This blog post is written by Nia McFall and Natalie Gastevich
Mikva alumna Eve Ewing met with the Chicago Housing Authority Council (CHA Council) and the Mayor’s Youth Commission (MYC) last week to talk about her perspective on youth voice and being an advocate for change. In high school, Eve was a part of the Youth Innovation Fund at Mikva, which was a group of students who deliberated on student-submitted ideas on community improvement and distributed grant money. Eve credits the program to introducing her to the idea of philanthropy and to young people that were outside of her neighborhood. Eve still “has a lot of love for Mikva” and strongly believes in the power and importance of youth voice.
In her time since Mikva, Eve has been an 8th grade teacher and then moved on to get her PhD in sociology, focusing on how systemic racism impacts American public schools. She has also maintained creative passions in writing, poetry and visual art.
Ewing met with the youth councils to bring her expertise to the respective council’s framing questions. Students from both councils asked questions regarding Eve’s perspective on how minority youth in the city of Chicago have been affected by lawmakers’ decisions and were able to share their own experiences with Eve.
MYC is currently focusing on the Mayor Emanuel’s “Learn.Plan.Succeed” post-high school graduation requirement and how to make it an actionable plan for every student. Based on MYC’s understanding that not every student currently has the same post-secondary opportunities, students asked Eve how she believes that systemic racism affects the distribution of resources. As a graduate of Northside College Prep, Eve acknowledged the millions of dollars of funding that were being put into selective enrollment schools during her high school years, while conversely there was a hunger strike in Little Village as the community fought to just have a proper neighborhood high school. Eve also addressed the unequal representation of Chicago students across selective enrollment schools: when Eve was a freshmen, 50% of Chicago was black, but only 7% of Northside was black. The “Learn. Plan. Succeed.” policy is only realistic for students with resources to make post-secondary plans and typically such resources are most easily available to non-minority students. Eve concluded that “they’re telling students to make a plan, without actually providing resources to make the plan.” There needs to be increased access to post-secondary resources for all CPS students in order for them to succeed.
Eve pointed out how institutions that were supposedly there for the improvement of the community have only been pushing people out of facilities that have been built. Strategies include cutting off resources resulting in “empty” units or schools, which CHA and CPS use as reasoning to close buildings or schools, yet they initiated the process of pushing residents and students out. These organizations aren’t working to try to provide opportunities for the citizens that they were created to protect, however Eve stated, “It is my responsibility as a citizen in a democratic society to care about all children, not just the ones with privilege.” Having someone such as Eve as an advocate, is what is going to provide opportunities for the future.
Finally, Eve spoke on the the careful balance of investing in communities in order to bring benefits to those already living there, but also ensuring that the development does not encroach on the community dynamic that has already been established. Eve explained that projects, such as President Obama’s library, must safeguard the community’s own infrastructure and guarantee certain benefits and rights to residents of the neighborhood. Thus, she stressed the importance of Community Benefits Agreements in preventing massive gentrification movements.
Even though Eve’s popularity has given her a strong enough voice to make an impact, she maintained that “for every person like (her) there’s 1000 other community leaders, 1000 other teachers, 1000 other students that have something to say.” This is why she is so committed to finding and listening to voices who are often quieted and excluded from important conversations, something that brings her back to the lessons that she learned at Mikva.
Eve Louise Ewing is a sociologist of education whose research is focused on racism, social inequality, and urban policy, and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people. See her full bio here.