46 Years Later: Connecting #mlk’s Last Speech to #abetterillinois

April 4, 2014

46 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. In his last years, King focused his work on addressing the intersections between economic inequality, poverty and race. King was in Memphis to support the Memphis Sanitation Strike, a critical first campaign in his larger Poor People’s Campaign.

In his last speech, King said, “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”

46 years after Dr. King spoke those words, economic and racial inequality are more strongly connected than ever.  As we see in this article, income inequality is growing in our city. Chicago’s staggering economically polarization is concentrated in communities of color, and nearly entirely in neighborhoods where CPS closed more that fifty Chicago Public Schools last year.

40 Years of Chicago’s Rising Inequality, in One GIF

We cannot stop our work to combat poverty.  JCUA is committed to addressing economic inequality in our city and state.  That is why we are members of the A Better Illinois coalition.  By working with A Better Illinois on changing Illinois’ flat rate income tax system, we are not only advocating for a more fair income tax.  We are also advocating for a solution to Illinois’ massive deficit and the resulting cuts in vital programs and services for the economically marginalized.  Together, we can stop the growing stratification in Chicago and draw a new map with more just colors.

 Want to get more involved with JCUA and A Better Illinois?  Click here.

Following the Legacy of Mayor Washington, 26 Years Later

December 2, 2013

Harold Washington served as Chicago’s first African-American Mayor from 1983 until his death in 1987. Christopher Huff, JCUA’s community organizing intern, attended the ceremony commemorating 26 years to Mayor Washington’s death, on November 25. In this post, Christopher reflects on the future of Washington’s legacy. 

by Christopher Huff
Community Organizing Intern, JCUA

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington's grave.

Christopher Huff at Mayor Washington’s grave.

Fairness is much more than just a favored position. Fairness is a necessary condition for the existence of a civilized society. Fairness is a guard against injustice and a key component to any act derived from the intent to be free from bias or prejudice.

We must never forget this important role that fairness plays in the development of our society. Fairness is one of the most important tools we have to ensure not only the promotion of social justice, but the advancement of economic and political opportunities for those in need.

No leader could have understood these concepts more than former Chicago mayor Harold Washington. His belief in the advancement of fairness as a crucial value to promote during his campaign and tenure as mayor is arguably the most salient issue addressed during his inaugural speech in the fall of 1983. In this speech he said:

“I hope someday to be remembered by history as the Mayor who cared about people and who was, above all, fair…

One of the ideas that held us all together said that neighborhood involvement has to take the place of the ancient, decrepit and creaking machine. City government for once in our lifetime must be made equitable and fair.”

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington's cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Mayor Washington at a JCUA event in 1983. With him (right to left): Rabbi Robert Marx (JCUA founder), Jane Ramsey (JCUA executive director, who later served in Washington’s cabinet), and Kurt Rothschild (then JCUA Board president).

Now, we fast forward 30 years following his inauguration and exactly 26 years past his shocking death and there I stood in front of his gravesite as a community organizer in training at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and student at the University of Chicago – School of Social Service Administration inspired by his words and dedicated to a call for a more fair Chicago for all the city’s residents.

Chicago has a come a long way since the passing of the Harold Washington. It has grown to become home to more than 2.7 million people and the second largest labor force in the United States. It remains the premier location for global conventions, tourists, and immigrants of all types of colors, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds.

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington's memorial ceremony. He said: "We will not let let the flame burn out... without Harold there is no Barack."

Jesse Jackson speaking at Washington’s memorial ceremony. He said: “We will not let let the flame burn out… without Harold there is no Barack.”

However, if we are going to truly address the issues of racism, classism, and anti-Semitism that has plagued our city for generations once and for all, we must increase our willingness to work collaboratively across culture and religion – regardless of any fear or caution we might possess.

For nearly 50 years, JCUA has worked collaboratively across various cultures and religions to help address issues of race, class, and anti-Semitism.  Building on the prophetic Jewish values of “Tzedek” (justice) and “Tikkun Olam,” (repairing the world), JCUA inspires me to continue working toward the creation of a more fair and just Chicago.

And now, more than ever, I hope that you also stay committed to the principles of Tzedek and Tikkun Olam as you look to continue or renew your commitment to Jewish life.

Can You Step Up Against Gun Violence? Lakeview Meeting On 11/19

November 13, 2013

no to gunsblue boxGun violence is continuously harming Chicago communities, and disproportionately harming people of color and women. Unfortunately, in June of 2013, the Illinois General Assembly passed an overly permissive law that allows citizens to carry concealed weapons with few limitations.

It’s time for the Jewish community to step up in the fight against gun violence. And we need your help.

JCUA is joining a coalition of diverse communities in a campaign to begin taking back gun legislation in Illinois.

This campaign’s goal: to ban guns in houses of worship. 

It won’t be easy, which is why we need YOUR help. JCUA is holding a first meeting for people who may be interested in stepping up in this campaign and being leaders.

Together we can build a Jewish response to gun violence, and be strong partners for our allies throughout Chicago. But it won’t happen without people like you, who are willing to step up. I hope to see you on November 19.

Asaf Bar-Tura
JCUA Director of Operations

P.S. You’re welcome to bring your dinner to the meeting (Whole Foods is next door, and Milt’s BBQ is a couple of blocks away).

Stopping Gun Violence: When a Catholic Senator Quotes Heschel

October 22, 2013

“Mothers of Courage, fathers of time… sisters of mercy, brothers of love… Seekers of truth and keepers of faith, makers of peace and wisdom of ages…we are the spirit of God … we are one” – from “We Are” (by Sweet Honey in the Rock).

ap-gun-violence-prayer-vigil-4_3_r536_c534On Friday, October 18, the grassroots group “Fierce Women of Faith” (of which JCUA is a member) hosted an interfaith anti-violence training symposium. It began  with lifting up prayers and voices in song, and recognizing that Chicago is in a state of emergency.

Speakers proclaimed that faith and action are both needed, and asked attendees to commit themselves to working together for real change. This was beautifully illustrated when state Senator Jacqueline Collins quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to illuminate how her Catholic faith compels her to speak up in the face of injustice.

The symposium’s keynote speaker Dr. Carol Adams, the CEO of the DuSable Museum, declared that she was tired of meeting, talking and pontificating. Addressing Chicago’s violence epidemic was about more than words. Dr. Adams honored us with her poem, “We need some more neighbor in this hood!!” about the importance of human connection and of being active participants in our lives.

Dr. Adams emphasized the need to engage faith communities in politics, because politics affects justice. Policies do not exist in a vacuum and we must be aware of all of the ramifications – intentional or not. One example is the Zero Tolerance policy: zero tolerance for violence sounds great – at first. Yet we have to dig deeper, not remaining content with thinking we did the right thing by stopping all those ‘problem’ children. What happens to all the youth that now have fewer opportunities and options because they have been labeled a problem so early in life? If that policy had been in place when she was in school, she would likely not be standing before us today.

We have almost all heard that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, but Dr. Adams asks if we understand what that really takes? We cannot raise only the child and ignore the village, nor can we ignore the child as we focus on building the village. People and systems must be worked on and with simultaneously. It will be and is difficult, but it necessary, and as people of faith, it is imperative to recognize that all one needs is already there – us.

Dr. Adams suggests that it’s time we all get busy.

Get more involved in JCUA’s work to stop gun violence – contact Asaf Bar-Tura: asaf@jcua.org

Be part of the Solution to Gun Violence in Chicago

October 16, 2013
Fierce Women of Faith at peace vigil

Fierce Women of Faith at peace vigil

Violence in Chicago is a problem, but we believe that working together, we can reach a solution. But we can’t do it without you.

Knowledge and collaboration is power, so join JCUA and our partners in attending the Fierce Women of Faith Training Symposium on Friday, October 18, 2013.


  • WHEN: 8:30am-12:00pm, Friday October 18, 2013 (registration opens at 8:00am)
  • WHERE: Chicago Theological Seminary, 1407 E. 60th St (map it!)
  • DIRECTIONS: If you are taking public transportation, CTS is just a five minute walk from the 6 bus. There is also free parking in the lot on the South end of the building as well as street parking near the entrance at the North end.

Suggested Donation: $20-$30

Young JCUA leaders at vigil with Fierce Women of Faith

Young JCUA leaders at vigil with Fierce Women of Faith

What to expect?

  • Engaging with topics of advocacy, awareness and community building.
  • Learn about addressing violence from a legislative perspective with the Illinois Council on Handgun Violence’s Campaign Director, Mark Walsh and Senator Jacqueline Collins.
  • Recognize vital aspects of community engagement including working with youth and other community partners like hospitals and the CPD.

Find the JCUA group at the event:

At the event look for JCUA staff (particularly Rebecca Katz and organizing intern Beth Filipiak) with our blue JCUA logos during registration.  Rebecca will hold a brief gathering after the symposium to discuss JCUA’s next steps in our anti-violence campaign. She will be holding a JCUA sign to help everyone gather.

Help Stop the Violence:

  • Tell us more about your interest and RSVP here.
  • For more information about Friday, contact Rebecca at rebecca@jcua.org
  • For more information about all of our anti-violence work, contact asaf@jcua.org

MLK Day of Action: A Declaration of “the Most Evident of Truths”

January 28, 2013
Roy, Stacy, Hana, Joel, Sam at Bright Star

Roy, Stacy, Hana, Joel, Sam at Bright Star

By Rebecca Katz, JCUA Manager of Teen Programs

On Monday, January 21st, around 100 people came together for an MLK Day of Action, an interfaith and intergenerational event organized by Anshe Emet Synagogue, Bright Star Church, and JCUA’s Or Tzedek.

Moved by the legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. on his federal holiday and President Barack Obama’s historic second inauguration, children, teens and adults from Chicago’s Jewish and African American communities committed their considerable energy, time, and passion to renew their shared commitment to create social justice in their city.

While the temperatures outside were freezing, people inside Bright Star Church talked of the warmth they felt, generated by the openness of all participants to share their own experiences and listen to the assets and challenges of another community.

Rabbi David Russo, Pastor Chris Harris and Rebecca Katz emphasized throughout the day that this was only the beginning of a relationship between both communities; “Lehitraot,” or “see you soon,” were Rabbi Russo’s parting words.

Read the rest of this entry »

[Event 1/31] “Lawndale Conversations Series: The Contract Buyers League”

January 23, 2013

by Max Harkavy
Communications Intern, JCUA

On January 31st at 6pm, the Hull House on UIC’s campus will be hosting an event titled “Lawndale Conversations Series: The Contract Buyers League.”  The Hull House is convening in partnership with the North Lawndale branch of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS), and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) in order to raise awareness about the Contract Buyers League and the history of its neighborhoods, specifically North Lawndale.  North Lawndale has a rich narrative and many feel that in order to bring about change in the community this narrative has to be brought to light.

Contract Buyers League Protesters

Contract Buyers League Protesters

The Contract Buyers League was a union of African Americans during the 1960s that fought the exploitative sale of homes to blacks through the selling of contracts.

“I think it’s really important to tell this story to make all the people that lived through it proud of their accomplishment, and to raise awareness among the younger population,” said John Wolf, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the NHS North Lawndale office.

Neighborhood Housing Services seeks to promote positive change from within the community.  Director Charles Leeks believes that, “In order to turn a neighborhood around, you have to recognize what the community has been.”  Leeks explained that sometimes people choose to ignore the community’s past, “if it is not convenient for them at any given moment.”  The goal of this event is to raise awareness of North Lawndale’s rich past and to foster pride from within.

Rutgers University Professor, Beryl Satter

Beryl Satter

There will be three guest speakers at the event.  The first is Beryl Satter, author of the book, “Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America” which tells the tale of the Contract Buyers League and the struggle against unfair housing practices that occurred throughout the 40s to the 70s.  Satter’s father was an attorney who fought for equal rights for African Americans during the time of the Contract Buyers League.

Co-Chairman of the Contract Buyers Leage, Clyde Ross

Clyde Ross

The second speaker will be Clyde Ross, who was at one time the co-chairman of the Contract Buyers League, and was recently named the recipient of the Neighborhood Heroes Award given to him by the NHS.  Ross still lives in the house he bought under contract.

Jack Macnamara

Jack Macnamara

The final speaker is Jack Macnamara, a Jesuit seminary during the time of the Contract Buyers League.  He also worked as a community organizer that brought people together on issues concerning the Contract Buyers League in the 1960s.

“The image of community and the way north Lawndale is projected in the press is often negative but this event is a way of talking about positives from the community and one the biggest positives of North Lawndale is its history,” said Wolf.

Interfaith and Intergenerational MLK Day of Action

January 18, 2013

Heschel and KingFollowing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 40th yahrtzeit and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Or Tzedek, Anshe Emet Synagogue and Bright Star Church  are excited to look to the memories of Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King as inspirations, and to be activated by their words to combat the interconnected issues of violence and education injustice today.
What: MLK Day of Action
Where: Bright Star Church, 735 East 44th Street
When: Monday, January 21, 10 am-2:30 pm
Sign up here!

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