About 15 people gathered at noon on Sunday at Hartman Pavilion on Collins Street in Joliet, to discuss why a previously scheduled block party at the Old Joliet Prison was canceled.
The Joliet Block Party was scheduled to take place Sunday. City Manager James Capparelli called off the event less than two weeks before it was scheduled to take place, according to Sunday’s Herald-News story said.
So three representatives of the Collins Street Neighborhood Council – Tanya Arias, Amy Sanchez and Alicia Morales – held a meeting to answer questions and address concerns.
Arias, president of the Collins Street Neighborhood Council and member of the Old Joliet Prison Preservation Coalition, said before the meeting that the idea of hosting a block party for the Collins Street community arose during a 2019 coalition meeting.
Arias said the museum invited the Collins Street Neighborhood Council to help organize the block party because residents near the prison have ties with the group and trust its members.
The block party, in addition to raising funds for the museum since it manages the prison tours, was intended to engage the community near the prison, which currently isn’t happening, Arias said.
“They have family members who were incarcerated there, family members who worked there,” Arias said. “They have different kinds of personal experiences. We need to engage them more. So why not do an event?”
Arias said the Joliet Block Party originally was scheduled for last summer, but it was postponed because of the COVID-10 pandemic and rescheduled for this year.
All 30 vendors were Joliet-based, with many working either on Collins Street or in downtown Joliet, Arias said. Vendors included resource vendors, street marketers, artists, restaurants and other small businesses.
“Because of COVID, they’re the ones that got impacted the most,” Arias said.
Vendors paid a $50 deposit, which would be refunded, or donated to the museum if they were a “no-show,” Arias said. Ilario Silva of Joliet, also known as “Sonryze,” said local artists don’t have many opportunities to showcase their work
Morales said that another event, “Big Bash at the Big House,” was held Saturday night at the prison site, a divisive move, she said.
“At the 11th hour, they canceled the Sunday event, which was very Black-and-brown-focused. But the Saturday event can go on,” Morales said. “That, to me, is another way of oppressing people.”
Betty Washington, justice committee chairperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Joliet chapter, said she grew up near the prison and was one of the volunteers picking up glass during prison cleanups.
Washington said she “just had to put it out there” that Saturday’s night’s event seemed geared toward white people.
“So what are the next steps for the Black and brown communities of Joliet who want to have something and who want to engage?” Washington said.
Garland Mays, president of the Forest Park Neighborhood Council, said Joliet needs a “diversity and inclusion study” and disagreed with the idea that Joliet “is all one.”
“It’s never been like that. I don’t feel like that. And until they can show me differently on paper, I’m going to continue to feel like that,” Mays said.
Mays said neighborhood groups have served the city for free for years.
“It’s always open doors for everyone but us, the people who have grown up the shadows of the prison,” Mays said.
The meeting concluded with encouragement to patronize businesses on Collins Street and to attend City Council meetings to express concerns. Sanchez referenced a saying that is carved in one of the stones of the Old Joliet Prison.
“There’s always time to mend,” Sanchez said.
Source: The Daily Chronicle