CTUF Legacy Grantee Feature: Action Now
The message on the first day of school in August of this year was clear: Chicago communities have the power to impact their schools. The grassroots organization Action Now asked on its Facebook page “Do you know the power the LSC [Local School Council] has?” The post encouraged people to get involved and learn about opportunities to run for seats on their LSC.
Action Now is a grassroots community organization fighting for change for black people on the south and west sides of Chicago. The organization has also created the Action Now Institute, which strengthens the voices of people in black communities through leadership development, civic engagement, and direct outreach.
The Institute’s mission is to educate, inspire, and engage community residents in low-and-moderate-income communities to take a public stance on the issues that affect their neighborhoods, city, and state. The Action Now Institute was founded in 2010.
Action Now’s wide-ranging work in Chicago communities has included educational workshops on civic engagement, community-listening sessions as well as online conversations, and door-to-door organizing to inform residents about policies, including public education.
The organization has also provided mutual aid services, with the understanding that many people – including seniors, homeless youth, and families – have had to address basic needs first, especially during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, Action Now Executive Director Deborah Harris and others with Action Now have been outspoken about how COVID has disproportionately impacted black communities in the city. “The spread of COVID-19 to the heart of Chicago, which is the black community, has shown and uncovered every dark and ugly disparity that my community faces daily,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times less than a month after the pandemic started.
Action Now’s work has also included mobilizing people and support work around removing Chicago Police Department personnel from the Chicago Public Schools.
In March of 2021, Action Now Executive Director Deborah Harris was moderator for “HERstory in the Making: Behind the Curtain of Black and WOC [Women of Color] Leadership and the Sacrifices of Building Power.” This event was held by the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation and its Quest Center for Professional Learning and Teacher Leadership during Women’s History Month. The event delved into the highs and lows of building power, focusing on stories shared by a panel of women leaders on growth, advancement, and challenges they face.
On another – and related – front, Action Now also focuses on elections, working with Indivisible Illinois as part of voter security actions in Wisconsin and Michigan. Action Now has played an important role in educating people on mail-in voting, registering voters, and signing up poll workers and volunteers.
Action Now, like many Chicago organizations, has paid tribute to former CTU President Karen Lewis. In July of 2022, the organization marked her birthday on its Facebook page with a message that stated “Forever in our hearts, forever inspiring us.” Action Now’s Facebook post stated: “Our beloved Karen Lewis would have been 68 this week. Rest in power, Karen. Thank you for continuing to inspire educators, students, parents, and residents across Chicago and throughout the nation in the fight for the public schools our students deserve.”