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Dear so-called allies who are the loudest in the room but don’t live in our impoverished neighborhoods plagued by unyielding violence: 

This past July 4th holiday weekend, the City of Chicago saw more than 100 people fall victim to gun violence. The summer holiday tally of shot and killed has become so familiar that it almost feels rhythmic and corollary. Most Chicagoans can relate to the feeling of being horrified as news anchors and journalists tick off the weekend’s numbers; however, we will all experience it differently. 

As a Black man born and raised on the South Side, I feel these incidents of violence deeply. What if I was the one killed, and that was me on the news? Sadly, I don’t have to use much of my imagination to fill in the blanks because I’ve had to watch this story play out over and over again with my family and in my neighborhood. It’s the story of my high school teammate Estavion Green, my classmate Niko Husband, and my cousin Stanphon Hunter. I am them. I see myself, my friends, and my family in the faces of every one of those victims. The worst part of it is knowing that the majority of their families will never see any semblance of justice for their loved ones.

For far too long, too many marginalized communities have been plagued by violence and intentional disinvestment. And it’s paramount that those who bear the weight of these discrepancies have the agency to speak for themselves.

Allies, you cannot lead other people’s struggle. Let’s start there. While your intentions and efforts are appreciated, frequently, you are doing more harm than good. And for the sake of our city, it needs to stop. Specifically, when it comes to violence in our beloved city, no longer can those who live in the safest communities dictate to those of us who live in violence-plagued communities, like Englewood, how we are supposed to feel about it. If you are with us, stand with us the whole time — not just when it’s politically expedient for you. Driveby activism is not helpful.

Whenever you monopolize a space that doesn’t belong to you, lead a cause you have never and will never experience, or decide to be the loudest voice on issues you know nothing about, you drown out the voices of the impacted. 

And the people living in Chicago’s impoverished communities are beginning to cry out, but you still aren’t listening. True allyship is not co-optation. True allyship is asking how I can support you. It’s either standing behind or alongside, not in front. You don’t have carte blanche.

Is requesting that you hold space and show deference to the impacted too much to ask for? Deference looks like solidarity. And it cuts through racial lines. It looks like acknowledging privilege. It’s deciding to listen more than you talk. It’s realizing that to the average working-class resident, 10:00 a.m. government meetings on a Wednesday are inaccessible. But their voice is important nonetheless.

What it doesn’t look like is shouting down residents who don’t agree with you in public meetings . Or weaponizing data and statistics without ever talking to the residents impacted by it. And it for sure doesn’t look like talking at community members and not to them. 

I write this open letter to you not to call out our allies, but to call you in, or possibly both. I believe that some of you are well-meaning but misinformed and are not correctly considering whether or not your actions are helpful or harmful. And too often, it has become the latter. 

The people who are most affected by these issues are the ones who understand their community most intimately. And we are hungry for change. But to achieve that, we need you to pass the mic. And not just to someone on your payroll, adjacent to your organization, or who agrees with you on every issue. But to the average Chicagoan who wants to live in peace. We must expand the tent. 

Neither is copy-paste rhetoric. It doesn’t matter how often you use the words Black and brown if you don’t have the impacted at the table and their voices are not respected.

If you genuinely side with the marginalized, then you should stop standing in the way of their self-determination. Stop being the loudest and most prominent voice on issues that do not directly impact you; tangentially doesn’t count. Might I suggest that you apply the community agreements that you use to start meetings to how you move as a whole? Take space, make space.

What we have currently is not working. Progress on specific issues is not a divine mandate on all. Nuance, intelligence, and common sense still have their place. Community sentiment is essential. Community voice is important. Coalitions are crucial. And that’s what it will take to fix these issues that predate most of our existence. 

In closing, I again ask that you consider the impacted. The people who are not part of your political organizations.

Consider those who don’t have the luxury of being paid to do politics. 

Consider the grieving families and the victims. The wrongfully incarcerated and violence interrupters who are working hard to make a difference. 

Consider the elderly who want to live peacefully and the children who want to grow up. 

Lastly, consider the silenced — the long trail of Black and brown organizers who have been discarded and threatened because they didn’t say the talking points and chose to put community voice over political rhetoric.

The good news is that it isn’t too late. There is still time to work together to build a Chicago that most of us would like to see. The bad news is that we are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today, and there is such a thing as being too late.  

Dear so-called allies, please consider standing with us and not in front.

is a lifelong South Side resident and community activist. He is the president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA), and the executive director of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) IL State Council.