Politics in Black Chicago is at a crossroads and the people need to decide if we want the same leaders to represent us or if we are ready to elect a new batch of leadership. I live in the 3rd ward. I was hoping for a change in aldermanic leadership, but it didn't happen. I've watched the high number of aldermanic run-offs with great interest. There are 14 wards which were forced into run-offs.
My curiosity has really been piqued by the 16th ward, one of the five wards that touch the Englewood community. The recurring mentions in The Crusader about incumbent Toni Foulkes (pronounced like Folks...no gang affiliation intended) being challenged by political neophyte and legacy Stephanie Coleman who is rumored to be supported by the growing Hispanic contingency in Englewood. I decided to do my own research especially after seeing Stephanie Coleman's disastrous 2015 performance on Chicago Tonight. (Click here to watch.)
Many of my trusted and fellow Chicagoans have said great things about the current 16th ward Alderwoman Toni Foulkes. They say she is one of the good alderpeople that we should keep and she is definitely someone I should know. I called her office, identified myself as a citizen journalist, and asked for a meeting. Toni called me back and invited me to come over. We had a great conversation and here are some of the things I learned from spending time with Toni Foulkes.
Astrological Sign: Pisces (like me)
Spirit Animal: Tropical Fish. Toni loves the water, the calmness, and the beauty of this animal. Serving the people can be tough so she has to stay centered and relaxed.
Her Background: Toni lived in the West Englewood community for 49 years. She loved growing up there when then community was prosperous and neighbors were helpful. Unfortunately crack cocaine began to ravage Black communities in the mid 80's while Toni was in college in Atlanta. She remembers seeing the cover of Time magazine with a crack pipe on it while she was in Atlanta. She came home in 1988 and saw that her neighborhood had been devastated by crack cocaine.
Her aunt moved to California so Toni purchased her 2-flat. Being a homeowner, she started becoming more active in the community. She was on the board for ACORN (which stands for Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now). Over her years as a community organizer with ACORN, Toni held many positions including chairman for the Englewood Chapter, Illinois representative on the National Board and Midwest Regional Rep. All the time she fought against injustice and for the working poor.
She was a selfless community organizer working for other people and even working for causes that didn't directly benefit her. She had a college degree in Marketing and Merchandising. Her goal was to be a buyer for Jewel-Osco, but due to racism she could not get in the management track. She worked in the bakery for 29 years at Jewel but she realizes now that it worked out for the best because working at Jewel gave her income and insurance and time to work with Acorn. Toni also did lobbying down in Springfield and went to Washington DC once a year to lobby for the working poor.
Toni is a strong supporter of unions. In addition to working with ACORN, she has also worked with SEIU for home health care workers, and UFCW (United Food and Commercial workers) Local 881- Jewel Union. Her decades of working as an activist and in the food industry are the best teachers for her experience of being a public servant. Her motto is "customer service second to none". This is her expectation of her office and employees.
Toni used to live in the 15th ward. Alderman Ted Thomas retired so Toni decided to run for his seat in 2007. She won and served two terms in the 15th ward. With a remapping, the 15th ward became largely Hispanic. She moved into the 16th and wanted to continue serving the community where she grew up. She ran for alderwoman of the 16th ward and has served one successful term.
Three greatest accomplishments:
- Responsible Economic Development with a Black Economic Agenda - The previous alderwoman JoAnn Thompson had started the Whole Foods development but Toni bought it to fruition. Though city hall tried to interfere and bring in white construction companies, Toni fought back. "That Whole Foods is the only project in the city of Chicago that was African-American from start to finish and that was in 2017. For 2019, I have $175 million in economic development ready to break ground for African-Americans businesses, developers, and construction companies."
- She is very happy that with technology the crime rate in her ward is down 53%
- Revitalizing the schools...In the ward, there are 2 magnet STEM academies (Miles Davis and Claremount STEM Magnet Academy), one general magnet elementary school and one technology elementary school. 3/4 of her schools are STEM. She wishes her residences would keep their kids local. She remember being able to walk to school and she wishes that for her neighbors. (With the re-map, there are no high schools in the ward.)
On her opponents: She didn't challenge any contenders on the ballot. She wanted to run in a community where she lived and she wants the people to choose who they want to represent them. Toni is 50 years old and she doesn't want to be alderwoman forever. She wants to return her community to the grand state that once was and with the economic developments she has planned, she will do just that. Toni wants to be alderwoman for two more terms and she is looking for someone to groom to take over for her. All of her opponents from the February race have given their support to her re-election campaign.
Her advice: Come and talk to me! Invite me to your events! We are doing it in West Englewood. Millennials....come and talk to me. She wants to pass the torch. She wants her constituents to know her. They invite her to events and she comes.
Toni has a love for her community. She has lived in West Englewood her whole life. She watched her community spiral down to nothing and she wants to bring it back to how it was when she was a little girl. At the end of the day...West Englewood is her home. She knows the wonderful people there who don't want to leave because this is their home. She and her neighbors remember when and they are fighting to restore the glory.
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Filed under: Someone You Should Know