The effort, sacrifice and time it takes to eliminate racism, to relearn the history of the United States and to improve race relations can be staggering. Black people live in this staggering reality on a daily basis.
In Evanston, there is a concerted, strategic and critical plan (with multiple moving parts) to eliminate racism, relearn our nation’s history and to improve race relations. Part of the plan is coming from many of our houses of worship.
Led by several Evanston clergy, Evanston residents recently took two field trips to learn more about social justice as it relates to Black and brown communities in Evanston and Chicago.
On Sunday, Feb. 12 nearly 90 residents met at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue to learn about the history of Blacks in Evanston. Dino Robinson of the Shorefront Legacy Center was the tour guide. The initial plan was to have one bus. However, preregistration was so strong it required two buses for the trip.
Congregations involved included those who are part of Evanston Own It and Evanston Interfaith Clergy and Leaders. Clergy who helped plan the trip were Pastor Kat Banakis of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet the Free Synagogue, Pastor Carlis Moody Jr. of Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, Pastor Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Church of Evanston and Pastor Kenneth Cherry of Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church.
Others included Pastor Deborah Scott of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church; Rabbi Rachel Weiss of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation; the Rev. Tim Stevens, former Northwestern University chaplain; George Davis of the Baha’i Temple, and Pastor Martha Holmes of Bethany Baptist Church of Christ.
The Evanston experience included visits down Dempster Street near the lake, where several Black families lived in the 1880s; tours of Ebenezer AME Church and Second Baptist Church, the oldest African American congregations in Evanston; a look at the former Foster Street School and more.
The group also visited Shorefront Legacy and enjoyed learning about the history of the organization and its important work. After two hours, the group reassembled at Beth Emet for dinner and small group discussions led by Black and white clergy members.
On March 12, Evanston Own It and Evanston Interfaith Clergy and Leaders sponsored a second field trip, to Chicago. Once again, two buses were needed because of the number of people who preregistered.
The buses left from Beth Emet and visited the apartment complex where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King lived in 1966. The participants went to a food market in Englewood and heard from residents.
They went to the Lawndale Community Church where they were greeted by Pastor Jonathan Brooks and heard a lecture by Natalie Moore, author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation.
They also visited Marquette Park, where Rami Nashashibi of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network addressed the group.
The group also visited Beth Shalom Bnai Zaken, an Ethiopian Hebrew Synagogue, where they were warmly received by Rabbi Capers Funnye. The synagogue hosted dinner for the visitors, who broke into small groups for discussions led by Black and white clergy members. After nearly six hours of learning together, the group returned to Evanston.
Racism was not eliminated, false history about slavery and racism is still being taught in many areas of the nation. But slowly and steadily, there is a movement toward improving race relations. While the attendees were mostly white, Black religious leaders and some Black participants are learning the importance of building relationships and friendships with one another.
At a time when so many in faith communities are spewing divisiveness, it is good to see an interfaith community sewing seeds of unity. Perhaps Evanston really is the incubator toward a national rebirth that includes reparations, repair, renewal and improvement in race relations. This movement is growing.
I don’t know how “to eliminate racism, relearn the false history about slavery, or how to improve race relations.” And by the way it seems to me that I’ve heard these kinds of problems discussed in Evanston since I came to this country in 1966. And so far it seems no one has found a solution.
But I know that “friendships” are more easily formed between two people when there is something in common in their background or their experiences growing up. For example, it is so much easier for me to start a friendship with a latino person than an asian or even american, because there is a background and lifelong experiences that we share. I live near Northwestern and notice that most times when students go around in groups most of the time those groups are within the same background or nationality. So they are either all American, or Asian, or Hispanic…all black or all white.
It is also easier for me to start a relation with someone who has a similar degree of education than I have. Or with whom I share some kind of adventure or job or activity. May be church, or some kind of community activity, for example. Is this too simplistic?
There is another issue not mentioned in the article, and it is that whenever people talk about “injustices,” they mention bad schools with very little money and equipment….which causes disadvantages. However here in Evanston we have a school system that is among the best and the richest in the nation! But with a terrible achievement gap! So a push towards education doesn’t seem as strong as the push towards the issues mentioned in the article.
Martin Luther King Jr said, “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about the things that matter.” So I will say as I feel it: Why is there an achievement “gap” in Evanston and has been there forever, before I came in 1966? MLK Jr is cherished, admired and adored, but not imitated!
Everything about him spelled the importance of FAMILY (meaning mother AND FATHER), religious faith, and EDUCATION! He attended colleges and universities and was highly educated! So were his parents! And perhaps this should be the aim today in Evanston: for those kids who are not doing well in school, have a way to make their parents (or unfortunately for most of them single moms…) become involved in their children schools, in their education! Which at least will provide high dividends to those kids who are not doing so well today.
This is what multitude of studies show: “Parents who are more involved in their children’s education have children who do better in school. (They) have better grades, higher standardized test scores, and are less likely to get in trouble for their behavior at school. Conveying to children the importance of education, such as by talking with them about what they’re learning in school, to helping with homework to communicating with teachers to volunteering in the classroom… has shown to be of primary importance for the success of students.”
History is so important. It is vital to our understanding of the present and how to move forward. In Ghana, West Africa, it is symbolized by the Sankofa bird image. The bird is looking backwards to symbolize that one cannot move forward unless they know from where they have come from.
With that being said, there are challenging problems in our community around race and equity. Quite frankly, the clergy in Evanston are often silent about race and inequity or they engage in performative publicity seeking events to create the color of action.
I am certain that Dr. King would be so disappointed by our cautious clergy who seem to serve more to appease the powerful and wealthy rather than work to free the poor and oppressed.
Some of the clergy mentioned in this piece are supporters of the Northwestern University stadium proposal. I am stunned that clergy would endorse Northwestern’s talking points around jobs and economic development for the Black Community with NU’s poor track record in that area.
There are significant needs in Evanston for many in this community. Many of those needs arise from a structured system throughout Evanston and America that advantages white people over everyone else. Dr. King fought to highlight white supremacy and then worked to deconstruct and destroy its pillars. He was courageous and ultimately his life ended because of this battle.
People forget that at the end of his life Dr. King wasn’t a part of the “in” crowd. He was ostracized and hated by the establishment. That’s why it is so ironic to me to see Evanston clergy so comfortable with the establishment pushing projects to continue and even advance the status quo.
Sometimes looking backwards requires that see a history as it really was and not a 21st century remix absent of the sacrifice and struggle. Dr. King was respected, but he was also hated by those that embraced the status quo.
There are some in our community who are attempting to lift up a false narrative of racial progress that isn’t supported in authentic structural change or advancement by the disenfranchised. I think they need to look back so that we can move forward.