Making Evanston Equitable Together concludes Black Lives Matter sign campaign


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

People stand holding Black Lives Matter signs. After two years of selling over 1,500 signs in Evanston, community organization Making Evanston Equitable Together is bringing its Black Lives Matter sign campaign to a close.

Maddie Burakoff, Web Editor

After two years of working to cover the city with Black Lives Matter signs, Making Evanston Equitable Together is bringing its sign distribution campaign to a close.

The project began on Mother’s Day weekend 2015 and was in part inspired by the Million Moms March on Washington — which protested police violence and the killing of Dontre Hamilton, who was shot by Milwaukee police — MEET co-founder Melissa Blount said. The organization decided to stop selling signs to focus on more direct community engagement, Blount said.

Blount and others who could not attend the march in 2015 held a solidarity vigil and decided afterward to start distributing Black Lives Matter signs to further raise awareness of racial justice issues, Blount said.

“People live parallel lives in Evanston,” Blount said. “It’s this appearance of being a diverse community, but people don’t really interact, intersect or really engage one another.”

Though the project has received support from the community — around 1,500 signs have been sold — there were also many negative reactions, which have escalated since President Donald Trump’s election, Blount said. Black Lives Matter signs have been stolen and vandalized, and some residents have called the campaign “racist,” she said.

MEET has held discussions and town hall meetings to better engage the community and provide context for the signs, but has been unsure of how to respond to the backlash, Blount said. Still, Blount said she and her fellow organizers have generally been “blown away” by people’s enthusiasm.

“That kind of fear of, ‘What will happen if I put my sign in the yard,’ I really sympathize and empathize with that,” she said. “I understand the hesitation around making yourself vulnerable and visible in that way. So I have been incredibly touched … by witnessing people transform and wake up.”

In the past, profits made from the $10 sign sales were reinvested into producing more signs, Blount said. With the project finishing up, though, the remaining funds will be donated to Reunification Ride, a Chicago-based program that helps incarcerated mothers stay connected with their children.

Each month, Reunification Ride provides buses for children and their caretakers to visit Logan and Decatur Correctional Centers, said Alexis Mansfield of Cabrini Green Legal Aid, one of the groups organizing the rides.

Incarceration rates for women are growing faster than those for any other population, which Mansfield said is especially troubling because many women are primary caregivers — in Illinois, about 80 percent of incarcerated women are mothers. Reunification Ride aims to reduce harm to separated families and to “change some hearts and minds” by addressing issues of mass incarceration, she said.

“There’s such a huge impact on families when mothers are incarcerated,” Mansfield said. “If we want to stop the cycle of incarceration, if we want to look at one of the greatest shames that our nation is doing … we have to address the separation of women and children.”

With around 360 signs remaining to be sold, Blount said her goal is to raise $3,600 for Reunification Ride, and possibly more because some people are donating directly to the cause without taking signs in return.

Blount said MEET hopes to focus more on its other programs such as a quilt project that brings groups into dialogue through sewing circles. By bringing the campaign to a close, the group is moving away from the “sign as an object” and using the momentum to step into other community-based initiatives, said Stephanie Teterycz, another MEET co-founder.

“There was some favorable, some not-so-favorable response to it, but those signs are here and they’re here to stay,” Teterycz said. “It’s a way of … marking territory, so to speak, and saying this is a dialogue that we care about in Evanston and we want to continue having it.”

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