Jonathan Elbaz
Aug 16 · 5 min read

Cydney Wallace was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. She graduated high school a year early and attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she met her husband of nearly thirteen years. Cydney began working for Epiq Global (formerly Document Technologies, Inc.) in 2011 pushing a mail cart and, as of April 2019, became a member of the Operations Team as the Resource Select Team Manager. After a childhood of constantly moving or being evicted, and a stint of homelessness in college, Cydney and her husband Brent bought their first home in Chicago Lawn/Marquette Park in 2016 to be within walking distance of Beth Shalom B’Nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew congregation.

Cydney has been an active JCUA member since December 2016, and joined JCUA’s Board of Directors earlier this summer. She spoke with us about her organizing, her vision for Chicago and what she looks forward to in the coming year.

How did you get involved with JCUA and what have you been working on?

I got involved with JCUA because [former JCUA community organizer] Danny Kaplan kept coming to our congregation to encourage us to get involved. Nobody was really listening, because even though my congregation is both black and Jewish, the black community has not forgotten the rifts between our communities — stemming from the Civil Rights era and COINTELPRO. Right now, I’m working most on JCUA’s police accountability campaign and informally helping JCUA pursue racial equity throughout the organization.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your work with JCUA?

It would have to be the work I’ve been doing with racial equity. I’ve been helping strengthen the Kol Or Caucus, which is dedicated to supporting Jews of Color. And I’ve also worked on JCUA’s South Side Base Building, where we’re not just targeting Jews of Color but also trying to reach Jews who might be missed because they don’t live in predominantly Jewish areas of Chicago.

One big accomplishment was our “Out from the Narrows” community meeting that focused on police accountability. We tried to connect the story of Passover and the Exodus with issues we face today. There are many similarities — like how unfairly we were treated and how we weren’t able to escape Egypt easily. I was terrified before the event. I thought we would be chased out with pitchforks. But it really resonated. One member Matt Owens, whom I greatly admire, later told me my speech at the event was one of the reasons he got more involved with JCUA. [Read Cydney’s “Out From the Narrows” speech]

If you could change anything about Chicago, what would it be?

I wouldn’t change my city for the world. It’s beautiful and perfect, even the small pockets that are segregated, where people are able to live their culture. I would change the systems that have been put in place, the written and unwritten rules that we have to navigate to survive and prosper in Chicago.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

People are always surprised that I was considered the most athletic student in high school. Also, I have an incredibly diverse taste in music. On the way to actions, I’m usually listening to rock. Often “Immortalized” by Disturbed. The lyrics are: “In the calm before the storm, another legend will be born. Another battle will be won, we will rise.” It’s a fight song, it gets you ready to go!

What have you been reading recently?

I’m currently reading The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race and American Identity by Eric J. Goldstein. I am fascinated by white-presenting Jews who only see themselves as white, because that hasn’t always been the case. A hundred years ago, Ashkenazi Jews didn’t consider themselves white. They only started to claim whiteness in America until after World War II. I’m also reading How Jews became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America, and Lynching to Belong: Claiming Whiteness through Racial Violence.

We also talked about the book, 1919, The Year of Racial Violence. We’re now at the one hundred-year anniversary of race riots across the country and in Chicago. Do you see any connections between 1919 and the struggles today?

I do. One thing I’ve learned is that beyond African Americans taking up arms, they leaned heavily into the existing systems to prosecute the white rioters. They gathered witness statements, took them to court and had them charged. Having them charged was a major turning point for the African American community. In connecting it to GAPA [Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability], we are using the systems and the laws in place as leverage to get what we want.

It’s sad when thinking about the connections today, because we often hear statements like, “if we just have these specific things, then race relations would be better.” And the list is the exact same as it was in 1919! Equal amounts of money in education funding, equal protection under the law, equal job opportunities. There are so many things we have been talking about forever but haven’t achieved, because people keep using the same excuses.

What do you hope to see accomplished in the next year, related to your JCUA organizing?

I want to see GAPA passed! And after that, there’s going to be a huge implementation phase that we have to make sure is done right so the elections are in place by November 2020. I would also love to see CPCA [Coalition for Police Contracts Accountability] get some traction, which is about police accountability but also keeping our officers safe.

JCUA is Chicago’s Jewish voice for social justice. We’re dedicated to ending poverty, racism and antisemitism in partnership with our city’s diverse communities. Become a member today.

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

JCUA is the Jewish voice for social justice in Chicago.

Jonathan Elbaz

Written by

JCUA Communications Manager

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs

JCUA is the Jewish voice for social justice in Chicago.

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