Whoever steps into the Church Street office of Dino Robinson, founder of Shorefront, the not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to collect, record and preserve Chicago’s North Shore Black history, should not expect to find an old-timer. Mr. Robinson is an energetic young graphic designer with a passion for sharing the history of the local African-American community.
Mr. Robinson’s office, originally designed to be a children’s daycare center, is painted in bright, cheerful colors, the walls covered with Shorefront’s past traveling exhibits. Robinson, who came to Evanston at the age of 13 and refers to himself as a newcomer, says Shorefront was started by accident.
In 1994, Mr. Robinson was asked by a community member to write an article about African history in Evanston. After an initial investigation, he was disappointed to find little documentation about the black community on the North Shore. Further research led him to old newspaper clippings, but he found no cohesiveness and no central location to access the information.
“The North Shore’s history includes many African-Americans who were movers and shakers,” says Mr. Robinson. “Blocked by cultural barriers, they formed their own groups and organizations. I saw this discovery as an opportunity to start filling in the gaps.”
As he compiled the information, he began to write about the findings. These early efforts were first published in the form of articles for Evanston’s Clarion newspaper.
In 1996, Mr. Robinson raised $1,500 to compile the stories into a book, “A Place We Can Call Our Home.” The next year he won a grant to publish “Through the Eyes of Us,” a timeline and audio recording of the lives and experience of African- Americans in Evanston. The book and timeline “opened the doors for more communication,” says Mr. Robinson.
In 1999, feeling a need to formally organize his efforts, Robinson and a core group of citizens created the concept of Shorefront and soon incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. Its test program was a four-page publication distributed at the Evanston Farmer’s Market for free. The group was inspired by the enthusiastic response the publication received.
“The next day, calls came flooding in with people inquiring about how they could subscribe or how they could get involved,” says Mr. Robinson. “So, we decided to create a journal with a scholarly aspect – something people could collect or use for research.”
Today Shorefront is a 20-page quarterly journal. Each issue contains a feature about a prominent community member, either deceased or retired, who pictured on the cover.
The journal offers informative, in-depth stories and commentaries that reflect the rich history and culture of local African-Americans. Shorefront also accepts stories, photographs and other forms of art by professional, student or novice guest writers and artists.
Shorefront also educates the community with exhibits, such as the annual traveling exhibit it creates in partnership with area historical societies.
One such exhibit entitled “Music 4 the Soul,” featured more than 40 nationally recognized African-American musicians who had lived in or still live in Evanston. Shorefront’s outreach efforts also include slide lectures presented at area schools and libraries.
Today, Shorefront has a 10-member board and nearly 200 members across the nation and has become a well-respected resource of information. When asked where he sees the future of Shorefront, Mr. Robinson replies, “Our goal right now is 1,000 members. I’d love to see a museum, a destination place for community members. African-American history is everyone’s history.”
Each issue of Shorefront’s quarterly journal features a prominent historical member of the North Shore’s African American community.