Race. Class. Gender. There's no doubt these issues have a profound influence on Chicago's neighborhoods and their residents. It's also true, though, that their role in the community organizing work taking place in these neighborhoods is rarely talked about candidly.
“In my 12 years at LISC, we’ve never had a public discussion on the issues of race, class and gender,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, with Darnell Shields of Austin Coming Together.
“In my 12 years at LISC, we’ve never had a public discussion on the issues of race, class and gender,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “But the issues are there, and they need to be grappled with. If we have a dialogue about it, it can become an integrated part of the work.”
At the end of July at the Garfield Park Conservatory, staff and supporters from community groups across Chicago gathered to start that dialogue at “Race, Class and Gender in Community Organizing,” the final workshop in this set of the LISC organizing and engagement series.
“Here [in the U.S.], you’re led to believe that access to opportunity is equal and there for anyone who seeks it, but that’s not the case,” said panelist Darnell Shields, the director of operations at Austin Coming Together.
Shields recounted an experience he had in Johannesburg this summer as a member of the inaugural class of the Civic Leadership Academy at the University of Chicago. As he was standing at the counter at a McDonald’s, a white woman, utterly comfortable in her casual racism, went up to him and told him he was holding up the line and to take his food and go – even though he was still waiting for his order to be served.
“She was in my face, and she meant it,” Shields said. “In South Africa, the illusion of equality is not there. The discussion of race was something you couldn’t avoid.”
Like much of the discussions in the workshop series, the conversation between panelists and the audience was primarily focused on solutions. “It was a great opportunity for me as an organizer to hear from other experts what they’re doing in their communities and what works,” said Vanessa Valentin, the director of community organizing at the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood.
“Our community is diverse, but we never really talk about it,” she added. “This gave me ideas about how we can have conversations about that during our planning process.”
Anger into action
America is having a moment of recognition and reckoning about race right now, from President Obama’s visit to a federal prison to the tragic timeline of African-American deaths, including Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer. How that translates into change and movement at the community level isn’t necessarily obvious.
The trick to being productive, said panelist Jeff Bartow, executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project, is turning the hot anger generated by racial injustice into cold anger and then into action.
Panelist Jeff Bartow, the executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), drew a distinction between abstract conversations about racial justice and discussions about the consequences, like detentions and deportations for undocumented immigrants.
“The most critical moments are when people who have no status are stopped for no other reason than they are brown, and the same kind of thing happens to African Americans, too, obviously,” Bartow said. “They’re triggers for anger. The trick is turning that hot anger into cold anger and then into action.”
Community organizing and development also can and should be addressing policy issues connected to gender, such as child care, reproductive health in health care, maternity leave and equal pay, said panelist Grace Hou, the president of Woods Fund Chicago.
Vasquez, who moderated the panel, pointed out in her days as a community organizer she worked with many women who were neighborhood leaders, but now as head of LISC Chicago she is sometimes the only person of color – or woman – at meetings with corporate and philanthropic leaders.
“If you go all the way up to who is running the country from the corporate level and Congress, it is mostly men,” Hou agreed. “I think it says something about what needs to happen.”
Even at the local level, gender can play a hidden role. Shields noted that although the staff of Austin Coming Together is currently split about equally between men and women, nearly all the community leaders who participate in their issue group around childcare are women. In the workforce group, all the members save one are men.
Create space for discussion
Facing these kinds of entrenched, systemic issues, what can be done? Hou said the Woods Fund Chicago, with its focus on community organizing and public policy advocacy, includes racial equity as a framework in its funding. In the last few years, Woods Fund Chicago is going beyond just looking for diversity among the staff and board of its grantees.
Community organizing and development should be addressing policy issues connected to gender, such as child care, reproductive health in health care, maternity leave and equal pay, said panelist Grace Hou, president of Woods Fund Chicago.
Courtesy of Woods Fund Chicago
“There’s a huge continuum that begins with ‘We serve people of color’ or ‘We are leaders who are people of color’ and goes to organizations that are trying to change policies on a statewide level that impact people of color disproportionately,” she said.
Woods Fund Chicago’s commitment to racial equity is deeper than its grant making. Thirty-percent of their investment portfolio is run by people of color or is socially responsible. They are also leading discussions about these approaches to other foundations, which Hou said have a “huge thirst” for the conversation.
Vasquez asked Bartow what it takes to accomplish the change he noted earlier, to move residents from anger to action. You start, he said, by gathering a group in the context of a genuine relationship, acknowledging and respecting the others’ point of view.
“Then you think together about what are the roots of the situation and what do you have the ability to take on,” he said. “You want to understand how systemic that issue is and imagine what are possible ways of addressing it at the highest levels so we can make a difference.”
As an example, Bartow talked about the SWOP campaign in Chicago Lawn to fight foreclosures in the wake of the housing crisis, which disproportionately affected African-American and Latino families. In addition to being a tangible program tied to racial issues, the campaign brought together residents with different income levels but a shared interest in preserving the neighborhood’s housing.
“It’s always about looking for common ground because of the added power that can bring,” he said.
For these kind of issues, the panel agreed that the dominant culture and power structures will battle to protect the status quo. Bartow advised anyone starting an organizing campaign to be begin with a power analysis of both sides.
“It’s never an accident when change happens at the highest levels,” Hou added.
Bartow also noted, “humanity does matter” – people can begin to open their minds when presented with strong stories of people’s experiences. And Hou cited the work of University of California, Berkley professor John Powell, who has written about the racialized outcomes of policies.
“At the foundation, we’re not necessarily interested in how decision makers feel personally. We’re not saying they are racist. We’re saying the policies have an uneven negative impact on people of color,” she said. “[Powell’s idea] can kind of take away some of the sting of ‘You’re to blame’ in what can be at times a delicate landscape.”
What’s the use of social media?
In the time of #blacklivesmatter, no conversation about organizing’s relationship to race, gender and class would be complete without discussion of social media. “I think it’s impacting our work in ways we aren’t even fully aware of yet,” Vasquez said.
Shields pointed out that tweets and Facebook posts are “all perceived in that moment” and complex ideas can be misunderstood in 140 characters. And, the panel agreed, after an initial rush of hits and reposts, real change requires the power and focus of an organized constituency.
Bartow argued that’s always been the case – organizing over time is what allows neighborhoods to respond quickly and effectively to a big moment, whether it be a new proposal by an alderman or a firestorm of online outrage.
“What you’re able to do happens in the context of years of relationship building,” he said. “Be relentless.”
Read about LISC’s organizing and engagement workshop on leadership here, organizing for – and with – a community plan here, and moving from planning to implementation/action here. To read about last year’s programs, click here. And, stay tuned for details regarding our upcoming Fall workshop series.
During the “Race, Class and Gender in Community Organizing” workshop, the panelists mentioned a number of groups that provide training, education and/or resources to community organizations working around these issues. This list includes those groups and several other subsequent suggestions.
Action Now is a grassroots organization of working families in the Chicago metro area, working currently on living wage jobs, education, foreclosure prevention and violence prevention.
The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) promotes effective and responsive philanthropy in black communities, including a framework for grantworking: Responsive Philanthropy in Black Communities.
Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) is an activist, member-based organization of black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to justice and freedom through leadership development, direct action organizing, advocacy and education.
The Chicago Westside branch NAACP advances the national organization’s mission to “ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.”
Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) trains parents – primarily mothers – to be leaders in their community, build parent-run organizations, and change public policies.
Community Renewal Society is a Chicago faith-based organization that works to eliminate race and class barriers by informing, organizing and training communities and individuals.
Fathers, Families, and Healthy Communitiesis a Chicago-based consortium that provides African-American, non-custodial fathers with the tools they need to meaningfully engage with their families.
Race Forward, formerly the Applied Research Center, builds awareness, solutions and leadership around racial justice, including trainings and publishing the news site Colorlines.
In case you were wondering… the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards “Forum 4” are doing just fine this summer.
Sure, local headlines constantly scream the numbers of young Chicagoans killed and wounded over the previous weekend. And sure, debate rages at City Hall over whether to give a tax subsidy to a movie about the mayhem controversially titled “Chi-raq.”
But, there are good things happening with our youth too:
Perriyana Clay from the Austin neighborhood graduated from Whitney Young High School, is camp-counseling younger girls at “Girls in the Game” and soon will be off to Howard University in Washington D.C.
Jahari Jones from South Chicago has been managing the LISC-sponsored Hoops in the Hood program there and developing an All-Star team of inner-city kids who, well, might not otherwise get along.
Korynna Lopez is getting ready for senior year at DePaul University by cashiering weekends at Sports Authority and interning weekdays at the Illinois Justice Project. Her focus is reducing youth violence, crime and incarceration.
Berto Aguayo from Back of the Yards, won’t be finishing his B.A. at Dominican University this fall. He’ll do it this spring, after his fall internship on Capitol Hill in D.C. with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Now if you’re asking – Who are these kids? Well, you likely did not attend the 21st Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards last February. Or maybe you did go, but skipped the Forum that precedes the awards ceremony.
Big mistake. That’s because the four young Chicagoans on the discussion panel had hugely inspiring stories to tell about their rise from modest beginnings to youth leadership positions en-route to successful adult careers. More importantly, each explained how some program – the Mikva Challenge, say, or Girls in the Game – provided them with the mentoring and support to make positive life decisions.
Save Feb. 18
The point being – don’t miss the CNDA Forum in 2016. It may be early, but save this date: February 18, 2016.
The 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards will be held that Thursday at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave. The Forum begins, as always, at 3 p.m. followed by the awards ceremony and finally – not to be missed – the city’s best networking reception in the field of community development.
Already applications are being accepted for awards recognizing outstanding achievement in neighborhood real estate development, community engagement, neighborhood planning and building stronger and healthier communities. The application deadline is September 10, 2015.
Award opportunities include:
- The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Plan Award
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Healthy Community Award
- The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project
- The Polk Bros. Foundation Affordable Rental Housing Preservation Award
- The Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award
- The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award
And, of course, there’s the coveted Richard H. Driehaus Awards for Architectural Excellence recognizing best practices in community design, landscape design and architecture.
Last year's CNDA youth panelists with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who moderated the discussion.
Photos by Gordon Walek
Hard to top
So, how can LISC Chicago match the welling of optimism about the future that flowed from last February’s Forum with Perriyana, Jahari, Korynna and Berto? Or the evocative questions put to them by moderator Toni Preckwinkle, the former schoolteacher, alderman and New Communities leader who now serves as president of the Cook County Board?
Only LISC Chicago’s Chris Brown, the organizer of the 2016 Forum, knows the answer… and he’s not telling. Not yet. But he’s advising all to watch this space, your mailbox and your inbox.
“All I can say now,” said Brown, “Is that the Forum will make everyone who participates come away feeling better about the future of our neighborhoods and of our city.”
The last one surely did.
More information on awards and sponsorships: Caroline Goldstein, cgoldstein@LISC.org
LISC Chicago is accepting applications for Chicago Plans, a new workshop series for nonprofit and community leaders designed to strengthen engagement and facilitation skills and support meaningful neighborhood engagement in place-based planning.
Online applications for the Fall 2015 cohort are due by Friday, September 4 at 6:00 p.m. CLICK HERE TO APPLY.
About the new workshop series
Chicago Plans builds upon LISC Chicago’s approach to community development and neighborhood planning, refined over its 35-year history and anchored in its New Communities Program over the last 15 years.
Using a peer-to-peer format informed by experts from LISC, other intermediaries, and neighborhood leaders, this four-part series will help teams of local stakeholders develop engagement and facilitation skills and build a network of organizations across the city also engaged in community planning.
Together, the group will sharpen skills and practice tools to maximize participation and engagement; explore the unique role of community leadership in planning; reflect on personal skills in convening community stakeholders; and, study comprehensive planning, including participatory analysis, implementation and evaluation, along with resources available to leverage local plans.
Specific tools include:
- Historical scans: what history and context do stakeholders bring to your plan?
- Stakeholder analysis: who is engaged, and how does this relate to your goals?
- Focused conversation
- Workshop facilitation
- Action planning facilitation
- Implementation strategies
Chicago Plans is open to self-identified teams of up to three community leaders – at least one full-time staff at a local community organization and one to two local partners – with a clear goal or vision specific to place-based planning. Teams representing communities or organizations new to planning as well as those interested in revising or expanding existing plans are encouraged to apply. Planning efforts must focus on communities within the City of Chicago.
Community teams selected to participate are expected to attend all four full-day workshops and will be required to complete assignments between each workshop, which could include: meeting with individual stakeholders, assembling and analyzing issues and data, and convening meetings. Assignments will be responsive to where each team/community is in the process, whether just exploring a plan or already in the midst of planning.
Chicago Plans 2015 fall schedule:
- Friday, October 2
- Friday, October 30
- Friday, November 13
- Friday, December 11
A total of 7-10 teams will be selected, reflecting the diverse demographics and geography of Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Each team must submit a single online application here by Friday, September 4 at 6:00 p.m. to be considered for the Fall 2015 cohort. Chicago Plans will be held during Fall 2015 and again in Spring 2016.
The full value of Chicago Plans for each participant is nearly $5,000, which LISC is able to cover through generous support from The Chicago Community Trust. Each team will contribute a $300 participation fee per team member, which will be provided as an early action grant to the team upon completion of the program towards their planning goals.
For more information or questions, please contact Jake Ament at 312-422-9573 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chicago Plans is generously supported by The Chicago Community Trust.
Health disparities between low-income communities of color and more affluent neighborhoods are an established fact. And it’s clear that one big reason for that gap is the social determinants of health, defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 program as economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and built environment.
So once you acknowledge these realities, the question becomes, how can communities improve these factors to improve their health?
South Chicago is one of three LISC NCP neighborhoods engaged in health planning. Here, residents and community organizers identify health problems, and potential solutions, in their neighborhood.
Photos by Gordon Walek
To help answer this question, LISC identified three New Communities Network neighborhoods to join a community health planning initiative that brought together community-based organizations, health providers, neighborhood residents and other stakeholders to think through how a stronger civic infrastructure can help the community become a better, healthier place to live.
Recently, the community plans for those three neighborhoods – Chicago Lawn, Little Village and South Chicago – were released, along with a cross-community summary report that outlined their common ideas and approaches, including options to provide culturally relevant health information in the community, help for residents to navigate the health care system, and advocacy at the local, state and federal level to improve the systems that provide health care.
“The meetings in all three communities to draft their plans brought together a consistent set of diverse, interested people and groups,” said LISC Program Officer Dominique Williams. “I think that level of interest – and the thoughtful plans with local strategies that came from it – show there is an opportunity to support effective local programs that can improve health outcomes in Chicago’s communities.”
Three communities, three answers
Community health is woven into the LISC model of comprehensive community development. Each neighborhood in LISC’s New Communities Network determines the right local mix of priorities and issues, and many of the strategies address the social determinants of health, from education to economic stability to the built environment.
For several years, LISC has initiated programs that more explicitly target public health, including Elev8 school-based health centers in five Chicago Public Schools and the Hoops in the Hood summer youth basketball program. Most recently, LISC has supported grassroots campaigns to connect residents to health insurance from the Affordable Care Act and the Illinois All Kids program.
“The health planning process is another step to think about what role our community development partners can have to improve the health of their residents,” Williams said. “How community-based organizations can be a convener in the neighborhood around existing resources and institutions working to improve neighborhood health.”
Claretian Associates' Jackie Samuel, left, discusses health planning with representatives of community organizations and medical providers in South Chicago.
When the leadership at Enlace Chicago heard about the opportunity to apply for the program, it was an easy decision. The group had recently finished a new edition of Little Village’s quality-of-life plan, including a section dedicated to community health. “That plan is meant to be a launching pad. When there’s an opportunity to take a big-picture plan and add more detail, that’s really valuable,” said Simone Alexander, Enlace’s community development director.
In Chicago Lawn, work around community health by the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) has included organizing to save one of its member institutions, Holy Cross Hospital, from closing and helping the large number of residents in the community who are undocumented find affordable health insurance. In South Chicago, Claretian Associates has less experience working directly with the health care system but, to Senior Program Director Jackie Samuel, the community health planning project connected to their efforts to promote exercise and nutrition and to prevent violence.
“Violence itself is a health concern, of course,” she said. “But it’s also that even though we have beautiful beaches and parks in this community, people are afraid to really exercise or live a healthier lifestyle because of the violence. And when you look at job creation—a shooting is going to scare people off who might invest in this neighborhood. Health is just connected to other domains in almost unexpected ways.”
To create the plan, the lead agency in each community held a series of meetings that brought together more than 80 participants across the three neighborhoods: residents and representatives of community-based organizations, elected officials, schools, social service agencies, the police department, and local health care providers such as hospitals, federally qualified health centers, and behavioral health programs. LISC engaged Health Management Associates – a national consulting group with a focus on publically financed health care – to help facilitate the process.
Because each community is different, the plans are unique as well. Little Village focuses on establishing a community health worker network to help coordinate, train and support the many community health workers who already work in the neighborhood. South Chicago wants to start a social marketing campaign to leverage local resources to promote wellness and health, starting with a pilot program to address youth violence and mental health issues stemming from community violence.
"When there’s an opportunity to take a big-picture plan and add more detail, that’s really valuable,” said Simone Alexander, Enlace Chicago's community development director who's overseeing health planning in Little Village.
In Chicago Lawn, the plan is for a set of focused organizing campaigns aimed at addressing critical issues in the community: expanding and improving access to health care for all, health education for residents and providers, and behavioral health and violence reduction.
Across the neighborhoods, though, there were also common themes and ideas. All three of the plans are built on the idea of deeply including residents into the process, and each include its own version of a “health promoter” – volunteers or staff from the neighborhood who serve as a focal point and liaison for local coordinated health efforts.
The three plans also emphasize the importance of collaboration and communication between traditional and non-traditional health partners. To David McDowell, the senior organizer at SWOP, the meetings were in some ways as useful as the final document itself.
“Working together began to strengthen relationships between residents and health care providers,” he explained. “The 2003 quality-of-life planning for NCP [New Communities Program] helped crystallize that idea. Plans are great. But the ability to shift and adjust to changing circumstances, that comes from knowing each other and working together. And, that starts at the table during the planning process.”
Cross-community communication for the program came from meetings that brought together the lead agencies and key local partners from all three neighborhoods. “It became clear to me that we’re not shooting to do the exact same things in all three communities, but that working together is really more about resource sharing and creating intentional structures to make that happen,” Alexander said. “We could do trainings together, for example. The best way to understand this is from people who are doing it.”
With the plans finalized and ready for distribution, the next stage is implementation. With grant support from LISC, the three community groups are moving forward early-action projects that can kick-start their efforts, and they’re already using the plans to build and strengthen other partnerships.
South Chicago’s health plan includes a violence prevention social marketing campaign geared toward local youth.
Samuel said that at a meeting of the health and healing committee of the Mayor's Commission for a Safer Chicago, she talked about South Chicago’s planned violence prevention social marketing campaign. That caught the interest of another committee member, a representative from the Chicago Department of Public Health, and now the department is planning to survey local youth about what kind of messages and messengers would have an impact – and help bring those resources to the neighborhood.
“The plan absolutely helped get that for our community,” Samuel said.
“The level of excitement of all the parties at the table has been really high,” added Alexander. “We’ve been trying to do this for so long. Now is finally the right time, with the right connections.”
LISC Chicago’s neighborhood health work is supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, the Otho S.A. Sprague Memorial Institute, The Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, and the Chicago Community Trust.
For more information contact LISC’s Dominique Williams,312-422-9571 or email@example.com