Posted by: Gordon on 10/30/2014
4 images from PNCC fundraiser 10-2014
At Pilsen Neighbors' 60th anniversary Oct. 21, Juan Gabriel Moreno was among architects who displayed concepts for a new office building, Gov. Quinn presented a state proclamation, and several hundred partied and ate! At far right, PNCC Treasurer Teresa Fraga and organizer Fernando Rayas were among those who took pictures at the event. 

Last week Pilsen Neighbors Community Council celebrated its 60th anniversary with a party at the National Museum of Mexican Art that raised some $30,000 and unveiled an ambitious new goal: to create a new building for the organization.

The group has come a long way since its founding on the issue of garbage pick-up and rodent control in 1954.

“Prior to the late sixties, Pilsen Neighbors was more of a ‘help you neighbor, beautification organization,” says Teresa Fraga, now treasurer for PNCC, who joined in 1974. “I started when Inez Loredo, a PNCC leader, brought me in to the fight to build Benito Juarez High School.”

Currently PNCC's office at 2026 S. Blue Island Ave. is located across the street from Juarez, whose construction was one of the group's best known victories, in a small house that dates to the era of the New Homes for Chicago program, a community-development initiative that Pilsen Neighbors also helped pioneer.

The group long ago outgrew the small house where its staff of five run community organizing campaigns, support area service providers, and plan the organization's signature annual event, Fiesta del Sol, which draws 1.3 million people to Chicago's historic Latino and increasingly multicultural neighborhood at the end of July for a family-friendly music and community festival each year.

“It was Fiesta del Sol and the five-year organizing battle to build Benito Juarez that put PNCC and Pilsen on the map,” Fraga said. “The Chicago Board of Education was forced to deal with a community that would not take no for an answer. The Chicago 21 [gentrification] plan was stopped, the schools were rehabbed, and new ones were built.”

At the event Thursday, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Chicago Ald. Danny Solis, longtime organization leader Carmen Velasquez, as well as a host of other elected officials and community leaders spoke to the achievements of Pilsen Neighbors over the years. Several architects unveiled concepts for a new Pilsen Neighbors office building that would include training space, meeting rooms, and offices for the organization as well as space that could be rented out for other community institutions. 

“I look back at the success of our organizing work, and can’t help but say ‘Now what?’” Fraga says. “This makes me go back to square one, like when I started as a young mother in 1974. We need to build relationships, talk to people, create a common vision, organize the people, organize the money and build power!”
Posted by: Gordon on 10/25/2014

Deltra group trainees august 2014 group pic

Thank you to Eleri Birkhead, youth and community organizer with Together Creating Communities in Wales, United Kingdom who gave us permission to repost this piece from TCC's website.

In August this year, I was given the exciting opportunity to attend weeklong National Leadership Training with Gamaliel in St Louis, Illinois. Gamaliel is a Community Organising foundation based in the US, their aim is to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives.”

The training took place on the outskirts of St Louis, in Belleville Illinois. St Louis, like much of America, consists of areas of great wealth, and contrasting areas of poverty. Racism is a prevalent issue in the city, and consequently became the main focus of the weeklong training.

There were around 140 leaders from various organisations attending the National Leadership Training. I was in team Delta, and my group consisted of leaders from various walks of life: from young organisers just starting, to retired members of community groups who were looking to create real change within their communities.

The training involved being ‘agitated’ a lot. Being agitated is as painful as it sounds! It is the act of stirring a person into action or into realisation through pointing out a contradiction in someone’s beliefs and behaviour. This did make for an uncomfortable few days but it definitely kicked me into action, ensured that I was aware of what elements of my work needed to improve, and gave me a clear idea of what to do once I got home.

Another important element of the training was learning to hold effective public meetings. We were provided with a very realistic role-play situation: We were to meet with the chief of police about the shooting of a young black man within our community. This scenario felt all too real as Michael Brown, a young black male, had been shot by the police just a few days before in Fergusson, not too far away from where we were. This emphasised to me the importance of learning to use our power effectively. Learning to hold a public meeting where our demands are met is intrinsic if we want to make any changes within our communities. If we don’t learn, things won’t change.

We then went on to take part in a public action meeting held in East St Louis. This was a state wide action, with over 1000 people attending from various affiliate organisations. The atmosphere was electric, with chanting, singing and inspiring speeches. The aim of this meeting was to demand improvements to the education system, increasing diversity within workforces, increasing access to public transport, and to protect the right to vote. This meeting was attended by Governor Patt Quinn, the governor of Illinois, who declared that he would meet the demands made by the people that day. The volume of people, and the energy of the meeting was impressive, it was a great example of an effective public action meeting. I will, however, be interested to see if the Governor follows up on the promises he made at this meeting.

I went on from St Louis to Chicago, where I spent a few days at the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council (PNCC). PNCC is an affiliate of Gamaliel who operate within the Pilsen Neighbourhood, home to a vibrant Latino community. They are very well known in the area as they host the largest Latino festival in the Midwest; Fiesta Del Sol, which is attended by 1.3million festival goers! The organisation is currently working on various issues including the provision of education, and legal advice for immigrants. It was fantastic to see active community organising where clear wins were taking place regularly. The office was lively, with people from various aspects of the community holding effective meetings and working within their areas of expertise to ensure that positive decisions were made for their community.

After a few days in Chicago, I went back to St Louis where I visited Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU). This was a particularly interesting day to spend at the MCU office as they were holding two key events; the first was a meeting attended by various members of clergy from across the city. The aim of this meeting was to discuss what would come next after events in Fergusson where communities were angry at the injustices attached to the shooting of Michael Brown. This discussion was centred on countering institutional racism, the root cause of many negative issues faced by those living in St Louis. We then went on to a press conference where Clergy announced their plans for a mass public meeting. It was incredibly interesting to witness Community Organisers in action during such an integral time for communities across St Louis.

This is just a brief snapshot of what went on during weeklong training with Gamaliel. I could write a book with all that I’ve learnt- it was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. I am now enjoying the challenge of putting it all into practice. Watch out Wrexham!

--Eleri Birkhead, youth and community organiser, TCC

Posted by: Gordon on 10/6/2014
Join us at 2 p.m. central Tuesday, Oct. 7 for a discussion on what happens next in Ferguson, and how organizations across the country are making this a teachable moment. Panelists will include:

  • Rev. John Welch, Gamaliel board chair, will talk about the work of Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, which recently posted a blog drawing comparisons between what's happening in Pittsburgh and the tragic events in the St. Louis region.
  • Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, Christ the King United Church of Christ, Florissant, will reflect on the crisis from the perspective of someone who has been at Ground Zero. 
They will provide an update on the upcoming mobilization in Ferguson this weekend and outline steps to help across the country including voter work in your community/congregation and a special Hands Up Litany that can be used in worship Sunday, Oct. 12.

Hands Up Sabbath Toolkit (interfaith; Presbyterian sermon here)
Exodus 32 Ferguson Reflection
Matthew 22: 1-14
Philippians 4
Reflections on Psalm.pdf

Sign the petition here.

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