Community Renewal Society hosted its 134th Annual Membership Assembly on November 12, 2016 at St. Agatha Catholic Church. CRS member churches came together to affirm our priorities for the “Platform for Renewal 2016-17,” present our annual congregational and partner awards, celebrate campaign victories, celebrate board members whose terms have ended, elect new board members and dialogue about our strategic vision. Father Larry Dowling of St. Agatha Catholic Church and Jaquie Algee of Trinity UCC co-chaired the assembly.
Platform for Renewal
The CRS Platform for Renewal outlines the key issues we will prioritize in the coming year.
These issues are drawn directly from listening to leaders of member congregations and community residents. Congregational leaders and staff speak with people in churches and communities through one-on-one conversations, house meetings, and neighborhood canvasses. The Policy and Organizing Committee, a group of board members and leaders (elected by the membership), meet to distill the learning from this listening process and empower issue teams to work on building local, city or state-wide campaigns to win real change. This process culminates at the fall Annual Membership Assembly when CRS member congregations vote on the key issues and campaigns to be included in the Platform for Renewal for the upcoming year.
Our congregations unanimously voted to endorse the Platform for Renewal 2016-17, which includes campaigns to reduce violence in our communities, restore rights and opportunities for people with criminal records, and improve police accountability.
Congregational and Partner Awards
Every year we honor people who have made extraordinary contributions to the work of the Community Renewal Society and our work for justice. This year we honored exemplary people who were crucial to winning many of our victories this year.
John Purdy, Sr. Memorial Award – Mazell Sykes
The John Purdy, Sr. Memorial Award is given to a person who embodies the meaning of justice and faith in action, going above and beyond the fight for justice. This year’s honoree was Mazell Sykes. Mrs. Sykes is a cornerstone in her community. We honored her because she embodies the values of justice, humility, compassion, solidarity, and service to the West Side community and for her work in advancing the Reclaim Campaign. She is a member of New Landmark Baptist Church in Chicago, the Marshall High School Restorative Justice Peace Circle, and the Peace Hub at St. Agatha Church.
City on the Hill – Shiloh Baptist Church, Waukegan
Each year we also honor a church that has been at the forefront of our work. This year, we honored Shiloh Baptist Church Waukegan for their work and immense leadership in building out CRS Lake County! Shiloh Baptist Church has been a leading force in the development of CRS Lake County, a coalition of congregations in Waukegan, North Chicago, and Zion that is committed to building power together to combat racism and poverty in their own backyards. Shiloh received the City on the Hill Award this year in recognition of its consistent service to its community and its contribution to the work of CRS in Lake County and beyond. Since 1992, Shiloh has been under the leadership of Pastor Walstone Francis, a faithful member of the CRS Board of Directors and Policy and Organizing Committee.
Partner Award – United Methodist Church Chicago Urban Strategy
At CRS, we are proud and privileged to work alongside partners who embody our values for justice and compassion. This year’s partner award went to Chicago Urban Strategy of the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) of the United Methodist Church. The NIC Chicago Urban Strategy is a movement aimed at building the community engagement capacity of urban congregations to positively impact the neighborhoods they are called to serve in the areas of community safety, education and literacy, food security and restorative justice. We are grateful for their powerful witness and leadership in our work this year, particularly as they organized and passed a resolution at the NIC in support of FAIR COPS and their mobilization of churches to advocate and act for police accountability.
Public Servant Lighthouse Award – Representative Camille Lilly
The Legislative Lighthouse Award goes to a visionary leader and tireless champion of people with criminal records in the Illinois General Assembly. Representative Lilly, a lifelong resident of Chicago’s Greater West Side, has been a powerful partner for CRS, working closely with FORCE leaders and members of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI). Her faithful commitment and tireless dedication for the past three years have advanced our legislative campaigns. Representative Lilly is the Chief Sponsor of two major pieces of legislation recently signed into law which will increase employment opportunities in health care for people with records – SB 42 and HB 4515.
Reclaim Campaign Celebration
Another highlight of our day was the celebration of victories won through the Reclaim Campaign to reduce violence. We hosted Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chief Judge Timothy Evans, recognizing their roles in implementing significant reforms that have reduced the Cook County Jail population and increased investments into community-based violence prevention.
Our advocacy won significant reforms to Cook County Bond Court, which have been implemented by Judge Evans. These reforms have resulted in a 40% increase in the use of non-monetary I-bonds and, more importantly, thousands of low-level detainees being released so they can return to work and be with their families while they await trial. Judge Evans is also spearheading an effort to create the first ever Restorative Justice Community Court in Cook County. We thanked Judge Evans for his commitments to reform and his leadership on restorative justice.
Our efforts also won significant investments in restorative justice and community-based violence prevention. In 2014, our advocacy with President Preckwinkle and the Board of Commissioners won the creation of a $500k Cook County grant fund dedicated to restorative justice. This year President Preckwinkle and the Board of Commissioners made an even greater investment in community-based violence prevention by increasing the county’s violence prevention grants by $3 million. We thank President Preckwinkle for her tireless advocacy to reform the Cook County Justice system and her commitment to reinvest savings from reducing the jail population in community-based violence prevention.
Celebrations of Platform for Renewal Victories!
In addition to celebrating the Reclaim Campaign victories for the past three years, we celebrated the 2016 wins for our FORCE and Police Accountability campaigns.
Led the passage of four bills in 2016 through the Illinois General Assembly and signed into law with the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI):
- HB 4360 increases employment opportunities in schools and puts hiring decisions back in the hands of local school districts.
- SB 42 creates licensing opportunities for qualified health care professionals like nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and dental hygienists, with forcible felony convictions.
- SB 3005 increases employment opportunities in park districts and allows local park districts to hire the best candidates for jobs.
- HB 4515 improves the health care waiver process and increases job opportunities for people with criminal records.
After a two-year battle, the Office of the Inspector General of Policing was created in the City of Chicago to audit complaints against police and provide police oversight. The creation of this office is a step toward accountability within the Chicago Police Department and it provides transparency and reporting needed to transform the culture of the Chicago police.
For the last three years, the Reclaim Campaign has advocated for several Cook County Criminal Justice Reforms that have led to a decrease in the population of the Cook County Jail and increased investments into community-based violence prevention. Some of these victories include:
- Increased funding for Cook County's violence prevention grants. As a result of our advocacy, in 2015 President Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board of Commissioners created a new $500,000 fund for community-based Restorative Justice. Funding was renewed in 2016. We also fully support President Preckwinkle’s proposed increase from $3.2 to $6.2 million for all the county's violence prevention grants in FY2017!
- Commitments from President Preckwinkle and Sheriff Dart to close and tear down 3 units of the Cook County Jail, which will save the county millions of dollars over the next decade, dollars that can be invested in violence prevention and community-based diversion.
- Commitment from State's Attorney Alvarez to expand the Cook County State’s Attorney’s deferred prosecution program in 2015.
- Commitment from Chief Judge Evans to start a restorative justice pilot program in the Cook County Circuit Court. This victory and commitment was the impetus for the creation of the Cook County Restorative Justice Court, which will begin operating in 2017.
- Conducted an 8-week Court Watching Program with over 60 volunteers in the summer of 2015. Observers found that Cook County Chief Judge Evans kept his commitment to reform bond court by increasing the number of low-risk detainees who are released on non-monetary bonds from 20% to 60%.
- Helped to pass HB 356, the Cook County Drug Analysis Field Test Pilot Program, in the Illinois General Assembly. This initiative is piloting drug analysis field testing in Chicago so that defendants facing controlled substance charges have their preliminary hearings faster and spend less time in Cook County Jail.
The CRS member congregations voted unanimously to elect two new board members to a three-year term as members of the Class of 2019:
We also thanked and honored Rev. Jason Coulter of Ravenswood UCC and Rev. Barbara Bolsen, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at the Night Ministry, for their completed service on the CRS Board of Directors.