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ComEd Honors Neighborhood Heroes During Black History Month

By Wendell Hutson | February 1, 2014 10:16am
 ComEd's Black History Month "Power of One Campaign" honors neighborhood heroes. Clockwise, from left, Che "Rhymefest" Smith of Chatham, Diane Latiker of Roseland, Rev. Leonardo Gilbert of West Pullman, and Anta Njie of West Chatham.
ComEd's Black History Month "Power of One Campaign" honors neighborhood heroes. Clockwise, from left, Che "Rhymefest" Smith of Chatham, Diane Latiker of Roseland, Rev. Leonardo Gilbert of West Pullman, and Anta Njie of West Chatham.
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DNAinfo Chicago

CHICAGO — Chicago-born rapper Rhymefest was nominated for a Grammy Award this year for his collaboration with Kanye West on the song "New Slaves."

But the recognition doesn't measure up to an honor bestowed upon him by ComEd, which named the Chatham resident a neighborhood hero as part of its Power of One campaign. It began Saturday, the first day of Black History Month.

"This recognition means more to me than the Grammy nomination I received this year for the song 'New Slave' I wrote for Kanye West," said Rhymefest, whose real name is Che Smith. "I did not go to the Grammy Awards last week because winning a Grammy does not benefit my community.

Every day beginning Saturday and ending Feb. 28 ComEd will highlight one resident working to improve their neighborhood on its website. Profiles of all 28 Chicago neighborhood heroes will be online until February 28.

All heroes were nominated by an individual and will be introduced during a private reception Feb. 6 at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

The purpose of the campaign, said Kevin Brookins, ComEd's senior vice president of strategy and administration, is to recognize everyday people working to benefit their community and to empower others.

“We are pleased to honor our heroes for their remarkable contributions to their neighborhoods and Chicago’s rich African-American heritage,” he said. “For more than 100 years, ComEd has been committed to serving the communities where our customers and employees live and work, and this campaign is an extension of this longstanding commitment.”

Rhymefest, a WVON radio personality, said he gets his greatest joy working with his wife Donnie as the assistant director of Donda's House, a nonprofit that provides free arts and writing classes for youths. The Auburn Gresham organization was founded by West, and Donnie, an English teacher at Whitney Young High School, serves as the director.

Besides local celebrities like Rhymefest and Englewood-native turned-Hollywood director Mark Harris, the list also includes other heroes like 16-year-old Anta Njie, a junior at King College Prep, who last year founded Anta’s Promise, a nonprofit for homeless youths.

"In my AP English class we were talking about the homeless problem in Chicago and once I did research, I learned that 100,000 people in Chicago are homeless and about 20,000 are Chicago Public Schools students," said Njie, a West Chatham resident. "There's no way this problem can be fixed without government legislation. But I wanted to do my part and help out anyway I can, and that's when I decided to start my organization."

In West Pullman the Rev. Leonardo Gilbert, pastor of Sheldon Heights Church of Christ, said he looks upon his community work as an extension of the work God has called him to do as a Christian.

"I love the Lord and I do as the Lord commands me to do, and that work includes helping people in my community regardless if they are a Christian or not," Gilbert said. "So through my church I feed people, provide a safe haven for children and help strengthen families. You see, it's all about people and never about us."

Gilbert says West Pullman's challenges include crime, high unemployment and broken families.

"Many families in West Pullman lack fathers, male role models, education, and economic opportunities. And without those things, while not impossible, it is difficult to get ahead in life," added Gilbert.

In the nearby Roseland community, Diane Latiker, founder and executive director of Kids Off the Block, a nonprofit for at-risk youths, said she too struggles to help a community known for violence.

"It's refreshing to be honored for community service work that you enjoy," Latiker said. "My heroes are the children I save from the streets who never go back but keep pushing forward."

In Englewood, Tina Harbin said makes her impact on residents through her work as president of the Yale Harvard Homeowners Association, a block club.

"I work with a number of Englewood organizations to make the community a better place to live, work and raise a family," Harbin said, who is pursuing a master's degree in construction management atNorthwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. "Englewood is actually a good place to live. It has some of the most amazing people as residents and that's why I live there."

In Auburn Gresham, Kimberley Evans Rudd, who owns Curves Auburn Gresham at 8530 S. Racine Ave., a women's health club, said she loves to "uplift and empower people."

The Beverly resident also operates Shift to Fitness, which promotes healthier living and well being for adults and children by providing on-site, special event and workplace fitness programs in the Chicago area.

"I don't feel like a hero for doing what I love," she said. "I do what I do because I love communicating with people and helping women stay healthy."