Author: Katherine Tinsley
This year, the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd sent a shockwave throughout the entire country, inspiring widespread protests and shows of support through Black Lives Matter signs, hashtags and social media campaigns (like black squares on Instagram).
My hometown of Chicago quickly began to embody what I saw on the news: a combination of peaceful protests, looting and riots every day. This quickly led to increased law enforcement presence, temporary curfews and the indefinite shuttering of many neighborhood grocery stores and pharmacies. Then, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suspended the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) meal distribution program, which thrust many area families further into a state of food insecurity.
Chicago activist, Iris Simone Haastrup, and local organization, Youth for Black Lives, quickly hustled to find a solution, launching grocery giveaways in an effort to help. For Haastrup—who is currently a junior at Wellesley College—activism isn’t something new. She began working as a community organizer in high school. Soon, Haastrup became a kind of voice for the movement, speaking, for example, at a TEDx event about education disparities among Chicago’s youth.
I sat down with this fearless change-maker to discuss activism, service and Chicago’s south side—the place we both call home:
Katherine Tinsley: How did you become an activist?
Iris Simone Haastrup: When I was 16, my friend started the organization Youth for Black Lives, and that’s how it all began. This summer, because of the pandemic and since all my work is online, I was at home and saw mass protests and then, as a result, the Mayor cutting off the food distributions. I thought it would be really important for organizers to come out and show that, even though we don’t have as much power as neighborhoods on the North Side, we do have the power to bring effective change to our community. I just wanted to offer mutual aid and hand out food and toiletries in affected areas. Regardless of protest, this is still a pandemic and a lot of Black people have been affected economically through the loss of jobs and the loss of life. I thought it would be important for us to give back to the communities that we live in.
KT: What has been the most beneficial form of community outreach?
ISH: Food has been crucial. Food insecurity is a problem that is not talked about. If you have to even think about where your next meal is coming from, that is food insecurity. Even in that small nuanced way, a lot of people experience this specifically marginalized group. So helping to alleviate that issue has been huge, but also—within that—being about to give not just canned goods, but produce as well. Fresh produce is expensive for many people and, if you live in a food desert, these things aren’t accessible.
KT: How can people get involved?
ISH: By starting small. Start getting together with your friends who are interested in the same goal for the community. That’s what I did; I texted my close friends saying, I’m interested in doing this, and then one of my cousins owns a business, so I was able to use his space. So, just understanding how to utilize your community is a big part of it. It’s easy to feel downtrodden and to think that you don’t have any help, but we have a lot of help within ourselves. We just need to connect those points of intersection.
KT: How have you been able to advocate for these issues on campus?
ISH: I have been providing insight. With the rise of uprisings and activism, there are a lot people who are just getting into this stuff and learning about it through social media. That’s good for the first step, but there needs to be a second one. I have been advocating for communal learning because everyone has different experiences that we all can learn from.
KT: How have you been taking care of yourself while caring for your community?
ISH: Taking breaks. Especially since school started, it’s been very intense, so it’s crucial. Last weekend, I did a grocery pick up, but I’m not gonna do one this weekend, so I can spend time with myself. Carving out time that’s for me—like for watching TV or reading a book. It’s a specific time for me and not for anyone else, and that’s helped a lot.
KT: How do you Live the Process?
ISH: I “Live The Process” of finding a balance through community and self. It’s about thinking of self-care as a part of communal care. I have been doing yoga and meditation as a form of self-care. One thing about being an activist is that I never leave feeling worse than I felt before I started. I always feel better at the end of the day, doing these acts which are impacting me and my community in positive ways.
Image Via Minjin Kang and Mijoo Kim