5th Ward community group looking to purchase Family Focus building


Ryan Wangman/Daily Senior Staffer

Family Focus, 2010 Dewey Ave. Evanston residents are attempting to raise money to buy the building.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

Community advocates are attempting to save the Family Focus building in the 5th Ward by purchasing the building and keeping the nonprofit providing educational resources in the space.

Last year, Family Focus president and CEO Merri Ex announced the organization could not maintain the costs of building ownership and maintenance for their Evanston chapter. However, at a 5th Ward meeting last Thursday, Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said community organizers were working to keep the nonprofit running out of the former Foster School building at 2010 Dewey Ave. She said the effort to keep the nonprofit open is “great news.”

“We are working towards keeping Family Focus in the community, owned by the community, keeping all the great nonprofits housed in that building,” Rue Simmons said.

Family Focus alumni and residents of the 5th Ward have banded together to save the building, former 5th Ward alderman Delores Holmes said. She said the community members would need to raise $5 million to purchase, renovate and maintain the building. To achieve this goal, Holmes said the group could apply for grants, work with the Evanston Community Foundation and find other funders.

Holmes added that the building has historical significance as a landmark in the 5th Ward, a historically black community. She noted several other buildings owned by black community members are gone now, but that the Family Focus building remains.

Community activism organization Evanston Collective founder and president Bobby Burns said Family Focus programming provides one solution to the greater problem of education in Evanston. The 5th Ward is the only primarily residential ward in Evanston without a neighborhood school, which Burns says forces the burden of busing on the community.

“Every morning, if you’re around here, you’ll see a bunch of black and brown kids standing at bus stops in this neighborhood being placed in all these schools across the Evanston community,” Burns said. “When you live around a school, it’s a community school, and now for many years it hasn’t been for one part of the city.”

Community organizer Lonnie Wilson said he worked at Family Focus for 17 years. He said the having a larger Chicago organization gave Evanston leaders the flexibility to tailor its services to the city’s needs.

He said the building itself is a symbol for Evanston’s black community. He described the 5th Ward as “alive with life” when he first came to Evanston, but since then, he said he has seen the community decline due to a shrinking black middle class.

“Most people remember Family Focus because of the people who worked there,” Wilson said. “People from the community were helping raise the African American kids in that community.”

However, he raised concerns with the larger Evanston community imposing solutions on the black community without understanding underlying dynamics in neighborhoods. He said Family Focus was a good example of black people solutions providing for their own communities, as the success of Family Focus came from the strength of black leaders.

Wilson said Evanston’s black community needed investment, not “paternalistic” leaders from other parts of the community.

“The best experts on African American people are African American people themselves,” he said.  

Alane Lim contributed reporting.

A previous version of this story misidentified the 5th Ward’s distinction from the rest of the wards regarding neighborhood schools. It is the only primarily residential ward in Evanston without a neighborhood school. The Daily regrets the error.

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