The Interfaith Community of Evanston is the first non-governmental institution in the city to join the local redress movement.
A group of 16 faith community leaders gathered in Fountain Square at noon on Monday to formally announce their intention to help with local reparations – both in community education and fundraising.
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss spoke at the event to a crowd of just under a hundred, saying he intended the town to be the focal point for the work of the local repair effort.
“But I’ll also say we welcome all the help we can get,” he said. “Because the magnitude of the task is such that it helps the point to impose itself. And so thank you to everyone who is here today, offering to step in to be part of this work.
The event was moderated by the Reverend Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Church of Evanston and included recorded messages from Biss, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9th), Dino Robinson and former City Council member Robin Rue Simmons, as well as words from a few others.
The clergy presented a statement — parts of which each leader took turns reading — on their renewed commitment.
“For more than 50 years, a faith-based movement has grown in this country in favor of reparations for black Americans,” the statement said. “We can educate our community about the history of racism in our country, including racism in our own community… [we can] raise funds to support repair efforts in Evanston, including the Evanston Reparations Community Fund.
The religious groups that participated in the event were:
- Beth Emet The Free Synagogue
- Buddhist Council of the Midwest
- Baha’i Community of Evanston
- Evanston Friends Reunion
- Evanston First Congregational Church
- First United Methodist Church
- Grace Lutheran Church
- Emmanuel Lutheran Church
- Jewish Reconstruction Congregation
- St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wilmette
- Evanston Lake Street Church
- St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
- Northminster Presbyterian Church
- St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
- United Catholic Youth Ministries (Catholic parishes)
- Evanston Unitarian Church
Each of the congregations present signed a document as a sign of unity, and the event ended with the singing of the Evanston Unitarian Church choir.
Pastor Laura Harris-Ferree is a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston and represented the congregation as one of the religious bodies signing the pledge.
They said their church joined because Grace Lutheran was encouraged by the repair fund, but they wanted to contribute to the repair beyond what the town of Evanston could offer.
“One of my members told me about 100,000 more people had to be here to hear this,” Harris-Ferree said. “But…we said that was the starting point…And so I thought that was a good start.”
Alexa Bexjian-Avery, who has lived in Evanston for 30 years, is associated with the Unitarian Church and said she attends because she wants to be more involved in local racial justice work. She came to the event to “find out what the next steps are.”
“It was good,” Bezjian-Avery said of the event. “We need more [people]. We need a lot more.
The donated money will be raised through the Evanston Community Reparations Fund, hosted by the Evanston Community Foundation and overseen by the Evanston Reparations Stakeholder Authority – a collaboration of prominent city leaders established by Rue Simmons, Robinson, Reverend Michael Nabors, Pastor Monté Dillard, Peter Braithwaite, member of the 2nd Ward Council, Henry Wilkins and Spencer Jourdain.
While many religious institutions have already contributed to the reparations fund, Monday will mark the first time clergy and interfaith leaders in Evanston will announce a joint financial commitment. They hope to encourage other faith groups in Evanston to join the effort.
Monday’s announcement, it is hoped, will reinvigorate the financial momentum of donations from other faith-based institutions. The group hopes that by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 16, 2023, they can reflect on months of significant giving.
At the end of the event, Wiviott told attendees to fundraise in the most sensible way possible for their faith communities.
“You can fundraise from your members, you can make a lump sum donation, or you can encourage your members to contribute directly to the fund,” Wiviott said.