Kelly Lowenstein


We're in the air from Toronto to Chicago.

We've left Santiago, site of fulfilled dreams, 80 degree Christmas Days, our impossibly dusty postage stamp of an apartment, and the...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 11: On Claudio Contreras, Soccer and Staying Single in Politics

(0) Comments | Posted December 11, 2013 | 1:52 PM

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"It's important not to be married to anyone in politics," Claudio Contreras declared, the mid-afternoon sun glinting off his aviator sunglasses and his slicked back black hair as he turned to look at me from the front seat of his...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 10: Pamela Betancur's Unvanquished Dream

(0) Comments | Posted December 9, 2013 | 4:53 PM

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Pamela Betancur's face still fills with light when she starts to recount the dream that drove her in 1999 to borrow money from her friends and cousin to leave her home town of Los Angeles in Southern Chile for the...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 9: Hernan Gutierrez´s Memory and Imagination

(0) Comments | Posted December 5, 2013 | 2:56 PM

2013-12-05-HernanGutierrez.jpg Imagine that you're in Santiago, Chile in 1973.

Imagine that you're 13 years old and walking to school with your father.

Imagine that there's been a coup in your country that deposed the president and left him dead.

Imagine that your school was...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 7: Leandro Drives Us Around Rio

(0) Comments | Posted October 22, 2013 | 5:03 PM

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Leandro Weissmann pulled into the driveway of the Royal Tulip hotel one minute after 2:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon, and instantly apologized in a deep, gravelly voice for arriving late.

At the recommendation of IRE friends Mark Horvit and

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 6: Carlos Gutierrez and the Fight for Transparency

(0) Comments | Posted October 7, 2013 | 6:39 PM

As part of my work as a Fulbright scholar here in Santiago I'm looking at the impact of the landmark 2009 Transparency Law on investigative reporting.

I've written before about how the focus...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 5: Senora Carmen and Chile's Past

(0) Comments | Posted September 30, 2013 | 2:33 PM

If there was one idea I had firmly committed in my mind before arriving in Chile, it was this: the people in the country agreed that the Pinochet dictatorship was bad.

Based on wrenching accounts of disappeared, tortured and murdered people, buttressed by a diet of books, poems, films and...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part 4: The Colors of Valparaiso

(0) Comments | Posted September 20, 2013 | 6:36 PM

Valparaiso explodes in brilliant, luminous, and pastel colors everywhere you turn.

The buildings.

The worker's clothes.

The street art.

The garage doors.

The skyline as the sun falls in the late afternoon.

The murals and graffiti that seem to spring up, like roots through concrete, throughout the seaport city...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part III: Visiting La Chascona

(1) Comments | Posted August 19, 2013 | 7:49 PM

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If there was ever any shred of a doubt that Pablo Neruda, nee Neftalí Ricardo Reyes, lived an epic, fantastical life, it can be permanently eradicated by visiting La Chascona in Santiago's Bellavista neighborhood.

That's the name...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part II: Edmundo Verdugo Carnitas and the Treasures of Quinta Vergara

(0) Comments | Posted August 8, 2013 | 1:02 PM

Quinta Vergara park in Vina del Mar has many treasures.

There are the large stone plaques that greet you when you pass through the black gates and that honor Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda, Chile's pair of Nobel laureates for literature.

There are the paths that wind up and down the park.

Filled with leafy green spaces that spark memories of the California redwoods, they provide shelter from the sun, a cocoon of cool, clear air and the perfect environment for a lengthy, unhurried stroll to consider and start to discuss one of life's most fundamental questions: What do we want to do and to have done with our time on the planet?

There are the stones placed artfully around the garden, each with poems or poem fragments by bards through Central and South America that invite you to engage in their words, their images and the images about the single conversation that matters most-life.

There are the leaves sculpted with skill and precision into the shape of dinosaurs and pachyderms, of a brontosaurus and a mother elephant leader a child by her tail.

There is the Vina del Mar Municipal Band that has existed for generations. Composed a dozen or so gentleman who stand in their tan suits and ties, they deliver songs for parkgoers' consumption and pleasure every weekend.

Yet as wondrous as all of these may be, they all pale when compared to the nimble feet and unquenchable thirst for performance of Edmundo Verdugo Carnitas.

Edmundo is a natty dresser with a red bow tie and sweater, a white scarf that matches the feather in his black bowler cap and a long black jacket. He's got a Chaplinesque mustache, plenty of white stubble, few, if any, teeth and an unblinking gaze.

He's also 97 years old.

We met when he was standing near the band during a lull in performance. He rested part of his weight on his cane.

We talked long enough for me to establish his name and age.

I started to ask him another question, but then the music began.

Edmundo stepped forward and started dancing, shedding decades by the second.

His tongue protruding the way basketball legend Michael Jordan's used to wag as he took flight, he moved forward and back in perfect rhythm, twirled in a circle, put his cane through his legs twice, spun it around and caught it cleanly.

Edmundo's awareness that I was taking pictures of him only heightened his energy.

Off came the bowler hat in a salute to the crowd of about a dozen people -- a move that revealed an impressively full head of hair.

One more spin of the cane.

Edmundo didn't catch it, but his feet still kept time as he bent to pick it up.

The glitch didn't dampen the audience's enthusiasm.

They applauded vigorously after the song ended.

I asked Edmundo to write down his name, which he did in shaky but legible letters.

Dunreith and I started walking toward the paths, but looked as the band struck up their version of "Tequila," complete with chanting the word at the right moments in the song.

Edmundo was still dancing.

We only stayed in Vina for about half a day, so we know we'll be back to see the rest of what it has to offer.

I know where I'm going.

This post was first published at...

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Chilean Chronicles, Part I: On the Plane and About to Land in Santiago.

(0) Comments | Posted August 2, 2013 | 10:35 PM

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We're almost there.

Thirteen years after I first applied to the Fulbright program, six months after we began the process of preparing to sell our house, and one day after countless trips in and out of the house, we are an hour or...

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Ed Burke and Forrest Gump's Surprising Connection

(0) Comments | Posted April 25, 2013 | 5:50 PM

Remember Forrest Gump, the storytelling, suit-wearing, veteran, runner, and entrepreneur who intersected with every major event in United States history from 1954 to 1982?

I was watching a clip from the film on YouTube the other day when it hit me: 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke bears a...

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Are We Making Progress on Gay and Lesbian Issues?

(4) Comments | Posted April 8, 2013 | 5:34 PM

Progress on social issues, like beauty in the stereotypical phrase, is in the eye of the beholder.

One has only to think of Malcolm X's response, when asked in early 1964 about whether there had been progress in race relations in the United States.

Speaking for the first time after...

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What's at Stake in the Cicero Election

(0) Comments | Posted February 25, 2013 | 10:11 AM

Electoral hijinks in Cicero are drawing plenty of attention, but few people are talking about the election's larger significance.

It's the contest for Cicero President that includes incumbent Larry Dominick and his major opponent, former McPier Executive Juan Ochoa.

Both candidates bring plenty of baggage and backing....

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