Mutual Aid Collaborative Launched By Chicago Peace Fellows

Today, Chicago is stained by an enduring legacy of racial injustice that is laid bare by the disproportionate impact of the twin pandemics of violence and COVID-19 on our communities on the South and West sides of Chicago.

Against this background, the Chicago Peace Fellows launched the Mutual Aid Collaborative as a model of the structural changes they seek: collectively they are 38 Black and Brown leaders who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides, and they practice a liberatory model of shared leadership, collaborative decision-making and collective action.

Chicago Peace Fellows

As grassroots leaders, Peace Fellows witnessed first-hand much of the suffering brought about by the pandemic, compounding the suffering of already at-risk and disenfranchised communities. The spirit of collaboration runs deep amongst the Chicago Peace Fellows, and the idea of working together to support each other between the 2019 and 2020 Peace Fellows cohorts naturally emerged in response to the crisis.

The Mutual Aid Collaborative builds on the partnerships that Peace Fellows had already established to repond to the twin pandemics of violence and coronavirus.  Early on in the pandemic, health institutions, community volunteers, frontline workers, and families faced a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). In response, Peace Fellows Jackie Moore and Maria Velazquez led a project to activate dozens of 3D printers to produce thousands of face shields, and brought in their network of sewers to stitch together over 1000 cloth facemasks.

"We need to address COVID, but now no one's talking about the  violence in Chicago and moms losing their children." Pam Bosley, Purpose Over Pain

At the same time, Peace Fellows Quilen Blackwell, AnnaMaria Leon and Pamela Bosley launched the Peace Flowers campaign to provide boquets to mothers who had lost their children as victims of gun violence in honor of Mother’s Day. In addition to providing comfort to families remembering lost loved ones, this project sparked a social enterprise to sell CSA flower subscriptions which has already generated over $6,000 in profits that have been reinvested into the work of the Mutual Aid Collaborative.

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The work of the Collaborative was built on months spent building trust, learning together through the GATHER Platform to explore the principles of community driven social change like asset mapping, community engagement, framing issues, intersectionality, appreciative inquiry and frameworks for community leadership. 

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The work of the Mutual Aid Collaborative was able to expand significantly with the support of grants from the Homestead Affordable Development Corporation and the Chicago Lives Healthy + West Side United Fund. With a dedicated pool of funds at their disposal, the Collaborative dove into the hard work of collectively designing projects and allocating the resources to make them happen.

Over a series of intense and collaborative workshops, the Peace Fellows designed ten initiatives:

  • Peace Fellows Music Festival: The talents of the Chicago Peace Fellows are without limits, and this project will showcase of the enormous talents of the Fellows and their neighbors as they broadcast messages of peace to the city. An in-person event as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted will complement a variety of peace-themed virtual events. 
  • Healing Centered Activities for our Seniors: This group is dedicated to serving the needs of our senior population; fellows will package and distribute bags filled with essential items such as oral hygiene items, sanitation products, and food. They will also provide entertainment for the elderly such as playing cards, dominoes, puzzles, etc. This group will also provide wellness checks and virtual gatherings focused on health activities such as chair yoga.
  • Records Expungement and Sealing Services: This project will serve the community of returning citizens who seek to rebuild their lives after being involved in the criminal justice system. The process of expunging a criminal record is a difficult and arduous task, and the team will provide returning citizens with access to legal services, employment services, and a kindred community.
  • Raising Black Girl Magic: This team is dedicated to serving the needs of young black women in Chicago. This project is a long-term effort that involves several Chicago Peace Fellows who work with young women who provide bi-monthly sessions targeting an often-overlooked population. They also help meet other needs from food to sanitary products.
  • The Safety Net: This project will build a distributed network of grassroots PPE makers, training community members on how to make and propoperly use PPE and stay well physically and mentally during these challenging times. By focusing on production, the team will build independence and resilience in communities and help create opportunities for employment.
  • The Gathering Spot: This team will secure a "home base" for the Collaboratie and activate a network of spaces in which grassroots leaders can access to do programming, host events, and other activities. Access to physical spaces is a real problem for many leaders, which results in many having to carry out programming from their homes. The Gathering Spot seeks to unlock spaces across the city for grassroots leaders to utilize.
  • Funders Pledge: Peace Fellows will partner with Chicago Beyond and work with foundations to create a “Funders Pledge” calling for “right relations” with grassroots and community based organizations to build a future that is more just, equitable, trusting and collaborative. This project provides a new framework for how funding could be informed by racial justice and equity.
  • The Blueprint: A collaborative effort by Peace Fellows to engage young community members most impacted by violence to engage in self-reflection creatively through art. This project will teach the skills required to turn artistic endeavors into entrepreneurship opportunities. Young community members will also engage in an effort to sign a “peace treaty” between groups in conflict.
  • Greening Collective: This group is an expansion of the Peace Flowers initiative and serves to activate vacant lots by building flower and plant farms on the South and West sides of Chicago. This group will also work with young people and those facing barriers to employment to earn skills in landscaping, permaculture, and green infrastructure.
  • Peace Fellows Podcast: a series of broadcast conversations highlighting the work and perspectives of Peace Fellows and aligned organizations. The series will help feature grassroots and community-driven initiatives that promote a more just, peaceful and vibrant city.

While the Collaborative is just getting started, they already have an impressive record of accomplishments. Over 100 seniors have received care packages and visits, the Gathering Spot has received free space in partnership with Port Ministries, several mental health workshops have been hosted for black girls, hundreds of meals have been provided to help families in need over Thanksgiving, and hundreds of masks and face shields have been made and given out.

As a practice, Mutual Aid is itself a liberatory practice that helps our communities survive an unjust social order, serves as an opening for our neighbors to enter a politically aware space, and to practice the shared leadership and civic participation required for the future we envision.

SUPPORT THE MUTUAL AID COLLABORATIVE

The Mutual Aid Collaborative is made possible by the Goldin Institute, the Homestead Affordable Development Corporation, the Chicago Lives Healthy + West Side United Fund, the Racial Justice Pooled Fund and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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