The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

Catalyzing peaceful and stable communities through Community Action Hubs

Community improvement

Catalyzing peaceful and stable communities through Community Action Hubs is a place-based approach whereby communities guide structural investment to improve their health and well-being.

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Our proposal addresses structural violence affecting communities of color by establishing networked Community Action Hubs (CAHs). CAHs are physical and social infrastructures located in marginalized communities. They provide safe, supportive spaces for residents and community stakeholders to define priorities and plan for acquisition, utilization, and management of resources to catalyze and sustain healthy communities. Working in partnership, University of Illinois at Chicago, United Way of Metro Chicago, Austin Coming Together and Greater Lawndale Healthy Work Project will establish CAHs in three Chicago neighborhoods in Phase 1—Austin, Little Village, and North Lawndale; establish seven additional Chicago-area CAHs in Phase 2; and train 10 teams of university-community partnerships to replicate the CAH model nationwide in Phase 3. Our plan for scaling relies on a participatory change strategy whereby communities most directly damaged by structural violence guide restorative solutions with support from systems of power – universities, government, philanthropy, public-private partnerships, and business.

Problem Statement

Structural violence describes the ways in which social, economic, and political systems harm certain populations, particularly communities of color. Decades of multi-sector research has detailed the scope and power of structural violence: income inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and other means of social exclusion produce and perpetuate poverty, crime, housing instability and incarceration; they limit educational and employment opportunities, as well as access to healthcare. Chicago communities such as Austin, Little Village and North Lawndale have suffered over generations, enduring cycles of poorly resourced and ineffectual social programs, and suffering from the State’s abandonment of its role and responsibility to provide a social safety net. In the absence of approaches that work, structural violence is perpetuated by punitive responses—e.g., hostile policing strategies that undermine rather than ensure safety, and kicking troubled kids out of school—and by limiting, overall, opportunities in education and employment. More importantly, there is a limited belief in the capacity of communities to imagine or effect change. This further isolates and disconnects injured communities from power structures, local and national. Both public and private efforts to address structural violence in high hardship communities have relied upon symptoms-based responses that are wholly inadequate to counter the scale and force of the problem. We propose something radically different: a powerful place-based approach utilizing communities’ knowledge, experience and insights that counters structural violence with structural investment. This model practiced first in a major metropolitan area, allows each geographic area to determine their own structural solutions to structural violence.

Solution Overview

Community Action Hubs (CAHs) are physical and social infrastructures in marginalized communities. They provide safe, supportive spaces for residents and other community stakeholders to define priorities, and plan for acquisition, utilization, and management of resources to create and sustain healthy communities. Leveraging neighborhoods as sites of change and sources of answers, we see the potential to repair historic and systemic harms done to communities on the West Side of Chicago and in neighborhoods and cities across the country. Project work includes community reclamation of land from historic and contemporary disinvestment in target communities. CAHs house ongoing programs of collective community engagement. Through these programs, residents enumerate community needs and the project team responds by providing customized civic engagement education, leadership development, coordination of funds for community-specific services, advocacy for additional community resources and/or policy change, and training of community members in Participatory Action Research methodologies. Community partners direct and sustain resource investment in accordance with individual Community Quality of Life plans, and UIC monitors progress through Realist Process Evaluation, uncovering and sharing with its partners at each stage of the project what works and does not, for whom, why, and in what context. The solution will impact immediately and deeply the 203,048 residents of Austin, Little Village and North Lawndale, but as this model of structural violence reduction is expanded locally and nationally over the five-year grant period, it will build equity and justice across the entire city of Chicago, the larger Chicago metropolitan area, and the nation.

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Project Funders

  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) - CDC
  • BMO Harris Bank
  • MacArthur Foundation 2018 - 2022

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