Want to learn more about race in America? This book list will help

For 17 years, John Brennan has been working to spur community conversations about race, racial and social injustice, and addressing systemic racism.

It's what prompted Brennan to start the Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year program. Each year, participants from member schools and libraries choose age-appropriate books for the coming year from preschool through adult titles. Selected books have included stories about the problems Black Americans face, childhood illness, disabilities, foster care, gender identity, "fitting in" and bullying of children, climate change, and sex-trafficking.

"We have put forward the problems faced by immigrants and refugees, discrimination against people of Islamic faith, and those of Asian and Hispanic heritage, poverty, homelessness and hate crimes," said Brennan, of Mount Prospect, a retired Catholic priest.

This year's titles were chosen by the group of volunteers before the pivotal May 25 murder of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis police officer, sparking nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, rallies and riots.

"An awakening of white Americans and their subsequent actions regarding racism in our country could be a turning point in our history of race relations," Brennan said. "We actually have kind of preempted this big discussion that is going on throughout the nation in many schools, churches and many communities."

Books on race

This year's Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year reading list includes these titles: Preschool-first grade, "The Remember Balloons" by Jessie Oliveros; second-third grades, "Turning Pages: My Life Story" by Sonia Sotomayor; fourth-fifth grades, "The Boy at the Back of the Class" by Onjali Q. Rauf; middle school, "It Wasn't Me" by Dana Alison Levy; high school, "Internment" by Samira Ahmed; and adult, "So You Want to Talk About Race" by Ijeoma Oluo.

For information, visit

COVID-19 rental aid

Cook County residents can apply for the COVID-19 Recovery Rental Assistance program through 4 p.m. Monday.

The $20 million program's deadline was extended due to recent storms that left residents in some parts of the county without power, internet and other vital services.

Applicants could receive up to three months of rental assistance. Payments will be made directly to landlords on behalf of tenants. Funding is available by lottery to renter households with incomes under 80% of the area median income who have unpaid rent balances charged during the pandemic. Per the county's equitable distribution model, 25% of the funding is targeted to help residents in the hardest-hit communities.

To review eligibility and apply for rental assistance visit Applications are available in several languages, including Spanish, Polish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, and Hindi.

Islamic philanthropy

Bridgeview-based Zakat Foundation of America is launching the Zakat Foundation Institute, an independent nonprofit graduate school offering masters degrees in humanitarian and development studies to candidates from the Islamic philanthropic sector.

The institute will begin the program this fall - in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy - by offering 10 Muslim Philanthropy and Humanitarian Studies Fellowship awards to prospective students with a proven commitment of service to Muslim charities.

"Muslim charitable work has grown exponentially in the last two decades, as has the legion of people who have dedicated themselves to making that happen," said Halil Demir, founding executive director of Zakat Foundation.

This fall, fellows will begin a one-year certificate program requiring them to complete 18 graduate credits in philanthropic studies from Indiana University. They simultaneously will earn a graduate certificate in Muslim philanthropy and humanitarian studies from Zakat Foundation Institute.

Zakat Foundation will fully fund the fellowship and cover all tuition costs for required courses. All coursework will be online with limited in-person seminars.

For information, visit

What students need

A survey last spring showed Elgin Area School District U-46 students "are aching for conversations" about systemic racism, racial inequities and injustices, such as the killing of George Floyd.

"And you can provide them this opportunity within your classrooms," U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said in a back-to-school message to teachers. "In the midst of a pandemic that has truly shifted all we do, we have also been compelled to action to address systemic racism that continues to plague our nation, our state and our communities. We must also recognize that COVID-19 has also unearthed many inequity issues within our own community and within our school system."

As part of the district's equity plan, U-46 is providing free internet access through Comcast to qualifying low-income families, implicit racial bias training and will lead other discussions this school year. District officials also will focus on recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, Sanders said.

Community garden

American Muslim Community Organization in Lake in the Hills was awarded $5,000 this month to support its community service project, "Sowing Seeds of Friendship and Peace," as part of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago's Social Justice Challenge.

The group planted a raised-bed community vegetable garden in partnership with Resurrection Catholic Church of Woodstock and the Richland Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church. Produce grown there will be distributed to families in need through the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and the Rohingya Center.

CIOGC's Social Justice Challenge awarded 31 mosques $1,000 each to develop service projects addressing social injustices, including economic disparity, food insecurity, racial and religious discrimination, education and climate change.

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John Brennan
  Elgin Unit District U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said students "are aching for conversations" about systemic racism, racial inequities and injustices, such as the killing of George Floyd. Brian Hill/
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