Three long-time Evanston residents spoke last month about the Black community in Evanston and on the North Shore. Perhaps because the date – the third Thursday in November – is traditional, many attended the NAACP annual Freedom Fund gala, the theme of which was “We’re Done Dying.”
Referring to the need for a virtual event, Reverend Dr. Michael Nabors, President of the Evanston/North Shore NAACP chapter, said, “This year, we are in the throes of COVID-19. It feels different. We’re struggling with the reality of over 250,000 Americans who’ve lost their lives and another 11 million whose lives have been changed due to the coronavirus. There may not be a family in the United States, who has not felt in some way, the sting of this pandemic. At the same time, we face it with strength and resilience that has made the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People the amazing organization it has been for 111 years.”
Meleika Gardner of Evanston Live TV moderated the panel of retired Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes, Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste and Shorefront Legacy Center co-founder Morris “Dino” Robinson.
Ald. Holmes said, “I’m looking for us to work in our local areas, in our own cities, to begin to make Black lives matter to us first. And we have to do that. … We really do have to have our young people see that we have to be more respectful to each other and take care of each other.”
Mr. Robinson said, “We as a community, not just locally, but nationally and in many aspects globally, have to rise to the occasion to effect change.
“What I found is this new energy of potentially young voters who are really focused now on what’s happening in our democratic society and realizing that they can’t be lax about it, thinking the older generation will take care of it. No, you have to participate, and not just for a national leader but localized leaders.”
Big changes require time and a methodical approach, Mr. Robinson said, “And it starts with a community and starts with a home and builds its way up. So no one leader can make a change. It takes an entire nation to embrace that change.”
Judge Jean-Baptiste said, “Delores has said that we’ve got to be able to transfer to our young that kind of determination and perseverance. … The reality is, the perseverance has to be intensifying. They have to rise to a level of beginning to take leadership to make sure that they continue the model of making this a better nation.”
Referring to the Evanston youth who founded Evanston Fight for Black Lives and organized a march in late May that drew a crowd of 5,000, Judge Jean-Baptiste said, “I think that they are right to call your peers out, to stand up, because it’s not enough to state in words that you are for eradication of racism.”
He also said, “We shouldn’t underestimate the dissipation [caused by white allies – historically those who have fought to abolish slavery, those who stood … with Martin Luther King. One of the problems is that, beyond the march that enlarges the rights of everyone, beyond gaining the rights that benefited everybody, we were still left to acquire some of the economic rights and watch a lot of our allies who are white [be] able to gain and move forward.
“Whether it’s white women [or] others, they’ve been able to gain from the fight that Black people have waged and benefit financially and other ways, while we continue to have to overcome certain obstacles. So they have to return to the line to make sure that they identify just not just in words, but in deeds.”
Ald. Holmes said, “We have to also remember that no matter how much marching we do, the systems [have to] change – the system that is built, which is against us, and for white people, I mean, it was built for them, by them, for them – that will allow some of the good changes to happen to really happen and be sustainable. … That’s what we need; our white sisters don’t fight for [that]. I always say I don’t need them to speak for me, I need them to help move the obstacles out so that I can speak for myself, because I can speak for myself. So that is the way in which we need their help.
“So [Judge Jean-Baptiste is] right about them being on the front lines, but understand what being on the front line means. It means changes for them in terms of the system that has supported them. And how many people are willing to make that sacrifice?”
Mr. Robinson said, “What I’ve noticed with this movement, especially with these young leaders, and likewise, new movement in the fight for Black families here in Evanston, what I love about this movement is the willingness of not accepting anything less than policy changes. … It’s just like, if your house is on fire, and you’re in the building, you want the firemen to put the fire out, not to say, ‘Hope you stay safe in there while the house was burning.’ Just say, ‘We put the fire out. Now we could talk about your safety, and how we can prevent this in the future.’”
Ald. Holmes, Mr. Robinson, Judge Jean-Baptiste and Ms. Gardner also discussed two other issues that disproportionately affect the Black and Brown communities, the COVID-19 pandemic and gun violence.
Rev. Nabors concluded the evening by thanking those who organized the event and those who support the NAACP. “Nearly 100 of you have joined our branch during the COVID-19 epidemic. How grateful we are that you believe in our mission to ensure that the civil rights of everyone are protected as the civil rights of everyone should be protected.
“We’re growing and ready to face a brand new year with determination. Thank you all for joining us for the Freedom Fund event of 2020. Be safe, wear your mask, practice social distancing, and most of all, help others who may not be able to help themselves. Peace and love – and always remember to keep the faith”