Community members criticize anti-Black workplace conditions at City Council


Jonah Elkowitz/ Daily Senior Staffer

Community Alliance For Better Government President Lesley Williams reads a statement on behalf of the Black Employees Action group and to demand funding, transparency and accountability during the public comment period. She is joined by other members of CABG in the background.

Yiming Fu, Staff Editor

Community members packed the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to stand with Evanston’s Black employees at Monday night’s City Council meeting. 

The action comes after an anonymous coalition of around 30 Black city employees released a letter earlier this month detailing workplace disparities in pay, promotion and discipline. More than 100 people attended the meeting, and a group of 15 stood up in solidarity each time a speaker expressed their support for the City of Evanston Black Employee Action Group. Several public commenters said Evanston’s HR failures reflect a continued pattern of racism and anti-Blackness, despite the city’s “diverse” and “equitable” reputation. 

Community Alliance For Better Government President Lesley Wiliams read a statement on behalf of the Black Employee Action Group to demand funding, transparency and accountability. 

Williams said the group reached out to her to represent them by proxy because many employees fear or have already faced retaliation for speaking up. In the statement, Williams criticized the lack of response from Evanston’s elected officials thus far. 

Since the letter’s Nov. 1 release, there has been no public response from the city. 

The statement also referenced Evanston’s 2019 “Commitment to End Structural Racism and Achieve Racial Equity,” which promises to redress historical inequities. Despite that commitment, she said the city continues to mistreat its Black employees.  

Williams encouraged City Council to follow 20 action steps presented in the group’s initial letter to address racism in city government, which include hiring an external agency to perform a full HR audit and investigation, and implementing a pay equity ordinance. 

“Simply implement the very reasonable action plan the employees provided to you, not anaction plan that you develop,” Williams said. “Black employees are no longer interested in the City of Evanston figuring things out, as history has shown us that that does not work well.”

Kevin Brown, Evanston’s former community services manager, also spoke in support of Black employees. Brown filed a lawsuit in 2019 after the city suspended him for using a city credit card to pay parking tickets, claiming the suspension was racist and retaliatory in nature. 

The city terminated Brown, who is Black, the same day it voted to create a reparations fund from cannabis tax money, starting the highly lauded, first reparations program for Black Americans. 

Brown encouraged Black employees to seek legal counsel, and called on the city to resolve its internal issues in a way that does not allow for retaliation against Black employees. 

“The time in this city for anti-Black behavior, anti-Black policies, anti-Black actions, that time needs to end now,” Brown said. 

Local activist and third-generation Evanston resident Darlene Cannon said Evanston has always had a race problem. 

Cannon said the city’s Black employees deserve a response from the mayor, City Council and city manager. She said city management needs to terminate all discriminatory practies immediately, and City Council needs to provide a plan of action to prevent future harm. 

“Failure to do so will only prove that ‘Heavenston,’ the so-called ‘most livable city’ that ‘uses a lens of equity,’ will be considered hollow and performative,” Cannon said. 

City Manager Luke Stowe said the city is taking the report seriously. Evanston has launched multiple conversations to discuss the findings with City Council, senior staff, HR, and outside experts, he added. Stowe said the city plans to issue a roadmap addressing the report and recommendations by the end of the month. 

“We want to move quickly, but we also want to move thoughtfully and get this right,” Stowe said. “We look forward to working with the group as we move forward together.” 

Most of all, the Black Employee Action Group wants City Council to listen to Black staffers and let their voices guide next steps. 

“We are demanding funding transparency and accountability to address internal racial equity,” Williams said. “This will not go away — and we will not go away.” 

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Twitter: @yimingfuu

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