Business as a force for good on Chicago’s South Side was celebrated on Wednesday, Jan. 16 as business leaders from all over the city gathered at Chatham’s Studio Movie Grill (SMG), on West 87th Street for a panel discussion hosted by Conscious Capitalism Chicago.
Moderator La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, General Manager of Urban Broadcast Media and Founder of the Girls Like Me Project led a panel discussion that included Brian Schultz, Founder & CEO of SMG; Aaron Thomas, General Manager of SMG Chatham; Michelle Kennedy, Founder of the South Side Film Festival; Cydni Polk, Owner of Xposeur Photography; and 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr.
“We’re here to recognize the efforts to grow the South Side business community,” said Gray-Sewell. “We’re here to push back on how Chatham is portrayed in the media and to show that we are a vibrant middle class community.”
Fully renovated and reopened in February 2017, Studio Movie Grill serves Chatham and the greater community by combining first-run movies, alternative and family programming with in-theater dining from an extensive American Grill menu and full-service bar. As an advocate of community building and conscious capitalism, SMG offers programs such as The One Story Movement™ to open hearts and minds one story a time, capturing authentic stories from amazing people; SMG Community Outreach which is committed to contributing to issues impacting SMG teams, their families, and friends; Special Needs Screenings designed for families raising children with special needs; and Chefs for Children where SMG donates 5% of proceeds to local non-profits serving Special Needs Children in the community.
“I’ve been in the movie business for more than 20 years, and worked at the theater for years before the renovation, starting when I was 16,” said Venisha Johnson, Midwest & East Coast Sales Manager at Studio Movie Grill. “It’s gratifying to see the resurgence in the community that our space has fostered. As a conscious business, we feel it is our responsibility to contribute to the community and serve our neighbors. We host special events, parties and corporate functions as well as provide a safe and fun place for people to enjoy a first class movie-going experience. We are so proud to be a member of the Chatham community.”
Panelist Michelle Kennedy had a dream of showcasing South Side filmmakers and needed a venue. After several unsuccessful attempts, she came to Johnson, and her immediate response was positive. “Venisha immediately said ‘yes, let’s make it happen’, and then I knew that the dream of a South Side film festival would become a reality”, said Kennedy. “I’ve travelled the world attending film festivals, and creating a festival showcasing local talent has been a dream of mine. South Side filmmakers want validation. Now we have a home to do just that.”
Schultz acknowledged the critical role Alderman Brookins played in realizing his goal to bring a Studio Movie Grill location to Chatham. “Alderman Brookins was instrumental in paving the way for us,” said Shultz. “My mom grew up across from Marquette Park and I am a Chicago native, so I knew the area. I was on a noble quest, and I fell in love with the community. I had to sell the idea to the community and we couldn’t have done it without them. When we took over the theater, it was only serving 120,000 guests per year. This year we are on track to serve one million customers. I’m very proud of what we have built together.”
“We want it all, added Brookins. “We want businesses to locate in Chatham, we want to see development on the South Side, we want to people across the city to know that we are a vibrant community of people with disposable income who are willing to spend it. We want to feel pride and shift the culture. We are well on the way to doing all those things. Chatham is an underserved area, but we’re worth the risk. The entire 21st Ward is delighted that Studio Movie Grill took a chance on us”
Conscious Capitalism is a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business and making a positive impact on the world. Over the past ten years, the Chicago chapter has formed a web of more than 1,500 people across the Chicagoland area who believe that trust, compassion, collaboration and value creation in business are vital to our future. And the more than 100 business owners, CEOs and leaders involved in Conscious Capitalism Chicago are dedicated to driving change from the top.