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Community outreach fundraiser supports local group striving to help the formerly incarcerated

Earnell Brown knows all too well about the faults of the criminal justice system. He said he was incarcerated years ago.

“I served some time in Illinois state prison and I decided I never wanted to do it again,” Brown said. “I went through the revolving door in and out. … I never really understood what I was doing until I did. Once I did, I decided I didn’t want to see anybody else go through it.”

Brown founded the non-profit organization dubbed the Sir Donald Foundation in 2012 turning his dream into reality. On Saturday, the local group on a mission to help the formerly incarcerated held a community outreach fundraiser to support the cause.

Brown said the way in which they hosted the event--with food and family-friendly activities-- is intentional by design.

“It was really an event to show that this community is not dangerous, is not violent or [anything] they’re calling it,” he said, referring to Black and brown people.

The event was held in the parking lot of the former Campus Cinemas building, 1015 Blackhawk Road, that faced demolition earlier this year. It featured, among other things, food, fellowship, kids’ activities and an auction.

Brown said that hosting the event there brought great meaning to the group.

“It was important to have this event in this very parking lot where there’s so much controversy over what’s going to go here, who’s going to benefit,” he said. “It should benefit the people who live here. It should go here to raise the value of this area and bring down the crime, which goes hand-in-hand with community interaction with police.”

Among those on hand for the event were representatives from community organizations, including the DeKalb County Regional Office of Education, Northern Illinois University and Opportunity DeKalb.

Dan Kenney, board president for Opportunity DeKalb, a group formed out of the former Annie Glidden North Revitalization Task Force from the city of DeKalb, said that hosting a booth at the event made sense on many levels.

“What we want to do is engage people from the whole community and work to improve the Annie Glidden North neighborhood for everybody, as well incorporate it into the city, so everybody feels like we’re one DeKalb,” Kenney said.

Opportunity DeKalb is a non-profit organization working with the city of DeKalb and other entities to study and revitalize the Annie Glidden North neighborhood.

Kenney said the work of Sir Donald Foundation is complementary to the organization he is charged with leading.

“Sometimes people who are involved in the justice system or have been through the justice system have a difficult time finding a job. That may lead to food insecurity,” he said. “We’re all tied together in providing services to meet different needs. There’s a lot of overlap.”

Devlin Collins said he’s not surprised by the way the community turned out for the event.

“It’s a good cause to get behind in the community,” Collins said. “I just think the people they mean well. They’re just here getting the community together. I really do support trying to bridge those gaps in the community.”

Collins is the student government president at Northern Illinois University and is majoring in non profit and political science.

“A lot of this is like community engagement,” he said. “It’s a lot of things we’re taught in non profit. This is really what it looks like. … You start small, and then eventually you build up and it becomes an organization that helps people on a larger scale.”

Brown said it was important for the community to come together and see there is strength in numbers.

“This is the community where most of our guys come from,” Brown said, referring to Black and brown people. “If we can show people, you can do things like this here, then they’ll reinvest in this community, be more active in it.”

The group didn’t have a monetary fundraising goal it set out to achieve.

“We want a return on investment in a social sense where the community is understood, the community comes out, and people come and engage this community,” Brown said.


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