Gracie’s Cafe: Building Community One Cup At A Time

December 3, 2013

Gracie’s Café is the latest project of JCUA’s Community Ventures Program, which provides zero-interest loan for community development projects.  A long time coming, St. Leonard’s Ministries was able to open the doors of Gracie’s Café in September 2013 with a final push from a CVP economic development loan of $50,000. 

by Beth Filipiak
Organizing and Community Development Intern, JCUA

Gracies Cafe MenuChicagoans can certainly have their choice among coffee shops and cafés, but a few months ago in the Near West Side, a new café opened that is worth much more than a passing glance before heading onto something more familiar.  You won’t regret it.

Gracie’s Café is the latest venture of St. Leonard’s Ministry (SLM), an organization with almost 60 years’ experience of providing comprehensive residential, case management and employment development services for formerly incarcerated men and women.

Gracies Cafe from Chicago Gazette article Robert Dougherty Mike Ellert LaTonya Carter and Walter Boyd

Left to right: Bob Dougherty (from SLM), Mike Ellert (cafe manager), LaTonya Carter (cafe staff) and Walter Boyd (SLM director).

Each year, approximately 250-275 formerly incarcerated individuals reside in SLM’s four housing programs:  St. Leonard’s House, Grace House, St. Andrew’s Court and the Harvest Commons Residence, which opened late this summer in partnership with Heartland Alliance and is located in what was formerly known as the Viceroy Hotel.

Gracie’s Café, brightly lit and eco-friendly, is located on the ground floor next to the Harvest Commons garden.  In the summer there is patio seating and in the winter, friends can gather together inside and enjoy delicious year round Intelligentsia coffee and other warm beverages, light freshly prepared breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as Bridgeport Bakery pastries like apple squares and their season pumpkin bars.

The cafe staff

The cafe staff

Along with the great food and drink, customers can enjoy the warm feeling of knowing that they are supporting a great training program.

Gracie’s Café is staffed with graduates of SLM’s Culinary Skills program, which is run by its Employment Center.  As graduates of the training program, Gracie’s Cafe staff now receives valuable work experience and has the opportunity to meet with a job counselor to help them further their careers.

After training and working at Gracie’s Cafe, SLM’s goal is to move employees to stable, permanent jobs in communities and bring on new graduates to help them do the same.

As much more than a café, Gracie’s is definitely worth stopping by. Grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat or ask about their catering options.  They are also a great venue for smaller meetings, gatherings and just a great atmosphere.

Gracie’s Cafe in the Media:

Check out their recent feature in Gazette Chicago, and watch for more information on when they will be featured in Chicago’s own 30 Good Minutes, by the Sunday Evening Club on PBS.

Cafe Info:

  • 1519 W. Warren Blvd (plenty of street parking available!)
  • M-F: 7am – 2pm; S: 8am – 2pm
  • 312.492.8800
  • Visit and Like them on Facebook

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.

Contact: 
Asaf Bar-Tura
JCUA Director of Operations
asaf@jcua.org

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).



(Guest Post) Making Votes Count: A New Vision for Illinois

November 7, 2013

(Editor’s Note: JCUA encourages submissions for guest blog posts on issues of social concern in Chicago, and Illinois more broadly. To inquire about submitting a guest blog post, please contact: info@jcua,org).

banner maps

by Ryan Blitstein
Senior Advisor for “Yes for Independent Maps.”  

I want to tell you about the Illinois we all wish we lived in.

The Illinois where our tax dollars are spent wisely—helping someone’s child stave off hunger, instead of lining the pockets of corrupt politicians. The state where the decisions government makes are open to us, not manipulated by legislators working only for themselves. The Illinois where we can walk up to the ballot box on Election Day, and choose a leader to represent our needs, knowing that the outcome was not determined months before in some smoke-filled room.

We don’t live in that state yet. But we can build it together.

panda mapsLet me introduce you to Yes for Independent Maps, a campaign to fix the broken, secretive redistricting process and put the voters back in charge of Illinois.

What does redistricting reform have to do with our vision? Behind closed doors, partisan leaders carve up legislative districts to guarantee their re-election. They cut themselves off from accountability, so if they’re corrupt or not getting the job done, we can’t vote them out of office. Fixing redistricting is the first step toward transforming our state for the better.

Independent redistricting protects and expands representation for diverse racial, ethnic, and religious groups. After California instituted independent maps, it led to a fresh crop of Jewish legislators in Sacramento, who created the first-ever Jewish caucus to focus on issues of interest to the community. This new, independently elected State Legislature has also addressed some of the root causes of poverty, from outdated school funding formulas to a broken immigration system.

This isn’t about which party is in charge, and it isn’t about a candidate, either. No one person has the power to heal our broken political system, but together, we can make it happen. It all starts with voters like you.

It’s time to let go of our cynicism and believe in the power of movements to solve big problems. I know with the help of friends like you, we can make that happen here in Illinois.

If you want to get involved in this historic campaign, visit http://www.IndependentMaps.org.


A JCUA Board Member Explains: Why I Decided To Break The Law

November 6, 2013

by Sidney Hollander
JCUA Board Member

On Wednesday, November 6, 2013 JCUA board members, staff, and lay leaders will participate in an act of civil disobedience, in protest of ongoing deportations that are tearing apart immigrant families and in a call to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. 125 people will block streets surrounding the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Building in downtown Chicago, and thousands more will serve as witnesses. Sidney Hollander is a JCUA board member, past president of the board, and a member of JCUA’s Immigrant Justice Action Team.

Sidney Hollander

Sidney Hollander

I do not undertake civil disobedience lightly.  Law is a foundation of civilization, and is absolutely central to Judaism.  Jews are commanded to welcome the stranger.  The commandment is repeated more than thirty times, the most of any commandment in the Hebrew bible.

Unfortunately, for nearly four years the U.S. government has operated in flagrant disregard of that commandment, visiting a reign of terror on 11 million families who seek only to live peacefully and productively in their adopted country.

We are all dragged into this regime of discrimination and deportations.  We depend on immigrant labor but refuse to grant enough visas.  Worse, we then pretend that we bear no responsibility for the presence of undocumented workers among us.

I can no longer take refuge in the self-deception that blinds us to the terrible injustices perpetrated by our government.  We need fundamental reform of our immigration system.  Until it is enacted I will feel obligated to interfere with the “normal” life that is built on this hypocrisy and these injustices.

We can do better.  My small act of civil disobedience is a call to all of us to rediscover our humanity and welcome the stranger among us, as we are commanded.

—————

immigration group photo 1

In photo (left to right):
Maria Medina, Sidney Hollander,
Rebecca Katz, Peggy Slater.

Participants in the civil disobedience on behalf of JCUA include: Peggy Slater (JCUA Board President), Sidney Hollander (JCUA Board), Maria Medina (Chair of JCUA’s Immigrant Justice Action Team), and Rebecca Katz (JCUA’s Director of Teen Programs).

Other Jewish community leaders attending the rally include: Rabbi Fredrick Reeves (KAM Isiah Israel), Rabbi David Russo (Anshe Emet), Rabbi Brant Rosen (Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation), Kalman Resnick (immigration attorney and JCUA lay leader), and students from Chicagoland Jewish High School.


Tell Your Rabbi: Join the Fight for Economic Justice in IL

November 5, 2013

No one really likes taxes.  However, those same taxes that we grumble and complain about do what many of us cannot do on our own.  They provide the infrastructure to care for the elderly, educate our children, dispense healthcare and assist in keeping our communities safe.  The tax code serves as a moral document of our collective values.

stop giveawaysYet, Illinois is only one of nine states that insists that everyone be taxed at the same rate (a “flat” tax), as if we all have equal ability to pay.  Part of striving for justice is recognizing and fighting against systems and structures that create and perpetuate inequality.  Our tax system is one of them and it is time that we fight for a change.

JCUA has partnered with the “A Better Illinois” campaign to ask our General Assembly for a constitutional amendment to create a more just tax system.  Right now, the campaign is calling on leaders of faith to endorse the campaign, recognizing that our lives are lived for others, most specifically the widow, the orphan and the vulnerable.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

To help JCUA and A Better Illinois make an impact and create change, we need you talk to your Rabbi about the continued inequality and offer the chance to change it.  Ask your Rabbi to add their voice to our online petition asking for a constitutional amendment to create a fair, just and progressive tax.

A fair tax would:

  •  Allow for higher rates on those with higher incomes, and lower rates for those with lower incomes.
  • Provide resources for our schools and ensure that services to the vulnerable in our communities are maintained.
  • Stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and provide a means for Illinois to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
  • Provide desperately needed revenue for our state that has been lost because corporations have used loopholes to avoid paying their fair share.

TAKE ACTION:


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.

Details:

  • 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.
  • CLICK HERE TO RSVP

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


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