Since 2008, Open Communities has bestowed annual awards to recognize the outstanding achievements of north suburban individuals to bring about inclusive, diverse, and integrated suburbs. These awards are named for three founders of Open Communities – Rayna & Marvin Miller and Jean R. Cleland – who were civil rights activists in the suburbs not as a profession, but as a passion.
“The reason we do these awards is to show ordinary people you can make a difference,” says Gail Schechter. “There are ways to advocate for people in your own backyard. Also, it’s an opportunity to let communities know they are being watched. We hope it will raise attention to housing, economic and social justice issues.”
Father Robert Oldershaw, Pastor Emeritus of St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, is the winner of the Rayna and Marvin Miller Community Justice Award for his leadership in all areas of housing, economic and social justice that manifest as grassroots action for inclusive and diverse north suburban communities.
“Father Oldershaw walks the walk instead of merely talking the talk, welcoming Latino residents throughout the northern suburbs to his community and encouraging his parishioners in support of myriad human rights campaigns,” said Open Communities’ Executive Director Gail Schechter. “We know there are many faith communities concerned about justice issues like fair and affordable housing, reducing poverty, ending discrimination, and immigration reform; and we hope conferring this award on Father Oldershaw inspires others to follow his example of transforming belief into action.”
“We need to multiply ourselves – entrust and trust those within our communities to be heralds of justice, advocates for affordable housing,” Father Oldershaw exhorted his fellow clergy colleagues at an Open Communities forum in 2004. He echoes the spirit of the Millers, who fought for justice on the North Shore, when he asserts: “We should not answer as much as we question – calling the question for our folks who live very comfortably and securely. They and we need to be troubled by those who don’t.
Ellen and Ed McManus, Wilmette residents and long-time advocates for affordable housing and accessibility to people with disabilities, were named the first Jean R. Cleland Social Action Award recipients. Created this year, the award honors one of the North Shore’s most stalwart champions for housing justice. Cleland was a founder of Open Communities along with the Millers.
“Ed and Ellen McManus are outstanding examples of drawing from one’s own life experiences to better the world for others,” said Schechter. “As the parents of a daughter who is disabled, they have worked not only on behalf of people with disabilities in housing, small businesses, public accommodations, schools, but also for racially and economically diverse housing, gun control and peace.”
The McManuses were instrumental in convincing the Village of Wilmette in 1988 to allow group homes and to expand the scope of its Housing Assistance Program, originally only for seniors. Individually and jointly, they have held leadership roles with the District 39 School Board, the Wilmette Housing Commission, Fellowship of Reconcilitation, Chicago Area Peace Action and numerous commissions supporting youth and disabilities. They are two of the founders of Wilmette Cares, a grassroots advocacy campaign championing Wilmette as an affordable, inclusive and accessible community.
Both awards embody Open Communities’ transformation in 2012 from one focused exclusively on fair and affordable housing in the northern suburbs to one that promotes positive change by educating, advocating and organizing for housing, economic and social justice. The change has provided the opportunity to expand the agency’s capacity to assist local residents to come together around issues related to housing, such as equitable public school funding and immigrant integration.
The “Say Yes!” Miller and Cleland Awards Benefit for Open Communities will take place on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at the Evanston Woman’s Club, 1702 Chicago Avenue, at 6:30 p.m. To learn more about how you can become involved in social justice work in the northern suburbs, or to purchase tickets to the June 10 event, click here.