Young adults from Evanston, with support from Evanston Cradle to Career, organized a two-day summit about community building and racial equity in August.

Throughout our nation’s history, racism and white supremacy have harmed our Black neighbors and other people of color. Movements and activists have fought against these oppressions, but they are ingrained in our systems, policies and even our communities. 

Following the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, our society is facing a another reckoning. Nonprofits and community organizations, like United Way, are heeding the call. 

Planning a Path Forward

Last year, our team at United Way of Metro Chicago launched an internal Racial Equity Committee to learn from one another and lay the groundwork to become an equitable and anti-racist organization. In recent months, our staff has doubled-down on our commitment, dedicating more time on reflection, learning and creating a sustainable plan for action. 

So far, we seek to mandate anti-racism training for staff, prioritize Black-owned businesses when we purchase goods and take a hard look at the equity of our grant-making processes. 

“We have an opportunity as an organization to activate years of planning and use our transformative power to contribute to a culture and society that will be fairer than ever before,” said Tamiya Aurel, our vice president of Human Resources and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

While we’re learning and evolving, so are our Neighborhood Network partners and the communities they work alongside. Some organizations are hosting trainings and digital webinars about racism and racial equity. Many more are reevaluating their policies, impact and workplace environments. 

However they’re approaching this moment, we’re working towards a common goal: to build a stronger Chicago region that values and invests in Black lives. 

Building Solidarity

Following protests across the city in June, Black residents in Cicero, a largely Latinx town on the west side, were racially-profiled and harassed for being “looters.” 

“When George Floyd was murdered at the hands of the police, there were protests in Cicero that had white and Latinx community members arming themselves vigilante-style — ostensibly to protect their communities — but there’s a pervasive, racist trope in the area that those who are marching in our area are coming from the Black communities that border Cicero,” said Anna Marin, co-chair of Cicero Community Collaborative’s Welcoming Committee. “Black residents in Cicero were expressing fear at going to work and going to the grocery store and meeting up with their families.” 

In addition to the rest unrest, a long history of disinvestment and hyper-segregation of the Chicago region has created this tension along racial lines. 

To combat this anti-Blackness, Cicero Community Collaborative — the lead agency of the Cicero Neighborhood Network — hosted a series of interactive workshops for neighbors to connect and learn from each other and build solidarity. 

One of the training sessions, presented by local author, artist and educator Benji Hart, taught residents about the links between anti-Black and anti-immigrant sentiments. They discussed how both Black people and Latinx folks experience oppressions under systems like law enforcement and how their struggles for liberation and justice are connected. 

“In the Latinx community in particular, there hasn’t been a clear way in how to form solidarity with others because there’s a sense that our community has been oppressed as well, which is true,” Anna said. “So how do we begin to build empathy, especially for our Black neighbors, and share experiences and understand our privileges.” 

Letting Youth Lead

On the North Side, Evanston Cradle to Career — the lead agency of the Evanston Neighborhood Network — supported young adults as they organized a two-day summit about community building and racial equity. Residents joined in person at Mason Park and online through Zoom and Facebook Live. 

Intergenerational activists, organizers and local aldermen shared their stories. Participants engaged in discussions and activities about identity, privilege and racism, and residents connected to resources available nearby. This foundational summit has since spurred other virtual conversations about what it would look like to defund policing and reimagine Evanston’s city budget. 

“The summit was very organic and holistic. The space we created was comforting. Panelists kicked off their shoes and sat down and told their stories — super personal stories that connected people to the work. It was moving,” said Kimberly Holmes-Ross, Community Engagement Director at Evanston Cradle to Career. “There were a lot of young people who are interested in [racial equity] work, and I hope they will feel inspired and motivated to continue to build their own community,”

“I want to continue to support these young people. Their voices are important and they count,” she added. “When you invest in them, you can literally watch your investment grow.” 

United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative invests in community coalitions that tackle the greatest challenges of our time, including racial inequity. Support this critical work today!