About me and Highland Park:
I was born and raised on the East Coast. My family lived for generations in New York City (hailing most recently from the Bronx and Brooklyn), and I was that first generation to be from elsewhere. For me, that meant Delaware and Pennsylvania, and later New York and New Jersey. I briefly attended the Culinary Institute of America, transferred to Penn State, and went to graduate school at Binghamton University (SUNY).
After earning a Ph.D. in English at 26, I applied to jobs all over the country, and was hired as an assistant professor at Lake Forest College in 2001. A graduate school advisor told me the North Shore was her “dream location,” but I had never visited Chicago before.
My wife, Kelly Haramis, and I settled in Highland Park in 2005, ready to start a family (our daughters are now 9 and 10). We bought a “starter” house in the Ravinia neighborhood, and I remember how hot the housing market was at that time. I would ride my bicycle on the bike trail from and look for new "for sale" signs in the neighborhood. I didn't have a cell phone (!), so would write down the addresses and phone numbers, bike back home, and I start making calls. I remember a house, just on the market, had been sold in the time it took me to do that.
Kelly and I looked at somewhere near 100 houses before we found one in Ravinia, south of Roger Williams and east of Green Bay. We walked in, looked at each other, and said "this is it." We didn't yet have children, but we knew we wanted to start a family. We adopted our daughter Athena from China in 2007, and my wife gave birth to our second daughter, Kallista, six months later at Highland Park Hospital. That’s right, we went from zero children to two under two in six months, a story that Kelly—former journalist-turned-actor—tells in her one-woman show Double Happiness. Our family is multinational, multiracial, and multi-religious. We celebrate diversity, not only because we believe in it, but because we live it.
Our realtor said, memorably, "you're not buying a house, you are buying a piece of property near the train that happens to have a house on it." She was wrong, of course. We are surrounded by much more than the train in Highland Park. We were home and we knew it.
And home for me always means getting involved: I helped lead the CARE organization as we advocated for a better school reconfiguration plan. I engaged in public debates, wrote letters, and spoke with hundreds of neighbors on all sides of the issues. After the referendum, I was asked by 112 Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy to serve as a launch team member for the Reconfiguration 2.0 Community Team. The team had six members, three who opposed the referendum and three who supported; I immediately said yes because I will always work with others toward as a solution. It was an honor to have been elected by the group of 31 as a member of the 2.0 Steering Committee, and I continue in my role of helping 112 find a solution that the community will support. My specific work with 112 has provided me with insight of how many parts of the community view the interrelationship between the health of our schools and the strength of the greater community, and that perspective can help build additional bridges between both bodies.
My interests are much broader than the schools: I advocated for the beach improvement with Friends of Rosewood, supported CLEAR in the second 113 referendum, volunteered at Ravinia's School's annual Fun Fair, and I serve as a Ravinia Neighbors Association board member. I am passionate about historic preservation and architecture, and have served as the trolley docent for the Historic Ravinia tours. I lead the Second Wednesday Book Discussion group at the Highland Park Library, and will also lead this spring’s discussion on the One Book, One Highland Park selection. Recently, I led a two-part history of the Grateful Dead at the library. As an author, I have dedicated my career to the arts. As a professor and higher education administrator, I have dedicated my career to inclusion, critical thinking, and civic engagement.
My parents were school teachers, as was my grandfather. My mother taught everywhere from Harlem, to rural Delaware, to industrialized Pennsylvania, and eventually, they settled in St. Louis as my father had long since entered the business world. When my father became sick with terminal brain cancer (he had the same condition and doctor as Ted Kennedy), he and my mother moved to Highland Park (the Highlands). He spent his last years here and he loved it. My mother thinks Highland Park is the best place she’s ever lived. Kelly and I agree, and we’ve lived in Highland Park longer than we have lived anywhere else.
My father’s illness also taught me a most valuable lesson about silence, and one I use as the base of everything I do, including this campaign: how to listen.
My Professional Background
At Lake Forest College, I am Associate Dean of the Faculty and Director of the Center for Chicago Programs, as well as Professor of English and Director of Lake Forest College Press at Lake Forest College. I have chaired academic departments and programs and I currently serve as the associate dean of the faculty. I am involved in strategic planning and budgeting, and I help manage relationships with multiple external cultural institutions. I have served as principal investigator for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant connected to the history of land-use and urban planning, and I currently administer a Chicago-focused digital humanities grant from the Mellon Foundation helping faculty use, in part, augmented and virtual reality.
Throughout my career, I have fostered a commitment to diversity and inclusion. I facilitate an undergraduate fellowship program that is part of an $8.1 million grant to diversify the professoriate, and I coordinate an annual peace project competition with an international national foundation that funds global initiatives each summer.
I am the director of the college's press, and have recently published books, distributed by Northwestern University Press, on transportation and architectural issues including Beyond Burnham: An Illustrated History of Planning for the Chicago Region and Terminal Town: An Illustrated Guide to Chicago's Airports, Bus Depots, Train Stations, and Steamship Landings, 1939 - Present. This broad perspective on urban planning provides me with a regional context for the issues facing Highland Park.
I blog at the Huffington Post and often interview interesting artists and thinkers as a way to expand my own thinking. I’ve had the good fortune to interview Hairspray filmmaker John Waters, autism advocate Temple Grandin, Edward Snowden’s ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner, The Third Coast author Thomas Dyja, MIT professor Sherry Turkle, novelist and collagist and New York Times bestselling author David Shields, and novelist and MacArthur grant winner Aleksandar Hemon, among others. I’ve published novels, edited academic collections, edited and introduced the last novel from Holocaust survivor Raymond Federman (one my mentors), and collaborated with an amazing array of artists and thinkers including Paul Miller aka dj spooky, Roxane Gay (author, Marvel comics writer [!], and frequent New York Times contributor who generously remixed one of my stories!), Regina Taylor (actor and Goodman Theater associate), author Lance Olsen, poet Anne Waldman, and many others.
As a scholar of author William S. Burroughs, and a professor of English who has taught recent courses on podcasting, selfies and drones, remixes and mashups, the Grateful Dead, and, next year, emoji, I embrace new ideas and new ways of thinking (as evidenced by my counterintuitive college tips on Chicago Tonight.) I have learned that best way to lead is to listen, and the best way to listen is to step outside of one’s comfort zone. We won’t always find consensus, but we will be collectively better off for trying as hard as we can to understand other perspectives. My work has taken me all over the world, and I’ve spoken everywhere from the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, DC; to Tangier, Morocco; to the Sorbonne; to the Chicago Humanities Festival (most recently this year with a drone-related video filmed at Olsen Park).
Put another way, my perspective is global, but my activism is local. (Highland Park’s Sister City program lets us know our city gets this, too).
Public service calls for an articulated vision of community excellence and the shared understanding, and my experiences have allowed me to successfully navigate challenges of limited resources, diversity and inclusion, and sustainable growth that our city faces in the coming years.
I've been involved in our community since I arrived, and if elected, I promise to represent you with integrity and intelligence.