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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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YWCA announces Robin Rue Simmons and Tosha Wilson as 2023 YWomen honorees

Illustration by Jacob Wendler
Headshots of Robin Rue Simmons and Tosha Wilson. The pair are being honored for their leadership in female advancement and racial justice in Evanston and beyond.

YWCA Evanston/North Shore announced Robin Rue Simmons and Tosha Wilson as their 2023 YWomen honorees. The pair are being honored for their leadership in female advancement and racial justice in Evanston and beyond. 

The YWomen Leadership Celebration was established in 2008 to recognize prominent Evanston women in areas of advocacy, initiative, and empowerment. Community members can submit nominees for the selection committee to choose from.

All the nominees have a “very rich mission and passion” of uplifting women, according to committee member Denise Martin. 

“(The award) was a real opportunity to put the spotlight on what I call homegrown: you grew up in Evanston, no privilege, no multi-million dollars,” she said. 

Rue Simmons grew up in Evanston. She said her “beautiful village experience” with the local community motivated her to spend her career addressing segregation and quality of life disparities between different neighborhoods.

She served as 5th Ward Alderman in the Evanston City Council from 2017 to 2021. During her term on the council, she helped pass the city’s reparations program. 

She continues advocating for reparations as founder and executive director of FirstRepair, an organization that educates local leaders about reparations nationwide. 

Rue Simmons said she often faces pushback for promoting reparations, given that it’s “the most partisan policy matter” she’s worked on, but said the criticism is worth it because of the change FirstRepair makes.

“I’m balancing this work with the over 100 localities that have initiated local reparations inspired by our work here in Evanston, and also looking at what I believe will be freedom and justice repair and empowerment and liberation for our Black residents here in Evanston and globally,” Rue Simmons said.

Rue Simmons also serves on Evanston’s Reparations Committee.

She also implemented a facade grant program that provides renovation grants for businesses during her stint as a councilmember.

“(The program) gave me momentum and belief that we could do many things that we hadn’t tried before, or that were denied before because we have learned there’s more political will,” Rue Simmons said. 

Like Rue Simmons, Wilson grew up in Evanston. Raised in a family of community organizers, she said her work in activism came naturally.

Wilson is a sergeant with the Evanston Police Department. Her unique position as a police officer allows her to meet a variety of people and develop trust among community members, she said.

“It’s given me a lot of range, a lot of opportunity to meet people, do things that I wouldn’t have been able to,” Wilson said. “Policing just allows you in spaces that a lot of people don’t see.”

Wilson is also the founder of Boosting Black Business, a movement that provided funding to small Black businesses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The organization spotlighted companies in the Chicago area to drive community funding to their businesses. She said she raised close to $110,000 for nine businesses.

“All of those businesses that were highlighted, they are thriving today,” Wilson said. “They saw people support them, and they pushed forward.” 

She said she was motivated to start the organization after being rejected from a loan for her own company, The Laundry Cafe.

Wilson is still working on launching The Laundry Cafe, which she described as a space to mingle with others while doing laundry. It will be built in the The Aux, a community-focused wellness hub located in the 2nd Ward. 

“The Aux is short for ‘auxiliary cord,’ so we want to plug back into the community and each other and ourselves,” Wilson said. 

Rue Simmons and Wilson both said they hope to promote community building and justice, something they said they will continue to work toward every day.  

Rue Simmons and Wilson’s accomplishments will be celebrated with a film about their work and a silent auction at the annual YWomen Leadership Celebration on Saturday, Nov. 4. 

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Tosha Wilson’s name in the headline. The Daily regrets this error.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @KelleyLu_

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