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Arkansas Little Rock NineIN THESE RECENT DAYS OF UNREST in our nation, I am so happy to see the board of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Foundation join together to award our highest award, the Lincoln Leadership Prize, to the courageous individuals known as The Little Rock Nine. On September 25th, 1957, nine schoolchildren faced jeering crowds and National Guard units as they entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, while accompanied by a federal troop escort, courtesy of the 101st Airborne Division. Their attendance at the school was a historic triumph of the civil rights movement, ending racial segregation in public schools three years after it was deemed unconstitutional by the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Now, on Monday, May 18th, these remarkable individuals will become the first group ever to be awarded the Lincoln Leadership Prize at a gala to be held in Chicago at the Hilton Chicago. Previously, the Lincoln Leadership Prize has been awarded only to individuals. I hope that all of Chicago comes out to celebrate this historic occasion. It is an event that brings us together in brotherhood and unity for the human rights we all cherish.

THE EVENT IS BEING HELD during a week that marks the 61st anniversary of the Brown v Board of Education ruling. 2015 also happens to be the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment’s passage during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, which abolished slavery in the United States and was ratified eight months after the president’s death. Members of the Little Rock Nine scheduled to be attendance include Carlotta Walls LaNier, Melba Pattillo Beals, Ph.D., Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest G. Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Terence J. Roberts, Ph.D. and Thelma Mothershed Wair. The late Jefferson Thomas will be represented at the dinner by a family member.

PAST RECIPIENTS of the Lincoln Leadership Prize include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg, astronaut James A. Lovell Jr., former Polish President Lech Walesa and the late television journalist Tim Russert.

“EQUAL ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement,” said LaNier, president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation. “Thinking back, it’s hard to believe there was a time when high school students had to be escorted by military guards just to attend class with their peers. But it’s more important now than ever that we remember, and learn from, our nation’s history.”

ICONIC NEWS ANCHOR BILL KURTIS will be the Master of Ceremonies and Golden Globe-winner Regina Taylor, the acclaimed actress/director/playwright (“I’ll Fly Away,” “Crowns”) will present the award to the Little Rock Nine.

JOINING ME AS CO-CHAIRS of the event will be Mark Furlong, BMO Harris Bank CEO; Carrie Hightman, NiSource Inc. executive vice-president and CLO; Paul La Schiazza, AT&T Illinois president; Raymond F. McCaskey, retired Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois CEO; and Edward J. Wehmer, Wintrust Financial Corporation president and CEO.

“WE ARE SO PLEASED TO AWARD this year’s prize to members of the Little Rock Nine for standing up for justice in the face of inequality, and for all of the work they’ve done to move our country forward since that day,” said Dr. Carla Knorowski, Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation. “As we celebrate their accomplishments, we are both grateful for the progress the civil rights movement has made over the past 150 years and are reminded of the significant work left to be done.”

THE LINCOLN LEADERSHIP PRIZE DINNER serves as a fundraiser for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. To purchase tickets or secure a table, please visit the Foundation’s official site or call its office at (217) 557-6251. The dinner and program begin at 7pm, with a reception at 6pm at the Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue.

MITT ROMNEY, YOU CUT ME LIKE A KNIFE (Why I am voting for President Barack Obama)


Philosophy was one of my favorite subjects in college, and if I had to summarize in one sentence what I took away it’s that Man in the state of nature is basically good. Sure I know that plenty of philosophers argue otherwise, but this is what I choose to believe to this day, and it is what I expect of those leading our nation. It is a “goodness” tempered with compassion as we give up some of our individual goals for the good of society.  It is not a simplistic belief, it underscores the very contract we make when we gather under a set of laws for society, commerce, protection and procreation. It gives us strength in community and provides a safety net to those who can least afford to take care of themselves.

I mention this as a prelude to the physical pain I felt when Governor Mitt Romney wrote off 47% of the American populace as slaggards who paid no taxes, took no responsibility for their own actions, and who were undeserving of his attention or care. That really hurt, I didn’t expect that of him.  Up until the moment I saw him with my own eyes and heard him with my own ears I thought Romney was simply playing an ugly game of politics that seems to be more necessary these days to win an elected office with the inflated fundraising budgets allowed by the Supreme Court’s rulings.

If you had asked my opinion of Romney before the 47% remark, I would have said he was a politician who was probably decent at heart, though not sure enough of his own convictions to stick to them; nevertheless a man who cared deeply for his family and his religion, and who has probably done good deeds with his wealth. Like everyone else I smiled at gaffes that showed him to be out of touch with the average person (betting Rick Santorum $10,000, which he obviously thought was chump change—when was the first or last time you were challenged to a $10,000 bet?). But I wouldn’t have been afraid of what he would do if he were elected president.

All of that changed with the 47% speech. I had to ask myself what exactly does Romney believe in and how would he govern?  I don’t know.  He seems to change his mind with the polls.  I don’t mind having a president who doesn’t agree with me on every issue as long as I know he or she has decent convictions that they think are worth fighting for.  And as long as I know that when the chips are down he or she would be looking out for the best interests of the country as a whole and would also have compassion for the least among us.

Hurricane Sandy brought those issues right to the forefront. Romney has alluded to abolishing FEMA, the agency charged with remedial action during emergency disasters. This is one of those events for which we have banded together, and the President took decisive and compassionate action during this time of tragedy. I fear that Governor Romney would have expected 47% of us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps of our own waders. Kudos to Governor Christie who put politics aside in favor of taking care of the people of New Jersey and who had the courage to compliment Obama’s compassion even though he was not his presidential choice.

I firmly believe that the President’s compassion for this nation is real. When he worked for community organizations in Chicago he was doing so for populations of people who were without power and money and prestige. He did it because that is what was in his heart and those were his core beliefs.

But President Obama has more than compassion, he has a competency that snatched this nation from the abyss of economic collapse four years ago; he kept his promises on troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan and expanded the GI bill;  brought Osama Bin Laden to justice and weakened Al-Qaeda.   He brought in a health care law that presidents had been trying to pass for years and years; decreed that people can marry no matter who they love;  rescued the auto industry; expanded college loans to students and  instituted  Race To The Top to improve our educational system.

He put into place financial reforms that will hopefully protect the country from wildly speculative derivatives and the bundling of toxic financial instruments; formed a Consumer Protection Agency; and recovered money to be used to help keep people in their homes in the case of unfair foreclosures. At this juncture the economic picture seems to be improving in our nation and I want to give President Obama time to make more progress. The strengthening of the American middle class and economy bode well for Americans and the rest of the world.

My choice is clear, I am voting to re-elect President Barack Obama.


This is an introductory post containing excerpts from  Women In Film/Kerry Reid’s interview of me when I won the Women In Film Focus Award. It was first published in Reel Chicago.



REEL: What is the first film you remember seeing with Roger?

EBERT: I think it was a Bunuel film, Un Chien Andalou. We loved watching Bunuel together .

REEL: What movies do you consider indispensable viewing for anyone who truly wants to understand and appreciate the art of cinema, “desert island” films that you feel you can repeatedly watch?

EBERT: Those are two different types of films. “Indispensable for appreciating the art of cinema” may not be the “desert island films,” but some of both films off the top of my head would be: almost any documentary with a conscience, like Food, Inc. Or any film by Stanley Kubrick, but especially A Clockwork Orange or Dr. Strangelove.

If I wanted to cry or emote it would include Terms of Endearment, The Color Purple, Tous Les Matins De Monde, any film by Nicole Holofcener, or any head-over-heels love story.

For pure cinematic wonder, the films of Fellini, John Cassavetes, Jane Campion, Alan Rudolph; the films of Charles Burnett, Spike Lee, Julie Taymor; any film with Isabelle Huppert or by Kasi Lemmons, or the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Pedro Almodovar, or John Sayles.

For fun, action films with Bruce Lee, especially Enter the Dragon. Or Charles Bronson or South Korean revenge films like Old Boy. Or muscular films by Kathryn Bigelow; science fiction films like Dark City; scary films like The Exorcist.

Any film by Lars Von Trier – whether successful or not, they are always visually interesting, even if sometimes immature.

Any film with Alfre Woodard, Laura Linney, Denzel Washington, or the 1970s and ‘80s Robert De Niro films. Any film with good dancing, even in 3D and well-made British costume dramas.

Okay, I see why Roger doesn’t like to make lists! Where do you start? Where do you stop?

REEL: Are there any films you and Roger disagree about?

EBERT: We disagree about A Clockwork Orange. It’s one of my favorite films and it just leaves him cold. I don’t get his love of Joe Versus the Volcano. We do talk about our differences in opinion, but there are so many films that we agree on that we end up discussing those. We both passionately agree on well-made films where people commit random acts of kindness. In both a concrete and philosophical way, we believe in “goodness.”

REEL: What is the quality that you think most defines excellence in film criticism?

EBERT: Having the curiosity to acquire a broad base of knowledge and life experiences really helps one excel in film criticism. And having the desire to communicate that to your readers or viewers in as accessible a way as possible also helps.