by Nora Shelly
Before moving to Evanston seven years ago, Rev. Dr. Patricia Efiom raised her children in Bloomington, Indiana, where she said they were often the only children of color in their grade.
“Our children had to exist in that community,” she said. “I quickly learned the way to go about it was not to get angry but rather to educate myself and educate the people around you.”
When she moved to Evanston, Efiom said she felt it was a “natural outcome” to work in the community on issues of equity. Efiom was appointed Monday to be Evanston’s equity and empowerment coordinator, a new position focusing on equity in the city.
Since moving to the city, Efiom has been involved with her church, Ebenezer AME, and Evanston Own It, a coalition of various church clergy and city officials dedicated to fostering a sense of community in Evanston. She was also a project director of the Garrett-Evanston CDF Freedom Schools Program, a summer program for Evanston elementary school students.
City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said in a statement Efiom had been a “leader” and “conscience of our community” for years.
“She understands the challenges we face in our city, state and nation to provide equitable programs and services to all,” he said. “Her many years of championing these issues in Evanston will only make the city’s efforts moving forward that much stronger.”
Efiom said the job seemed like a “natural fit” after years of serving her community. Her most important role will be to listen to residents, she said.
“We make far too many assumptions as to what the issues are,” she said. “I want to hear what the community is really feeling, and what the community feels that it needs.”
The position was created with the 2017 budget, which was passed in November, with the intention of assessing the need for equity-related policies across the city and coordination among community partners on issues of equity.
Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said she was excited about what the new position could bring to the city.
“It will be really important for the city to have someone in that designated job to look and see at everything that we do … is done from an equity lens,” she said.
The new position has already gained attention among Evanston residents. Over the weekend, members of the Open Communities’ Evanston Justice Team — which is focused on facilitating diversity efforts in the city — sent a letter to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and candidates for City Council positions asking for them to support the establishment of a Evanston Citizens Equity Advisory Board in light of the position’s creation.
The advisory committee, if created, would help the coordinator “develop and implement a viable plan” to address equity issues in the city. The letter suggested the city partner with groups such as Organization for Positive Action and Leadership and the Evanston YWCA.
“We believe there is a need for this person to receive regular input and direction from stakeholders in the community who have been in the forefront on organizing on equity issues,” the letter said.
OPAL president Cicely Fleming, who signed the letter, said the advisory committee would “ensure that the person the city has hired is going to be supported.”
Fleming — a candidate for 9th Ward alderman — said her ideal version of the advisory committee would have oversight powers and hold the coordinator accountable, hopefully bringing more voices into the conversation.
“We needed to have a way to make sure that things are explored and implemented correctly,” she said.
Efiom said she would support the creation of an advisory committee and that as the coordinator would be to “get out there, to really listen and to hear the community.” As coordinator, Efiom said she would spend the first few months on the job talking to community organizations and holding possible forums with residents.
She added she would try to focus equally on the issues of equity and empowerment.
“The empowerment piece is making sure groups that are underrepresented historically are empowered as having a place at the table,” she said.