VOLUNTEERING TO HELP LOCAL CHILDREN
Open Communities staff and their families spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day honoring his legacy with a special project on the 25th anniversary of this national day of service.
The group volunteered at Cradles to Crayons, an organization dedicated to providing children from birth through age 12 with the everyday essentials they need to thrive. The OC team spent time inspecting, sorting, and packing donations for children throughout the Chicagoland area.
“Dr. King is part of our history and inspired the work we do everyday,” said OC Executive Director Mary Ellen Ball, “While we are always focused on fighting housing injustice, we know families in our community need support in so many ways, and we are glad to take time out of the office to lend a hand.”
OUR HISTORY WITH MARTIN LUTHER KING
Open Communities got its start in large part due to the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of 1960s. At the time, there were no fair housing laws, and local housing ads often stipulated, "No Negroes, Orientals or Jews."
A group of young mothers in Wilmette, led by Jean R. Cleland, were worried that their children were growing up in a community that lacked diversity. They began to talk about how they could organize for change. These initial discussions gave birth to the North Shore Summer Project, an effort to persuade real estate agents in Chicago's northern suburbs to show and sell homes on a non-discriminatory basis.
The project attracted the attention of Dr. King who spoke to a crowd of nearly 10,000 supporters during a rally on the Winnetka Village Green in 1965 when he said, "We must now learn to live together as brothers, or we will perish together as fools."
Those activist mothers continued their work and eventually formed the North Shore Interfaith Housing Council in 1972. The organization's services have grown from assisting low-to-moderate income residents seeking homes in the suburbs and investigating fair housing violations to offering housing counseling and education as well as a full legal clinic. It is now known as Open Communities, a name chosen to reflect the open and welcoming objectives of the organization’s advocacy efforts.
MEET JASEMEN HATCHER - Director of Housing Counseling & Education
Jasemen Hatcher has been preparing for her work at Open Communities since she was a kid. Her Aunt Thea owned 45 homes that she rented to low-income families, and when Jasemen was in sixth grade, she started working along side her aunt, learning all about landlords, tenants, and properties. “My aunt was very open about the challenges of being able to pay rent,” said Jasemen, adding, “Doing renovations taught me the value of a hard day’s labor.”
Now, Jasemen is putting all of her energy into counseling clients who come to Open Communities looking for help when their housing is at risk. As the Director of Housing Counseling and Education, Jasemen is responsible for running a number of HUD programs focused on foreclosure prevention, rental counseling, financial capabilities, and pre-purchase counseling. She primarily provides one-on-one counseling and also runs workshops on a variety of topics including rental education for victims of domestic violence as well as teens. “Housing instability affects our children. Bringing this information to them is imperative,” she said.
Jasemen grew up in Decatur, IL and finished high school by age 16. She went to Illinois State University thinking she was eventually headed to medical school, but when organic chemistry didn’t click, she moved on to language courses. She learned German, French, and Spanish and studied abroad in France, England, and Spain. “I found a love for people and culture,” she said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Jasemen attended DePaul University where she earned a master’s degree in international public service and legal studies for Arizona State University. Her program enabled her to continue her worldwide travel. She went to Ireland to study history and to Panama where she focused on economics and the expansion of the canal. “It gave me amazing insights into grassroots and community building,” she said.
Once her formal education was behind her, Jasemen joined the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, and Upwardly Global volunteering in the international community. She recently completed a fellowship with Chicago United for Equity that let her design a racial equity based curriculum for housing counseling. She brought her expertise to Open Communities in early 2018 and is determined to help clients improve their lives. “The issues that my clients face keep me up at night. I’m always focused on ways to assist people to change the narrative, to challenge racism, and to come up with equitable solutions,” she explained.
When Jasemen is not counseling clients, she volunteers with a number of political organizations centered on civil rights in Chicago. She is also mom to her four-year-old son and is grateful to her father who travels from Decatur to her home in Chicago’s South Loop every week to care for her child while Jasemen is caring for her clients, a mission she takes quite seriously: “I’m always trying to make time for work/life balance, and I look for ways to cope with my stress so I can be a better human to my clients.”
WHAT WE'RE READING
"Being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination."
Open Communities' staff members are invested in our work and know it’s important to deeply understand the issues that impact all of us, so we are reading “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.