Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Plan needs more work, aldermen on the Human Services Committee concluded this week after listening to criticism of the plan from several community activists.

The committee plans to hear further comments about the plan at its Aug. 7 meeting, but City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said it’s not likely to be ready for final approval until October.

Sarah Vanderwicken.

During public comment on the proposal, Sarah Vanderwicken said the plan lacks criteria for measuring success. “It’s not saying what we’re going to end up with and seems loose and unclear in terms of ultimate goals.”

Vanderwicken, who’s a member of the Racial Equity Action Leadership Team at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, said the plan should “focus on changing the consciousness of whilte people in the city.”

Prudence Moylan.

Prudence Moylan said the plan seems to involve “Lots of people who are going to talk to other people. It seems like a long time before we get to action.”

Moylan, who’s active with the Society of St. Vincent  DePaul at St. Mary’s Church in Evanston, said the plan fails to mention the need for affordable housing in the city. “Adequate and stable housing is the foundation for a productive and secure life,” Moylan said.

Michele Hays.

Michele Hays said African-American residents don’t have equitable access to recreation opportunities in the city.

“All you have to do to see that is look at the day camp programs, especially ones held by the lake. Participants are predominantly white and higher income,” Hays said.

Eileen Hogan Heineman.

Eileen Hogan Heineman, director of the YWCA‘s Racial Justice Community Engagement program, said the equity plan showed some progress.

She suggested surveying employees in the city to create performance benchmarks. The YWCA, she said, “is completely behind this work and want to support the city in any way we can.”

Karen Courtright.

Karen Courtright, another member of the Unitarian Church group, said if the city really wants community engagement, it’s going to have to be more creative in getting it — noting low attendance at several town hall meetings held on the issue earlier this year.

Betty Ester.

Betty Ester said the plan only discussed issues of gender and race. “If you’re talking equity and discrimination, then you should include age, race, gender, disability and all the other ones,” Ester said.

“The people who should be here are not here,” Ester added, suggesting that the 5 p.m. hour at which the committee meeting was held made it difficult for many people to attend. “They haven’t gotten off work yet or are on their way home.”

Rina Campbell.

Rina Campbell, a diversity consultant, said earlier equity meetings had been “preaching to the choir.” 

“So many people are tired of all the talk and want to get to action,” Campbell said, but there still needs to be a lot more exploratory discussion to involve more people.

Pat Efiom.

The city’s equity and empowerment coordinator, Pat Efiom, said the planning process for the equity project “has had very little representation of people of color” so far.

The 300 people who had turned out for the five meetings held so far were “predominantly white women,” Efiom said, and the meeting held in the predominantly black 5th Ward was the least well-attended, with a total of only 12 people turning out, and only half were people of color.

She said that when she’s planned meetings with targeted groups she’s had much better success, and she said one reason many members of minority groups have not engaged with the process is that they don’t think the city is serious about tackling the issues.

“If I move too quickly, I will leave behind those who have historically been left behind,” Efiom said, “So the first thing I need is time, and the capacity to make change.”

She said she will need to work with city staff to have them “understand what equity is, and what white privilege is.” 

Asked by Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, about the city’s recently completed equity survey, Efiom said a preliminary analysis indicated that the vast majority of respondents were white females with salaries of over $100,000 a year.

Robin Rue Simmons.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she agreed that race should be the top priority for the equity process, but said she was concerned that the plan failed to mention residents with disabilities.

Rue Simmons suggested more outreach to black churches as “a great venue for town hall meetings.”

The churches, Rue Simmons said, have a tremendous ability to organize people who haven’t been showing up to the town hall meetings held so far.

Related stories

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Interesting edit…

    …so I’ll repeat what I actually said here, which was that we should be starting the equity discussion by looking at the demographic data that should be available from the City on which constituents use services, and which constituents are fined or penalized by the City, since that data is quantifiable and probably already there.

    I went on to say that it is very likely that this data will show a specifically racial disparity because anecdotally, I could tell you that African-Americans are least represented in services like recreation, and most represented in punitive measures.

  2. Here’s a good place for budget cuts!
    I have never been clear about what exactly the “Equity and Empowerment” initiative is supposed to accomplish. The plan that was presented at the meeting is a complete joke. It is just a series of bullet points without any analysis backed by data. As much of the public comment discussed last night, the definition of “equity” is not clear.

    Perhaps the first thing that needs to be done is to actually look at the census data relating to a series of socio-economic conditions in Evanston to see where the discrepancies are and in what policy domains: housing, transport, employment, etc…

    It doesn’t appear that this has been done.

    Next you would target which areas are of concern and then determine what role the city has in accomplishing these things.

    Without doing a simple baseline analysis, the whole endeavor seems futile. Maybe cutting this initiative could help the city meet its budget problems.

  3. Where’s the diverse opinions?
    Lots of opinions from white women and community activist Betty Ester.
    Where are the other voices? Why are so few people coming out to participate?

    How will policy get made that is truly representative of the community or will it be based
    on the voices of a few, select vocal and active members of the community that want to
    push their agenda?

    I am proud to live in Evanston where people value diversity and strive to enhance equity, but
    i’m getting tired of policies and programs that are being advanced by the same people who do
    not represent and reflect the interests of the community. I’m also getting tired of spending time and
    money on programs that aren’t well thought out and executed.


  4. Paternalism run amok
    As long as you tell people, here the minorities as ‘leaders’ choose to define them, say those minorities can not get ahead or get fair treatment unless the all knowing city officials and other liberal [but not getting their hands dirty] ‘leaders’ help them out [and tell them how they should be], you won’t see any progress.
    When you tell them they can’t understand literature and mathematics and need to create ____centric books for them, how do you expect [really you don’t expect they will be able to anyway] them to succeed.
    Of course the all knowing leaders define out anyone who does take steps to get ahead—like blacks, Hispanic, Asians, African/Baltic/Eastern European immigrants, Appalachian transplants or any other group the tries hard—they are all defined out as ‘exceptions.’ It seems the leaders only define Evanston blacks as the ones who can’t make it.

    1. Dependence or Independence ?

      Sometimes you have to wonder, is it in politicians best interests to create dependence versus independence?

      If a group of people are dependentant upon you, they will vote for you and keep you in power. (See Mike Madigan)

      But if you create true independence they don’t need the politician and aren’t reliant upon him or her.

      So which way is it; Dependence or Independence?

      Often you hear that certain groups of students need to see certain types of teachers in order to learn. Or that some students need a special and tailored curriculum that appeals to their own identity? Is this really true or is this a myth promulgated by certain people to advance their own interests? When special interest groups dominate the discussion are they creating dependence or indepence?

  5. No word on what the salary

    No word on what the salary package is but Northwestern just announced the hiring of the “First Associate Vice President of Equity”. Looks like a very promising field to get into although I suspect that the hiring guidlines for such work are not quite all inclusive. Not seeing much diversity in such positions.

  6. Consider

    Move 4th of Juy Parade to downtown Evanston. Gives all residents a chance for a good viewing spot and easier parking. 

    Several years ago Evanston started it’s annual “Streets Alive” event. At the time it was said it would change streets every year. First year was Dempster  and its been on Main Street ever since. Was it rejected by other areas?

    1. 4th of July Parade

      Hi, MIJ.  I like your idea of moving our parade, but I’d like to move it to Ridge Avenue.  Downtown is nice, but parking can be brutal down there, and, with ~100 entrants, there would be a problem with staging for the parade participants.  Ridge would be an excellent venue!  Or maybe, much as “Streets Alive” was intended, we should move to new locations every year.  One year Oakton Street, following year Lake Street, then on to Dodge Avenue, etc…. This would allow every neighborhood to highlight itself.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *