Kashif Shaikh is gaining national attention for pushing back against anti-Muslim rhetoric.

He’s a co-founder of Pillars Fund, which awards grants to small nonprofits and organizations focused on American Muslims. It’s so unique that Kellogg Foundation, among the nation’s largest philanthropies, recently donated $300,000. Pillars has partnered with Aspen Institute to discuss diversity in nonprofits. And a national trade publication for nonprofits singled out Pillars for its work.

“American Muslims are eager to push back against caricatures and intolerance and support each other on the ground,” stated Inside Philanthropy. “The Pillars Fund is one grantmaker that’s been leading the charge from within the Muslim community.”

Shaikh acknowledges President Donald Trump‘s election has had an impact.

“I don’t think our ascent is a coincidence,” he told me. “People are looking for organizations and are wanting to provide a counter to a lot of the rhetoric that’s been put out there.”

The Cincinnati native and son of Pakistani immigrants came to Chicago in 2006 after earning an English degree from Ohio State. He worked at United Way and then McCormick Foundation, where he managed community partnerships with the Bulls and Blackhawks. Shaikh also is a member of Leadership Greater Chicago.

Pillars was started in 2010 to bridge the gap between well-heeled donors and American Muslims “doing interesting work.”

It started under the umbrella of The Chicago Community Trust before becoming an independent organization now with a $1.5 million budget.

Big names in philanthropy serve as advisers, including the Trust President and CEO Terry Mazany, Field Foundation President Angelique Power and Woods Fund Chicago President Grace Hou.

A few dozen donors annually give about $35,000 each to Pillars. Among them are marketing consultant Amer Abdullah, educator Dilara Sayeed and Google exec Anas Osman.

The Ford, Open Society and Nathan Cummings foundations have also given money.

Grants have been made across the country. Locally, they’ve helped an Englewood health and wellness program and a suburban nonprofit addressing disability issues. “It’s a small niche,” Shaikh said, “but it represents how we bring attention to the Muslim community.”

Ducks on the river

City officials have worked hard to boost the recreational appeal of the Chicago River. A new Riverwalk offers restaurants. A floating museum “art barge” is set to dock along the river. Paddle boaters bob on its waters. Even Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s children enjoy rowing along the river.

This recreational resurgence can sometimes have its downsides.

A duck found dead in the Chicago River.

A duck found dead in the Chicago River. | Photo by George Brigandi

River enthusiasts say at least 15 mallard ducks have been found dead in recent days, making it the first case of large-scale animal deaths in years that doesn’t have an obvious cause.

“Ducks are a great sign that the river ecosystem is on the rebound. So this is a serious concern,” George Brigandi, a director with Urban Rivers, told me. The nonprofit group installs floating gardens on the river to improve its beauty and habitat.

On July 29, a paddler saw a dead duck but waited a few days to report it, according to Friends of the Chicago River. Brigandi saw dead birds the next day, just south of North Avenue Bridge.

“Fifteen dead ducks on such a small portion of the river, and in such a small timeframe, is fairly significant. Assuming they were all mature adults, their deaths will certainly dent the population within our area for the next couple years,” Brigandi said.

The dead ducks were reported to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which investigated but was “unable to find (the ducks) at the reported location,” according to a spokeswoman.

The Chicago River is on the rebound, “but it still has a long way to go,” said Brigandi, acknowledging the ducks could have been victims of a speeding boat.

Earlier this year, hundreds of fish died because of high temperatures and sewer overflows that depleted oxygen to the fish. It happens on occasion, said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “But a bunch of dead ducks — there’s not an obvious reason for them to die, and we really should know why it happened.”

The health of the river system is still not a real priority compared with Lake Michigan, Frisbie said. Imagine dead ducks spotted on North Avenue Beach. “Someone would have scoured the whole lakefront until they figured out what was going on.”

Honors for Lester Lampert

Lester Lampert gets star treatment in Instore Magazine, a publication for the jewelry business.

His Lester Lampert Inc. was named one of America’s “Coolest Jewelry Stores.”

A beaming Lampert, the CEO, is featured on the cover and inside the mag. “It’s a biggie in our industry,” he told me.

Lester Lampert, CEO of Lester Lampert Inc.

Lester Lampert, CEO of Lester Lampert Inc. | Shia Kapos/For the Sun-Times

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.