Tressa Thomas has a résumé most performers would envy. She launched her career on stage with dozens of performances throughout Chicago as both a solo singer and band member. She landed a role in Robert Townsend’s film about 1960s R&B music, The Five Heartbeats, which led to a duet with the legendary Patti LaBelle on the film’s soundtrack.
This was all before Thomas turned 13.
Since then, her momentum hasn’t slowed—it’s just swerved in a few new directions. The Columbia College grad was cast in other movies (including Flatliners and Message in a Bottle), produced three independent shorts, and worked on a fourth that came just short of an Academy Award nomination. In the midst of her cinematic endeavors, she also pursued plus-sized modeling, eventually appearing in Ebony, Jet, the LA Times, and other national publications.
Given that she first started singing publicly at age three, when most children can’t yet tell the difference between music and the sound the vacuum cleaner makes, Thomas has never had an issue with confidence. But she realized that as a successful African-American, plus-sized female performer, she was a rarity. And so she decided to share her confidence with other women. She founded ThYck Troupe, a group that started modestly as a “modeling interest club” and grew into a nonprofit organization that creates performance opportunities for other plus-sized women.
Today, ThYck Troupe has gained the support of Secretary of State Jesse White and Governor Pat Quinn in its mission to enrich the Chicago arts community. In addition to mentoring young women and promoting size acceptance, the troupe produces an original web series, organizes fashion shows, and showcases performers in theatrical and musical productions. The company members represent nearly every medium of the creative arts—there are singers and dancers, poets and songwriters, models and actresses, journalists and radio personalities. With the Thyck and Fit Initiative, they broadcast a message of health as well as confidence, giving full-figured women and men the tools they need to achieve good exercise and nutrition habits at any size.
New releases get an old-fashioned treatment at McHenry Outdoor Theater, a 1950s-style drive-in screening two back-to-back movies every night. With a special focus on family films, the starlit screen shines across comforts including a concession stand vending burgers, brats, pizza, and hot dogs, and a dog-friendly policy to ensure everyone has someone cuddly to grab during the scary parts. While the story unfolds on screen, the theater pumps the sound through complimentary radios, and approximately half the viewing spots are equipped with vintage speakers that complete the timeless slice of Americana. Besides new releases, which are regularly updated every two weeks, the theater might show anything from golden oldies to alternative comedies to classic blockbusters.
Hundreds of LEGO pieces scatter across C&A Robot Factory’s worktables, where kids follow plans or their own imaginations to build everything from programmable robots to remote-controlled vehicles. During the center's projects and camps, children work through projects that explore science, math, and creativity. They might build a LEGO space station, program the movements of a solar-powered robot, or use salt water to power a LEGO car. The stop-motion-animation project—where kids assemble LEGO bricks into a movie set and then take hundreds of photographs that are edited together to become a short movie—stretches the potential applications of LEGOs even further.
Creative opportunities, however, aren't limited to structured projects. During open-play sessions kids can use C&A Robot Factory’s thousands of LEGO blocks to assemble buildings or the world’s most uncomfortable carpet. The LEGO Ville area lets toddlers play as well, surrounding them with Duplo blocks, cars, and trains.
The Little Gym of Gurnee, a branch of the nationwide network of Little Gyms, fosters educational wonderment, physical development, and self-confidence in children aged four months to 12 years old through engaging, interactive classes. Trained instructors lead the classes and impart motor skills, language development, and leadership skills through karate and dance classes, as well as brain boost activities—all with the goal of encouraging age-appropriate development in a safe and enjoyable atmosphere.
Being recruited by the New York Yankees in high school and winning the Heisman Trophy for football in 1985 predictably foreshadowed a successful sports career for Bo Jackson. In addition to achieving All-Star status as a major league baseball player for New York, Kansas City, California, and Chicago, he became an NFL MVP for The Raiders in 1987, forever cementing himself in the pages of sports history books. Today, the multitalented athlete celebrates his career of swinging bats and hurling balls by personalizing Oakland Raiders and Chicago White Sox jerseys for his enduring legion of fans. These enthusiasts also get to meet the man himself as he adds his signature to the shirts sporting his name and number. The folks at Sideline Marketing organize the event. In addition to Bo, they represent a whole host of athletes, creating countless opportunities for fans to meet and critique the penmanship of their personal heroes.