Posted by Rich Lalley
Barb Tubekis began the meeting with a thought of the day: “Positive anything is better than negative anything.”
 
Guests: Bridget Dotson from Waukegan Public Schools, Carolyn Tubekis (Barb’s daughter) and our speaker, Cliff Nellis.
 
Birthdays: Wes Bauman celebrates 80 years on September 12. He noted that he as been a member of our Rotary club for 35 of those years. Thank you and congratulations, Wes.
 
Rotary Anniversaries: Todd Stevens (22 years), Fred Schwimmer (8 years), Heidi Sibert (8 years)
 
Announcements: Rich Lalley requested members begin thinking about what they can contribute toward this year’s Operation Warm project. A committee is working on creating some kind of virtual fundraiser to take the place of the annual benefit concert. More info to come.
 
Dig ‘n Grin: Bob Baker offered a few items of Cubs trivia, with information about Harry Caray, Ronald Reagan and Chuck Connors.  Bill Leske also offer a funny joke about a burglar, Jesus and a parrot.
 
Bio: Joe Fell provided highlights of his life, including his fond memories or building sets for the Winnetka theater, the anniversaries of his marriages, designing and building his home with his wonderful wife Karen, serving with the Air National Guard during the Vietnam era and the Winnetka Plan Commission, working in his family’s renowned men’s’ ware business, enjoying driving trips to the West coast and river cruises in Europe, and providing warm hospitality to Rotarians visiting RI headquarters in Evanston from foreign lands.
 
Speaker: Cliff Nellis, Executive Director of Lawndale Christian Legal Center.
Cliff is from Lake Zurich. Since 2009, he has lived in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood, where he leads his nonprofit legal aid center. His organization takes a “wrap-around” approach to serving their clients, providing legal counsel, social services, counselling, and case management. They collaborate with several social services agencies in the community to provide these services.
Cliff’s talk focused on things he has learned since becoming a resident and member of this predominantly African American community. As he said, his perception of the world has “turned upside down.”
He began with a story of a detention hearing at which he served as a counsel for a 15 year old charged with manslaughter for the accidental death of his best friend as the result of playing with a gun they thought was unloaded. At the hearing, the district attorney, based on no evidence, argued that the boy was a dangerous gang member because his lifelong nickname was a “gang name.” Such a baseless argument would never occur against a Lake Zurich or Winnetka boy. But a boy from Lawndale was presumed to be a gang member because of name he has had from the day he was born. This is but one example of systemic, institutional racism that severely handicaps the chances for success of people, all because of the color of the skin and neighborhood where they were born.
Cliff recommend two books that provide an excellent discussion of systemic racism- “The New Jim Crow” which provide a great deal of facts and statistics, and “Just Mercy”, which brings those statistics to life through stories. (Note, there is also an excellent movie adaptation of “Just Mercy”).
Just a few noteworthy statistics:
  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.
  • The U.S. spends $300 billion on its criminal justice system. Yet, does not provide safety to many of its communities.
  • Half of all “offenders” are under the age of 24.
Cliff and his organization have identified several problems with the current system and offer potential solutions, which they are piloting with good results.
  • Problem: The system is dominated by and run by lawyers and law enforcement. This results is using a “hammer”- violent punishment, to punish offenders. However, experience and evidence shows this does not result in less crime or put offenders on a path toward productive lives.
  • Solution: Take a wholistic approach toward intervention with offenders, involving mental health professionals, social workers, social services, and case managers, all working to address the underlying causes of criminal behavior.
  • Problem: The system is led by and carried out by outsiders who don’t know the communities and bring bad knowledge and implicit bias to their jobs.
  • Solution: A community led program using members of the community to intervene and address offenders’ behaviors, working toward creating safer, more vibrant communities. Utilize a “Restorative Justice” model that address needs of victims and offenders- they are often the same people.
  • Problem: Institutional Bias and Racial Discrimination continue to be systemic in our society.
  • Solution: Education. This is where we all can participate by educating ourselves and those in our circle on the history of discrimination and it’s impact on today. Examples are the use of convict leasing to replace slavery after Emancipation, Jim Crow laws (e.g. denying African Americans access to civil courts to seek redress for damages done), the bombing, lynching and destruction of African American businesses, institutions and citizens, white flight and red lining, impeding or denying access to vote in elections, police violence against people of color, and more.
Cliff’s presentation may be viewed on YouTube at  https://youtu.be/DAfFn8vPnbg.