The Chicago Literacy Alliance’s team members are readers, writers, entrepreneurs, and cheerleaders for the cause.

Stacy Ratner


Fortysomething years ago, Stacy learned to read. This life-changing experience led to degrees in law and literature, allowed her to help take three startup companies from idea through a combined total of $30 million in committed venture funding, and finally brought her to the cause of literacy in 2006. She began by founding Open Books, a nonprofit social venture that now serves 5,000 students each year through a spectrum of exciting programs funded by the sale of used books in its two Chicago stores. Three years later, she co-founded the Chicago Literacy Alliance…and could not be more excited about what it has become.  Stacy has received a Chicagoan of the Year award from Chicago Magazine, an Emerging Leader Fellowship from the Chicago Community Trust, places on NewCity’s Lit 50 and the national 40 Women To Watch Over 40 list, the Social Enterprise Alliance’s Innovation award, and recognition on the White House’s official blog for “spreading the infinite and awesome power of books.” She writes a novel every year, eats ice cream every day, mentors select startups in line with her passions and experience, received her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2018, and is always starting something.

Ken Bigger

Executive Director

Ken joined the CLA as Executive Director in January 2018, and is grateful for this opportunity to contribute to a better, more equitable, more inclusive, and more literate Chicago. He has been a Chicagoan for more than 25 years. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Ethics, focusing on religion, political theory, and the ethics of democratic citizenship. He has worked for the University of Chicago, the YMCA of Metro Chicago, and Illinois Institute of Technology, among other organizations. In 2012, he co-founded the music blog/column Murder Ballad Monday, an exploration of music, mortality, and meaning, now hosted by Sing Out! magazine. Ken and his spouse, Sara, live in Hyde Park, and are the parents of two CPS-educated kids (Go Dolphins!). When not looking back wistfully on the days when his favorite thing to do was to take his children to the Blackstone Branch Library, Ken enjoys reading, playing music, camping, running, cycling, kayaking, and open water swimming. He enjoys writing, too, although it’s more complicated than that. Having formed his baseball allegiance elsewhere, he is content to root for Chicago’s home teams in all match-ups save one. Nevertheless, he will join with Carl Sandburg in saying, “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive…,” and with Nelson Algren in “loving the joint for keeps.”

Jimmy Martin

Managing Director

Jimmy is thrilled to be a part of the Chicago Literacy Alliance, bringing with him a love of technology and logistics and an inherent drive to help others.  He spent the last ten years in the world of corporate audio-visual and event technology management-his favorite experience from his previous work being the production of President-Elect Obama’s first press conferences here in Chicago.  The product of that endeavor was the most memorable handshake he’s received to date.  Jimmy holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts from the University of Central Oklahoma, and a Bachelor of Science in Recording Industry Management from Middle Tennessee State University.  He is a loyal fan of the Chicago Cubs, and hopes to pass on that sense of healthy optimism to his daughter.  He credits his wife, Lauren, for most of the good things in his life.

Annie Rezac

Director of Strategic Initiatives

Annie is the former Executive Director of Unsilence, an arts and storytelling-based human rights organization. With expertise in outreach, development, and program management, she brings to Chicago Literacy Alliance an infectious passion for education and social justice.

Annie has been a leader in the nonprofit sector of Chicago for the past 15 years. At the Department of Arts Education at Chicago Public Schools, she worked with multiple stakeholders on implementing Chicago’s first educational arts plan. Prior to serving the nation’s third largest school district, Annie was a senior manager with Communities In Schools of Chicago where she connected nonprofit organizations and cultural institutions across the city with insufficiently served public schools.

For three years, Annie served on an advisory panel for Ingenuity Inc., Chicago’s single hub for arts data, advocacy, training, and partnerships, and is a founding Board Member for She Crew, an empowerment organization for girls and gender expansive youth, ages 12 to 14.

Annie is also a trained theatre professional and served as the Artistic Director of Brave Face Project. She has directed, devised, and collaborated on numerous projects across the country with a wide-range of organizations, including: Auditorium Theatre, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, Rare Terra Theatre, Second City Training Center, and Missoula Children’s Theatre.

Amanda Porta

Director of Development

Amanda enthusiastically joined the Chicago Literacy Alliance as the Director of Development in February 2020. Amanda brings over a decade of frontline relationship-based fundraising experience to her role. Originally from Northwest Indiana, Amanda attended Indiana University where she studied Communication and Culture along with Gender Studies. She has since dedicated her career to supporting under-served youth and communities. She began her career at Children’s Memorial Hospital on the $600M project for building the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She would later execute a $16M capital campaign for Evanston-based Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.). An avid animal lover, she enjoys traveling around the world in search of animals in their natural habitat. Amanda and her Bernese Mountain Dog, Tipsy, volunteer with CLA member SitStayRead, and they also enjoy patio season in Chicago.

Damika Hayden

Director of Finance

Damika comes to the Chicago Literacy Alliance with a diverse background in finance, insurance, and banking. Her work in the the nonprofit sector includes accounting operations, endowment investments and human resource management. She holds a Bachelors in Finance from Illinois State University and a Masters in Public Administration, with an emphasis in Nonprofit Management, from the Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University. She has a love for books and frequents her local library with her family for her favorite reads. Damika is also an author and motivational speaker encouraging her audiences to endure for the sake of our children. She is an advocate for community-based help in raising healthy productive children so that they can succeed in their educational endeavors. Her interests outside of work include mentoring 6-8th graders, blogging, painting, and, of course, reading a good book. Damika has always viewed her career as a way of providing service to communities, and she is excited to be able to bring that service and desire to make an impact to the CLA team!

Erin McCann

Community Director

Erin first came to the Literacenter as a volunteer who worked at the Welcome Desk for the Literacenter’s grand opening. She has experience with customer service, event planning, and member/community engagement through both the YWCA and the Loyola University Office of Public Affairs. Erin holds a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University where she majored in history and minored in anthropology. Erin lives in Rogers Park with her husband, Stephen, and a very small wiener dog named Wednesday. Erin is immeasurably grateful to be a part of the CLA team and have the opportunity to use her sociability to facilitate CLA members as they work toward their impactful missions. She takes great pride and pleasure in the opportunity to connect people, build valuable relationships, and make Members feel both supported and welcomed.

Julie Lanham

Assistant Director of Development

Julie manages fundraising, special events, and annual appeals for the Chicago Literacy Alliance, and is the staff liaison to the Literassociates, the CLA’s associate board. She made her way to the CLA from the University of Illinois Foundation, where she launched the UIC Alumni and Friends Outreach Center. She holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Amber Robbin

Member Relations Manager

Amber is delighted to have found her place at the CLA, where her eclectic background in theatre, education, nonprofits, and relationship building are the perfect fit. She’s grateful for the opportunity to give back to the city and the people who surrounded her with cultural vibrance and an enlightening education as a student of CPS and the Chicago Academy for the Arts. She’s motivated to grow the CLA network and foster connection and collaboration between literacy organizations working to increase educational equity and opportunity for Chicagoans.

Amber obtained her BFA in Musical Theatre from Point Park University, punctuating 10 years of performing professionally, and discovered her affinity for the nonprofit world after volunteering as a crisis counselor with Resilience. After 5 months of solo backpacking in Europe and earning her TEFL certificate, she mentored alumni and led outreach for a cultural exchange nonprofit, designing and facilitating the social justice track of an international leadership conference. Her many experiences make her grateful for the open, inclusive, and creative culture of the CLA. When she’s not raving about the Literacenter, she’s salsa dancing, exploring nature, or at home in Oak Park, Netflix-ing with her cats.

Usman Khan

Marketing Manager

Before joining the CLA in February 2019, Usman held marketing roles across a number of industries including arts and culture, advertising, lifestyle products, public health, conservation, and more. With a deep personal interest in literacy, communication, and access, he’s especially excited about continuing his career with the CLA and its incredible community.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Usman has been a resident of Chicago since April 2017. Outside of the office, he’s a photographer, automotive enthusiast, burn-prone cook, very amateur music producer, mediocre illustrator, and semi-former competitive athlete.

Kaitlyn Childs

Network and Evaluation Specialist

Kaitlyn joined the CLA in June 2019 and is excited to use her analytical skills to help promote literacy in Chicago. She brings expertise in a range of research methodologies and is passionate about using data to derive and communicate meaningful insights. Kaitlyn received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is currently completing her Ph.D. at Northwestern University. Outside of work, she enjoys meditating, reading, and spending time with her cat Marvin.

Hannah Akinola

Development Associate

Hannah joined the CLA in December 2020. Born in London and raised primarily between the United Kingdom and the United States, Hannah thrives on making meaningful connections with people from diverse backgrounds.

She graduated from Colby-Sawyer College, where she earned a B.A. in Communications with a minor in International Studies. Hannah brings over six years of working experience from the fields of operations, customer care, education, and business administration. She has had the opportunity to work with amazing family oriented non-profit organizations and schools throughout her career. Most of all, she cherishes the time she spent in the classroom as an educator, first teaching robotics and engineering to grade schoolers followed by teaching and assistant directing at preschool. It is this passion for education and learning that drew Hannah to the CLA. Hannah understands the crucial part education plays in expanding life’s possibilities and how empowering knowledge is, and thus aims to facilitate growth, empowerment, and equity for Chicago communities through literacy.

In her spare time, Hannah enjoys watching cinema, painting, reading, gaming, learning about different cultures, travelling, exploring nature, and playing with her 8-year-old bunny Hazel.