July 31, 2020
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These Chicago dads are live streaming story time to inspire and mentor young people

Here are three stories that show how people are stepping up for their communities—from mentors who read to kids to activists who want to dismantle racism.

Chicago dad Joseph Williams took his story time with Mr. Dad’s Fathers Club to Facebook Live so kids could still get the benefit of mentorship that his nonprofit provides. Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

Each week, The Renewal Project shares stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at margaret@therenewalproject.com.


Story time with pops: Chicago dad Joseph Williams knows the power a single book can have on a child. Williams runs local nonprofit Mr. Dad’s Fathers Club that offers mentorship through reading to local children.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gathering for readings wasn’t possible. Williams, a father of five, adapted and began hosting readings once a week from his home on Facebook Live.

He first founded the nonprofit in 2017. Now it currently boasts 150 men as members—from young uncles to grandfathers—ready to offer their time to Chicago’s youth.

“We’re not just reading and doing mentoring, but you also got fathers who can come in and they can get the support that they need,” Williams told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Because fathers want to help their kids, but they need support, too.”

Williams won’t stop at weekly readings. He hopes to eventually open a community center with many programs to serve area children, including a community garden to help promote healthy eating and act as a safe communal space.

[Read more: A North Carolina literacy nonprofit takes story time online]


Art is power: The statue of Robert E. Lee on Richmond, Virginia’s, famed Monument Avenue got a dramatic makeover on Tuesday.

Thousands of points of lights zoomed together to create the face of George Floyd, projected onto the 21-foot tall statue of Lee, situated on a 40 foot pedestal. The hologram of Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25, sparking protests around the country, also featured a inspiring message: “Keep Fighting.”

The portrait is part of the George Floyd Hologram Memorial Project, a partnership between the George Floyd Foundation and Change.org. The family of George Floyd also traveled to Richmond for the unveiling of the artwork, which was designed by Kaleida Hologram Co. and projected by Quince Imaging of Virginia.

“Honestly, it’s beautiful,” Rodney Floyd, George’s brother, told the Washington Post. “And it resembles him. And the energy that was out there last night from the local people—we all were excited. I’m smiling right now thinking about it.”

The portrait won’t stay in Richmond for long, though. Its creators will take it on the road and will visit locations across the U.S. including North Carolina and Georgia, following the trail of the 1961 Freedom Rides. According to a press release, the project hopes to, “transform spaces that were formerly occupied by racist symbols of America’s dark Confederate past into a message of hope, solidarity and forward-thinking change.”

[Read more: What should we memorialize?]


Black-owned businesses near me: From February to April 2020, the number of active business owners in the U.S. dropped at a record rate of 22 percent, or 3.3 million businesses. African-American and immigrant businesses were hit especially hard, dropping 41 percent and 36 percent, respectively. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, these figures represent the largest drop on record over a two-month period and losses were felt across nearly all industries.

These numbers are hardly surprising given that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everything from how we do business to how we send our kids to school. But even as the country hunkers down during this health crisis, there’s been a spike in civic participation surrounding the fight against racial injustice. One way consumers are showing their support for communities of color is by supporting Black-owned businesses.

According to a report from Yelp, interest in Black-owned businesses has skyrocketed since the police killing of George Floyd on May 25. Search activity for Black-owned businesses on its app increased 7,043 percent, year-over-year.

“There has been sustained interest in Black-owned businesses since the initial peak at the end of May and beginning of June, and this interest is diversifying past the initial generic searches for Black-owned businesses and restaurants into a wider range of business types,” Justin Norman, Yelp’s vice president of data science, told Business Insider.

In the last two months, Black-owned bookstores have reported selling out of popular titles written by prominent scholars on race and justice, such as Ibram X Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist.” Google searches for “black owned businesses near me” hit an all-time high the week after Floyd’s death, as demonstrators hit the streets in protest against police brutality.

“To me, this signals a shift in consumer behavior and habit that I expect will continue,” said Norman.

[Read more: Why our plan to invest in ‘untapped entrepreneurs’ is paying off]

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.