On Tuesday, March 12, the #LetUsBreathe Collective held a community dialogue about economic justice around housing at their #BreathingRoom Space in the Back of the Yards neighborhoods. The discussion, titled “Freedom Circle: Dinner & Dialogue on Building Freedom Cities,” included presentations from Chicago housing experts and gave attendees space to explore the politics and barriers involved when creating housing.

The collective at the #BreathingRoom produces cultural events, collaborates with Chicago activists and promotes programming aimed to abolish the prison system as we know it. This discussion detailed exactly how the carceral state’s reach even affects housing policies and practices.

“We’re not thinking of the home and the carceral state as separate, but how people think about housing as carceral,” said presenter Dave Stovall, a professor of African American Studies and Educational Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “What then does it mean to interrupt and break that state from a place where you are contained and marginalized to one where we foster love, belonging and the capacity to build out on your own terms?”

The evening was part of #LetUsBreathe’s partnership with Envisioning Justice, an Illinois Humanities initiative dedicated to having city-wide conversations about the effects of mass incarceration on communities through the arts and community events.

During his presentation, Dave focused on the trials faced by historically marginalized black neighborhoods in Chicago. A central example was the “Black Belt”, the name given to the predominantly black neighborhoods on the South Side after World War II. During this time, black residents were confined to this area with little agency to leave.

#LetUsBreathe Collective member Joan Fadayiro closed out the discussion by questioning who should be in charge of public housing as a human right. Looking to the displacement created after the closing of Cabrini Green and other public housing, Joan suggested it’s up to communities themselves to provide.

“We come from a legacy of being able to work together and to operate collectively. It might take us some time but we do have a history to return to,” she said. “We need housing today, not three years from now. But to have it then, we need to start and be dedicated to the work today.”

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