Living It Up In La Villita! 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade

Chicago has been separated into ethnic quadrants for as long as I can remember. Only in our city could you literally go around the world in 80 days in respect to a multitude of cultures and food. But 4-Star’s destination was a little closer to home as we visited La Villita or the Little Village area, which forms a perimeter from about 31st and Cicero and then moves eastward ending at about Western Ave. In this capsulized version of Mexico many of the traditional constructs can be seen from the terra cotta found decorating many of the buildings as well as the welcome sign once you enter into the area. You can also find these signs of tradition in many of the shops selling authentic costumes and especially in the food offering centuries old recipes that always whet this blogger’s appreciative appetite.But as the area expanded there was a sort of marriage between Mexican and American cultures. And as with any marriage there has to be a mix of old and new, examples of this can be seen in the expressive graffiti murals of symbols such as the Virgin Mary that can be found throughout the area.

I, Vonnie Coleman along with Chris Thompson, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer kept all of this in mind as we parked and began to walk towards one of the biggest celebrations in Little Village, the 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade! As we stood near 26th and Kedzie, we got a chance to take in the array of colors and sounds. As the parade rolled on there were more than a few popular floats making their way down the packed lane.

A local Latino motorcycle club, the Pulaski Boyz, were one of the first floats/attractions to show up and show out as they made a spectacle with their constant revving and tricked out rides. Sporting the mantra Death or Glory these riders were real cool despite the fact that it was really hot out. Parade watchers also delighted in the many Spanish radio stations that were in attendance. Radio Personality and DJ, Jesse El Grandote, kept the parade live mixing for La Que Buena 105.1 FM float. Speaking of plenty of music acts there was a plethora of Mariachi! Mariachi, which can refer to either the music or the collective band, was one of the customary performances that popped up the most during the festivities. Sporting ladies and gentlemen decked out in traditional garb these prominent floats were numerous among the parade. It was hard to pick just one favorite. One of the other types of attractions that made up the vast majority of the parade were the different equestrian groups in the parade. Club Ruramuri Chihuahua was a noteworthy float that showcased the history of the majestic art of horse ranching. Modern tastes also rang through in the parade offering several troupes of the local Boy Scouts as well as some more “adult” tastes. Adult beverage purveyors like Miller Lite and Corona held floats filled with ladies dressed in “charming” costumes that got more than a bat of an eyelash from some of the men in the crowd. Regardless the float or attraction there was a unifying quality among them as they all rang out the popular chant “Viva Mexico!”

The 26th Street Mexican Independence Parade has lots of pros to its credit. One of the things I absolutely loved is the amount of children participation. From the yelling mouths in the crowd to the fanciful participants riding floats, kids really made the difference. There were young horse riders, beautiful teens sporting glittery Quinceañera gowns, tiny Bachata dancers, as well as junior volunteers who helped pass out flyers and information for causes such as voter registration and free safe cps bus rides for children. Another great attraction was the swag! I’m not talking about style, I’m talking about the almighty FREE. There were many free treats, trinkets, and gifts tossed into the awaiting crowd. This blogger was lucky enough to score a pack of chocolate chip cookies and a pink water bottle, my high school softball coach would be proud.

I have always appreciated the preservation of the rich history of the Latino culture. The proceedings always brought it back to their mother country Mexico. Mayan costumes were displayed as well as vibrant Puebla dresses for women and Charro suits for the males. Another of the mounting merits for the day’s exhibition was the efficient take down and clean up of the event. The parade ran from noon precisely and ended about an hour and a half later. The event organizers did a good job of dispersing the crowd and getting the roads back to drivable condition. Dare I say, it ran much better than another famous parade the annual Bud Billiken Parade which we as Chicagoans know can unofficially run all night thanks to constant patron flow at all times of the day. Lastly, and most importantly were the bountiful booths that parade goers could purchase various wares. Also sold at these wondrous booths, FOOD, glorious food. Horchata, mango sprinkled with chili, and the heavenly creation known as Mexican corn consisting of either Parmesan cheese, butter, mayo, chilli, or a concoction of two or more. I had never before tasted such a filling and amazing treat as this. After a day of taking in so much it was nice to wind the day down visiting the neighborhood, Lalo’s, and having their famous Blue Margaritas.

I just wanted to take a minute to give a real note of thanks. Let’s be real Chicago, we know there’s certain neighborhoods where race is still a very prevalent issue. There’s certain places where “black folk” aren’t allowed but when I say I felt so welcomed, it was very gracious. I’ve always come from the belief that we as minorities and people in general should never undercut each other because we struggle with the same hurts. I, as a black woman, appreciated the overall experience of the fiesta. That’s all from 4-Star.

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26th St. Mexican Independence Day Parade
On 26th St. from Albany to Kostner
3100 W. 26th St.
Chicago IL 60623

4126 West 26th Street
Chicago, IL


Navigating Chicago Part 1: *My Hero Zero, Zero*

Though I consider myself a native Chicagoan, living near the South-side since birth, there’s a secret this self-acclaimed explorer has been carrying around for some time now…I never learned directions. It’s true! For shame! When most urbanites were sent off into the world with a bus card, maybe a map, and the simple directions “find your way back in two hours,” I was unfortunately born to an overattentive mother who wouldn’t let me walk up the block let alone ride a bus. I was thus denied this rite of passage and some twenty odd years later, I was finally getting rid of my “exploring training wheels.” I, Vonnie Coleman, on behalf of 4-Star Explorer set out find an easy and helpful way to navigate the city. But where to start? Chicago is so vast….bring in my hero zero, zero.

A little history first. Chicago is set up on a grid system that is, streets run like longitude and latitude lines on a map. Some run up and down, some run left to right. In Chicago, major streets are counted at every four blocks or half mile. In the heart of this grid system lies Madison and State, the zero point of Chicago, where all city block measuring is started. Madison running East and West, while State runs North and South.

So what exactly does all that mumbo jumbo mean…is exactly what I was thinking as I was reviewing maps. Which brings me to “helpful tip” number one for navigating Chicago, Do Your Homework. Work with mapping websites, I suggest Google Maps. They have a helpful app that is a lifesaver if you’re ever lost. They even have a walking GPS! Giving you turn by turn walking directions for what I term, us directionally challenged individuals. After perusing some of the major downtown streets I came up with an acronym system to group some of the streets together that almost guaranteed my memorization. I started with State-Wabash-Michigan giving it the oh, so appropriate “Sexy-Wet-Men.” Now I don’t know how your mind works but nothing is more unforgettable than a soaking wet man fresh out of the shower. Now if you’re a fella and that wordplay is something you’d like to keep far from your mind I came up with “Soliders-Win-Merits” for all you Call of Duty fans.

Next was Madison-Washington-Randolph given the phrase “My-Wild-Rabbit.” Then there’s State-Dearborn-Clark-LaSalle with the phrase “Silly-Dogs-Cuddle-Lovingly” and lastly there were the parallel streets Madison-Monore-Adams-Jackson paired with the saying “My-Mom-Answers-John

Once my research was over I was ready to pack up and explore but like the catchy Expedia handle “helpful tip number two” suggests you should Never Roam Alone. If you’re a newbie to downtown directions I would suggest sticking with the buddy system, at least until you have a working knowledge of where you are while near the Loop. Not only is it easy to get turned around in the swell of a crowd but not to mention the safety precautions. With this in mind I called on 4-Star’s interim photographer, Chris Thompson to act as my inside man.

After riding the Red Line up to Monroe we stopped and had a small “awe-filled” moment as we took in the hustle and bustle that is downtown Chicago. The plan? Walk around the Madison and State parameter while collecting useful insights to help the GPS junkies out there LEARN the streets, not just mapquest ’em.

While walking with Chris I learned that there is a “100 block series” measurement system that lets a traveler know their location in relation to another street. For example, If I were waiting for Chris at Millennium Park on Michigan and he was located on Madison and State getting ready to travel towards me, I would in fact be 200 blocks East of State Street or simply I’d be two blocks over to his right. I can feel some of the seasoned Chicago explorers’ blasé stares in my general direction but what is your long forgotten history is my latest revelation.

There is an exception to this, some streets which is the case with the above picture of Garland are counted as half of a city block and thus do not fit into the 100 block series count. Garland Court is in fact placed between Wabash and Michigan but these half blocks, places, and courts are mostly used as alleyways for local businesses.

Continuing my journey, I did whatever I do when taken to a new or scary place that I’m not sure I’ll return from, make mental note of my surroundings. For example, while walking towards “The Lake” or going East on Madison one of the first things I noticed once I got to Wabash was a high hanging Tilted Kit restaurant sign. So, “helpful tip” number three, Peep Your Surroundings urges you to do just that.

After taking Madison, over to Michigan and then eventually walking down to Randolph I tried to think like the average lost out-of-towner. Who is the first person I’d go to in crisis? As I made my way on Randolph past the Chicago Cultural Center, yet another visual landmark, I happened to see a group of Chicago’s finest and slightly less finer police officers and security guards. Of course, as luck would have it I happened to ask the most stubborn security officer of the group. After some time I got him to reluctantly answer some questions on what to do if you ever get lost.

His advice was to seek out policemen, bus drivers, and taxi drivers for directions. “Helpful tip” number four Uniforms Friendly! is a proclamation of our fine fitted workers of the city.These people are put in these position to be able to work with the public. Quite frankly, it’s their jobs to know these streets. And even if you catch a traffic control attendant or the Starbucks guy you’ll get a reasonably helpful and friendly response.

Another oasis for the lost explorer is one of the many Metra Information Centers. Every bus or train at the very least has a mapping system chart with the different city routes carved out. Some of these train and bus stations even have attendants or officers stationed on them which again, these friendly uniforms offer a guide to a helpful direction. Beneath the Chicago Cultural Center, holds one such information center. Boasting one of the more extravagant information centers than most in the city, the Chicago Cultural Center’s Metra Information Center holds six different restaurants and stores for the weary traveler needing to replenish their supplies and achy soles.

While looking around the underground safe haven I noticed a compass Chicago Pedway Symbol and decided to research some facts on this passageway. Constructed since the 50s this underground walkway system is connected to over 40 downtown area blocks, specifically occupying the central business district. It connects to many shopping areas, restaurants, city buildings, as well as different CTA (Chicago Transit Authority works with bus services) and Metra (works with train services for those who don’t know). This tunnel system is a godsend to a lost explorer seeing as many times it can lead you straightway to the business or building you are looking for. So “helpful tip” number five encourages you to Look for the North Star. These compass star designed symbols can be an explorer’s salvation, so keep an eye out for these. And remember a lot of local stores and restaurants are connected to them as well like this picture of the pedway sign on the side of the State street shopping center Block 37.

Wrapping up the trip and all its grandeur would be a cathartic experience for anyone so of course, me being me, I had to go and ruin it by putting myself through what I can guarantee is one of the most terrifying things a person can do; walking blind and being lead by someone around the downtown area. Considered crazy by most, extreme by some, but for us at 4-Star Explorer it’s just a day at the office.  Trust me, there is a method to the madness. I had Chris blindly lead me to different streets in the area to quiz me on identifying the intersection, giving the correct “100 block series count” from Madison or State, and lastly knowing the proper direction of either East/West of State or North/South of Madison.

Once the first of my quizzes was administered after being told I could open my eyes I looked around and noticed we were near the business district. I made my way to the nearest intersection which read Dearborn and Adams. From there I was able to determine that the location was 200 blocks south of Madison and 100 blocks west of State…and of course I was correct. Riding high off my first win I felt a little more comfortable as I closed my eyes again and was spun unceremoniously around then lead to the next challenge. Once again I was told to open my eyes and after peering around the area I noticed the Wabash and Adams sign to which I gave the correct answer of being 1 block east of State and 2 blocks south of Madison. After urging Chris to give me something more challenging and not located on Adams…he spun me around and off we went. After what felt like hours and what must have been countless confused stares I was told to open my eyes and was instantly met with the familiar musings of Millennium Park . I looked up and found the intersection of Madison and Michigan. Being stationed on Madison we were on the Zero Point and thus only 200 blocks east of State.

Soaking in the glory of all three quizzes I inquired on the proper address formation of our last intersection. I was confused because though we were on Michigan the address said 200 E. Madison. Chris filled me in on why that’s the case. When you are at intersecting streets the dominant street, or the street that naturally runs in the direction you are traveling, gets the placing. For example, if you were located on the intersection of LaSalle and Randolph the address would read 300 W. Randolph because Randolph naturally runs East and West whereas LaSalle runs North and South. But LaSalle isn’t completely forgotten with the “300” letting travelers know it is 3 blocks from State.

Well in a day filled with triumphs and terrors (the whole time I had my eyes closed I just knew I was gonna hit a curb and face plant so hard for the whole world to see) I can definitely say it was a trip I’ll never forget and cherish as the first of many Navigating Chicago series. Here’s some of my favorite pictures from our outing, we got a lot of great shots!

Wanna see all of the 70 photos we took on our Navigating Chicago Part 1 Trip? Any suggestions on what we should explore next? Drop us a line at or go to our Facebook page to see extra pictures or leave notes, don’t forget to like us!

Smash Play at the Goodman Theatre a *Crowning* Achievement

Whoever coined the saying “use your head for than a hat rack” hasn’t met the ladies of Burlington, North Carolina; the setting of the smash hit Crowns. 4-star got up and out, hatless unfortunately, to see this raved reviewed production. And frankly, we tip our hats off to the cast.

provided by “Stage and Cinema” online

Crowns, written by playwright Regina Taylor,was originally produced in 2002, first brought to the Goodman Theatre in 2004, and for its 10 year anniversary has been reworked for its second Goodman release this summer in 2012. The story follows Yolanda, played by fellow Illinois State University alum Marketta Wilder, as she must leave the familiar yet dangerous streets of Englewood, Chicago. After being shipped off “down south” to stay with her grandmother Mother Shaw, Felicia Fields, she must reluctantly become apart of this new rural backdrop and all its customs. Along with Mother Shaw, four ladies of the community’s social hierarchy work to change Yolanda’s stubborn and flamboyant ways by sharing analogous monologues of past memories, hurts, and lessons learned. These experiences all revolving around the wearing of different ceremonial hats, unite the ladies in a common societal understanding.

I, Vonnie Coleman, of 4-Star Explorer ventured out to the 2 pm matinee showing of Crowns. It was very convenient buying the tickets online and having them waiting, nestled safely in the box office waiting for my arrival. I was lucky to score a ticket for $25 in the first Box seating on the main floor, stage left of the crowd. It was surprisingly busy for an afternoon show, my understanding of plays were that they were usually busier on evenings, but every seat in the house was filled. Once I scurried to my seat I was shocked to see that the box was raised higher above the main floor setting an exquisite allusion of 18th century French theatre.  I was practically a modern-day version of “matinee ladies.”

An example of the raised box seats on the main floor that I sat in.

Once the theater goes black the ears are assaulted by the rhythmic drumming from the orchestra pit. A man and woman dressed in African garb make their way to the stage. They stand quietly off to the side and the spotlight turns off. And as a first to my eyes from any other play I’ve attended the backstage disappears as the walls of the set literally close in around Wilder as Yolanda dancing rhythmically to a unrelenting hip-hop beat. As the space around Yolanda grows smaller,  the backdrop is filled with urban cityscapes, an echoing of metropolitan sounds such as trains and buses, and the words “I was born in Englewood” are etched lovely in script writing.

Without giving too much of the play away Yolanda tells us of the sad circumstances on how she has come to stay in Burlington. The five ladies who shape her knowledge of the town are first introduced dressed in white signaling a pure almost guardian angel quality to them. After giving varying soliloquies we discover the characters are Wanda, played by Pauletta Washington, a stark Gospel traditionalist raised up in the church to follow strict guidelines. E Faye Butler usually plays the role of Mabel, the preacher’s wife but at the performance I attended understudy Shari Addison gives a riveting performance as the harsh often times judgmental church first lady. Jasondra Johnson plays Velma, a young socialite in the congregation known for her wild streak during her “sinning days” but has since mended them and become the funeral director. Jeanette the tiny coy seductress lives very much by the “Hat Queen Rules” (also an upbeat song and dance number in the show) but believes in breaking them a little bit just the same. And of course sagely Mother Shaw rounds out the accomplices in Miss-Yolanda-Education. Though originally dressed in white the characters make an onstage costume change seemingly slipping into their identities. Ms. Wanda in Gold, Ms. Mabel in feisty Red, Ms. Velma in royal Purple, Ms. Jeanette is flirty Blue, and Ms. Shaw in sparkling White and Silver. It rang familiar to me with the color characterization in the popular play For Colored Girl

Through out the play you see that Yolanda struggles between the love she comes to have for these guardian angels and the reluctance she has for assimilating into any custom deemed as normal. I also appreciated the strong African influences that are fuzed into this play. The Ensemble members, regardless of the different roles they must invoke, are always wearing Afro-inspired clothing. The audience is always showed the comparison between old African customs and common practices displayed in modern black churches such as shouting, group chantings, and donning ornamental costumes. There is also a fusion in the music. Please, please, PLEASE, do not let the “Gospel” aspect of this play lead you astray just about every form of music is covered in this play from 50s doo wop to spoken word to popular gospel hymns to jazz and old timey music of the 1900s and always strumming back to the hip-hop beats, specifically Lauryn Hill’s Everything is Everything plays a big part.

A quick shot of Marketta Wilder, the leading lady Yolanda and our editor Vonnie.


For me the standout players in this crowd pleasing hit were Marketta Wilder and Felicia Fields as Yolanda and Mother Shaw. Their relationship was so organic and emotional that I really got the sense that they were grandmother and granddaughter. They were also captivating on their own as well. Wilder gives a powerful performance with an overall commanding presence in every scene she is in. This girl can’t go unnoticed. And Mother Shaw tugs on the deep nostalgic longing in all of us of providing the “Big Mama” role that is so desperately needed in today’s society.

Crowns the Gospel Musical, is certain to bring your family together and entertain all of the differing characters of your familial camp. There is assuredly something for everyone. This play is truly something to be “explored.”




For extra parking convenience I suggest you use the online parking spot holder to reserve the best spot also for the cheapest price. It takes a lot of fuss out of the already hectic downtown parking experience.














Crowns! The Gospel Musical

running now to August 12

visit online for tickets and hours at:

170 North Dearborn Street

Chicago, IL 60640


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A Little Bit of History…

It is usually the custom on Sundays for most people to carry themselves to whatever religious institution they choose to worship. Some people take a rest on Sunday, it worked for God after all. For this twenty-something Chicagoan it had been a common practice to sleep in until at least noon (often times sleeping off the hangover acquired from the previous night’s exploits). But for whatever reason this was not the case this particular seventh day of the week. As I sipped my coffee I perused the local paper. As I looked around at the headlines I thought what better way to slide into a city then by thumbing through some of its history. With the division of sides (such as Northside and Southside), counties, and towns (ex. China town, Greek Town, etc.) it may be hard for some groups to be able to clearly track their influence within the city. This is why 4-Star thought it’d be a good first showcase to do a write up on the DuSable Museum of African American History.

courtesy of wikipedia

Starting out as a small historical display in founder Margaret Burroughs’ home, the museum since its creation has made it a mission to display key historic artifacts and [via their website] “achievements of people of African Descent.” While walking through the passageways of the small multi-level museum the patron can get a chance to learn some “not-so” common knowledge about the cultivation of Africa, leading into migration to places such as Brazil and other South American countries, small Caribbean islands, and eventually leads to the settling of early Chicago. I got a chance to learn a fun fact that I, as an almost 25 year old African-American native Chicagoan, was a little surprised I did not know. The museum borrows its name from the first non-Native American settler in the Illinois area Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a man of African descent, who had hopes of starting a small trading post to generate some business. I think it would be safe to say that some 280 odd years later Du Sable’s hope to get a little cash in his pocket was a success as we enjoy what is now modern Chicago.

When you first walk into the museum you are presented a beautiful display showing some of the first origins of African civilization. There is a handy guided tour kiosk showing an interactive digital tour of different sites in Egypt. From the pyramids of Giza to secret chambers of a pharaoh’s tomb the information is plenty and the eye-catching graphics will lead you to believe you really did take a trip to the Nile. It’s important to mention the artfully done murals of famous African leaders, dignitaries, and warriors. As the deeply tan faces stare back into the patrons’ eyes it is important to digest the fact that much about the mainstream perceptions of people such as Cleopatra, Queen Hatshepsut, and King Tut have been skewed in believing that these figures were “fairer” in appearance.

                                                                                                courtesy of

Some of the other notable exhibits currently showing are Red, White, Blue and Black: A History of Blacks of the Armed Services and Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner.

Red, White, Blue and Black chronicles the scarcely mentioned presence of blacks in various wars such as the [American] Civil, Spanish-American, World Wars I and II, and even the Revolutionary. Filled with factual placards and bursting with memorabilia this exhibit is sure to bring a tear to any veteran’s eye. So bring our favorite servicemen and get there quick!

Word, Shout, Song follows the career of Lorenzo Dow Turner linguist, professor and most famous for his documentation of the Gullah language stationed in South Carolina as well as its connection to Afro-Brazilian and West African roots. The display walks you through different celebrations and rituals of the Gullah people and also highlights important events and people in Turner’s life. Located down stairs near the rear exit of the museum this is seen as sort of an end to the museum.

But without a doubt the “treasure” of this Chicago museum as well as a clear favorite among us at 4-Star is the Slow Walk to Greatness: The Harold Washington Story exhibit. The lighting bright, reflecting on a soft blue backdrop makes you do a quick double-take at a man sitting at a desk, for a second if you were to squint your eyes or in mid-conversation you’d think it was Harold Washington sitting and narrating his own life himself. In a scene that took me back to my fearful childhood years of the moving mechanical puppets at the national chain Chuck E. Cheese’s, I watched as the animatronic likeness of Harold Washington took me through the life and times of Chicago’s first black mayor. The accompanying placards gave me insightful information on Washington’s State and Congress representative career. The man did a lot in his lifetime before he came to be known as this great city’s mayor including a stint in the military. The exhibit boasts over 150 personal, political, and varying artifacts all pertinent to Harold Washington’s career. From his famous desk, to clips of his magnanimous speeches, to materials covering the “Campaign Wars” you will not live that museum feeling anything less than pride in our fair city.

                                                                                                                     courtesy of gkexhibits

4-Star would like to stress that the DuSable Museum is a great attraction for any Chicagoan or tourist seeking to get an in-depth look into history. With colorful attractions and ever-changing exhibits there is always something new learn and take away. It’s good for group or solo trips so grab the kids (especially grab the kids!) and head out for a nice afternoon out.

Before we at 4-Star sign off we would like to leave you with some inspiring words from founder, Margaret Burroughs, in her poem What Will Be Your Legacy?

“I ask you, what will your legacy be? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Do you have an answer? What will you leave as your legacy? If you have no answer, if at this point, you cannot say: Hearken! Listen to me! This is the moment. This is the prime moment for you to think and to get to work and identify what you will leave as your legacy for you to be remembered by”

*please note that flash photography is not allowed in the DuSable Museum.

For more imformation please visit:

DuSable Museum of African American History

740 East 56th Place

Chicago, Illinois 60637

Museum Hours

(Closed Mondays)

Tuesday—Saturday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Sunday, Noon–5:00 p.m.