By Jamillah Rashad
Elev8 students from Marquette School of Excellence are learning more than just the basics at school. Youth leaders are participating in Mikva Challenge where they worked together with their facilitators to secure a small grant to improve the school and community through an event.
The students decided they wanted to do something that would allow them to work with 8th district police officers to begin fostering better relationships between the police and young people. Students led two different workshops at Marquette that helped open up deeper conversations about building trust and relationships between the community and the police. Officers then played alongside students in an hour long basketball game; as students and community spectators cheered them all.
From the workshops and game, relationships began to form. The 8th district police officers reached back out to students to participate in the Chi-League Nike Experience basketball clinic in July 2016. The connection between the youth and police did not stop there. During the month of August, officers from the 8th district sponsored a dinner with youth from the Chicago Lawn area.
With the start of the new school year, Elev8 students will again be working with SWOP and Mikva Challenge to find new ways to improve their school and community.
On Friday, August 5th SWOP leaders joined with community leaders, health care providers, and elected officials from around the state to celebrate the continuation of the All Kids health insurance program. All Kids ensures continued access to health coverage for low-income children, regardless of their immigration status. SWOP worked hard with our elected officials to make sure they heard from families who are directly impacted by this issue. HB5736 or “All Kids” passed with bipartisan support and changes the sunset date to October 1, 2019. At the event, SWOP leader Carolina Rivera shared her testimony and represented the grassroots work of community organizations before both of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Iris Martinez and Representative Lisa Hernández, as well as Archbishop Blase Cupich, Senate President Cullerton, Minority Leader Jim Durkin and many other legislators.
On Thursday, August 18th, more than 300 hundred SWOP leaders joined with members of United Power and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to celebrate the successes of the Reclaim Southwest Chicago Campaign. Starting on the steps of St. Rita’s Church, the crowd heard Imelda Salazar of SWOP and Nick Brunick of United Power tell the story of how the groups had met in the same place four years ago to push for a program to address the plague of foreclosed homes in the community. They heard Father Tony Pizzo talk about how we were not rehabbing houses, but we were building homes.
With SWOP and United Power leaders and Lisa Madigan in the front, the group headed out for a tour of the community to see the transformation that was underway. The visited homes rehabbed by Brinshore Development and the Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN). Participants saw recently rehabbed homes where Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) had helped local contractors buy and renovate vacant properties. They saw other homes that will be rehabbed soon. The people on the walk learned how the community has gone from more 90 vacant homes to around 20 now; and soon, there will be none.
Along the way, the people on the tour saw the physical improvements in Morrill School with their new playground. They learned how all the schools in the community have moved from being rated level 3 schools to being rated level 2 schools; with Morrill moving to a level 1 school. They heard how the number of crimes committed in the area had been cut in half in the last four years.
After the walk, the group filled the gym at Fairfield Academy. The room was hot, but filled with hope and a sense of happiness at what is being accomplished, as speaker after speaker talked about the importance of coming together to work for a stronger, healthier community. Attorney General Lisa Madigan addressed the group and expressed her pleasure in being back in the community after four years and her respect for the process of renewal underway. She said the group may have brought here her to say thanks, but really she was the one that needed to thank all the people in the room for their efforts to transform the community.
The event wrapped up with a call to spread the work of Reclaim Southwest Chicago to other parts of the community and to other sections of the city. While the work in SWOP’s target area has been incredibly successful, there is still much to do in other parts of the community and the city.
On Thursday, July 28th, SWOP successfully held its first DACA Pro Se Workshop cohosted with the Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s office. This was a clinic for first time Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants.
Via the collaboration with the Commissioner’s office and the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), eight applicants were guided through the entire application process by two law attorneys, Lillian Jimenez (Commissioner Garcia’s office) and Lara Wagner (JEP). Several parents were present to accompany their applicants and raised questions as the lawyers walked through the nine page application process. Juan Ramirez, a current DACA Recipient, shared how receiving DACA has benefited him and shifted his life for the better.
There is still a big percentage of youth and young adults who qualify for DACA, but are not getting help with the process. There are several reasons for this. First, although more and more people are open to talking about their immigration status, many others are still very cautious about who they share that information with and a large number of people continue to live in the shadows. There are other factors including lack of information and lack of money. In 2015 (the last date for reliable statistics), according to National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), in Illinois alone, there are about 64,000 eligible individuals, but only 18,968 had received DACA. This left more than 70 percent of potential applicants without the benefit.
If you think you might qualify for DACA or need to renew, please contact Adriana Velazquez at (773) 471-8208 ext. 113 to find out about upcoming opportunities to get help with the process.
On Saturday, July 16th leaders of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) met at St. Mary Star of the Sea church to hash out the details of the Southwest Chicago Quality-of-Life plan. These same leaders and hundreds of other community residents have been meeting for more than six months to define their goals and plans for their community over the next decade.
If this sounds familiar, it should. SWOP and Greater Southwest Development Corporation led a successful Quality-of-Life planning process a decade ago. That plan called for school programs and commercial revitalization and affordable housing; and many other things that make Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon, West Lawn, and Ashburn great communities. You can find the plan here. Almost every item in the original plan has been completed. Thus time for a new plan. As Sister Immaculate said when talking about the past plan and the new process “just like we plan for a wedding, we have to plan for our community.”
This year’s planning process, supported in large part by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago, is focused on seven key areas: housing, safety, education, immigration reform, health, jobs and economic development, and leadership development. Within each of these seven areas, community residents have identified key strategies and programs and projects they want to see implemented in their neighborhood. The plan should be completed by September of 2016.
For more information on the planning process, please contact David McDowell at 773-471-8208 ext. 112.