PILSEN — The world knows James Foley as a war reporter, the missing American journalist whose life ended tragically in August.
But to his friends in Pilsen he was "Jim."
In an effort to honor their fallen friend, a group of Foley's closest friends recently dedicated a mural on 18th Street in Pilsen to his memory. The mural covers a full building wall at Pilsen Vintage and Thrift, 1430 W. 18th St.
Stephanie Lulay says friends worked days and overnights to complete the mural :
While working as a freelance war correspondent covering the Syrian Civil War, Foley was abducted on Nov. 22, 2012 in northwestern Syria.
For nearly two years, friends and family prayed he would be found safe.
Ultimately, Foley didn't return home.
In August, Foley was beheaded, killed by ISIS members in what the group said was a response to American airstrikes in Iraq. ISIS members uploaded the video of Foley's death to YouTube, and clips of his last moments were broadcast on American news stations.
"That's not how we choose to remember him," said Suree Towfighnia, a friend.
'Beautiful free spirit'
April Goble first met James Foley in 1998, while both were teaching. In 2012, when he wasn't in Syria, he stayed at her home in Pilsen, she said.
Goble, executive director of KIPP Chicago Public Charter Schools, said Foley was "a teacher at heart." Before becoming a journalist, Foley worked for Teach For America.
"We were close," said Goble, Foley's former girlfriend. "He was one of the strongest, most empathetic leaders. He was constantly caring, this beautiful free spirit."
Towfighnia, a documentary filmmaker, met Foley in 2007. Towfighnia's life partner, Reuben Cruz, was like a brother to Foley, she said.
"Jim was one of Reuben's teachers," she said. They were friends for almost two decades. "We were kind of all an extended family — he lived in Pilsen with Reuben for a while, and we all kind of connected to the Pilsen community through Jim."
While most people know Foley was born in Evanston and graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, his connection to Pilsen is not as well known, Towfighnia said.
"He lived here and was working with all kinds of people on all sorts of social justice and education stories," Towfighnia said. "Art, music, writing — he was part of the Pilsen culture in the early to mid-2000s."
Foley's friends always knew the worst was possible, but they had hope, Towfighnia said.
"We knew when the U.S. started airstriking that would be dangerous for him. But there was still a chance he could be freed," she said.
Towfighnia can remember a whole weekend "feeling really bad" before his death in August.
"It was kind of like a premonition," she said.
Then she received a text message at work. "It said, 'Don't go online,'" she said. "I knew."
The news "was shocking and devastating," she said. "It was like the bottom fell out. A lot of people found out in a horrible way" by seeing a photo or video of Foley's last moments.
One by one, friends learned of Foley's death. There was a strong desire to connect with each other.
"We went to a friend's house and basically lived there on lockdown," said Towfighnia, who was living in Logan Square at the time.
A mural created "by a lot of people who loved him" in a place that he loved made sense, Goble said Thursday.
"We wanted to do something to honor him, a reminder of Jim and his path," Goble said. "There was this awareness around Jim and the life he led and we thought this would be a positive way to contribute and remember our friend."
The group wanted the mural to be near Cafe Jumping Bean, the 18th Street coffee shop where Foley spent time writing and working.
After talking to his landlord, Paul Guizar, owner of Pilsen Vintage and Thrift, offered up a wall. Guizar didn't know Foley, but they had mutual friends, he said.
A core group of 10 people worked on the mural for three weeks around the clock.
"Pretty much one person was there at all times," Towfighnia said. Among countless other friends, Towfighnia said Rosy Campanita, Rudy Avina and Antonio Ancona were instrumental in making the mural happen.
While the team worked, Guizar gave them the key to his shop, so they could take bathroom breaks during the night, she said.
The group met to dedicate the mural, still a work in progress, last week.
"We wanted to kick off Jim's birthday week," she said. He would have been 41 last week.
When people pass the Pilsen mural, Goble said she hopes they're inspired "to look at the way that Jim lived his life."
"He really was committed to constantly doing more and pushing himself and others around him to give back," Goble said. "He wanted be the good in the world."
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