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shifting and preparing

There is something about a worldwide pandemic that forces you into quiet contemplation between fear, anger and optimism where you balance your emotions and responsibilities. There is no adequate balancing act for this crisis, yet the world continues to push forward with conflicting or complementing messages about what we must do to ensure our health and decrease our risk of perishing from something we can’t see and have no cure for. As the only answer seems to be distancing ourselves from others, ultimately distancing ourselves from life as we know it, the world has retreated and we aren’t well. We aren’t well at all. 

To restate the news, black and brown people, of which I am one, are affected at disproportionately higher rates by the novel coronavirus global health pandemic. We could have predicted this months ago, years ago, decades ago. Statistics are glaring. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  in the month of March 33% of patients hospitalized for coronavirus were African American, yet African Americans only account for 13% of the US population. By contrast 45% of those hospitalized were white, yet they constitute 76% of the US population. We know that crises of any kind will hit black and brown communities harder simply due to the disparities already created and further exposed by structural, institutional and systemic racism and inequities that have plagued us for all time. Additional data points to increased incidences of co-morbidity among African Americans. These health conditions include high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. To be clear about the messaging of the data: African Americans aren’t more likely to be randomly infected by the virus, however due to the aforementioned worldwide health disparities, we are at greater risk of not recovering from the virus once we have it. It’s important to understand this in the context of living in a world with seemingly uncontrollable inequities. 

I can’t provide a perspective to this issue without exposing my own place of privilege. Even as a Black woman dealing with many levels of oppression the fact that I lead a community foundation and steward funds on behalf of others in and of itself is a privilege. I am fortunate to sit in this seat and work alongside a community who does well at doing good. The fact that historically there has been time to think through strategy while at the same time trying to address immediate and emergency needs is indeed a privilege. And yet, this place of privilege can’t eliminate the root causes that continue to place populations of color much closer to catastrophe than our White peers, even at a time where all of the world is touched by this crisis. So to be clear, we are ALL at risk. 

what’s next?

Since the beginning of my career I’ve applied a systems approach to every field I’ve worked in. I initially did it understanding that I couldn’t work with children and youth improving their resiliency and healing their places of trauma only to return them to broken families and households. That is the true meaning of a band-aid approach. There is not one person in this world who lives without the influence of all that is going on in the world. This is why concepts like social determinants of health matter. This is why ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are real. This is why access to health care, including mental health services should be a human right, not a privilege. What are we to do now when what we’re looking for in our community is not what we’re looking at? 

We prepare. We think about rebuilding even while we’re still trying to get through the crisis. We keep track of all the places in the system that aren’t working on behalf of every single human being-especially the most vulnerable. There should be some truth in the saying, “A rising tide lifts all ships.”  I can’t see the rising tide; I just see the drowning right now. Even after stimulus checks, small and big business loans and grants-I see no tide. We keep track of every place in the system that has done more harm and supported inequitable policies that push already oppressed people further into poverty. We have to look at the full picture; for it all works together in a system.  

As the Foundation shifted to respond to our community during this crisis, we knew immediately that normal operating procedures were going to be reserved for when we were working in a normal, or at least recognizable, place of practice. Compound this with our new remote work environment we had to become more diligent with listening to our partners-sharing ideas and learning from communities across the world that experienced increased rates of infection before it came to our community. It was time to be the best we could, even when the decisions before us were only temporary stop gaps for a broken-down system that never worked properly. 

ECF’s response to the crisis

To that end, we quickly took stock of all our initiatives and projects and adjusted our expectations. We asked our partners to do the same. With the support of our board and donors we quickly released grant restrictions. This allowed organizations to shift their focus to the hardest hit areas of their work. It allowed our grantee community to be as responsive as possible to client needs. This ultimately allowed the Foundation to increase funding for immediate needs and survival without feeling like we were removing support from an organization that truly depended on it.

We further designed a method for moving dollars quickly to organizations on the ground best equipped to address emergency housing needs and food insecurity. Once Governor Pritzker placed the state of Illinois on a shelter-in-place order, we saw our community of chefs, caterers and restaurant owners in a new light. We saw our hotel managers shift to new operating standards during a time where spring break and family vacations were no longer an option. Repurposing our hospitality industry to essential services has been quite possibly the lifesaving ingenuity that we never knew we needed. 

Although it seems impossible to begin looking beyond this pandemic-we can’t risk the chance of being left behind in the recovery and rebuilding initiatives. The anxiety that accompanies planning during times of great uncertainty in and of itself is gut wrenching. Yet, we must optimistically and realistically contemplate the possibilities. We must address the areas that broke first, for those are the areas where our most vulnerable neighbors will always fall through. 

At ECF we’ve leaned into the true tenets of community foundations: collaboration, convening and connecting. Every action we’ve taken has included all three of these tenets. Planning for full recovery of our community will be predicated on our ability to continue to see each other as partners, allies, friends and even family. It will depend on not one person having THE answer, but each of us having a piece of the answer. It will depend on us being able to reject the notion of othering and accept that when my neighbor — whether next door, down the street or in another zip code — is not doing well, neither am I. It’s that serious. We have to get this right; we can’t recuse and we can’t retreat. Even in times of crisis, here is our commitment to Evanston:

•we will listen first

•we will focus on equity

•we understand that sustainability is critical

•our leadership will always be in service to the community. 

These are the principles we use to make every decision and move the mission of the Foundation forward: Helping Evanston thrive now and forever as a vibrant, equitable, and inclusive community. The Evanston Community Foundation builds, connects, and distributes resources and knowledge through local organizations for the common good.

This was us before this crisis, and we’re standing firm in it now. The way we realize this mission may very well change, but not without your partnership and guidance. Over the next few months we may not be able to return to the normal operations we had before COVID-19 blanketed our community and I’m not totally convinced that we should. However, we will always operate at the highest level of integrity and in support of all of Evanston. We will continue to be mindful of including individuals at the decision-making table who are most impacted by the systems we seek to address. As always, we are grateful for you and committed to being #InThisTogether because we are Evanston. 

With Highest Hopes,

Monique B. Jones, LCSW
President & CEO

April 2020