By Shari Runner
Today, many of the issues facing our African American community would sound familiar to veterans of the Civil Rights Movement: rampant racial profiling; disproportional unemployment and incarceration rates; separate and unequal school funding; discriminatory sentencing; and rising rates of violence against minorities.
Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was issued, we’ve made some progress; however, the destructive dynamics of racism, segregation, and inequity, folded within a post-industrial landscape of poverty, homelessness, joblessness, and crime, continue to tear apart the social fabric of a city that once served as a bastion of socioeconomic promise during the Great Migration.
In response, grassroots activists and advocates are pushing back in a heroic effort of social justice to reclaim and revitalize the city. Chicago’s Black residents are engaged in constant, fierce struggles in neighborhoods and communities to ensure protection of their civil rights and civil liberties and, therefore, make the city stronger as a whole.
Organizations and individuals like Leonard “GLC” Harris who, in an effort to change a false and incomplete narrative about Englewood created “Welcome to Englewood” signs; Mothers Against Senseless Killings a group of concerned mothers who seek to put eyes on the street; BYP100—an organization for millennial activists dedicated to creating justice; Assata’s Daughters – an intergenerational collective of radical Black women; and the #LetUsBreath Collective – A grassroots alliance of artists and journalists.
Indeed, as Father Pfleger of St. Sabina’s church has noted, top-down social justice isn’t going to happen. Having received little assistance or support over the years from policymakers to help radically improve the lives of African American residents, Chicagoans across generations have deputized themselves. The rich historical tapestry of grassroots movements and coalitions have inspired people to raise their voices in a quest to enact change and their vision for their neighborhoods.
From Englewood to Hyde Park, and from West Pullman to Chatham, these neighborhood movements that, at their core, are movements for justice and equality are working towards a common vision: to ensure that neighborhoods become places where all families thrive and have access to the supports, services and opportunities they need.
And they do so against a landscape framed by the current political environment of deep-seeded prejudices … and literal and figurative punitive walls.
Having grown out of a grassroots movement for freedom and opportunity a century ago, the Chicago Urban League fully supports the resilience and courage that it takes to lay the groundwork to incite change.
We know that it works and we know that dismantling racism does not happen overnight. It takes the consistent effort of concerned citizens to change the legacy of racial injustice—and that’s why we stand behind each step of our brave grassroots protesters on our streets, as well as the reverberation of their voice as they demand progress from the ground up.“Each breath is the sound of chains breaking. Each breath is, in its own way, a revolution,” said author Junot Diaz when speaking about activism.
Each breath taken away by unlawful brutality is another voice silenced. Each voice silenced is another minute—hour, day, year, and century—of perpetuated racism.
And so, when I say we support those against racial inequity, I am talking about all sectors—private, public, corporate, academic, and policy related. For we cannot, and will not, blind ourselves from the view and power of our collective impact. We are all one community.