Browsed by
Author: Chris Brown



At our second Leadership Development training, we reviewed our conversations from the first day of training together. Jeff Bartow explained that change requires confrontation. While this does not necessarily mean conflict, confrontation does require honesty. Conflict often does accompany confrontations towards change.

Jessica Biggs, Southwest System of Care organizer, led us through an example of a power analysis. We discussed different forms of power, including power with, power within, and power over.

When conducting a power analysis, we ask: 

  • What is their self-interest?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • Who are allies?
  • Who are enemies?

Organizers brought in their own experiences of examining power and organizing to build power. 

If you want to explore these ideas and more, join us. SWOP holds Leadership Development trainings each year in Spanish and English. If you’re interested in joining a training, reach out to a SWOP organizer.

Celebrating Together at Our Holiday Party

Celebrating Together at Our Holiday Party

Hundreds of SWOP members, leaders, and their families celebrated our work together at our annual holiday party. SWOP staff estimated about 500 people came.

SWOP would not exist as it is without these hundreds of people and more. Building community is relational. People show up because of the people they know are expecting them.

Building off of this understanding and our campaign for Census 2020, organizer Adriana and youth leader Iliany shared about the importance of every person being counted.

Guests were invited to join a community art project. Guests wrote down why they matter and we linked these reasons together. One by one, and the community emerged. Similarly, as we work to count our community, it happens one by one.

Members donated chicken, pizzas, rice, pastas, salads, desserts and much more for our dinner together.


Takeaways from Leadership Development, Part 1

Takeaways from Leadership Development, Part 1

Leadership Development trainings are not what someone might expect – they’re not about public speaking, or personality, or personal success. Rather, these trainings could be renamed “Reflection on Public Life” according to SWOP’s executive director Jeff Bartow, who led the English-speaking training in November 2019.

Throughout the first session of Leadership Development with Bartow in November, a group of staff and community members learned together about power, organizing, anger, community, change, and transforming overwhelming problems into tangible and actionable issues. A small group of seven participants allowed each person to share their experiences and ideas throughout.

Bartow described some of the history of southwest Chicago and SWOP. Check out Martha Irvine’s article for one account of these histories. Check out SWOP’s “History”  page for another.

Some of the key ideas included in the leadership training on public life: 

  • There is power in collective voice.
  • SWOP approaches organizing through institutions, because institutions often have more power (meaning: an ability to act) than individuals. 
  • A guiding question is: “Where is the potential power in this neighborhood?”
  • Organizing is related to activism, but different; organizing is about building relationships that surpass any one issue.
  • Organizing is always about how to build relationships and with whom. This is face-to-face work.
  • Organizing requires reflection and imagination on “the world as it is,” and on “the world as it should/could be.” 
  • Leaders 1) have integrated their anger, 2) are clear about their interests, 3) imagine, and 4) use humor to add and diffuse tension.
  • Organizing is slow work and at the same time requires urgency.

If you want to explore these ideas and more, join us. SWOP holds Leadership Development trainings each year in Spanish and English. If you’re interested in joining a training, reach out to a SWOP organizer. 

Check out Martha Irvine’s article on Chicago Lawn’s comeback

Check out Martha Irvine’s article on Chicago Lawn’s comeback

“The comeback is a particularly stunning feat when you consider the neighborhood’s history,” wrote Associated Press reporter Martha Irvine in “Inspiring tale of a Chicago neighborhood that would not die.”

Irvine highlighted the work of SWOP, Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and neighborhood residents as resistance to the issues caused by white supremacist violence and divestment. 

Read Irvine’s “Inspiring tale of a Chicago neighborhood that would not die” here. 

Irvine, Martha. “Inspiring tale of a Chicago neighborhood that would not die.” Associated Press. 25 November 2019.

Action Council Meeting

Action Council Meeting

Action Councils are spaces for SWOP organizers to share about their work. Partners, members, volunteers, and more gathered together to learn updates and be invited to work on campaigns.

At Thursday’s Action Council on November 14, organizers shared updates on their work with immigration, building community safety, and education. Most of the time focused on the 2020 census because it impacts everything of which SWOP is a part.

Imelda Salazar, who is leading SWOP’s work on the Census work, presented why the census matters to SWOP. Imelda emphasized that SWOP’s primary reason for doing census work is to build power – the power to act – in SWOP’s communities.

The census will also impact SWOP’s communities and therefore our work together. Politically, the census may impact the number of representatives Illinois has. Illinois could lose one or two seats in the House of Representatives. Economically, the census impacts the distribution of resources to different communities. It is important that all people are counted in the right place.

To learn more about the Census, check out the links on our Census 2020 page.

To partner with SWOP to get an accurate count of our population, contact organizer Imelda at

Work on Maplewood Avenue

Work on Maplewood Avenue

Community organizing looks like many different things. The reason for this is that community organizing depends on relationship building. Sometimes, this looks like a group of people doing fall yard work.

Through SWOP’s partnerships with United Power for Action and Justice and Ascension Parish, Nick Brunick became a supporter of SWOP. Nick is an attorney at Applegate and Thorne-Thomsen (ATT) which focuses on affordable housing and community development. So Nick connected ATT with SWOP. 

Now ATT is sponsoring the rehab of a vacant property on Maplewood. ATT gathered together members of their firm and their families to spend their Saturday with SWOP. They learned more about the work of SWOP and gave their time and energy as well. 

The group from ATT began by learning about the two phases of the Reclaiming Southwest housing project. SWOP staff showed the volunteers maps demonstrating the impact of SWOP’s work. For example, within the first target area, vacant properties dropped from 93 to 8 since 2012. SWOP staff also described how housing work is intertwined with education initiatives and building community safety. 

Then it was time for some yard work and demolition! The ATT group helped clean up the property on Maplewood by picking up trash and trimming weeds in the yards. Inside, they helped demolish parts of the kitchen. 

The ATT group also toured a fully-rehabbed building that is ready to be sold. This tour gave them a vision to what their work is contributing.

Joining SWOP

Joining SWOP

National Health Corps is a branch of AmeriCorps that provides support for community organizations that effectively and compassionately bridge the health-resource gap in underserved communities. In these neighborhoods, the social determinants of health are often outside of individual or family control and lead to disproportionately health-damaging experiences. Organizations like SWOP connect people in the community with holistic support and address factors such as housing, education, income, and healthcare while fostering one-to-one relationships. I plan to support SWOP’s System of Care by conducting a series of nutrition workshops for parents at partner schools. After this year of service, I hope parent mentors and navigators will be leading a strong health education program for the community.

Only three weeks into my year of service, I have really come to appreciate SWOP’s relationship-driven model, and I would like to learn how to apply it to fostering community health. I would also like to understand the creation and implementation of the System of Care and how a community can coordinate existing resources to support individuals and families that often fall through the cracks.

          –Apurva Jolepalem

Communities of people who are committed to one another and to shared visions are the best forces of change, and we need much change. Community organizing gets at this – building relationships to gather communities together and build power. I’m at SWOP because I believe in this and want to learn more. 

I’m also at SWOP because I’m a social work student at the University of Chicago School of Social Administration. After working with people experiencing homelessness and mental illness last year, I wanted to learn more about preventative, proactive work around housing and the many interrelated pieces which are a part just communities. When I learned about SWOP, I saw a group of people committed to placemaking. I’m here to learn about placemaking and community organizing. 

Practically, as I’m an intern, I am at SWOP twice a week. I will support the work of SWOP through behind-the-scenes tasks – starting with working on writing about the work that is happening to both create an archive and spread the word and posting on social media to share events that are happening and opportunities to join.

-Laurel Bornman

Southwest Side Schools Unite

Southwest Side Schools Unite


Snow and rain didn’t dampen community support for teachers on the tenth day of the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Students, teachers, parents, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members, and community members showed up to support teachers in their stand for equity in Chicago Public Schools.

Southwest Organizing Project, led by organizer Jasmine Serrano, and local teachers organized a community march to unite the southwest community and to share testimonies and strike updates. 

The gathering began with a march north on Kedzie Avenue. Afterwards, supporters gathered in Marquette Park field house to hear students, teachers, and parents share their stories. 

Supporters testified to the need for nurses, social workers, and librarians to support students. They described the need for teacher prep periods, for class sizes where students can be heard, for support for students impacted by structural and systemic harm including gun violence and food insecurity, for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to be available in the language of parents, and for school maintenance. 

Students and parents spoke of their respect for the dedication teachers demonstrate daily while school is in session, and during their strike for change.

SWOP’s Position on CTU Strike

SWOP’s Position on CTU Strike

We are intimately aware that members of the Chicago Teachers Union have worked without a contract since June 30th, 2019 and that contract negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and leadership of the Chicago Public Schools have been slow moving. As of October 2nd, 2019, 94% of the members of the CTU approved a strike authorization and no contract has been reached. We are hopeful that all parties will exercise the full extent of their resources to ensure that there is no disruption to the educational experiences of our youth and families.

We, community, parent, and neighborhood groups throughout the southwest side of Chicago, support the CTU’s demands for lower classroom sizes; a nurse, librarian and caseworker in every school; social workers, counselors and other clinicians at professionally recommended staffing levels; sanctuary protections for students and families; creation of 75 sustainable community schools; and a fair raise for educators and paraprofessionals, who are some of the lowest paid staff in our school district. We also support SEIU’s contract proposals for higher pay, better working conditions and work schedules, and an end to the privatization of engineers.

We pledge to stand in solidarity with members of CTU and SEIU by suspending all programming housed in CPS schools until a contract is reached.