Thanks to WNUR-FM 89.3 reporter Jennifer Zahn who asked to visit our April book group and submitted this report. Here's the transcript, and the recording, of her story. We'd love you to sign up for our next discussion on June 11!
When you think of a community center, art classes, playgrounds, and summer camps might come to mind. And although the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston is home to all of those things, on Tuesday evening, it was the location for a different type of activity. Over 50 people gathered inside the center for Dear Evanston’s Racial Justice Book Group which meets every other month. Past discussions have included readings that dealt with contemporary segregation in Chicago, eviction, and mass incarceration.
Dear Evanston co-founder Nina Kavin got the novel idea for the group in 2017. “So, a woman I know posted on Facebook about maybe two-and-a-half years ago about wanting to have a private book club for herself with her friends to talk about racial justice issues. Dear Evanston was very new. I thought ‘Wow! That would be amazing to do for the community.’ So I said to her, ‘What do you think?’ and she said ‘Go for it! Do it!’ and that’s how it started.” This month, the group read a book by John Diamond and Amanda Lewis titled "Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools." School Board members, educators, parents, and students showed up to participate in round table discussions about how the book’s findings related to the Evanston school system. Community members like Chuck Pierret also came. “Though I never had kids in Evanston schools, I still… it’s part of my community and I wanted to find out about it. And, I mean, it’s a very interesting topic about, how, despite the fact that we no longer seem to have racist views, we still come out with these outcomes that aren’t optimal and seem very racialized, I guess. And so, it was just a very interesting discussion about those kind of issues.” Topics brought up included standardized testing, privileged white parents hoarding resources for their kids, and the evaluation of specific local school policies in terms of equity. Former educator, Lewis Walker, said he thinks it’s very important for communities to have conversations like these about racial justice. “It’s almost like the air we breathe and we take things for granted that are really in need of major major overhauls. And those of us who are kind of privileged get away with that. I mean, you know? And it’s us, I think, that need to call, like put a mirror to things that are going on. And communicate to folks maybe in ways that only we can, who need to join us in re-evaluating the whole giant system. Because once you begin to see it for real, everything now just starts to have a whole different perspective and aspect to it. It’s a very great experience, and humbling experience as you go along.” Meanwhile, Carole Lynne Clifton grew up in the 5th Ward and came through its system at a time when it was heavily segregated and predominately African American. She said they didn’t have very many diverse or multicultural events within their community. “To me, tonight, this is so exciting for me just to sit here. Here I am, I’m 64 years old, I played over here when I was from like 6 to 10. So, to see the diversity in the room and that everybody is talking and engaged and it’s warm, and it’s exciting and it’s uplifting. It’s really a great... I’m glad that I got to see this tonight. I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad I came.” Clifton came to the book group with her daughter Teya Michelle Covin. Covin owns Sugar Baker, which catered for the event. At each book group, Kavin said she tries to hire minority caterers, especially smaller Black businesses. “I think that it fits in very very well with my mission, with Dear Evanston’s mission, to highlight those businesses. And to get people to taste their food, and to meet the people behind the food, and to hopefully hire them and support them, because I think that supporting racial equity through economics is really important as well. Dear Evanston is an organization that tries to build bridges across the community and raise awareness and tell stories about various community members who are working on issues of race equity and youth gun violence.” The next Racial Justice Book Group meeting will take place on June 11, and revolve around Marc Lamont Hill’s book "Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond." Kavin said she hopes that everyone in the Evanston community feels free to come. “Wherever a person is on their journey to understanding race and racial equity, they have a place here to talk about it and to be able to feel vulnerable and to make mistakes, and not be looked at askance. That’s what I would say to people. This is a place where you can come and learn from people who are further along on the journey and sometimes you may just want to listen, sometimes you may want to talk, but everybody is welcome to come to this group. That’s the most important thing to me is that it’s available and open to everyone and anyone regardless of where you are on the journey. You have to be on the journey, you have to have decided that you want to learn about it..”