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Sue Ontiveros: Creativity comes to rescue when money’s short

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At one time I was a young girl on the Southeast Side who wanted to be a journalist.

That’s probably why Tabitha De Lion’s quest appeals to me. Like me, Tabitha’s enthusiasm for the written word began in grammar school, where she and four others started an online magazine focusing on national and up-and-coming rock bands.

Today the St. Francis De Sales freshman is involved in podcasting, filming, editing and a host of other activities. She’s doing well in her classes, too.


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All that hard work has drawn notice. The 15-year-old has been invited to the National Youth Leadership Forum, where kids explore fields they are considering as careers. Tabitha has the chance to spend nine days this summer in New York City through the digital media/film/journalism portion.

But an opportunity like this comes with a hefty price tag for a working-class family: about $4,300 and once traveling expense and such are included, it’s closer to $5,000. As I drove to our interview I couldn’t help but think, how the heck is this kid gonna get the cash to get there?

But that’s before I sat down with Tabitha and her dad, Roman. Everything he does is with his kids – there’s also a son, Johnathan, 9 – in mind. He and wife Patricia, a postal carrier working long days right now, are determined to get their girl to the Big Apple.

As the violence and harsh economic realities have escalated on the South and West Sides, a common theme embraced by too many journalists is that people in those neighborhoods have to stop sitting back waiting for others to bring change. As if that is what residents really do. The De Lions are an example of the kinds of creative things folks without a large pocketbook undertake to help their young ones advance and get beyond the problems of their communities.

An artist himself, De Lion is executive director of Under the Bridge Art Studio. The art gallery showcases the work of 20-plus artists – mainly from the Southeast Side – and runs classes and events for young people. As he says, “Kids gotta get into something,” so he provides a creative outlet for his children and others.

The De Lions have gone the traditional route to raise the necessary funds, turning to family members who are giving what they can.

And then there are the not-so-traditional ways dad’s raising money. A few years back, he started doing background work in TV shows and movies being filmed in Chicago (“Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.,” “Empire,” to name a few), with the idea someday those connections might help his daughter break into the business. Now he’s out there – usually acting like a tough guy (in reality, he’s more the teddy bear type) – funding Tabitha’s enrollment.

And of course, there’s his artwork. “I’ll paint all day every day,” if that’s what it takes to raise the money, he says.

Over the years he’s put together a number of events to showcase different bands. Now he’s turning to those same performers, asking them to use social media to get the word out about Tabitha’s GoFundMe page ( that so far has raised $790. A fundraiser with entertainers is being finalized for the spring.

When Tabitha gets to New York City, she’ll be able to say art, TV and rock ’n’ roll got me here. And my family’s dedication.

Now that’s a story.


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