CHICAGO (CBS) -- Friends, family and fans gathered Tuesday at Chicago Sun-Times' chief film critic Roger Ebert's lone star in front of the Chicago Theater to celebrate his life and legacy, but to also award grants in Roger's honor.
"Today is the fourth anniversary what Roger called his leave of presence. We are here to celebrate his life and legacy, but more importantly, to celebrate all the things he stood for like empathy," said Chaz Ebert.
The Ebert Foundation that he and his wife, Chaz, founded together awarded grants in Roger's honor of $1,000 each to 21 organizations that are working to improve the lives of Chicagoans and advance the arts. WBBM's Lisa Fielding reports.
"These organizations were chosen carefully," Ebert said. "There are so many worthy organizations, but we chose 21 and they are organizations that help children, women and families, an organization that helps keeps father's in the lives of their children. We also have organizations for the arts and that's what we are celebrating today."
"I think Roger had a great gift of turning film criticism into a personal and powerful and intelligent conversation with all of us," said Rich Moskal, Director, Chicago Film Office.
"We're really honored to be one of the recipients of this grant. I first met Roger in 1966 when he reviewed our very first film "Home For Life." Roger was a journalist and he wasn't afraid of anybody. Today, when arts funding faces Draconian cuts, I know Roger would be out there, doing the journalism to get the story, to get the consequences of these kinda cuts to the CPB, NEH, NEA, were going to mean in our state," said Gordon Quinn, Kartemquin Films, "Hoop Dreams."
"No matter how big he got, how revered he was around the world, he always identified with the people, never loss his commonness, his ability to make people feel valued and important. His film criticism allowed us to look at issues, deal with issues, ask ourselves questions, what did the movie mean to us and make us better people? Roger and Chaz have always cared about people," said Father Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina Church.
Chaz Ebert said they chose Chicago nonprofits that are opening doors for independent filmmakers and improving the lives of Chicagoans.
"What we are really doing today is shining the light on people who have empathy for other people and who inspire empathy and courage. What Roger used to say is that, what makes us cry in a movie or in life is not when something is sad, but when something is good. The goodness in someone's heart, empathy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness," Ebert said.
Donda's House is one of the grant recipients.
"What Chaz and Roger has shown us is what power couples can do with philanthropy, how arts, how film, how music can inspire peace in the city," said Che Smith, better known as hip hop artist "Rhymefest."
Ebert's film critic partner Gene Siskel died in 1999. His widow Marlene Iglitzen said Roger would be proud of what the Ebert Foundation has contributed to Chicago.
"I miss the fact that Roger isn't here to witness the nascent movement of diversity in film. He would've so loved to seen and participated in and written about," Iglitzen said. "I know Roger knows that things are moving in the right direction."
"Two thumbs up for Roger, everybody," said Chaz Ebert.
Roger Ebert died of head and neck cancer in 2013.
Ebert Foundation Grantees:
- Ability Lab, formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, which helped to improve Roger Ebert's quality of life following his surgeries.
- Afterschool Matters, which supports life- and skills-building programs for youth.
- Chicago Film Critics Association, which supports professional, charitable and educational goals and takes a stand on important industry issues.
- Chicago Media Project, which brings people together to connect them with great media, support and amplify films, and do so in innovative ways.
- Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, known for vibrant productions that reflect Shakespeare's genius for storytelling, language and empathy for the human condition.
- Crane Medical Preparatory High School, a magnet high school that will meet the growing demand for medical professionals by preparing a diverse student body to go on to the best colleges and universities. It is also Chaz Ebert's alma mater (when it was Richard T. Crane High School).
- Creative Cypher, which champions diversity in the film industry to make it more accessible to independent artists.
- Deborah's Place, which provides supportive housing to homeless single women.
- Donda's House, which supports arts education and gives youth an outlet for creative expression.
- Family Focus, which helps low-income families give their children the best start in life.
- Free-Spirit Media, which offers hands-on, project-based media production opportunities for youth.
- Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) Chicago, which provides programming and services designed to -
strengthen diverse artistic visions and enable filmmakers to create sustainable careers.
- Kartemquin Films, a collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society.
- Lookingglass Theater, which shares its ensemble-based theatrical techniques with Chicago area students and teachers through educational and community programs.
- Love Foundation, whose founder Quentin Love feeds and clothes the needy every week at his West Humboldt Park restaurant.
- Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, which helps boys and girls escape abuse, poverty and neglect.
- Moms Against Senseless Killings, a neighborhood watch group that has helped make a block in Englewood violence-free.
- Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international membership organization fighting for social change.
- St. Sabina Church, a predominately African American Catholic congregation on the South Side led by Father Michael Pfleger.
- 21st Century Dads, which improves the lives of children by raising awareness and resources for greater father involvement.
- Urban Prep Academy, an all-black male high school with a 100 percent graduation and college attendance rate.
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