West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders welcomed Illinois African American Family Commission Executive Director Mike Holmes to discuss how African Americans can access state funds during its monthly meeting on Nov. 2 at the Allison United Foundation for Better Living, 4540 W. Washington Blvd.

Created in 1994, the Illinois African American Family Commission functions as an advisory body to the governor, monitors state legislation, maintains an active relationship with the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, and advocates on behalf of the African American community to state agencies.

Holmes called his attendance at the meeting a “prime example” of AAFC capitalizing on opportunities to build greater bridges within the African American community, particularly on Chicago’s West Side.

“We want to advocate for this coalition and communities on the West Side, because they need it,” said Holmes. “There are a lot of things going on that could support what you all are doing. There are dollars on the state side that are being spent every day that could be spent over here, but that are not.”

Holmes explained during his remarks that African Americans, at times, receive disproportionately fewer funds, because those funds aren’t specifically earmarked for them; rather, they’re earmarked for minority groups, in general.

For example, Holmes said, African Americans received just $5 million of the $9 billion the state from received from the federal government for the Affordable Care Act over the last six years. He suggested that community organizations consolidate their bids for state funds into one competitive bid, then disseminate funds throughout the collective after winning the bid.

“I think the community and the commission can work together and develop the capacity to be able to actually go after those dollars to help with the problems in our community, so we have to work together and build on our capacity to be able to do that,” said Holmes.

AAFC set in motion a strategic plan that calls on each state agency to allocate funds for a specific program targeting the African American community in the areas of education, health, housing, civic engagement, economic development, and youth involvement. To date, 14 agencies have agreed to work with AAFC. Holmes said the AAFC identified economic development as one of their primary directives.

Fathers Who Care Founder Rev. Walter Jones supported the premise of the Illinois African American Family Commission, but stressed that his support doesn’t mean he doesn’t support other minority groups.

“We’re trying to bridge the gaps with all sector partners, businesses, law enforcement, schools and parents, and the resources around the state,” said Jones.

“We want to make sure that we’re bringing resources to poverty stricken communities around the state of Illinois, particularly on the West Side of Chicago, which for many, many years has been deprived of the resources we really need. Mike [Holmes] coming out to share information was really important because now we know where the money is because the state isn’t broke and neither is the city and we needed to hear that.”

To learn more about the AAFC visit http://www.aafc.org/.  Groups interested in learning what the state requires in grant applications should visit:  http://www.ilga.gov/commission/jcar/admincode/044/04407000sections.html.