All posts filed under: Envisioning Justice

Restoring Community in North Lawndale: Interview with Rufus Williams of BBF Family Services

I met Rufus Williams at “Powerful Platforms: A Community’s Call to Action,” a BBF Family Services Open House event back in June, designed to bring community awareness to Envisioning Justice and BBF’s role as one of seven Envisioning Justice hubs throughout the city. Established in 1961 as a boxing gym for boys in the neighborhood, BBF (the initials reflect its former name, Better Boys Foundation) now provides resources for children and adults in North Lawndale, an area of Chicago historically vulnerable to political and social disenfranchisement. Current BBF programs address the broad developmental, educational, and employment needs of members of the community, including those reentering society from jail or prison. Williams is President and Chief Executive Officer of BBF Family Services. BBF is housed in a modern two-story building at 15th and Pulaski, luminous on the interior, with floor-to-ceiling windows on both floors that look onto an uncovered center courtyard. At the Open House there were arts and crafts for youngsters, and a community resource room where various local groups had set up tables, providing information …

Three Things You Need to Know About Bright Star Community Outreach

Bright Star Community Outreach (BSCO) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has focused on improving the Bronzeville Community for over 9 years. Born out of Bright Star Community Church, they have a strategy which includes developing impactful community development initiatives. Their plan of action targets violence, poor economic opportunities, child safety, drug abuse, inadequate mental health services, and homelessness. BSCO has a mission to strengthen local families and communities as well as empower residents to work collectively, establish relationships, and share the responsibility of building the community. They particularly target the South side of Chicago’s third and fourth ward. There they see an extensive need for more violence prevention measures to be taken and to get the community more involved in being there for one another. The importance of an organization like BSCO is to shed light in all of the dark places and to make sure the voices of minorities are not just heard but taken seriously. There is a need for something different in our communities, and BSCO definitely brings different to the table on …

Archivist and Activist Erin Glasco Envisions Rebuilding the Archive—From the Inside Out

Erin Glasco (her/hers; they/them) is an archivist and organizer based in Chicago. They have worked on archival projects with Free Street Theatre, the Chicago History Museum, and a Studs Turkel podcast project with WFMT Chicago and Eve Ewing. Additionally, they are currently a part of No Cop Academy, an effort led by Black youth in Chicago to demand $95 million for youth and communities, instead of a new facility for Chicago police. They received their Master’s in Library Science from UIC-UC and currently work as a Visiting Instructor  and Special Collections Librarian at UIC. I first met Erin at the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) as a Journalism undergrad at Columbia College Chicago. They were studying the Paul Robeson FBI files while I was studying ethnomusicology and the interconnectedness of Jamaican Dancehall music within Black American Hip Hop culture. I was astounded by how familiar Erin’s presence felt. Immediately, we were joking and laughing as if we were old college friends. Since 2014, our friendship has strengthened and our careers have aligned and intersected …

Meet the Envisioning Justice Residency Team

Envisioning Justice is a 19-month initiative presented by Illinois Humanities that looks into how Chicagoans and Chicago artists respond to the the impact of incarceration in local communities and how the arts and humanities are used to devise strategies for lessening this impact. As part of Envisioning Justice, a selected group of writers, photographers, activists, artists, and organizers are working with Sixty as residents to publish writing and photo documentation of the work happening at the cross-section of art and the criminal justice system across Chicago. Meet the residents: Ally Almore Photographer at Let Us Breathe Collective Website | She/Her Ally Almore is an artist and photographer born and raised in Chicago, IL. She grew up in a low-income immigrant family household in Pilsen that was always full of personality. A documenter for creatives from all walks of life, Ally is not afraid to saturate her images, because they usually accompany saturated narratives. The people she photographs are anything but bland and she believes that it’s her responsibility as a photographer to do them justice. She has always naturally been drawn to photography and the idea …

Emerging Community Challenges around Incarceration with Free Write and Restorative Justice Community Court

Surveillance, criminalization, and budget cuts to public services impact communities, environmental contexts, policies, and institutions. These issues affect social needs and challenge community-oriented responses to political issues. All these factors collide in our carceral systems at both personal and society-wide levels, and contribute to recidivism. Communities continue to question and to seek solutions and alternatives beyond state-driven mechanisms. Recently in Chicago, many of the direct actions and conversations at the community, local, and state levels have been related to systemic injustices. Immigration enforcement, budget cuts to mental health services, and surging violence’s purported connection to the morals of black and brown communities, funding allocated to policing within the county have been a few of the topics at the forefront of debate. Located in Cook County, Free Write Arts & Literacy and the Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) offer two community-oriented approaches at the intersections of re-entry and incarceration. Both organizations attempt to mitigate the effects of detainment for incarceration-affected youth and adults through creative programming and peace circles which center the harm done from non-violent crimes on …

“Prisoners Are Always Resisting”: The 2018 Prison Strike

Children’s laughter bounced off the walls of the Co-Prosperity Sphere gallery as a group of about 40 people gathered for a “Day of Solidarity” on August 4 in support of an upcoming national prison strike. All afternoon, people filtered in and out as organizers from Milwaukee to Oaxaca spoke, supporting organizations sold t-shirts and zines to fund strikers’ commissary, volunteers at a letter-writing station matched attendees with incarcerated pen pals, and musicians performed. The strike, set to begin August 21 and end September 9, was called for by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates. After a riot at Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina left seven inmates dead in April of this year, the group decided that they could no longer wait for the ideal conditions for a strike, as these kinds of tragedies would keep happening unless prisoners worked together. In an August 11 statement, the group wrote, “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. We know that our conditions are causing physical harm and deaths that could be …

People in attendance at open community event stand with arms raised participating in a community dance.

Just A Guy In A Suit: How Circles & Ciphers Resolves Conflict With Radical Hospitality

In the fall of 2017, I began attending Rogers Park Community Peace Circle as outreach for the Kola Nut Collaborative, a timebanking initiative where people trade skills and services using time as a currency. While I had participated in other spaces employing circle facilitation, the Community Peace Circle enriched my understanding of some basic rituals associated with circle keeping including lighting a candle, introducing talking pieces, and building shared values to be held during the circle. It would be several more months before I would realize the relationship between Circles & Ciphers and the Community Peace Circle as each entity re-formed and merged under a new mission statement. This mission explains that, “Circles & Ciphers is a hip-hop infused restorative justice organization led by and for young people impacted by violence. Through art-based peace circles, education, and direct action we collectively heal and work to bring about the abolition of the prison-industrial complex.” While the name struck me as familiar, I was unclear about Circles & Ciphers’ history, use of peace circle facilitation or desired outcomes for …

Whose Visions? Introducing the Envisioning Justice Residency

“On the whole, people tend to take prisons for granted. It is difficult to imagine life without them. At the same time, there is reluctance to face the realities hidden within them, a fear of thinking about what happens inside them. Thus, the prison is present in our lives and, at the same time, it is absent from our lives.” -Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? Sitting in the heart of the Chicago South Loop is the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison less than a mile from Grant Park. Every day, thousands of people walking to work, class, the Art Institute, or even a festival like Lollapalooza are unknowingly passing 663 people awaiting trial or serving out their prison sentences. Envisioning Justice, a two-year initiative organized by Illinois Humanities, aims to spur a “citywide conversation about the impact of incarceration in local communities.” To this end, Envisioning Justice was awarded $1,500,000 by the MacArthur Foundation as part of its Safety and Justice Challenge, which “seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about …

Envisioning an Abolitionist Future

What would the world be like if we eliminated prisons, surveillance, and policing? What types of alternative methods can we seek to pursue justice? What systems can we set in place to encourage people to come clean about their wrongdoings? These questions are at the center of the prison industrial complex (PIC) abolition movement, which aims to dismantle violent systems founded on oppression and inequality, including imprisonment, surveillance, and policing. These questions are also ever-relevant in Chicago, a city with a long history of racist police violence. Do Not Resist? 100 Years of Chicago Police Violence, a recent community-based, artist-led multi-site exhibition that took place across Chicago at the Hairpin Arts Center, Roman Susan Gallery, Uri-Eichen Gallery, and Art In These Times, presented artworks that dealt with Chicago’s history of police violence. The artworks focused on specific victims and incidents of police violence, shifting the dialogue to question the PIC more universally. The final event of the exhibition-related programming, “The Aesthetics of Abolition in the 21st Century,” brought together Mariame Kaba and Sarah Ross to discuss the …