Connecting the Dots to Racial Equity
The story of Communities United in Chicago and the beginning of Coalition Advancing Racial Equity (CARE)
Communities United (CU) is one of many community organizations in Chicago working for racial justice and for the betterment of local neighborhoods. Since its founding in 2000, CU has successfully advanced a transformative, intergenerational community organizing model to advance systems change and racial equity in Chicago and statewide around dismantling the school to prison pipeline and advancing affordable housing, education justice, health equity, immigrant rights, living wages, and community justice reinvestment.
Guided by the belief that “community members hold the solutions to the challenges they face,” CU’s success has been felt not only at the local level but also in state and national efforts to create transformative policy wins. Much of CU’s success is due to the framework it has built to unite Black and Brown communities to address the root causes of racial and economic injustice, and the organization’s intentional focus on alliance building throughout its work. For example, a major win was the passing of SB 100. Young people mobilized through the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline. This was an effort led by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), a citywide youth organizing initiative convened by CU, and bolstered by alliances like the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations of which CU is also a member. SB100 represents one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation in the U.S. to address the causes and consequences of the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.” SB 100 was a victory in eliminating “zero tolerance” at all publicly-funded schools in Illinois, placing stronger limits on the use of suspensions and expulsions, promoting the use of restorative practices, all while shedding a light nationally on disproportionate school discipline and its impacts on youth of color.
Forming the Coalition Advancing Racial Equity (CARE)
In part, due to the learnings and successes of campaigns like the fight for SB100, CU formed the Coalition Advancing Racial Equity (CARE). Through its organizing efforts, CU had made substantial policy change and implementation wins in all of its areas of focus. However, through this work, it felt a consistent need to build champions for racial equity within government, across systems, and between directly impacted communities, working towards a common vision of the racial equity principles that should be guiding all policy and budget decisions. Chicago, as one of the most populous, diverse, and yet racially segregated American cities, has long faced racial justice challenges. The work of CARE which brings together organizations across the city around this framework recognizes that racial equity is not always widely understood, and seeks to intentionally align communities organizing on the ground and allies within government.
When campaigns are designed and rolled out with a racial equity frame, organizers and communities work towards making change—such as expanding health care access–while also taking into consideration the broader impacts and equitable distribution of any potential benefit(s) that a win on the campaign could bring. This is not an easy task, but Communities United was not the only organization interested in seeing greater potential for people in their neighborhoods to thrive. Over the course of two years, CU worked on expanding access to health care to uninsured residents in Cook County, Illinois through the Healthy Communities Cook County (HC3) campaign, which had originally focused on increasing access to healthcare to undocumented immigrants. CU organizers worked with alliance members to evolve the campaign strategy from its focus on undocumented populations to uninsured Chicago residents at large, with an emphasis on expanding access to Black and Brown communities most likely to be uninsured based on race. A recent victory, HC3 is now a direct access health care program in Cook County that will improve health access, coordination and financial protections for those unable to afford or access health insurance. This health care access program will provide them with a medical home and a primary doctor.
Recent victories like SB100 and HC3, fuel community alliances like CARE which is committed to promoting the concept of racial equity, continuing to build strong racial justice organizing efforts, and advancing the creation of a governmental racial equity initiative in Chicago and Cook County. CARE is made up of the following organizations:
- Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,
- Communities United,
- United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO),
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice,
- Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), and
- Blocks Together, Inc.