Friday, March 12, 2010


Dinner Gala for Local Teens
Members of Breaking The Cycle Tru Star.  

Residents of the 400 block of North Leclaire Avenue in Austin are tired of burying their children, watching helplessly as they are led off to prison, and seeing their children’s dreams destroyed by drugs, alcohol, and despair. Recently, they hosted a Dinner Gala for their local teenagers. Theme of the evening was Breaking The Cycle.
    The concept embraced by the Leclaire block club is simple: Before you can stop the violence, you must first break the cycle. The message of the adults to their teens – “It is your challenge to break the cycle.” The teens were told that this is the turning point of their lives.

    The program developed by Keith Parker, founder of Breaking The Cycle and Coordinator for the 400 Leclaire Block Club, provides resources and adult mentors the teenagers can refer to outside their homes for advice, counsel, and direction in making life’s difficult decisions. This is the type of network most adults rely upon, but many adolescents have not developed, leaving them isolated and forced to make important decisions based upon their own limited experiences or the often-flawed advice of peers. The block club sees this support system as truly putting into practice the African proverb: It takes a village to

 raise a child. 
Participants in Breaking The Cycle. 

    With the advice and support of trusted adults, it is hoped teens can make correct choices for the betterment of their lives and futures. The block club members point out that many of the choices today’s teens are faced with are decisions they shouldn’t have to make. With an adult support system, they can LOOK, LISTEN, SHARE, THEN BREAK THE CYCLE. 

 Keith Parker is Coordinator for the 400 North Leclaire Block Club & founder of Breaking The Cycle.

 The Breaking The Cycle Dancers in action.

 Leclaire Block Club President Dorothy White with Breaking The Cycle founder Keith Parker.

BREAKING THE CYCLE TEENAGERS: Quincy Yarrington, Malcolm Cooper, Gregory Smith, Christina Cooper, Anita Chambliss, Jimmie Chambliss, Serena Wosar, Charonda Dopson, Stran’Ja Burge, Jasmine Hobbs, and Johnny Beckworth 

Duey, Christina, Charonda, and Jasmine serving the dinner with Chef Robert.


Grieving mother Catherine Thomas has been relentless in her determination to find out who murdered her son, Samuel “Red” Thomas, and why. He was shot to death in his East Garfield Park neighborhood in the early hours of January 22. She and other family members are pleading with the community to provide information on the brutal murder.
    According to family members, Thomas, 41, was in his home on West Franklin Boulevard. He went outside in his pajamas and without his wallet to check on his car. He was found in the 400 block of North St. Louis Avenue shot four times.
    Police have told the family that the murder is not the result of gang or drug activity, so the investigation is being handled differently. But, police have not identified any leads in the case.
    “My son was a good father, husband, and my only child,” says Mrs. Thomas. “This senseless act of violence towards my son has torn my life apart. I hope if anyone has any information leading to the arrest, that someone will come forward and share what they know to help solve Samuel “Red’s” murder.”
    Mrs. Thomas says she has been in contact with the detectives in charge of the investigation, but has not been given any information or updated on the status of the investigation.
    Pastor Ira Acree and members of Greater St. John Bible Church, where Thomas was active, are rallying around the family and are asking the community for information. They are also urging the police to continue their investigation. They say they fear that as time passes police will concentrate on other cases and allow Thomas’ murder investigation to grow cold.

    “I can’t imagine who would want to harm Samuel,” declares Reverend Acree. “He was a hardworking family man who volunteered on the Security Ministry at church. We need everyone’s help to find the person or persons who committed this crime,” says Pastor Acree.
    Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of the offenders responsible for the murder of Samuel Thomas. Persons with information may call the Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-535-STOP. Their identity will be kept confidential. They may also call Area 4 Violent Crimes at 312/746-8252.
    Samuel Thomas was born April 7, 1968, in Chicago. He graduated from Ryerson Elementary School and from Orr High School in 1987. He continued his education at Wright College.
    Thomas was an active member in St. Michael’s Youth Choir. Later, he joined Greater St. John Bible Church. He worked for many years at Zenith and moved on to work for the Santa Fe Railroad, where he was employed for nine years.
    In addition to his mother, Catherine, Thomas leaves to cherish his memory, his loving wife Denise; three sons, Samuel Isiah, Christopher, and Keishun; a stepson Moochie and a stepdaughter LaKaija; plus many family members and friends.


Each April, THE VOICE Newspapers dedicate our issues to publishing the original creations of our readers for National Poetry Month. Send us your best works with a brief biography of yourself to: VOICE POETRY, 5236 West North Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60639; or to


Stone Temple Church, 3622 West Douglas Boulevard, is presenting its 2010 Women’s Conference, entitled Women of Divine Perfection. Bishop and Pastor Derrick and Rishorna Fitzpatrick are hosting the event.
    The conference opens on Friday, March 26, at 7:00 PM, with a Worship Explosion. On Saturday, March 27, the day’s events begin at 9:00 AM with a continental breakfast, a session of praise and worship, and breakout sessions throughout the day.
    Pastor Idella Fullwood of Mt. Pleasant Church, Clinton, North Carolina; Pastor Connie Brooks of Jubilee International Ministries, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and First Lady Veronica Gentry of Newbirth-Spartanburg, Spartanburg, South Carolina, are scheduled guest speakers.
    Registration fee is $25.00, payable by cash or check. For information and registration, call Kimberly Rickmon at 773/762-0013.

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Prevention Force Family Center is hosting a Town Meeting on Thursday, March 18, 4:00-6:00 PM, at the Frederick Douglass Branch Library, 3353 West 13th Street, to introduce a federally mandated, community-based campaign to inform youth and adults of the dangers of underage alcohol consumption and to launch a comprehensive prevention effort. A panel discussion will be held to present facts on the severity of the underage drinking problem, and alert everyone to the physical, psychological, and legal risks attached, and begin the process of developing a community strategy for solving the problem.
    Youth and adults are urged to attend and participate. Following the panel discussion, a Question & Answer Period will be held.
    The federal government’s Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking is supporting similar Town Meetings across America during the week of March 22-March 26, coinciding with the start of April’s Alcohol Awareness Month.
    For information on the Town Meeting and strategies for preventing underage drinking, call Prevention Force Family Center at 312/840-9000 or 773/826-5543.


BASEBALL REGISTRATION: Sign up now for LaFollette Community Baseball. Pre-registration sessions are being held for children of all ages at 12 Noon every Saturday. LaFollette Park and Amundsen Park are combining their programs to become the premier baseball program in the city. Join up to 32 teams for ages 5-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-15 & 16-18. Hurry and register now. Slots will go fast. Season starts May 8. Call Coach James at 773/355-7749 for information.
    UMPIRES & COACHES NEEDED: Adults who like to work with kids and enjoy baseball are needed for coaches and umpires for the summer program. Call Coach James for details at 773/355-7749.
    AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAM: Are you having a hard time finding safe childcare or would you like to get your child introduced to tons of sports and activities like basketball, soccer, floor hockey, volleyball, swimming, wrestling, etc., all for just $6.00 per week? If so, LaFollette Park’s After-School Program is just what you’ve been searching for. Call 773/287-0541 for information.
    FREE BASKETBALL FOR 13-15 YEAR OLDS: LaFollette Park is running its FREE Inner City Hoops Program every Friday beginning March 12 through May 1. There are teams to choose from and free uniforms. But, hurry and register. Slots go fast. Please, no AAU or club teams.
    GIRLS FAST-PITCH SOFTBALL: Tryouts are being held every Saturday at 9:00 AM in LaFollette Park for 15 positions. They are seeking girls ages 11-14 who don’t turn 15 before May 1. Free training, uniforms, and transportation to games. Season starts April12. For information, contact Coach James at 773/355-7749.


West Side parents, teachers and community members are apparently upset at the indecision of the Chicago Public Schools regarding the status of Marconi and Tilton Elementary Schools. Originally, CPS announced that Guglielmo Marconi, 230 North Kolmar Avenue, was being consolidated with George W. Tilton Elementary School, 223 North Keeler Avenue, because of low enrollment at Marconi. Then, the merger was removed from the agenda of last month’s School Board meeting to provide an opportunity for CPS to work with the community to develop a plan for boosting Marconi’s enrollment.
    CPS has now informed the Marconi and Tilton Local School Councils that the consolidation shall in fact proceed.
    Parents and teachers are upset over the decision and say they were betrayed. Parents at both schools warn CPS that the culture of calm at both schools will be disrupted by a merger. They say Tilton students will have to walk from east of Pulaski Road and cross at least two gang-infested hot spots to get to Marconi.
    A community meeting is scheduled for March 11 at Marconi School concerning the matter. Parents and community residents are being encouraged to call Alderman Ed Smith at 773/533-0900 to voice objection to the consolidation. For information, call Carol Johnson at 773/491-4295.

Is a Reverse Mortgage Right For You?

In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, this month’s column addresses an important issue on the minds of many seniors: reverse mortgages.

Q. I’m a retired senior living on a limited income. With the cost of living continuing to rise, I need additional cash to cover my expenses. I’m thinking about getting a reverse mortgage to make ends meet. Is that a good idea?

A. You should explore all of your options very carefully before choosing a reverse mortgage. There may be less costly options that better fit your needs, such as selling and downsizing. If used properly, a reverse mortgage can be a valuable tool to help older homeowners access their home equity and use that money to meet rising costs and continue living in their homes. However, reverse mortgages are not a good fit for all homeowners. You must carefully evaluate your circumstances to determine if a reverse mortgage is the best option for you. A reverse mortgage is a unique type of loan that allows a homeowner to turn part of the equity in his or her home into cash. With a traditional mortgage, you make monthly payments to a lender. Over time, the amount of money you owe on your home decreases, while your equity in the home increases. With a reverse mortgage, the opposite happens: You withdraw money from the equity you have built up in your home, so over time your debt increases and your equity decreases. You can decide how you want to draw out the money—either in one lump sum, a fixed amount every month, a line of credit, or a combination of these payment methods. Typically, you are not required to pay back the reverse mortgage for as long as you live in the home. Instead, the bank is repaid the loan balance when you sell the home, move out of the home, or pass away. You are free to leave your home to whomever you choose, but if the amount owed is equal to 100 percent of the home’s value when you pass away, your heirs will be left with nothing. It is also important to note that consumers who take out reverse mortgages can lose their homes to foreclosure if they fail to meet the conditions and terms of the loan, including failing to properly maintain the home or failing to pay property taxes or homeowner’s insurance. The amount of money you can borrow with a reverse mortgage depends on several factors, including your age, the type of reverse mortgage loan you select, the appraised value of your home, and current interest rates. Generally, the older you are and the greater the value of your home, the more money you will be able to borrow. Before applying for a reverse mortgage, consumers must meet with a counselor from a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development certified housing agency to discuss a reverse mortgage’s costs and financial implications, as well as possible financial alternatives. To find a counselor, call 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636) or visit Counseling agencies typically charge about $125 per session, which can be paid from the loan proceeds. You cannot be turned away if you cannot afford the fee.

If you decide to pursue a reverse mortgage, be on the lookout for predatory lenders and scam artists whose sole purpose is to cash in on the hard-earned equity in your home. For more information on reverse mortgages, please consult the
AARP’s Reverse Mortgage Loans: Borrowing Against
Your Home at
and visit our Web site at or call our Senior Citizens

Consumer Fraud Helpline at
(TTY: 1-800-964-3013).


Alderman Emma Mitts and Bethel New Life are sponsoring the Annual 37th Ward Job & Service Fair on Saturday, March 13, 9:00 AM-1:00 PM, at Bethel New Life’s Amberg Hall, 1120 North Lamon. Numerous employers seeking to hire workers will be interviewing at this Job Fair, so bring resumes and dress to impress. Information booths will also be staffed, providing information on City programs and various local agency services available to residents. For information, call the 37th Ward Service Office at 773/745-2894. This event is free and open to all residents.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

African American Seniors Being Led to the Slaughter!


Ernestine Hawkins, 87-year-old victim of Mark Diamond’s home repair fraud scheme, with neighbor Patricia Marshall, who is trying to protect her from further abuse. Ms Hawkins has already paid Diamond more than $330,000 and her house is a wreck. Workmen stole her appliances, removed her radiators, and damaged her gas and electrical systems. He continues to call on her regularly and the Attorney General’s office refuses to protect her from his harassment. (Photo by Brad) 

On January 27, THE GARFIELD-LAWNDALE VOICE reported the story of 87-year-old Ernestine Hawkins, who had hired a construction firm headed by Mark Diamond to make repairs on the North Lawndale home she has lived in for 61 years. Throughout the summer, workers had methodically stolen her appliances, damaged her gas and electrical lines, and even removed her radiators. A neighbor, Patricia Marshall, acted to help Ms Hawkins when she overheard workers in the senior’s backyard drinking and boasting, “This is our house now.” Marshall ran off the phony construction workers and rallied the community to help out Ms Hawkins by putting her home back together on Dr. King Day.
    Neither Ms Marshall nor THE VOICE had any idea then the extent or viciousness of Mark Diamond’s fraud schemes. Following publication of the story, a woman called THE VOICE and said her 94-year-old father had almost lost his home on Grenshaw to Mark Diamond and his crew in a similar scam. She said it took $10,000 and much heartache to save her father’s house. She warned that Ms Hawkins was in for the fight of her life and said the Attorney General’s staff would be of little or no help. Officer Beverly Rodgers, the 15th district senior advocate, echoed those sentiments from her experience of investigating similar fraud cases targeting elderly Black West Siders, especially seniors living alone without close relatives or protective social networks.
    The Attorney General’s staff refutes these allegations, but emphasizes that their office cannot represent individual victims. They advise such people to hire their own attorneys, but victims are often poor, confused by the process, and impaired by age and poor health. The Attorney General’s staff provides them with no advice, referrals, or protection.
    For example, THE VOICE has learned that last September Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit against Mark Diamond and five home repair and mortgage companies for conducting schemes targeting African American senior citizens on Chicago’s West and South Sides that have stripped nearly $1.3 million in equity from the homes of at least 36 consumers, including several who lost their homes to foreclosure. Ms Hawkins herself has paid Diamond nearly $340,000 and her home is a shambles after being looted by workmen. Still, Diamond is calling on Ms Hawkins, who is said to be scared and intimidated, but no one but Patricia Marshall is around to protect her. As Madigan’s suit wanders through the courts, Diamond and his accomplices continue to prey on West Side seniors and the Attorney General’s staff says they are powerless to stop his looting spree.
    In October 2008, Natasha Korecki of The Sun-Times reported on Tommie and Louise Harris, who lived in their Kenwood home for 44 years, behind the Obamas. They won a federal court settlement against Mark Diamond who they say talked them into taking on a mortgage that rose from $142,000 to $500,000 in less than a year.
    They sought to renovate their home – including their coach house – which they have rented to Secret Service as a base of operations for Obama’s security team.
    In 2003, the Attorney General’s office and Federal Trade Commission fined Diamond’s company and restricted his work as a broker, but Diamond is ignoring these orders and the Attorney General’s staff appears powerless to enforce them.
    Raymond Gye, a housing specialist on the staff of Congressman Danny K. Davis, has been contacted by victims of Mark Diamond’s fraud schemes and is gathering facts on their situations, while attempting to obtain protection for them. He, too, is frustrated by the lack of aid provided by the Attorney General’s staff for people without knowledge of or access to protections of the legal system. He is attempting to create a community-based support system for vulnerable seniors and is recommending that Congressman Davis recruit a corps of experienced attorneys to represent victimized seniors on a pro bono basis.
    Madigan’s complaint alleges that Mark Diamond owns or works with multiple financing and home repair companies in a coordinated scheme to defraud homeowners and strip equity from their homes. Based on their role in this fraud scheme with Diamond, the Attorney General is also suing the three home repair and remodeling companies – United Construction of American, Inc., United Residential Services and Real Estate, Inc., and Skyway Builders #1, Inc. – and two finance companies – OSI Financial Services, Inc., and Harbor Financial Group, Ltd. Diamond is president of United Residential Services and OSI Financial Services, and he works as an agent for the other companies named in Madigan’s lawsuit, according to the Attorney General.
    It appears that Diamond may be recruiting churches in Black communities to refer vulnerable seniors who, with the pastors’ recommendation, agree to sign up for the fraudulent schemes.
    Raymond Gye says he has heard of 25 victims of these schemes and the Attorney General’s office refers to 36 in her lawsuit, but there are probably many more in Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods, with Diamond recruiting more every day. We have reports Diamond has several African American women working for him to gain the trust of potential victims and soften them up for his attack.
    Madigan alleges that Diamond targets elderly and African American residents, offering to refinance their mortgages with lower interest rates or lower monthly payments. To entice consumers who say they do not need to refinance, Diamond allegedly persuades the homeowners that refinancing will make it possible to use their home equity to make repairs, such as replacing aging roofs, or to add upgrades to the house, such as new kitchens and bathrooms. Diamond baits consumers with low interest rates and lower monthly payments, but later sticks them with higher interest rates and larger monthly payments that they cannot afford. Without the knowledge of the homeowners, Diamond also allegedly inflates their income and assets on loan applications, which also contributes to their inability to afford the loans.
    Madigan’s lawsuit further alleges that Diamond employs deceptive, high-pressure tactics to ensure that consumers do not object to the altered loan terms. For example, Diamond allegedly fails to tell some consumers about the closing dates for their loans, instead forging the consumers’ signatures on the closing documents. When consumers do appear for closings, Diamond allegedly discourages them from bringing their own attorney. If consumers question the loan terms, Diamond allegedly offers to refinance consumers’ loans one year later, but then usually fails to do so, unless the consumer still has equity in the home a year later.
    After the closings, Diamond allegedly convinces consumers to endorse over their cashout checks to him to pay for home repairs. According to Madigan’s complaint, however, Diamond’s repair companies often fail to begin construction. When they do start construction, Diamond’s repair companies often perform substandard work or do not complete the project, leaving homeowners with outstanding loan balances for unfinished work and owing more on their homes than ever before.
    The Attorney General is seeking to permanently enjoin Diamond and all companies affiliated with him from operating in Illinois and to revoke any licenses that he or the companies hold. In addition, Madigan’s suit asks the courts to rescind all consumers’ contracts and award restitution to consumers.
    Persons who are being victimized by Mark Diamond and his accomplices are urged to immediately call lawyers in the Attorney General’s office handling the case – Michelle Garcia at 312/814-4982 or Junko Minami at 312/814-7130. They should also call Raymond Gye in Congressman Davis’ office at 773/533-7520. Victims should also immediately seek a private attorney to represent them and protect their interests, if possible.
Ms Hawkins’ handsome North Lawndale graystone is typical of the homes owned by West Side seniors Mark Diamond and his agents target for their fraud schemes, according to the Attorney General’s lawsuit. (Photo by Brad)