Racial Healing and Equity

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

By: Ashmar Mandou

Recently, five organizations were selected as the inaugural cohort for the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation –Greater Chicago (TRHT Chicago) newly launched Truth, Healing, and Equity (T.H.E.) Fellowship. The fellowship is designed to support, educate, and build racial equity, racial healing and capacity for equitable police change in the greater Chicago community. Carole Robertson Center for Learning, Court Theatre, Gads Hill Center, Marwen, and Metropolitan Family Services will embark on an eight-month series consisting of workshops and one-on-one racial equity coaching to help them to develop and implement a strategy to “advance equitable policies and practices.” One of the fellows, Maricela Garcia, CEO of Gads Hill Center, discussed what the organization is looking forward to in the next eight months and how they aim to have a deepening connection with the community it serves.

Lawndale Bilingual News: It was recently announced that your organization was selected as part of the Truth, Healing, and Equity (T.H.E.) Fellowship program designed to address and promote racial equity and healing across the City. Please expound on what this fellowship signifies to you and what you look forward to as you begin this eight-month series?

Gads Hill Center CEO Maricela Garcia: The THRT Fellowship signifies the beginning of a paradigm shift amongst justice-minded organizations and individuals. Our community desperately needs a change in narrative–one that addresses the history of systemic oppression in this country and draws attention to the ways that communities are deprived of access, infrastructure, and resources. Despite the structural racism embedded in the political and legislative frameworks of both Chicago and the US as a whole, our communities rise up. They are dedicated to ensuring the future of our community and supporting systemic change. Gads Hill Center is honored to walk in solidarity with these communities and to build that future together. We are looking forward to holding space with other civic leaders in the Fellowship and contextualizing the history of Chicago within today’s progressive movement. We look forward to the ripple effect this will have in our community and beyond.

Part of the series includes the development of racial equity policies and strategies. How do you intend to implement these strategies so that it becomes part of our collective consciousness?

Our goal first and foremost, as a long standing proponent of racial justice, is to maintain accountability to the communities we serve. We intend to distill the knowledge and tactics gleaned from the fellowship into an organization-wide strategy that will involve all levels of leadership including the Board of Directors. This strategy will focus on changing the narrative both within our organization and outside of it, and educating our youth and our communities on the truth of our history. In doing so, we can begin to envision a new future defined by solidarity in action.

For many decades, residents decried racial inequalities, disinvestments, and disenfranchisement, especially from those in communities of color. In the past two years, their voices reached resounding levels of anger and hurt. What has it been for you to bear witness to the concerns expressed by the constituents in which you serve?

Gads Hill Center boasts a long history of social justice. When our agency was founded as a Settlement House in 1898, we provided critical resources to oppressed and often neglected immigrant populations. In providing these services, we have been privy to over a century of injustice, xenophobia, racism, and inequality. Within the past two years, the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism have exacerbated the hyper vulnerability of the communities we serve. The global health crisis only exacerbated preexisting structural inadequacies that threaten our community. In response to these disparities, the resource-deserts in which our families reside, and an inadequate government response. While it was clear that these already struggling families were now faced with a widespread crisis, we were (and continue to be) struck by the resilience and strength of the families we work alongside. We continue to be inspired by our families as we work together to recover from decades of oppression and from the recent crises.

How do you hope this fellowship deepens the connection your organization has with the residents it serves?

It is our hope that the Truth, Healing, and Equity Fellowship will enable us to embed community voice within every level of Gads Hill Center. By changing the narrative around our community, by educating ourselves and our neighbors on our history, and by acting in solidarity with the families we serve, we can find the common ground necessary to create lasting, sustainable change. We are excited to gain the tools and knowledge necessary to deepen our connection with a community of our friends, families, and neighbors. Gads Hill Center is not some distant, charitable benefactor. As an organization built by and for communities of color, we walk alongside our families toward a bright future.

The Truth, Healing, and Equity Fellowship is made possible from contributions from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and The Chicago Community Trust.

Photo Credit: Ajani Akinad

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