While the temperatures outside were well below freezing, the mood was warm and happy inside Maria Catalyst High School on Thursday evening, December 15th. Hundreds of SWOP leaders from community institutions across Chicago Southwest came together to celebrate the holidays. There were lots of holidays and traditions to celebrate as the crowd represented the diversity of the community: Catholics and Protestants, Muslims, and Jews; African-Americans, Latinos, and whites; and, young people and more mature folks.
Like most holiday parties, there was good food, holiday music, and a little bit of dancing. People chatted with old friends and made new ones. There were even a few people in ugly holiday sweaters.
What made this party different from others this season, and special for Chicago Southwest, is that the party was as much about the holidays as it was about community organizing. The party gave people time to reflect on the hard work of the past year, the recent Presidential election, and all the SWOP victories of the past many months. Executive Director Jeff Bartow used his remarks at the start of the party to point out the diversity and the strength of the group. He highlighted some recent wins, but also spoke of the need to keep working and supporting each other in all our endeavors. He encouraged people to seek out others they did not know and to begin the community organizing process of imagining how we all can work together to advance collective goals.
As people left the party, it was still cold outside, but people were filled with the warmth and energy that comes from making new connections and renewing old relationships.