It has been two years since the Chessmen Club of the North Shore was able to hold its Annual Community Service Awards Dinner and Benefit in person.

As with so many things that COVID delayed, the coming back together for the gala on Friday, Oct. 14, was punctuated by the acknowledgement of the community’s loss and the support the organization was able to provide.

But there was also an atmosphere of great excitement, joy, celebration and beauty as the black-tie optional event had everyone arriving in their finest to the Holiday Inn and Suites, Chicago North Shore, in Skokie.

The mission of the night, other than to have fun, was also to raise money, which the Chessmen Club did – more than $120,000 and the donations are still coming. It was also to honor two women and one student athlete and activist.

“This year, our honorees were Black women, who embody exactly what #BlackExcellence looks like as it lives among us,” said Peter Braithwaite, Chessmen Club treasurer and the emcee for the night, wrapping up the event. “Your commitment to service and your contributions to the City of Evanston have been exceptional.”

Here is a RoundTable photo roundup of just a few of the more than 350 who were there.

The founder. The night would not have been possible without Chessmen Club cofounder William H. Logan, Jr., also known as Chief Logan, who is pictured (below left) with Chessmen Club member LaPlace Sallis.

Logan, a groundbreaker throughout his life, can count multiple firsts in his career as well as the distinction of being Evanston’s first Black police chief. Logan and his high school friend, Andy Rodez, who both joined the police force to help the community, when on the job saw that perhaps they could do more. As a result, the two men founded the Chessmen’s Club of the NorthShore in 1958. This year, the Chessmen Club celebrates 64 years of service. Among other things, the group has awarded more than $575,000 in college scholarships and given out more than 400 holiday food baskets to families. (For more on Logan’s story in his own words, listen to Laurice Bell and Ron Whitmore interview Logan on Evanston Rules’ podcast on the chief.)

Credit: Susy Schultz

The women award winners. These two honorees sparkled, shined and danced their way through the evening. They are (below, from left):

  • Robin Rue Simmons, founder and executive director of FirstRepair, a nonprofit national organization to inform local reparations. Rue Simmons is also the former City Council member for the Fifth Ward, where she was one of the key architects of the city’s reparation program. She is also the current chair of the City of Evanston’s Reparations Committee.
  • Monique Parsons, president and Chief Executive Officer of McGaw YMCA, and a nonprofit professional for more than 30 years. She is also a lifelong Evanstonian and has served since 2015 on the Evanston Township High School District 202 board, where she is currently vice president.
Credit: Heidi Randhava

The student honoree. Olivia Ohlson, ETHS student and athlete as well as a community activist. Her accomplishments would make you think she is well past 30, rather than a teenager. But among the many things she has done while being a top grade-getter was to found the nonprofit Diversify Golf. Its mission is to open up the game and make it more accessible to young women and people of color. She came to the ceremony with her father (below left), Harvey Ellis, and aunt, Candy Ewing. (She can put this award right next to her ESPY, which stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly.)

Credit: Evan Girard

The ceremony. Here are the official moments of presentation to the awardees from Chessmen Club President Reynold Martin (below right) and Treasurer Peter Braithwaite.

The family. Parsons’ family was there to celebrate her honor, including grandson Zaire Woodberry, 2, with his father, Immanuel Woodberry, and Parsons’ sister, Jerane Ransom.

The friends. Honoree Rue Simmons (below, center) enjoys time with Jessica Cooper Evan (left) and Gabrielle Walker Aguilar at the Chessmen gala. When she spoke, Rue Simmons said to the group: “I tell you I am here for gratitude, Black excellence, Black joy.” And she tipped her hat to the women in the crowd, saying, “There are so many women of excellence here in Evanston.” Then she added later: “This work leads me all around the world. … but my village is here. My village is here.”

Credit: Susy Schultz

Two city officials, two fedoras. Newly installed Evanston Police Chief and Evanston native Schenita Stewart (below, from left) joins Walter Thompson and his wife, Audrey, Evanston’s director of parks and recreation, along with friend Kenneth Wideman of the VFW Snell Post 7186.

Credit: Susy Schultz

The joy. Delores Holmes (below, seated), former City Council member, and daughter Kimberly Holmes-Ross stand alongside Sherri Wedlow.

Two executives. Community activist Bettye Cohns, executive director of the Reba Early Learning Center, visits with Luke Stowe, Evanston’s city manager.

Credit: Susy Schultz

Two rising stars. Amber William-Lyons of Keckley Company (below, left) and Taishiya Nix of the Youth Jobs Center take a minute for a picture before sitting down to dinner.

Credit: Susy Schultz

Two women of excellence. Leslie Sallis (below, left) and Patty Reece enjoy a hallway chat.

Credit: Evan Girard

The fellowship. Chessmen Club members Bryant Wallace, founder of WallScott Solutions, Marcel Sallis with MSCI and Steven Frost, assistant coordinator of school-age child care at District 65, stop for one picture in the middle of hosting.

The laughter. Dudley Brown, the second-longest-serving member of the Chessmen Club after William Logan, Jr., and a retired financial services executive, visits with Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism Professor Ava Thompson Greenwell, whose 2021 book, Ladies Leading: The Black Women Who Control Television News, is a look at the Black women behind the camera.

Credit: Susy Schultz

City, school and elected officials. There were far too many for the RoundTable to catch them all, but here a few.

The conversations. Caught enjoying themselves: Roland Fouché, the senior director of residence/housing at McGaw YMCA, Lucinda Bryant, Alicya Dennison, YMCA’s executive assistant to CEO/president, and Manuel Luna.

Credit: Susy Schultz

The colleagues. McGaw YMCA’s Anthony Morris, member relations staff, talks with COO Nicole Woodard.

Credit: Susy Schultz

The fundraising. Money raised at the annual gala supports the scholarship fund, the hunger fund and other community outreach initiatives. When it came time for the live auction, Samia and Cordus Easington were ready.

More magic. Gerri Sizemore and Chef Q Ibraheem, who offered up a dinner for six in the auction, cooked in your home, which helped get the evenings fundraising total up.

The wind down. Chessmen Club member Steven Frost, Karli Butler, director of community leadership at Evanston Community Foundation, and Robyn Bailey enjoying the night.

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...