Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We’re going to make this an open city, because it’s right. We’re going to make it an open city because it’s practical. We’re going to make it an open city because it’s sound economics. We’re going to make it an open city because we’re tired of being humiliated.

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Those were Dr. King’s words 40 years ago when he and Al Raby lead the Chicago Freedom Movement's campaign for open housing, resulting in the establishment of the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. In 1966, discrimination was overt and blunt. There were sundown towns, restricted covenants, and other visible actions.

Today more choices are available to minorities in Chicago and the region (although, income tends to be a factor in that equation). However, discrimination still exists. In 2006, discrimination is subtle and sophisticated. Discrimination occurs through the omission of information, linguistic
profiling, and other invisible means.

So, it is with much sadness that I report to you that the Leadership Council will close its doors on June 2. As those doors close, the primary voice for fair housing in the Chicago region will be silenced. Hopefully, others will take up the cause. But, the reason this loss is so great is due to the fact that no other organization has fully embraced the need to overcome segregation in the region.

As I have repeatedly announced here, Chicago is the 5th most segregated region in the country. The pattern of segregation continues through both individual actions and stuctural forces that further the system of containment and sprawl that is modern segregation.

Yet, there has been progress. Much of that progress directly ties to the programs of the Leadership Council. The 40-year legacy of the Council includes landmark lawsuits, advocacy for affirmative public policies, an engagement with the housing industry, and mobility programs that actively increased integration and housing choice in the region.

Despite the successes of the Leadership Council, there is still much to accomplish – much progress yet to make. While the Council and others have had victories in defending the rights of individuals facing discrimination, segregation still exists. Indeed, it exists in even more subtle and divisive ways today than it did in 1966 by including not only race but also income.

Today’s segregation is a segregation of opportunity. Minorities and low to moderate-income persons are largely housed in neighborhoods and communities that have few employment opportunities, poor schools, crumbling infrastructures, and limited transportation networks. Meanwhile, whites and middle and upper-income persons enjoy plentiful job growth, good schools, steady investment, and more abundant transportation choices.

Although the Leadership Council is closing its doors this year, our work as fair housing advocates is not finished. We still need to make this an open region because it’s right, it’s practical, and it’s sound economics. We still need to ensure that no one is humiliated through limitations based upon their race or income. Dr. King’s mission, left to us, has yet to be completed. Who will answer the call now?