Editor’s Note: Racial Equity Reporter Gina Castro’s fellowship with the RoundTable is funded by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

The promise of jobs for minorities, especially Black residents, is a driving force for many to support the new Ryan Field football stadium.

On Thursday, Feb, 2, more than 40 people squeezed into a room in the Family Focus building, 2010 Dewey Ave., to hear community leaders and neighbors of the stadium speak in support of Northwestern University’s project.

four people in white shirts with the sentence "fans of Ryan Field"
(From left) Marty Cless, Angela Valavanis, Gretchen Brauer, Jennifer Engel Credit: Gina Castro

“I’m excited about the opportunity to have work come into the Black community as well and get Black professionals, Black trade resources, engaged,” said Clarence Weaver, Central Evanston Business Association member and co-owner of C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor, 1901 Church St.

The university said 35% of its subcontracted spending will be with Evanston, minority-owned and woman-owned businesses. Northwestern estimates the project will create 2,924 jobs and pay $11 million in direct fees to the city. The project will require zero tax dollars.

“This is an opportunity for those groups to generate generational wealth,” said Dave Davis, Northwestern’s executive director of Neighborhood and Community Relations.

Some people wore white T-shirts with “Fans of Ryan Field” on the front. “I am thankful that we all get to witness and contribute to that which will likely only happen once in a lifetime,” said Sr. Pastor Monte Dillard of First Church of God.

Northwestern did a presentation on the project for the First Church of God, and Dillard and the clergy are hopeful about the job prospects Northwestern is promising, he said. Dillard is also chair of Evanston Own It, which a total of 16 Evanston-based churches participate in.

“I also am in great expectation, as I have stated in private, about the components of the project that are going to ensure that Black individuals have access to contribute significantly to the building of this project,” Dillard said.

Former Fifth Ward City Council Member Delores Holmes, who turns 86 this year, recalled the way Northwestern assisted her in growing the Family Focus nonprofit.

“A lot of the furniture, probably still here, came from Northwestern,” she said. The university connected the nonprofit with volunteers, too, Holmes said.

“I’m supportive of Ryan Field because it’s going to mean so much more to my community as well as the over all Evanston community,” Holmes said.

Much of Ryan Field’s opposition comes from the Sixth and the Seventh Wards. More than 150 residents came to a Seventh Ward community Jan. 31 to oppose the rebuild.

These two wards are among the wards with the highest white population and wealth in the city, according to the Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN).

Holmes said to the audience at the press conference that the Sixth and the Seventh Wards also opposed the referendum to bring a school back to the Fifth Ward.

“They voted it down, so this is my opportunity,” Holmes said.

Mike O’Connor, who lives a block from Northwestern’s athletic campus, said Ryan Field enhances the city’s quality of life.

Jim Young and Kelly Marcelle Credit: Gina Castro

“I think the streetscapes of Isabella, Ashland, Central have never looked better in my entire lifetime,” O’Connor said. “I think that the rebuild of Ryan Field will complete that athletic campus as maybe one of the best in the nation.”

Others in attendance at the meeting said they were excited about the project’s plans to be “the most accessible stadium in college football,” as the project’s website says.

“They’re going to exceed all of the ADA requirements,” said Jim Young, who has lived in Evanston for more than 23 years. An accessible stadium means a lot to Young as he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease three years ago.

“The outlook for people with Parkinson’s is not very good because it’s a degenerative neurological disease,” Young said. “One part of [the project] that is especially attractive to me, is the commitment by the Ryan family themselves to disability.”

The Ryan family are contributing the funds to rebuild the stadium, which is the university’s largest donation in its history. The family has a child who is in a wheelchair, Young said.

One voice spoke up in opposition to the Ryan Field project at the press conference.

Kevin Brown said he doesn’t trust Northwestern University will hire Black residents for Ryan Field project. Credit: Gina Castro

Kevin Brown doesn’t buy Northwestern’s commitment to hire Black and other minorities for the project, because he said the university doesn’t promote diversity internally. Brown is on the Board of Community Alliance for better government. He is currently suing the city for firing him because of alleged racial discrimination.

“The university is not even doing the things that you can do to increase the Black student enrollment, to increase the number of Black staff and to increase the amount of Black programming for its students for their development,” Brown said.

“So when it makes these promises about creating opportunities for the Black community, it really needs to start with its educational program before it reaches out and enters into the entertainment space.”

The RoundTable also spoke with David DeCarlo, one of the founders of the Most Livable City Association. DeCarlo didn’t attend the press conference. The RoundTable called him after he emailed asking to respond to Thursday’s press conference.

He published a letter to the editor in October and is concerned with how fast the Ryan Field project seems to be moving. When asked what he thought about the jobs for minorities Northwestern is promising, DeCarlo said the city should complete its own economic impact study beforehand to verify Northwestern’s claims.

“What’s the rush?” DeCarlo said. “This is an important project for the community to get right. And so why don’t we wait until we have the city’s own analysis before rushing anything through.”

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Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. And Northwestern fired its most vulnerable employees at the height of Covid, and reduced staff benefits in a year when Northwestern profits actually surged, in a year where other universities actually helped their employees.
    Do not trust NU’s promises.

  2. I believe this article is a little misleading. You will not get the kind of jobs that build generational wealth within the Black community. The Black electricians are going to go where IBEW sends them. That’s where the money is. The same is true for other union tradesmen