As an advocate and mediator across the administrations of multiple Chicago mayors and Illinois attorneys general (before retiring in 2014), Regina Brent had seen tension between minority populations and local police departments bubble up and dissipate on many occasions over her long career in public service—both in the wake of high-profile cases from across the country and in smaller, more day-to-day incidents locally.
Understanding that the troubling issues underlying citizen-police relations were never going to go away on their own, she and the late Ronald Allen, another community activist, founded Unity Partnership (unitypartnership.org) in 2016. Their vision was to foster dialogue and find commonalities among people looking to make change by focusing on the three pillars of criminal justice (law enforcement, courts, and corrections), youth engagement, and community outreach. The organization’s activities and events have since garnered a fair amount of local attention, but never more so than in late May and early June this year, when the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked weeks of outrage and massive protests in cities and towns across the country.
“I never thought I would witness something like that in my lifetime,” Brent says of the video of the Floyd incident. But she also believes that as the initial protests have subsided, the appetite for dialogue, discussion, and—most importantly—concrete action has increased substantially. And in that, she sees the light of hope emerging from an extremely dark place.
“Hope comes from history. We as a people have made it through so much by taking our pain and making it work for us,” she explains. “So I’m excited to see what happens now as we stay strong and do the work to forge lasting change. As Dr. [Martin Luther] King said, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Well, we’re at the table and we plan on staying there.”
Photograph by Olivia Kohler