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By Billy O'Keefe

By Kellie Ell
San Francisco State University
SPJ has been defending and crusading for the rights of the First Amendment Since 1909. But this year the society will use a different tactic to spread the word.

Fernando Jones plays the blues in Regency B at the Hyatt on Thursday. (Photo by Rachael Strecher, Columbia College)

Fernando Jones plays the blues in Regency B at the Hyatt on Thursday. (Photo by Rachael Strecher, Columbia College)

In addition to the usual array of workshops and speakers, SPJ will “Honor the First,” by featuring artists and entertainers having fun with the freedoms provided by the First Amendment.
The idea came from President-Elect Christine Tatum, who has lectured about journalism all over the country and is continually shocked at the lack of familiarity with the freedoms guaranteed by the amendment.
“It’s really taking the time to think about what we’re championing,” Tatum says. “To draw attention to our freedom of expression.”
Tatum and the Chicago Headline Club, SPJ’s largest chapter and the host of this year’s conference, are hoping visitors will enjoy their stay in the Windy City with plenty of shows all weekend.
The list of entertainment ranges from sketch comedy to opera, and many of the performances have never before been seen, Tatum said.
Convention goers can opt for 30 minutes of gut-clenching laughter today with Comedy for Peace. Stand-up comic Aaron Freeman will use wit and humor to rant and rave about the First Amendment while focusing on his “Jewish-ness.” Freeman will take the stage today from 10:15 to 10:45 a.m. in the JExpo, ocated in Regency B, Gold Level, West Tower.
Poetry and spoken word will make an appearance from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, proving poetry isn’t just for tortured artists or bookworms. C.J. Laity, a popular poet and publisher in Chicago, hosts the Chicago Poetry Showcase.
The audience will experience brand-spanking-new freestyling and spoken word from 15 of Chicago’s well-known performance poets. Performances will take place in the JExpo.
Fernando Jones, a native Chicago Blues musician, performed on his steel guitar during Thursday’s registration. He is happy to be contributing his own brand of talent to the convention.
“Entertainment is universal,” Jones says. “It is one of the few things that makes people feel like they’re on the same chord.”
Rock Stars of the J-World — Madison, Wis.,-based musicians Peter Leidy and Bill Lueders — will perform Saturday during the President’s Installation Banquet. The duo has attracted audiences across the continent with their popish song, “The Open Record Blues,” about free speech. The team will debut never-before- heard material written specifically for SPJ.
In addition to the Honor the First performances, The Chicago Headline Club is hosting “Friday Night Fun,” an array of entertainment options at downtown pubs and dives. Everyone is invited to mix and mingle with fellow journalists while checking out the local landscape. The Headline Club will kick off the free social with a round of free drinks for all. Check out the flier in your convention bag for times and locations.
For more laughs, convention attendees can catch The Second City at 8 p.m. today. The cast of up-and-coming comedians will perform “War! Now In Its 4th Smash Year!” Tickets are available for $30 at the convention registration desk.
For those who aren’t left hot and bothered by rock music, the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists will showcase a performance by the Filipino-American tenor Rodell Rosel during the Celebration for Diversity Reception at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Pianist Alan Darling will accompany Rosel.
Photo junkies and art lovers can spend the weekend browsing the Picture This! Exhibit in JExpo. The controversial collection of photographs, by homeless and at-risk youthphotographers from various ethnic backgrounds, isdesigned to encourage open discussion about the myths surrounding the homeless.
Jason Jedlinski, president of the Headline Club, said the new programs and entertainment being offered this year, including the Nitty-Gritty Bus Tour of Chicago’s unrepresented area held Thursday, are a means of education and “broadening people’s perspective” in a fun way.
Tatum is optimistic about this year’s additions.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Tatum says. “For all I know it could be the first and the last year it’s done. We’ll see if it catches on.”