Building Relationships • Developing Leaders • Acting for Justice


A Call to Hope at the House of Hope!

At a meeting today of over 2000 people representing over 100 non-profit and religious institutions from four northern Illinois counties, held at the House of Hope in the Roseland community of South Chicago, community leaders from affiliates of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), called on public officials to join them in exercising “relational power” on new approaches on gun safety, support for those experiencing mental illness, and the rebuilding of communities by building both owner-occupied homes and affordable, accessible, and supportive rental housing on a large scale.

Officials present at the action, run jointly by United Power for Action and Justice, DuPage United, Lake County United, and the Fox River Valley Initiative, were many public-and-private-sector officials, included U.S. Senator Durbin; Illinois State Senate President Harmon; Representative Collins (North Lawndale); Representative Demmer (Dixon); Alderman Osterman, Chairman of the Housing Committee, 48th Ward; Alderwoman Scott, 24th Ward.

Co-chaired by two of Metro Illinois’ IAF leaders, Shenita Muse of the Hope Center Foundation in Roseland and Kevin Sutton of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC) and Foundation for Homan Square/IFF. The meeting began with a welcome and interfaith prayer led by Reverend James T. Meeks, Hope Center Foundation and Salem Baptist Church of Chicago; Imam Azfar Uddin, Islamic Foundation North; and Rabbi Ari Margolis, Or Shalom, Vernon Hills. Metro IAF leaders from across Chicagoland then painted a picture of what democracy would look like if public-and-private-sector officials would develop what the group called “relational power” with organized citizenry.

“Here are some of the ways public or private sector leaders who want to work with us, can work with us,” said Shenita Muse. “First, organized citizenry needs recognition and respect. Show up to see and listen to our organized people power and allow us to see and listen to you. You public-and-private-sector leaders are showing us that respect by being here today. Some others are too busy, and we believe them and invite them to join us as well, but you are here and we respect you for that.”

“The organized citizenry here today form a multi-faith, multi-ethnic, non-partisan, urban-suburban-rural coalition in Illinois that can’t be beat,” said Kevin Sutton. “At a time when it is easy to feel that real change is impossible, we are bringing together a broad-base of Illinois residents organized around strategies that have worked and that we can build upon. Our power is unique. Yes, it may be more difficult for some officials to work with us. We may not always agree with you or you with us. But we can promise that we will recognize you when progress is made and be truthful with you when it’s not. We will accept the same accountability from you in return.”

The group then laid out their approach to three of the many issues they have been working on, including new approaches to gun safety and accountability aimed at gun manufacturers, the establishment of Crisis Stabilization Units (CSUs) to provide an alternative to both incarceration and emergency room care to people caught up in episodes caused by mental illness or substance addiction, and the building of both owner occupied, single-family homes and affordable, accessible, and supportive rental housing.

“All of these issues need to be addressed at a scale that can really make a substantive change to what is going on in Illinois and in this country,” said Jacki Bakker, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Elgin. The only way that can be done is if the relationship between organized people’s institutions like ours share “relational power” with our elected, appointed, and private-sector officials.”

As proof of their assertions, the group pointed to ways they were willing and able to work together right now with Public-and-private-officials, from specific and immediate to longer-term issues we all care about.

“Our areas of focus are aimed at reducing the violence, incarceration, and racial inequities across the region,” said Carlill Pittman of the Southwest Organizing Project, Chicago. “We have proven we are committed to practical measures to increase public safety, mental health intervention treatment, and access to both home ownership and apartment rental for people who have been shut out of the system,” said Clara Hughes, First Congregational Church, Glen Ellyn.

“We have laid out today specific things we can do in the near term, and bigger, broader things we can do in the long term, with your help,” said Yvonne Smith, St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, to the public officials in attendance. “All we need today is your agreement to work seriously with us on these and other issues.

“We have organized a fund with private sector philanthropic dollars to build 1,000 of affordable homes to create affordable single-family homes at scale in neighborhoods across the south and west sides of Chicago,” said Imelda Salazar of the Southwest Organizing Project. “We call on any public or private sector leader to help us increase this investment. We also ask them to help us press the banks (other than JP Morgan, which has already said yes) to commit to our Reclaiming Chicago Fund, growing it from $6.25 million to $25 million. These will expand the pool of homebuyer subsidies to keep the homes we build affordable to working families. We already have subsidies for roughly the first 300 home buyers.”

“You can help us bust through the bureaucratic red tape and release the $26 million in capital budget grants committed for Reclaiming Communities in the state budget,” said Nick Brunick of Ascension Catholic Church in Oak Park. “These grants are all key components of United Power’s effort across four neighborhoods on the South and West Sides (Chicago Lawn, Lawndale, Back of the Yards, and Roseland) to rebuild and reclaim communities at scale and to comprehensively address homes, safety, schools, and jobs. One of these grants is for a similar effort in Waukegan, led by Lake County United. Their efforts will create over 250 units of housing. The Fox River Valley Initiative instigated and won the building of the 1212 Larkin rental housing in Elgin, and DuPage United is currently working on similar housing in Glen Ellyn and other parts of DuPage County.

“We have already begun building 1000 new homes in North Lawndale and affordable, accessible, and supportive rental housing in Cook, Lake, Kane, and soon DuPage counties; now let’s double down and do it again—and again—in our other Illinois communities,” said Rev. James T. Meeks of Hope Center Foundation of Chicago and senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, which hosted the event

“In the short term,” explained DiAne Boese of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park, “Senator Durbin can help us get a small seed-grant of $62,500, which we have already applied for to Senator Durbin’s office, to expand the pool of municipalities whose law enforcement have joined the Gun Safety Consortium. We want Illinois to lead the testing of emerging gun safety technology and provide valuable feedback. In the long-term, public officials can work with us to creatively leverage the full extent of the government purchasing power and demand that gun manufacturers reduce the harm that they do by creating safer products and more transparent sales practices.”

“Work with us to help hospitals connect their workforce to housing, improve strategies for mental health treatment, and create programs for diversion from the criminal justice system such as Crisis Stabilization Units and other initiatives such as the new “living room” project just approved in Evanston,” said Yvonne Smith

The public-and-private-officials reacted positively to the groups’ comments and requests. A list of those present and invited is available upon request.

(For further information or to talk with any of the Metro IAF leaders quoted above, contact Amy Totsch at 773.803.8330 or Amy Lawless at 630.743.9649)