Asylum-seekers and racial tensions in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods

Over the past few months, Chicago has been dealing with waves of migrants from Central and South American countries, many of them bused in by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The African-American backlash to the  proposal to set up shelters in majority-Black Woodlawn and, more recently, majority-Black South Shore has been covered extensively on the news, but the migrants have been arriving in the Austin  community area as well.

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Women Impact Tech Conference

I week ago, I attended one more conference, Women Impact Tech. Before the pandemic, I tried to attend similar events, mostly to support the movement. This was the first in-person post-pandemic event, and I was offered a free registration, so I decided to go and see where we all as women in tech stands, and what people are doing not only to attract more women to the tech industry, but also to support them at the workplace so that they won’t have to be “ten times better than any male applicant” to get the job, and so that they fell comfortable at the workplace.

I won’t say I had all questions answered, but I it was very refreshing to see so many women in leadershop positions and to hear their keynotes!

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Volunteering And Near-Hostage Situation

Yesterday, I was volunteering in the youth shelter and experienced a situation that had never happened in all seven years of my volunteering. The boyfriend of one of the residents of the transitional living program (that’s not the program I volunteer for, but in the same building) can to the entrance threatening residents with a knife. 

I should mention that the day before, I emailed our volunteer coordinator with a concern that I had a very low engagement level with the residents recently. During these past seven years, I experienced all sorts of dynamics. There would be days when the engagement would be low, especially when there were many new people, but the current situation went on for a very long time without signs of improvement. Throughout all these years, I came and cooked together with the residents. Even if their participation was limited, we had a chance to chat and develop relationships. Recently, it was not that some days were worse than others, but it was constantly not working: I asked our coordinator whether he had any suggestions for improving the situation. We agreed to have a brainstorming session, but not on that day – the residents would go to the trampoline park after dinner.

I should also mention that an assistant coordinator scheduled a “build your taco” dinner. I have complicated relationships with Mexican cuisine and know nothing about making tacos.

It all started like any other dinner recently: only one person was interested in making tacos with me. One staff member added spices to my skillet, where I cooked the ground beef. A couple of other residents approached the kitchen and assembled their tacos, I was about to call it yet another failure, and then that happened. 

There was some motion, and I heard people asking why they couldn’t go to the second floor, and nobody was leaving for the trampoline park as planned. And then I learned about the guy with the knife and that we all have to stay inside and not go anywhere, including me!

The situation remained quite tense for the next hour. Police was called, they came (not very fast), and searched this guy, but didn’t find a weapon (as many commented, most likely, he threw the knife into the bushes by the church, but nobody searched there). Then he walked away, and I had hoped I could leave, but he reappeared (we watched the surveillance camera footage). 

In the end, the volunteer coordinator walked me out of the building using one of the emergency exits (it was another challenge for me to find my way :)), and it was scary because he tried one exit and didn’t feel it was far enough/secure enough. 

But – we had a terrific bonding time! More residents came to make tacos, and people tried their favorite spices, and I told them I loved theirs’ better, which was true. We talked and talked and shared who we are and where we are from and planned three more activities!

So it looks like it just took a near-hostage situation to resolve our participation and communication issues!

1.5 hours!

That’s how long I waited on a call to Social Security! The good news is that after an hour and a half, it was my turn! Just when I was ready to hang up. That was for my mom: I was receiving an error when I tried to register her on the SSA website.

The result was a complete success: they helped me to figure out what was wrong, and they signed us up for a phone appointment, so hopefully, mom’s SSI will finally become a reality.

About Chivalery

I entered the Cook County building for early voting. When I reached the elevators to the sixth floor, I saw a middle-aged black woman and a middle-aged white man approaching the same elevators from the other side. When the elevator came down, the man moved aside to let us in first, saying, “there is still some chivalry here.”

We reached the sixth floor, and he let us out first, holding the door. When we entered the registration room, the black lady said: why won’t you go first? You hold the door for us. He replied: “There is still some chivalry here. Ladies first.”
I survived that and didn’t comment; instead, I smiled and said, “thank you.” Then we filled in our forms and gave them to the clerk. The clerk checked them one by one. She asked the black lady whether she knew how to use the machine. She didn’t ask the middle-aged white guy. And then she asked me.

And… well, that’s the end of the story.

Not In My Backyard!

For two months, there was a discussion in our community about opening a men’s homeless shelter. The building in which the shelter would be open is located exactly where there is the most need in the shelter. However, many people were opposed. In fact, I learned about this discussion from a letter from one of my neighbors who asked everybody to go online and vote against the shelter.
Granted, I clicked on the link to the Google form and voter in favor. However, I was still very upset that regardless of socioeconomic background, income or education, the argument stays the same: anywhere but not in our backyard!
I read several discussions on NextDoor and attended one more virtual meeting, and time and time again, the “nay” people were the loudest, and their arguments were the same old “property value” and “we already have enough services.”

And then, in her last newsletter, our alderwoman said that the majority voted in favor of the shelter.

Although I am happy with this outcome, it makes me wonder whether people avoided publically expressing their “in favor,” or those who were against it were louder, not more numerous.

More Thoughts On Volunteering

The more I think about volunteering, the more I believe that the most important part is not to expect thanks, neither from the people we serve nor the general public. I am not saying people are never thanked for their service; quite often, they are. But it’s important not to expect it. Recently, I was asked why that happens that many people want to volunteer for an important cause right after the crisis starts, but then later, they walk away. There might be several reasons, but often there is a realization that what you are doing is not something glamorous or even heroic, and you are not “a savior.” When you come to help a cause, it’s a job, often not most efficiently organized, with tons of idle time, but it’s a job that needs to be done to make a world a slightly better place.

Another thing that I only recently started to realize is that you should not expect a visible result immediately (or ever). I have thought about this since I attended the meeting with Toya Wolfe at Chicago Public Library.

When I asked her what she thinks an ordinary person can do, I meant something like what should we advocate for? What policies should be instilled? What can be changed in society so that young people won’t end up in gangs? How can we finally stop the shooting, stop the killing? Because it feels like whatever has been done so far, including the Ceasefire and the Interrupters, seems to produce no difference.

When she said: you are already doing a lot; keep doing what you are doing, I thought that she was just dismissive. And then she continued: don’t try to be a God.

I thought about this for a while. I am not a religious person, and I always thought that serving others has nothing to do with religion. But recently, I started to think that maybe it was something with nuns always being the ones attending the sick, running orphanages and schools … Nuns do not expect to be thanked for their services because they serve people in the name of God. And for the same reason, they do not expect to change the world through their service. They just do what they can, and they keep doing it.

And now I am thinking: what could and should be in place of faith for a non-religious person? And can you still selflessly serve others when you have loved ones who are clearly more important to you than the rest of the world?…

After The Meeting With An Author

Today, the Chicago Public Library hosted a meeting with Toya Wolfe, and my goal was to finish Last Summer on State Street before this event. (by the way, all library copies were taken, including the audiobooks, so I purchased it).

I am glad that I could attend and be a part of the conversation with the author. As someone who actively participates in the work of several volunteering organizations which service underprivileged communities, I was deeply touched by the events described in this book. Way too often, I see similar stories unfolding: no matter how hard we try to help the youth in crisis, in most cases, we can do nothing.

Answering one of the questions from the audience, Toya Wolfe made the following analogy: if you go to the war, you might return alive, or you might die; it’s often the question of chance. But if you go to war malnourished, there are higher chances that you won’t survive, although there is still a chance. In the same way, growing up in an unhealthy environment or in a broken home increases the chances of a youth getting into trouble, but at the same time, there are still chances for a good outcome. After today’s meeting, the book feels a little bit less depressing:).