Stephen Adams, Lonnie Wilson, Gigi Giles and Bennett Johnson stage a protest at the new site of Y.O.U. headquarters.                      RoundTable photo

Calling for local hiring in the construction of the new headquarters of Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.), a group representing the Evanston Minority Business Consortium (EMBC) held a demonstration at the site, 1911-17 Church St. The group has held other demonstrations before, saying they believe Y.O.U. has reneged on a promise to hire local contractors in constructing the new 12,000-square-foot facility.

The demonstration began before noon with a handful of people holding up signs saying “What About Us?” Lonnie Wilson, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the protesters received much support on the street – from drivers honking horns and giving thumbs-up and from passersby who joined the group for a time.

While Y.O.U. did not hire any contractors who are members of EMBC, said Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green, it has met its goal of hiring 25% minority-owned, women-owned, or Evanston-based businesses in the construction process.

“Following the role of the City of Evanston, our board pro-actively set the objective that at least 25% of our construction contracts be awarded to minority-owned, women-owned, and locally-owned businesses. We are proud to have surpassed our goal, with more than 30% of our construction being performed by minority, women, and local businesses. … It was an aspirational goal, and we wanted to live up to it,” Mr. Green said.

One member of the EMBC did submit a bid, Mr. Green said, but it was incomplete and was 40% higher than the bid ultimately accepted.

“We met with leadership from EMBC to explain why we made our contracting decision. Specifically, the contractor from their network bid $285,750. Another contractor offered the same scope of work at a cost of $203,500 and was selected for offering a 40% cost advantage. To put this cost difference in perspective, that $82,000 in cost savings is the equivalent of our hiring two mental health clinicians for a year to support youth in our programs impacted by trauma. … In addition, the contractor from EMBC did not complete required documentation as part of the bidding process,” Mr. Green told the RoundTable.

Mr. Green also said Y.O.U.’s commitment to the community and their values go “beyond the construction contracts. Our Evanston-based architecture firm, Studio Talo, has thoughtfully designed our new building in collaboration with our youth, families, and community residents. Meanwhile, the financing of our new headquarters was through our Evanston-based community bank, First Bank & Trust. We are similarly committed to supporting minority, women, and local businesses in the ongoing operation and maintenance of our new building once constructed.”

Mr. Green added, “We value the broader community issues raised, but we are also very proud of our goals.”

Y.O.U. serves 1,500 children from 11 different schools in Evanston and Skokie. About 60% of the students are black, 25-30%  are Latino, and 10-15% are white or Asian. Of those, 85% are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...