A Statement from Raul Garza, President and CEO, on Aunt Martha’s Continued Stand Against Racism and Against the Discriminatory Practices in the Village of Midlothian

June 30, 2020

Last month, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a level of racial and social upheaval our country has not witnessed in a generation, Aunt Martha’s filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Village of Midlothian for violating the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act in an effort to shutter the state’s first children’s quarantine center for DCFS youth affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yesterday, the court issued its third extension of the Emergency Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which Order continues to prohibit the Village from shutting down the only facility designed for this purpose, for yet another 60-day period or until August 28, 2020. The issue at hand is not one of local ordinances. The Village of Midlothian would like the public to believe that is the case. Nor is the issue at hand one of public health and safety. Still, the Village attempts to portray it as that, too.

This discrimination case has been and continues to be one of fairness. It is, at its core, the issue we are all challenged to confront and represents the systemic inequities we have allowed to become so deeply entrenched in our society and, at our own fault, in our own communities.

There is no challenge more difficult to overcome than that which we refuse to confront. The events of recent weeks have given rise to difficult conversations. Those conversations must be had in our boardrooms and in the public forum, at our breakfast tables, across our balconies and over our backyard fences. 

Aunt Martha’s chooses to follow the right and just path. So, too, do our allies, who we are proud to recognize and to stand alongside. Recognizing the civil rights violations being perpetrated by the Village of Midlothian against the DCFS youth served at the Children’s Quarantine Center – youth of color, youth with mental and physical handicaps, youth who are now fighting COVID-19, this week Aunt Martha’s legal team led by Jessica Cummings and Ricardo Meza, anchored by Roger Derstine, and assisted by Sohil Shah, was joined by Homero Tristan and the UIC John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Clinic. We issued a press release annoucing that partnership today.

It is my solemn commitment that Aunt Martha’s will continue to stand up against discrimination in all forms and will continue to advocate against inequality and the health disparities that systemic racism and inequality ultimately breeds.  We will not allow the Village of Midlothian or any other government entity, institution, or corporation to prevail in treating the most vulnerable members of our society disproportionately.

We Stand Against Racial Injustice

A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO

May 31, 2020

The overt acts of racism that have occurred across our country over the past few weeks are truly disturbing. The tragic events that have been covered extensively by the media recently are truly some of the worst examples, but they are not the only racist events that have occurred in the past month, past week, or even the past day. Racism of varying degrees occurs every minute of every day – some with tragic outcomes such as the heartbreaking cases of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. May they both rest in peace.

Although the internet and social media has, at times, allowed racism to be more readily exposed, racism in our country is not a new reality. The dark history of mistreatment of people who are perceived to be “different” than those in power has scarred this country and all who call it home. The disadvantages created by the vicious cycle of historic and ever-present racism is immense. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the inequalities that already existed.

Recognizing and calling out racism is the first step in bringing about change. To do our part, we must stand up against racial injustice and make a commitment to be overtly anti-racist. That is the commitment that we all must share. It is not only our duty as human beings or U.S. citizens, but also as individuals who, as members of the Aunt Martha’s team, have committed our lives to addressing the effects of the racial and social injustice many of our patients and participants have experienced throughout their lives. Continue reading…

A Continued Call-to-Action

A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO

June 12, 2020

In calendar year 2019, more than 70 percent of the patients and clients who turned to Aunt Martha’s were people of color. One-third of those we served identified themselves as being Hispanic or Latino in ethnicity. More than half (55 percent) identified themselves as African American.

These numbers are more than statistics. They represent this organization’s commitment – your commitment – to serving and to caring for those who historically have been underserved at best, and often left to fend entirely for themselves. They also represent Aunt Martha’s. They represent you and I. Today, for the first time in its proud history, Aunt Martha’s has people of color serving in the roles of both CEO and Chief Operating Officer. Overall, more than 75 percent of the agency’s staff (including close to 60 percent at the leadership level) are people of color, representing and reflecting at every level of the organization the experiences and challenges faced every day by the people we serve.

Our commitment to and achievement (at least relative to many other organizations) of true diversity up, down and across our organization can and should be a source of pride. More importantly, it must continue to be a call-to-action. Continue reading…

A Landmark Decision for Diversity and Inclusion

Excerpt from a Memo to Aunt Martha’s Employees from Raul Garza, President & CEO

June 15, 2020

I have mentioned the work being done to restructure the design of our orgnization to best support our employees and thrive in the new reality of COVID-19; and, more importantly, strengthen our ability to contribute to a social environment of racial equity and justice.

I am pleased to report that we have completed the design phase of that effort. Now, we must all go to work. The changes we make and the work we do together will represent an extension of our collective fight against the racial and social injustices faced by so many members of the communities we serve.

I am pleased to share that today our country’s evolution into a more just society took an important step forward. Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

We are living through a historic time. Our own work at Aunt Martha’s is both inspired by recent events and meant to position our organization to serve as an agent of inspiration in response to the renewed and, I hope permanent, demand for and attention to bringing justice and equality to all aspects of our society.

Juneteenth, the Supreme Court and Living up to our Ideals

A Statement from Raul Garza, President & CEO

June 19, 2020

Today, June 19 – or Juneteenth – commemorates the freedom of the last Black slaves in America. It has been 155 years since the date was first recognized in 1865. As recent events have demonstrated, our country and each of us as individuals still have a great deal of work to do in the name of equality and justice. It is a day to reflect on the type of country we are, and the type of country and the type of people we must still strive to become.

We must choose to be accountable for our words and our actions. We must consider our own shortcomings, our biases and misperceptions. Then, we must make a conscious effort every day to not merely correct our own failures but to insure we do not condemn future generations by poisoning our children with those same shortcomings and biases.

The Supreme Court reminded us this week of the basic values, the basic rights that too many people have learned to take for granted, but which too many others have had to fight so hard to enjoy. First, on Monday, the Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. That decision represented a huge victory for the LGBTQ community. Then, yesterday, the Court blocked the president’s administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

As we come to the end of another week in our continued fight against the coronavirus and our renewed effort to live up to our country’s true ideals, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to reach out to me directly. Your words of gratitude and support tell me that Aunt Martha’s has chosen to be on the right side of history. Your messages are appreciated and valued more than you know.

Finally, I want to wish Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers of Aunt Martha’s. Please take the time to enjoy your children, however young or old. The future we are fighting for is theirs.

And, to everyone, please have a safe weekend. Take care of yourselves and each other.

Reflecting on our Shared Journey

Excerpt from a Memo to Aunt Martha’s Employees from Raul Garza, President & CEO

July 2, 2020

On Tuesday, June 30, I published a statement following that days hearing before the US District Court in Aunt Martha’s discrimination suit against the Village of Midlothian.

The judge had extended the emergency temporary restraining order that prevents the Village from shutting down our Children’s Quarantine Center. The individuals representing the Village, however, have never been more transparent in either their desire or intent to shutter the CQC. They couch their motives in a message of public safety. But let me be absolutely clear. The protection they seek is not protection from a virus. They are fighting to keep diversity out of their community. They are fighting to prevent DCFS youth, most of whom are children of color, many of whom suffer from physical or mental disabilities, from receiving a level of care that every child deserves and which only the CQC can offer. They, in short, are fighting on the wrong side of history; and as far as Aunt Martha’s is concerned, their discriminatory practices and racist attitudes can be neither tolerated nor allowed to prevail.

This is where we stand as we enter the three-day holiday weekend. It is a good time to reflect on the journey we have taken together. I am certain that none of us has ever experienced a three and a half month period that has felt so long or caused so much upheaval in every aspect of our lives. We – you – have done this organization’s best work under the most trying of circumstances. Reflect on that, on the mental, emotional and physical sacrifices we have made for one another. Be proud, but also be mindful. Enjoy the holiday, but remember that we must all continue to protect each other and ourselves from a virus that is still very real and very dangerous. Reflect on your personal journey, celebrate our shared journey, and know that I believe our greatest work still lies ahead.

Finally, as I reflect on my own experience, I need to acknowledge the members of Aunt Martha’s Executive Leadership Team, whose commitment to our mission and dedication to our employees has never been so clearly displayed than it has over the course of the past four months. Through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to the frontline of the fight to transform racial and social justice, their tireless and selfless work deserves our recognition and our thanks.

I, for one, have never worked with a stronger group of leaders than the team of: Audrey Pennington, Chief Operating Officer; Jessica Cummings, Chief Legal and Administrative Officer; Mary Martin, Chief Financial Officer; Dr. Charles Barron, Chief Medical Officer, and Allison Van Gerpen, Executive Assistant to the President & CEO and Director of Special Projects.

These five individuals have worked countless hours to ensure the safety of our employees. Their diligent planning and execution has saved jobs and preserved health benefits. They have, at all times, communicated with transparency and compassion. Most importantly, they have never allowed themselves or any member of their team to be comfortable or complacent with any of these priorities being anything less than fully accomplished.

My thanks to each of them, and to all of you. Please be safe this weekend as the rates of infection go up across the country and the city continues to see unprecedented increase in violence. Keep your children and yourselves safe.

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Aunt Martha’s Heroes!

We are proud of the enthusiasm and commitment of our staff in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Here are a few pics from various locations!

About Aunt Martha's

Aunt Martha’s is a health and wellness not-for-profit organization serving over 105,000 children and adults throughout over 600 communities in Illinois. Through our Integrated Care Model, we provide primary and family health care, including behavioral health, pediatrics, family planning, parent support, and women’s health.  We are also a licensed child welfare provider with foster care and intact family services. Our Integrated Care Center serves to stabilize DCFS involved youth and prepare them for long term placement.