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Even in ‘Obamaland,’ Change Starts at Home

New America Media, News Feature, Video, Written by Elena Shore // Photos: Joseph Rodriguez // Video: Josue Rojas Posted: Mar 14, 2008

Editor’s Note: If hope is palpable on the bus to a town hall in Springfield, Ill., it is not just because many riding the bus feel an affinity with local hero Barack Obama. Coming together from community groups across Chicago, they are united around the shared belief that political change begins at home, and that keeping the family together is the most revolutionary act there is. New America Media's coverage of this issue is underwritten by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, sponsor of the Equal Voice for America's Families campaign.

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Corey and Tiana Camphor are doing the most revolutionary thing they can think of – keeping their family together.

Camphor, 28, and his family may live in Obama central, but the movement for change with which they identify most strongly is not limited to the presidential election. It is much more personal, and centers on the family. BreakfastCorey Camphor says grace before breakfast with his family.

The Camphors, who recently moved into a quiet middle-class neighborhood on the south side, are beating the odds. Both parents grew up without fathers and are determined to raise their kids in a two-parent home. They lived for two and a half years in a nearby neighborhood where they say they didn’t feel their children were safe. Now, they say, they are living the American dream.

Corey, who works for a prisoner re-entry program, serves up pancakes, eggs and sausage for his family before getting ready to go to work. Over breakfast, he says he’d like to see more African-American men take the path he has chosen – to be active fathers, providing for their families.

That is why when their church, Ambassadors for Christ, invited the Camphors to go to the capital for a town hall meeting for families, they were excited to go.

“You can’t seek (change) outside the community – we have to seek it inside the community, and the basic structure of that community is the family,” says Camphor. “If we can focus on the family, put that structure back together, then we can see a better future.”

Corey, his 25-year-old wife Tiana, and their three kids, Jordan, 7, Ticora-Grace, 2, and Hannah, 6 months old, piled into a bus at their church at eight in the morning, headed for the capital. After a four-hour ride from the south side of Chicago to Springfield, Ill., the Camphors met up with some 300 families and activists from Mexican, Puerto Rican, Muslim, Arab and African-American neighborhoods of Chicago.

The town hall meeting in Springfield was part of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s national Equal Voice for America’s Families campaign, which aims to bring the concerns of low-income and working families across the country into a national dialogue leading up to the 2008 election. BusFriends greet each other on a bus from Chicago to Springfield, Ill.

The daylong event, facilitated by local non-profit groups including the United Congress of Community & Religious Organizations, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, brought families together to compile their greatest concerns. These will contribute to a national platform that will be presented at a convening on Sept. 6 in Chicago, one of three national gatherings of families to take place that day. The hope is that the presidential candidates and the next president of the United States will adopt the platform approved at these meetings.

The dialogue at the Springfield event hinted at what some of the issues in that platform might be.

“In Chicago, you were told at a very young age there are certain neighborhoods you can’t walk through because you won’t come out in one piece,” Miguel del Valle, City Clerk of Chicago and former Illinois State Senator, told the crowd.

“Race is a factor we all live with on a day-to-day basis. But more of a factor is our economic status,” said the Puerto Rican-born Del Valle, who cited “equality” as the biggest challenge in living up to the American Constitution.

The Applied Research Center presented legislators with “racial report cards,” its second annual report grading the Illinois legislature on their progress toward increasing racial equity.

Cheryl Philipps, the MC of the event and executive director of the ASA Community Development Corporation, which provides affordable housing, said the real power in coming together was “understanding that whether we live in the north, south, east, west, or in the suburbs, we have the same issues and we want the same things.” TableParticipants at the town hall meeting share their stories.

Seated at round tables at Springfield’s Inn at 835, participants ate together and shared stories about where their parents came from and the progress they had—and hadn’t—made.

Problems of inequality still plague Chicago, from lack of affordable housing to violence, poverty and segregation.

“You see a massive migration of black people being moved out, not being able to afford the condominiums in the places they once lived,” said Camphor. “It’s disheartening to know that this is Chicago. Right here on Marquette, we had Martin Luther King doing his march. We fought for equality, yet equality is not being upheld.”

Camphor added that now, “the same prejudice and segregation is happening with the Latino community.” Homeland Security raids and deportations, he said, are turning people into “criminals for just seeking better opportunities for their families.”

“This road continues,” said Raul Botello, lead organizer of the youth program Albany Park Neighborhood Council. Botello grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, where his father spent 15 years as a bracero, one of thousands of Mexican migrant workers who traveled to the United States as part of a guest worker program in the 1940s and 50s. When his family moved to Chicago, Botello said, he learned that poverty exists here too. “You think you’re going to cross a line and salvation comes, but lines are just lines and the struggle continues.”

Participants agreed that education was the key to bringing families out of poverty.

“What would ‘save’ the black family would be to educate them in every way: financially, academically,” said Tiana Camphor, who is training to be an early childhood educator herself. The Camphors go to SpringfieldThe Camphor family walks through the capitol building in Springfield, Ill..

As families crowded back onto buses to go home, the air was filled with optimism and hope.

Some of it, undoubtedly, came from the Chicago residents’ excitement over the charismatic Democratic presidential contender.

“Right now, this seems to be an opportune time in history,” said Pastor Ron Taylor of the Disciples for Christ Church in Oak Lawn, Ill., “when people understand that the walls that have kept people apart for so long need to come down.”

He called it “mind-boggling” that a black man could be right at the threshold of becoming the Democratic nominee. “Unbelievable,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Unbelievable.”

“Not to mention any names, but I believe that change can happen,” Corey Camphor agreed, with a big smile.

But, surrounded by his family, Camphor underscored that the most important change begins at home.

“Personally, I’ve taken the challenge not to be that man who steps away from my family,” he said. “It’s a decision I’ve made, realizing our past failures as a people, as a nation, and saying that I don’t want that to happen with me.”

Video: Townhall participants Corey and Tiana Camphor describe some of the issues their family of five faces. [ Quicktime 6 or later ]

Photos © Joseph Rodriguez/New America Media

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