On October 30, 2013, Open Communities board members, staff and allies went on a tour of the North shore successes that Open Communities has been a part of.
- Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove
- Homesharing house in Skokie
- Oakton Public Transit Station
- Niles Township Schools’ ELL Parent Center in Skokie
- Shorefront Legacy in Evanston
- Shoreline Place by Linden CTA purple line stop with monument to Rayna Miller
- Gates Manor and the Village Green Atrium Senior condos in Wilmette
- Malinckrodt Site in Wilmette
We left Open Communities in Winnetka at 8:45am and arrived back before 2:00pm. It was a whirlwind of information and as reflected by many, “necessary to take a step back from our busy lives and work and reflect on all the successes and reasons we continue what we do.”
At our first desination, the Muslim school and community center in Morton Grove, we met with two community leaders to learn about the school. It is a pre-K to 8th grade parochial school that has instruction on Arabic, the Quran and religious studies along with Common Core. We were welcomed with as-salam alaykum (peace be upon you) by the principal. We learned about the most important beliefs of Islam and also its myths. Afterwards, we toured the school to see their students learning in action and needless to say, we were all very impressed.
Before and after the MCC school, we discussed past organizing efforts due to the displacement of 100+ families from hotels in Morton Grove and the “We are not blight” campaign. We learned all about Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and how it affects our communities. We then passed a Homesharing house in Skokie in which a widow is able to rent out two of her rooms to people in need of housing, one being a college student from New Hampshire. We saw a Skokie building where over 90 elderly Russians formed a tenant counsel and promote a recycling program through community dinners. It wasn’t even 11:00am yet!
We arrived at the Oakton CTA yellow line station to talk about the project Open Communities is working on with the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The idea is to combine commercial and residential housing within a half mile of the stop so that people are able to walk to and from the station and be more easily connected to use public transportation for work, groceries, etc. Currently, we observed a lot of vacancies and parking lots. Increasing this accessibility will create more affordable and fair housing for bigger families from diverse families with varying incomes. Just not having to own and/or maintain a car allows for a more manageable family budget. Additionally, as a result of this project, people will be encouraged to take advantage of the newly revitalized Skokie downtown area.
The next scheduled stop was the ELL Parent Center in Skokie. The Parent Center was founded in 2008 by districts in the Niles Township (Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove and Niles) to provide services for the growing immigrant population. The Center provides many classes such as English as a Secondary Language (ESL), computer classes and parenting classes. The Center is also a partner of the Parent Mentor Program in which parents volunteer to assist teachers in their child’s school. Visit their website to learn more about its impact: http://www.ellparentcenter.org/#!__pmp
Next we headed to Shorefront Legacy in Evanston. As if we all kept thinking on the trip, “this place is my favorite”, we were all about to think it again. Morris Dino Robinson Jr. showed us around the space that highlights contributions from the Black community in and around Evanston. I will spare you the details here because you have to go for yourself. The way Dino spoke of his identity and community is not meant to be shared via the internet but in-person. They are open to the public on Saturdays from 9am-2pm and by appointment during the week.
Open Communities has collaborated with Shorefront Legacy and the area was also ground zero for predatory lending creating a past campaign for fair housing. In 2007, we worked with Shorefront Legacy Center to document this multifacted decades-long quest for diversity, fair and affordable housing in the region through a series of display panels and a slide show presentation.
The final three sites in Wilmette were the homestretch back to the office that really drove home the feeling of “this is why we continue to do what we do.” Honoring founder and civil rights activist, Rayna Miller, followed by visits to past affordable housing campaigns that were successful in not displacing families and the elderly.
We pulled back up to the office and the conversations reluctantly veered off as everyone left with a rejuvenated motivation to continue promoting diverse and inclusive communities in the North shore. For more details on any of the sites visited or questions, please contact Gail Schechter at 847-501-5762, ext. 406 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For more photos, check out our Facebook album.