POPCourts! is a vacant lot on Chicago Avenue that was transformed into a much-needed safe community space. It recently won the AIA Film Challenge, an annual crowdsourced creative competition, due to its creative design elements like a mural, and a driveway for food trucks to use during events.

All the lessons learned over these past couple of tough years can be distilled into this: the time is now to strive for racial justice.

Despite Chicago being a world-class city, equity is only found in certain areas. Shamefully, the community being primarily Black or Brown appears to be the determinant.

Equity–defined as fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people–is not present in the Austin community and hasn’t been for more than 50 years.

Why? Years of little to no support to sustain essential services and infrastructure, plus broken, racist systems favoring certain groups have allowed socioeconomic inequities to persist and have widened the wealth gap.

For Austin, the fiendishness of racism is reflected in historic systemic discrimination that has caused predatory housing contracts and economic disinvestment in local businesses. Some families are leaving because of safety concerns and a severe lack of living-wage jobs, affordable healthcare, or quality education.

The conditions in a community’s environment strongly affect an individual’s quality of life, health outcomes and risks, and ability to contribute to the community’s growth.

Many communities throughout the greater west side have a dramatically lower life expectancy and a higher infant mortality rate than Chicago’s downtown. This is simply unacceptable. We cannot keep ignoring these long-standing inequities. These communities need justice. For Austin, this means receiving resources and opportunities comparable to communities that are thriving.

The path forward is clear, and it is a shared path. Only together can we successfully redistribute power and establish the infrastructure our community deserves.

Equity is at the heart of Austin Coming Together (ACT). It is the basis of why we were founded in 2010, and it still defines us today.

From day one, ACT and our members have been focused on listening to Austin’s needs and helping to amplify its voice every chance we get. It is through our core values of unity, commitment, transparency, collaboration, and action that we help bring equitable opportunities to our community. One of those opportunities is the Austin Forward. Together. (AFT) quality-of- life plan. Published in 2018, it is a five-year roadmap created by and for Austin. ACT stewards the plan by providing technical assistance to a task force of dozens of community stakeholders who directly work with local and city-wide partners to implement the work together.

As we move into the new year, we need to prioritize investing in community-led efforts like AFT in order to equitably distribute resources and begin dismantling racism and its effects at the systemic level. By empowering those most affected by inequities to take ownership in creating change, we can shift from racism and discrimination to equity and justice for all.