by Tonia Hill
December 13, 2023
On Dec. 9, Mayor Brandon Johnson, faith and community leaders gathered at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Woodlawn for the first in a series of solidarity breakfasts to build unity with new arrivals and long-time Chicago residents. Photo by Alexander Gouletas for The TRiiBE®
Mayor Brandon Johnson, faith leaders, community members and new arrivals gathered on the South Side Dec. 9 for the first in a series of mayoral solidarity breakfasts that will be hosted citywide. Johnson also shared his administration’s intention to work alongside faith leaders and community organizations to foster ongoing conversations with long-time city residents and new Chicagoans to find common ground and build unity between each group.
Thousands of migrants have arrived in Chicago from Ukraine, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East since 2022. However, the influx of more than 20,000 Venezuelan migrants since August 2022 has unearthed pre-existing tensions between Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities.
Some Black residents feel purposefully left out of the city’s decision-making process when it was decided to place temporary shelters for migrants in predominately Black neighborhoods, such as South Shore and Woodlawn, parts of Chicago that experienced decades of neglect and disinvestment.
“I’ve been saying this from the very beginning: investing in the people and communities of Chicago while also responding to the needs of the new arrivals is not an either-or situation,” Johnson said. “It’s both, and we take care of our communities while also taking care of those who are seeking asylum.”
The Johnson administration’s newest initiative comes on the heels of two decisions: One, to axe a plan to build migrant tent camps in Brighton Park and Morgan Park; and two, creating plus the Unity Initiative, a network of churches and faith-based organizations that will work in tandem to shelter migrants sleeping at Chicago police stations and O’Hare International Airport.
Johnson, Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), faith leaders, community stakeholders, migrants and volunteers convened at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Woodlawn for the event. In addition to breaking bread, attendees participated in hour-long racial healing circles facilitated by peace circle practitioners from Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT). The circles are designed to unify participants across race, gender and socioeconomic status. Spanish translators were also present to guide migrants through the morning.
Peace circle practitioners and participants used musical instruments, such as hand drums and maracas, to ground the conversation before diving into a series of prompts designed to facilitate meaningful discussions between participants.
“A racial healing circle is a convening of souls who come together and actually take time to our commonality to see our humaneness to see ourselves in one another,” said Pilar Audain, associate director at TRHT.
TRHT is a community organization that centers on planning for and bringing about transformational and sustainable change and addressing the historic and contemporary effects of racism.
Before splitting into groups for racial healing circles, attendees were introduced to Audain and a team of young people who prayed, honored the ancestors and offered words of encouragement to the room. They heard remarks from Johnson, Rev. Dr. Kenneth Phelps, senior pastor at Concord MB Church, TRHT director Josè Rico, Daniel Ash, president of the Field Foundation and Andrea Sáenz, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust.
“We want to serve as an example or a model for other churches and pastors. I think this is what all churches and pastors should be doing,” Phelps said. “If every church and every pastor did that, we wouldn’t be as divided on this issue. I think that there’s enough wealth, love and compassion to not only welcome the migrants but also better serve the African-American community.”