June President’s Pen: If not us, who?  If not now, when?


Variations of these words are attributed to numerous people over time going back all the way to Hillel the Elder.  Hillel is a significant figure in Judaism and one of the most famous sages of the Talmud.  Rabbinical scholars believe that Jesus of Nazareth was likely familiar with some of his teachings.  One more famous story recounts a time when someone asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot.  Hillel replied, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Hillel’s words are the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of that going around in our world today.  Hate, division, misunderstanding, cruelty are all rampant.  Maybe this time, we can make a difference.  “If not us, who?  If not now, when?” are a call to action.  The Golden Rule is a call to action.  We have waited too long while hoping for someone else to take the lead.  The time is now and we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic magnifies the disparity of wealth and opportunity in our society.  Violence and murder perpetrated by those in authority, especially on Black lives, refocuses our attention to old wounds that have never healed and new wounds we allow to continue to be inflicted generation after generation right to the present day – recurring injustices we, as a society, have built into our governments, institutions, attitudes, and ways of proceeding.


Our counselors estimate that within the first two weeks of lockdown, over half of our parents lost their jobs and even more since then.  In large part this is because 53% of our parents have an 8th grade education or less (23% have less than an elementary education) and are working jobs commensurate with their level of schooling.  Those jobs in retail, manufacturing, home services, food services, and manual labor disappeared first as a result of the pandemic and will likely be the last to return.  Their lack of access to quality education and higher-level jobs made this most recent setback much harder on them than others in our economy.


While many people in surrounding, wealthier suburbs dealt with the new challenges of working from home and navigating Zoom meetings, about 30% of our families were (and still are) experiencing severe food insecurity.  Until just last week, CRSM staff were handing out more than 1,200 meals per week.  One of our meal sources ran out of funding so we are now down to 700 meals per week but demand remains.  Lockdown has driven a significant number of families into basic survival mode.


Luckily for CRSM students, our school went 1:1 with Chromebook devices a few years ago.  That meant that every one of our students entered into lock down with a working Wi-Fi learning device and we were able to help the handful of families who needed internet service get it.  For non-CRSM students in North Chicago and Waukegan, the situation has been far bleaker.  Local school districts estimate that more than 40% of all their students were either without a device or without internet or without both.  Many families with a device found themselves sharing it among several family members – certainly not the best remote learning situation for those children who, under normal circumstances are at an educational disadvantage, but are now facing a widening disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers.


A recent communication from the Lake County Department of Health indicates that, “As of June 25, when accounting for the differences in age between populations, for every one white non-Hispanic person who has contracted COVID-19 in Lake County (IL), four African American non-Hispanic and nine Hispanic people have contracted the disease.”  In seeking an explanation, the following quote is most telling: “‘We attribute the long-term poorer health outcomes in our communities of color to a number of issues, including socioeconomic factors such as unemployment and underemployment, inequities in education, unequal access to quality health care, gaps in health insurance, and institutionalized biases,’ said Gale Graves, Interim Assistant Director at the Waukegan Public Library and Co-Chair for AACPG (African American Community Partnership Group).”


Even in times of relative economic prosperity, racial differences in income account for the wealth gap more than any other factor.  Communities of color are more adversely impacted in times of economic crisis, amplifying the need for intentional investment and support.  In a piece written for Bloomberg City Lab last year, Brentin Mock said, “one of the primary advantages of being wealthy is that the wealthy can buy more advantages.” Without some deliberate intercession to give a hand up to our less wealthy neighbors, some will continue to prosper while others spiral into worsening hardship.

We, individuals and institutions, need to love our neighbors as ourselves – to share the wealth, to open up access to better job opportunities, to work for greater inclusion and equity, to level the educational playing field. Education must be a key component to any solution.  A recent study published by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, concluded that individuals with a four-year degree earn over $1 million more over a lifetime than individuals without a four-year degree.  College is still statistically the single most successful way for a person to find upward economic mobility.


Cristo Rey St. Martin is uniquely positioned to help remove institutional barriers, drive greater economic equity and promote racial equality in our community.  Our college prep curriculum coupled with tremendous student retention, college placement, and completion rates mean more young people of color from economically depressed communities like North Chicago and Waukegan are getting to-and-through college.  They now are on college campuses where the majority of businesses are recruiting young talent.

Our Corporate Work Study Program provides additional advantages beyond quality academics. Students enter professional workplaces they likely could not access on their own while in high school.  They become part of a team, contribute, work alongside people of different races and cultures, and see what future career options might be possible if they stay in school and go to college.  Young people from economically and racially segregated communities experience inclusion and the positivity of diversity.  They build important social capital that, coupled with a good education, enhances their chances of finding sustainable success.

Finally, because we are a faith-based school, we challenge students and staff to explore their own beliefs and how they are living out those beliefs in the world.  Students of all faiths are welcome.  Our faculty and staff represent over ten different major faith traditions including Catholicism, Judaism, Protestantism, and Hinduism.  We honor individuals’ own traditions while focusing on issues of social justice and community service.  We are truly about seeing ourselves in our neighbors and loving them as ourselves.  Our students will pay forward the opportunities they receive to those who follow.

Supporting Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep makes a difference in the lives of others.  It is an investment in a better, more equal, and shared future.  Real solutions are never short-term.  Education gets at the root of the problems we face and offers long-term, transformational solutions to a world desperately in need of positive change.  CRSM’s model of education demonstrates proven results

If not us, who?  If not now, when?  Please support CRSM and our wonderful students. Invest in a better future for all of us.