Thank you for inviting me to speak here at the Women of the Castle monthly series.
My name is Tim Noonan and I lead the 19th Ward Mutual Aid group.
Back in May of 2020 we were in the grip of the pandemic. To set the scene, I wrote the following back on June 4, 2020 for an unpublished article.
“2020 is becoming a watershed year, and we are only halfway through. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, globally. People cannot go to work because the buildings are closed. Nearly every governor in every state in America has a shelter-in order. We cannot go to restaurants. We cannot go to parks. We cannot be near one another in fear that we may contract this disease that has no known cure. It has been advised from the Center of Disease Control to wash your hands frequently, wear a mask, and to keep at least six feet away from one another. No one heard of the phrase “Social Distancing” before 2020.
As a result, organizations are shedding their workforce at alarming rates. Staunchly capitalist countries such as the United States are ordering businesses not to open. The price of oil has become negative, meaning that oil companies will pay to take crude off their hands. Wildlife has begun to take over major city centers, with coyotes roaming the streets. The wheels of industry abruptly halt while from space the pollution that has enveloped the earth for decades is lifting. This virus has touched us all in so many ways.
Yet, The world needs to continue to revolve on its axis. We, as humans need to move forward.”
This is the environment that we were in back in June of 2020. I, like so many, felt powerless. I did not know what to do? Yet, a friend of mine started a mutual aid group in Bridgeport and I reached out to see how we can create one here in our neighborhood. Since we were facing the same issues as everyone else. So why not?
This prompted me to send out the following email to everyone that I knew who I would think would be interested.
I hope you are well and staying well during this trying time. The current situation is dire for many of us, including small business owners trying to keep afloat. People who have always worked have been furloughed or laid off. Essential workers putting their lives at risk for their community. Even people whose lives are less affected may still be feeling stressed at home and worried for loved ones.
I am reaching out to invite you to join a new community effort to help get us through these scary times together. The Beverly, Morgan Park, and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods have a long history of helping each other with fundraisers, putting up flags and tying ribbons, and even birthday caravans. There are some targeted efforts in place right now, which we applaud, and we would like to add a broader effort that will reach all neighbors in this strong community and ensure we all make it through these times, together.”
When I sent out that email, Did I think we can make an impact in our community as a mutual aid group? Nope.
What I did know like many of you here, is that we had to do something. I lead the group that restored the Gold Star Mothers Monument in the Dan Ryan Woods. Did I think I would be successful? No. I thought that someone who knew what they were doing would stand up and lead the charge. Not me.
We ended up being successful with the monument, and we were successful in keeping our schools open back in 2016. So why not create a mutual aid group to help now?
We joined force with Turpin Cares and BAPA and held our first free store distributing hygiene and soaps and things, 3 weeks after our initial meeting. In July 8th we were open for business as a free store for food.
We had it all organized. Forms were filled out and processed with our staff in the basement and by the time the person came to the second door, their completed order was handed to them and off they went. I guess a little bit like McDades, if anyone remembers them.
When we started, there were many people that were scared and nervous. They have never been in this situation before. I was the greeter in the beginning of the line, much to the chagrin of those who wanted the line to move faster. I wanted to let people rest assure that they were the most important person I saw that day. By setting their ego and prejudices aside, they lined up in their cars. That is a very high price to pay for grocers and I wanted to let them know that I recognized this and wanted to thank them for coming.
20, 000 people served over 60 weeks we closed our free store on September of 2021. There were significantly less people coming to us in need of food.
Our next project was in response to the wave of book banning across the United States. We were able to secure copies of the banned book MAUS from Bookies and provided copies to every middle school and high school in our ward.
And now Our current project is leading the effort to support the asylum seekers at the police station.
Many of you are familiar with this effort so humor me as I try to explain what this means.
Asylum seekers are bussed here from Texas and Floridia. They come with nearly nothing except their determination. After such an arduous journey, they are hungry and sick. Our team swoops in and collects their needs with an intake form. This includes clothing, bedding, hygiene and such.
In order for this to happen, we have interpreters. We have a place that we have clothing of which we can pick from. We have a weekly medical clinic. We have a meal train that provides meals 3 times a day, 7 days a week. We purchase air mattresses, socks, bras, underwear and whatever is needed immediately distribution. We cover medical expenses. Members of your congregation have been facilitating the extremely frustrating process of getting a CityKeys. We have a group that is helping with asylum seekers do change of venue so they wont have to travel out of town for their court dates. We registered children for school in CPS and are in talks with City Colleges to get resources into the neighborhoods for English as a second language. And there is quite a bit more.
Yet the most important thing we are doing is restoring dignity to people who have been denied this for so long.
Do we need your help? Absolutely. We have been at this since April and there are no signs of slowing down. Actually, we anticipate an increase due to the Democratic National convention. We need help in providing meals. We need help in organizing donations. We need help in transporting people from one place to another and of course we need financial donations to cover the many expenses.
It looks like we will be at this for some time and I don’t honestly know when this will stop. Either way, strangers are coming to our neighborhood and we treat them as the guests that they are.
Let me leave you with an article that I helped write.
Repose for Jismary
By Dr. María J. Estrada and Tim Noonan
A few weeks ago, we laid to rest Jismary Alejandra Barboza González, who would have turned four years old this August. Her family started their trip north back in May. Little Jismary was born in Colombia and died in Illinois on August 10th.
Colombia is known as the Butterfly Kingdom. Colombia is only second in the world in butterfly species, after Peru. The beauty of the butterflies is legendary, making Colombia a tourist destination for those who are lucky enough to sneak a peek at their beauty. Two hundred species are endemic and are not found outside of Colombia.
Jismary and her family packed whatever they could carry, left the beauty of her native Colombia and those butterflies, and headed north to the safety of the United States to seek asylum. Like many who have taken this trip, the first stop would likely have been Necocli, Colombia, where there is little food or water and no health care system to speak of. Necocli is a major transit point to Panama. Once arriving in Panama, the family headed to the Darien Gap jungle.
The tremendously dangerous hike through the Darien Gap would take ten or more days. Along the route smugglers and criminal gangs extort and sexually assault migrants. UNICEF estimates that half of the children who crossed in 2022 were under five years old, and at least 1,000 were unaccompanied or separated.
To get to the United States, the González family would have had to cross half a dozen more borders, a journey of roughly 2,500 miles from Central America. Arriving in Brownsville, Texas, the family presented itself to the authorities to begin the asylum process. Unknown to the González family they entered into a political game as a pawn.
As the governors of the Republican southern states grapple with the governors of Democratic northern states, families like the Gonzálezes are the collateral damage. The Republican governor of Texas Greg Abbott’s response to Democratic immigration policies came in the form of Lone Star State Initiative. In the governor’s initiative, asylum seekers are bused to cities that call themselves sanctuary cities. They are enticed with jobs, housing, and citizenship. To the González family, Chicago was a foreign-sounding name, yet promised to be much cooler than the 110+ degree temperature that Texas has been experiencing and a new start.
Let’s be clear. These promises by Governor Abbott are lies. There are no jobs or housing waiting for these families that have suffered. The suffering they have endured at the hands of their own government. Followed by the indignities of their journey, only to be lied to again when they arrive in the United States.
These are families with children who want nothing more than what we all desire: safety and security. For the González family, neither of them was found when they arrived.
Traveling along the same migration path made famous by the monarch butterfly, the bus that carried Jismary’s family headed north. The arid landscape became more and more lush as the bus passed San Antonio and through Dallas. As the mile markers kept piling up and then starting over again as the bus left one state and entered another, little Jismary was not feeling well. She was given a drink to help, but still, she did not feel well.
In time Jismary settled down resting on her mother’s lap. The bus crossed into Illinois. After a time, Jismary became despondent, which alarmed her mother. The bus pulled over to the side of the road to check on her. Security personnel on the bus called 911. An ambulance came and took the little girl to the hospital. There, soon-to-be four-year-old Jismary Alejandra Barboza González died.
More than likely, the González family would have arrived in our police District 22 in Morgan Park as many families have since the beginning of May. We would have seen her play in the garden with the other children, but that won’t be the case now. Now, the butterfly rests her wings on a foreign land outside of her mother’s dear embrace.
Maybe not all butterflies were meant to leave their home, such as the native 200 species in Colombia. Perhaps, like Edward Lorenz said, “When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another”.
Maybe Hurricane Jismary will wash away our xenophobia and open our hearts. Open our eyes to the injustice being done to asylum seekers.
She deserved a future, but was denied. Terribly denied. She was lied to by Abbott, by DeSantis and by others like them in this country who refuse to take responsibility for this crisis. Hopefully, her short life will result in something more than a hurricane. Something stronger, such as love for our fellow humans.
May Jismary’s Kind and Gentle Soul Rest in Peace and Power.
Thank you for taking the time to listen and if there are any questions, please let me know. Otherwise, I want to thank Kathy who invited me to speak and to the entire Women of the Castle.