LOGAN SQUARE — Continuing weeks of activism, demonstrators converged on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s house in Logan Square on Tuesday night to protest police brutality.
In the middle of it, staging their own peaceful sit-in, was a group of South Side families trying desperately to keep their day care open.
Little Angels Learning Center in Englewood is at risk of shutting down permanently in just a few days, director Nashone Greer-Adams said. The city is only funding Little Angels through June 30.
The day care was one of many community childcare centers across the city to lose funding last year. The stripped city dollars account for more than one-third of the day care’s annual budget.
Asked about Little Angels, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services said the city extended funding for it and other child care centers until July 1, for several months beyond the end of their original contracts. But the spokesperson did not directly answer whether the city planned to fund the center from July on.
With days left before funding runs out, families whose children go to Little Angels camped out in front of Lightfoot’s house all day Tuesday and into the wee hours Wednesday to demand the city continue funding the day care.
“We gotta do something to get the mayor’s attention,” Little Angels parent LaTeShia Hollingsworth said. “We have been trying for eight months to get the mayor’s attention, to get on her radar, and it’s not working.”
The group stayed out on the block all day and intended to sleep in the tents, but Chicago police officers guarding Lightfoot’s home from a nearby protest convinced the families to go home around 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Hollingsworth said her group didn’t get an opportunity to speak with the mayor despite camping out on her block all day and night. She said at one point Lightfoot opened her blinds but she closed them immediately.
Instead Hollingsworth and her group attracted attention from the many Chicago police officers who were stationed on the block to guard against the nearby protest. Officers repeatedly asked the group to leave.
“The same energy that the Chicago police department put into us last night — they should’ve been out there patrolling the streets. We had a total of 20-30 officers out there last night, getting ready. … to take us to jail,” Hollingsworth said. “I sat there and explained to them that it was no type of disrespect, no kind of uproaring. I feel like it didn’t take so many officers to come to a parents’ peace sit-in. We had kids that were scared.”
Little Angels has operated out of a tiny church for 26 years. In 2018, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel awarded the day care more than $1 million to move into a new larger space that would double as a community center.
But when the administration changed, that plan became much more complicated, Greer-Adams said. In essence, Lightfoot’s administration has stripped Little Angels of its operational budget, making it “impossible” for the day care to execute the previously approved capital project.
If Little Angels were to close, it would be a huge loss for the under-resourced neighborhood, Hollingsworth and Greer-Adams said. Little Angels provides childcare, but it also provides support for families.
“When you’re going through something and you don’t have no one to talk to. … If you’re homeless and you’re looking for a job, they have a family support specialist you can go and talk to. If you’re going through a moment when you just want to give up, they help find you resources. They don’t just leave you in the dark,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s not a lot of places in Englewood where you can get that. It’s a safe haven.”
Hollingsworth has four children and a fifth on the way. Three of her children, ages 14, 12 and 8, have graduated from Little Angels. Her fourth child, who is 1 years old, was enrolled at Little Angels before the citywide stay at home order came down in mid-March.
The day care has been closed since then and will not reopen unless the city steps up and provides funding.
Hollingsworth and other parents at day care centers across the city launched the Campaign for Equitable Learning Funding to save childcare centers that have lost city funding.
Greer-Adams said the city’s reasoning for stripping funding — that Little Angels didn’t meet certain criteria to stay open — doesn’t make sense. She said the city awarded them money to open a new center based on their educational achievements.
“We were on a great venture with the city, with their support. For them to come and disrupt it …,” Greer-Adams said, trailing off.
Greer-Adams said she worries what will happen to families that have come to depend on Little Angels if the day care were to close for good.
“You’re going to have families that already, as a result of COVID, are experiencing mental health issues. They will have no support. You’re going to have families that are using substances as a coping mechanism. … You’re going to have generational cycles repeat itself again. Children and education — there’s going to be a big gap there. And that’s going to lead to our incarceration rate,” she said.
“If you take that away from families and communities that are already broken, how does the mayor expect them to live up to their fullest potential?”
A half a block away from where the Little Angels group were gathered, demonstrators calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, among other things, engaged in a stand off with Chicago police officers Tuesday night.
According to photos shared on social media, protesters were greeted by dozens of police officers, many of them not wearing masks, at a barricade at Wrightwood and Kimball avenues. Police had closed off the section of Wrightwood Avenue that included the mayor’s home.
The Little Angels group was stuck inside the area during the protest. Hollingsworth said they weren’t allowed to leave to get food and water. Neighbors and advocates were supportive and gave the group supplies and let them use their bathrooms and phone chargers, but police officers just kept insisting they pack up and stop protesting, Hollingsworth said.
Some on Twitter criticized the mayor for deploying so many officers to guard her home during the protest.
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