Illinois Humanities Awards $140,000 in Grant Funding to 14 Organizations

Volunteer reads to senior citizen at an annual reading event sponsored by the Metro East Literacy Project.

Blue Hat Grandma scaled

By Illinois Humanities

Read Time 5 minutes
December 4, 2023

Fourteen Illinois organizations were awarded $10,000 each in General Operating Grants this fall. Illinois Humanities’ General Operating Grants function on the principle of empowering organizations’ growth without restrictions—recipients can allocate these funds to any areas of operations that need it most.

These organizations were selected out of over 100 applicants for their dedication to the humanities and cultural impact within their communities. Their missions center a range of humanities disciplines and include commitments to educational liberation and growth through direct action. Bringing invaluable resources to their audiences, they inspire new modes of thought about what “community” means, and they explore how we can strengthen our connections to one another to collectively work toward a more inclusive future. Illinois Humanities is proud to support this outstanding group of grantee partners.

Our recipients utilize practices like artmaking, performance, reading, and radio broadcasting to focus on issues of cultural reclamation, housing inequity, access to education, and more. Read on to learn more about two of our grantee partners and view the list of General Operations Grant awardees.

Founded in 2018, Lucky Jefferson is a literary nonprofit focused on “publishing social change” and curating collaborative community experiences that disrupt oppressive traditions in publishing. Centering artists and writers, founder NaBeela Washington works to cultivate inclusive representation in literature and art through geo-targeted publishing, creative arts programming, and arts research. 

The Chicago-based Lucky Jefferson, which previously received an Illinois Humanities grant to lead focus groups-based research on the challenges faced by Black writers and artists, has a busy 2024 in the works. 

They’ve brought on two arts research fellows, have secured an Amazon Literary Partnership grant, and have been invited to present their research at The Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ Convention in March 2024. 

When asked about Lucky Jefferson’s greatest assets, NaBeela highlighted the group’s intentional collaborations: “We invite artists and writers to shape our publications, promote from within, and watch emerging creatives grow into significant roles, and our arts programs create freedom for students to immerse themselves in the intersection of art and literature,” she says. 

In the coming year, Lucky Jefferson plans to publish as many as eight print or digital publications, continue to serve students in the Chicago area, and continue to grow their capacity as a leading researcher on issues that impact BIPOC artists and writers. 

LJ Semi Colon Bookstore Lit Fest

Semicolon Bookstore’s Lit Fest attendees peruse Lucky Jefferson’s publications.

Another grantee in this round is the Metro East Literacy Project (MELP), founded in 2012 by Linda Mitchell and based in O’Fallon, IL MELP is a small-budgeted organization that promotes a culture of reading for family transformation. Based in St. Clair County, near St. Louis, MELP supports this mission by providing access to books, libraries, reading lessons, and quality reading experiences.

Mitchell, who is known locally as “the book lady,” has a motto: “Literacy is Liberation! It takes you higher.” 

In a short documentary on Mitchell and the Metro East Literacy Project, released recently in 2023, Mitchell shared what inspired her work.

“I found out that my grandmother could not read, write, add, or subtract. She grew up in Virginia, and was sent to live with a white family. All they taught her was to cook and clean, they never sent her to school. My grandmother would take the newspaper, and hold it, and just turn the pages, as if she were reading it." 

“I made a vow, right then and there, that I was going to teach people to read,” Mitchell said. 

SHP Johnson Kids

The Johnson kids are all smiles after receiving books and Erudite Nation t-shirts from the Metro East Literacy Project. Erudite Nation is a movement to encourage literacy. 

In the coming year, MELP is planning Book Bag Giveaways, Celebrate Seniors Reading Events, Learn to Read one-on-one tutoring, and Literacy Awareness events. MELP plans to use its Illinois Humanities General Operating Grant to prioritize community and organizational needs through gift cards, financial support, salaries, and books.

A total of $140,000 was awarded in General Operating Grants to the following organizations based in seven counties in Illinois.

Illinois Humanities is proud to support this latest group of grantee partners. General Operating grants are offered once a year, and applications will open on May 15, 2024. The next deadline is September 16, 2024. Learn more about eligibility, guidelines, and how to submit your organization for consideration here