The sun’s rays make the Calumet River glimmer on a cold winter morning. Luis Cabrales walks on the Ewing Avenue bridge, which crosses the river into the historic East Side neighborhood in Chicago. Once a bustling industrial hub, this community is feeling the impacts of unemployment and environmental issues.
That is why the University of Illinois at Chicago graduate is fighting to revive his neighborhood.
“I have a mission to fulfill,” the local environmentalist said. “Which is to participate in conservation work and these duties to the land.”
Cabrales grew up in this working-class immigrant community and has been educating residents for the last five years. But when the pandemic hit, he had to change his approach from in-person meetings to online.
“Social media is a powerful tool, especially if you know how to use it. We can reach senior citizens, young people,” he said.
Cabrales is not the only activist going virtual.
Pilar Audain and Jose Rico are part of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT). It is a national program funded by the Kellog Foundation. Their goal is to promote racial equality by offering “racial healing circles,” where participants can listen to other perspectives and find a sacred space to heal.
Before the pandemic, they conducted in-person training. They thought their activism would stop once COVID-19 impacted the United States, but they were wrong.
“People were experiencing so much pain and hurt they wanted a way to talk about this,” TRHT Director Jose Rico said. “Pilar and I looked at how we use technology to continue to do what we know what to do.”
Since March, nearly 5,000 participants have joined the healing circles virtually.