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At the 30th anniversary celebration, Crossroads Fund honors local activists

Fri, May 25, 2012

On Friday night, March 2, more than 500 people gathered at the Chicago Cultural Center for Crossroads Fund’s 30th anniversary celebration. During the awards portion of the evening, Aisha Truss-Miller, a young Chicago activist, addressed the standing room only crowd in the Claudia Cassidy Theater, but spoke directly to someone who had made a tremendous impact on her life. Truss-Miller said, “I probably wouldn’t have stayed at UIC and graduated if it wasn’t for you.” Soon after, she invited Professor Barbara Ransby to the stage.

Professor Ransby was the final honoree recognized at the 30th anniversary celebration. She was presented with the Ron Sable Award for Activism, given in recognition of the late Chicago activist who was a founder of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and one of the first openly gay candidates for the Chicago City Council. Ransby’s impact on social justice has spanned decades. Author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision, Ransby is a co-founder of the Black Radical Congress, as well as a founder of Ella’s Daughters, and a founder of The Public Square. While Ransby’s record as a founder of, and participant in, social justice groups is immeasurable, just as critical is her legacy on individuals like Truss-Miller. As a role model, mentor and crusader, Professor Ransby inspires hundreds of others to be their best and to do their best in support of social justice. For the Crossroads Fund, this was the perfect time to honor an activist with such deep roots in Chicago and social justice. “She inspires a following from all different sectors across the city,” said Sheila O’Donnell, Crossroads Fund director of development. “It made sense to honor her on our 30th anniversary.”

Each year, hundreds gather to support the work of Crossroads Fund, and to celebrate the work of individuals and groups that have made an impact on social justice. Since 1981, the Crossroads Fund has given voice to hundreds of community organizations working on a broad range of issues, from youth empowerment to the abolishment of the death penalty. The group provides the first foundation support to emerging groups, enabling them to create systemic change on a variety of critical issues. Without this support, some of these community organizations would never have a voice.

While three different honorees were recognized at the celebration, the work of each is rooted in grassroots activism, and each has an appeal that connects generations. In addition to Professor Ransby, Crossroads Fund honored The Chicago Freedom School and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Just five years old, the Chicago Freedom School was founded in the tradition of the original Freedom Schools, established in the 1960s to address racial inequalities. The Chicago school provides a space for local youth to develop skills, build alliances and address issues of social justice. Talking about the school’s work, Mia Henry, the founding director, explained that the school engages young people whose lives are directly touched by issues of social justice. She said they “talk about oppression and justice with young people who are impacted by the issues.” In addition, Henry explains that “We train people to have healthy intergenerational relationships.”

In order for young people to be successful, in particular around issues of economic and social justice, it is critical that they have adult role models and support. “Rev Up” is a four-day program held twice a year that trains adult allies to support young people who are standing up for their rights. According to Henry, the training enables adults to “leverage their power to help young people find their voices.”

The Occupy Wall Street Movement took home the Donald Erickson Synapses Award. Understanding that issues are interconnected, the Occupy Movement has rallied with seniors and people with disabilities around independent living, helped the Piccolo School community win a meeting with the Board of Education in order that all the parties with a stake in the school collaborate on the school’s future, and supported a sit in at a local factory to stop an immediate shut down.

Just as important as the specific victories, the movement has reshaped a national dialogue. Andrew Smith of Occupy Chicago said the group has “managed to shift the entire discourse in this country very concretely so that people are actually talking” about important issues. For Crossroads Fund, it made sense to honor The Occupy Movement. “Donald Erickson had a commitment to peace and justice,” said O’Donnell. “The Occupy Movement fit that bill.”

At 30 years old, Crossroads Fund understands the need to play a long-term role in Chicago. Each year, groups supported by Crossroads Fund celebrate important victories that give voice to marginalized communities and individuals. But new challenges will inspire the birth of new movements. “We need to be around to make sure we are thoughtful and responsive to the emerging movements,” O’Donnell said.

Written by: Gary Arnold
StreetWise Contributor

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