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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Leaders Hosting ‘Uncomfortable Conversations’ About Systemic Racism: ‘We Have To Get On The Same Page’

The virtual events will be a series of frank conversations about what racism is and how it still impacts Black people in Chicago.

Gino Laurent of the Roseland neighborhood holds a sign on May 30, 2020 as protests occurred downtown Chicago for the second day and night in a row following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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NORTH LAWNDALE — West Side leaders are planning a series of community conversations about race so Chicagoans of different backgrounds can find common ground and begin rooting out systemic racism.

The four-part event series, Uncomfortable Conversations, will look at how systemic racism impacts Black people. It will be convened by Michael Eaddy, president of the People’s Community Development Association of Chicago.

The virtual event series starts 5 p.m. Tuesday. Discussions planned for Feb. 9, Feb. 23 and March 9 will build on topics explored in the previous conversation.

“The problems are not new. They’ve always been here,” Eaddy said.

But the George Floyd protests, the coronavirus pandemic, and the insurrection at the Capitol have brought racial disparities and the need for reconciliation to the forefront, he said.

Healing the racial divide begins with recognizing racism is not a thing of the past, Eaddy said. To move past racism, people must recognize where racism lives and acknowledge the ways they participate in it, even when it is not their intention.

“The truth is, there is a Black awareness and a white awareness. We have to get on the same page. Many times, we are looking at the same thing, but we are seeing two different perspectives … two different realities,” Eaddy said.

The theme of the first discussion is awareness. This session will be about recognizing the lived experiences of Black people who encounter racism, and honoring each person’s individual truth, said David Davidson, a racial equity specialist from Courageous Conversations. Davidson will facilitate the discussions.

The forum will be “not a debate, but a dialogue of what it means to be socialized in a system in which we go about thinking about one another through a lens of race,” Davidson said.

The following three Uncomfortable Conversations will focus on breaking down barriers between siloed communities, bringing people together and finding reconciliation, organizers said.

Eaddy developed the series of community conversations in partnership with Sinai Chicago, West Side United, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, Chicago Youth Centers and St. Agatha’s Parish.

This reckoning with race is meant to include residents of the West Side and leaders of organizations and nonprofits that serve the area, said Debra Wesley, executive director of the Sinai Community Institute.

“We do have board members who represent a variety of organizations that don’t have the lived experience of those who are in the community that they want to really genuinely impact,” Wesley said.

The conversations will challenge the leaders of organizations that do work on the West Side to hold themselves accountable and think critically about how they can “make sure that [their] policies are taking into consideration racism.”

Discussions about race are difficult because of the myths that racism no longer exists and the United States is a free and equal society, Eaddy said. But this conversation is long overdue because systemic racism influences every aspect of life on the West Side. Those impacts are evident in the disparities Black people face in wealth, education, health outcomes and incarceration, he said.

“Systemic racism is impacting criminal justice and police reform. It is impacting how health services are often provided. It’s impacting how resourced our schools are. It is impacting the economic disinvestment we have all observed in our communities,” Eaddy said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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