Reclaiming the Narrative: Restoring Black Voices to the Story of Joliet

In January 2022, Lewis University collaborated with these community partners on the “Reclaiming the Narrative: Restoring Black Voices to the Story of Joliet” initiative funded by the Chicago-based Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation. The foundation supports land conservation, artistic vitality, and regional collections for the people of the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

From January 2022 through May 2023, the Lewis University History Center partnered with Second Baptist Church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, The National Hook-up of Black Women Joliet Inc., and Warren-Sharpe Community Center. In line with the Donnelley Foundation’s “Broadening Narratives” initiative, the project focused on regional historical collections and allowed them to broaden their scope and facilitate the stories of historically marginalized peoples. This served to broaden the scope of collection of the Adelmann Regional History Collection (ARHC) at Lewis University. Due to the excitement from all parties involved, the project was extended into the spring of 2023.

The Lewis University History Center, which manages the ARHC, selected students to work directly with the community members. The students scheduled and carried out site visits to the partner organizations to scan materials that the organizations provided. Through this process they created a core collection of documents, including organizational histories, papers, and images, that represent the organizations’ histories. The community members shared their perspectives and provided keen insight into the lives of African Americans in Joliet, Illinois. At their core, these were stories that they told about themselves. It is hoped that these materials can be found at:

CARLI Digital Collection


We hope that these digitized materials will encourage additional research and dialogue with the community partners.

The scope of the grant-funded initiative included a traveling banner exhibit and public programs. The exhibit banners were first displayed at the Joliet Area Historical Museum in January 2023. Then, each organization showcased the exhibit at each site for a week during Black History Month. Finally, the students displayed the exhibit at Lewis University in the library, faculty dining room, and as part of the Celebration of Scholarship. To view the banners:

View Banners


For the students, faculty, and staff at Lewis University, this grant has been a transformative experience. We would like to express our gratitude to Donnelley Foundation, our community partners, Lewis University Administration, University Advancement, the Department of Marketing and Communications, and the Office of Community Engaged Learning. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the Lewis University Library for their hard work and dedication in making these materials available through their web site. We look forward to working with our community partners again soon to continue our collaborative work.


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