Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer
Rev. Dr. Patricia Efiom, Evanston’s new equity and empowerment coordinator, had some tough questions for the city at a town hall on Monday at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.
“Can we own up as a city that we’re racist? Can we own up that we’re sexist, as a city?” Efiom asked a crowd of about 25 people.
The town hall was the first in a series of five meetings planned to address “issues of access, equity and empowerment,” in the city, according a news release. The meetings, moderated by Efiom, mark a new effort by the city to more intentionally address issues like the achievement gap in education and affordable housing.
Efiom began her talk with a 20 minute presentation on her new role and the meaning of equity and empowerment. Equity is not the same as equality and diversity, she said, drawing sharp distinctions between the three concepts.
“We always look at diversity and try to attack it by putting these Band-Aids on,” Efiom said. “When we’re talking about equity, we’re now talking about a very different thing. … (Equity) is looking systematically at what are the barriers that prevent marginalized people from fully participating.”
After Efiom’s presentation, Evanston residents discussed some of those barriers: the achievement gap in education in the city’s two school districts, lack of affordable housing and the tokens required for entry to city beaches.
However, Efiom cautioned against assuming what Evanston’s marginalized communities might need and speaking for them accordingly.
“In order to get equity, some of us need to shut up,” Efiom said. “We need to close our mouths. … We have to learn to be quiet (so) that others might speak.”
Cicely Fleming, who was recently elected 9th Ward alderman, expressed concern about placing an emphasis on diversifying conversations; she said it is just as important to ensure that the marginalized groups are heard.
“The whole idea of ‘at the table’ bugs me,” Fleming said. “Don’t bring me to the table and then neglect what I have to say. I think that (Evanston) has mastered that … You get there, you say your piece and then it’s like, ‘Well, thanks for coming.’”
Efiom agreed with Fleming, saying the city needed to start to hear marginalized communities in Evanston, rather than just getting them to the table.
Kevin Brown, youth and young adult program manager for the city, said that the success or failure of Efiom’s project will depend on her ability to lead the rest of the city government.
“You can put together a process, you can bring people together,” Brown said. “Ultimately it comes down to the leadership of our new mayor, our city council … their particular goals and how they intend to go about the implementation and accomplishment of those goals.”
Efiom concluded the town hall by acknowledging that equity could not be established in a day, and that resolving these “historical wrongs” requires a longer conversation. In the meantime, she said, her job is to go out, to listen and to learn.
“I don’t have the answers,” Efiom said. “I am not here to shove anything down anybody’s throat. I’m here to lead the city — residents and government — to a place where we can be a livable city.”
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