Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, County Commissioners, and State Legislators make public commitments to support the community’s Platform for Renewal”
CHICAGO – Today, 1000 clergy, people of faith, ex-offenders, and youth gathered at Kingdom Baptist Church for the Community Renewal Society’s Martin Luther King Faith in Action Assembly. The gathering honored the legacy of Dr. King by engaging community leaders and legislators to take public action to advance the social justice issues that matter most to their communities, the Platform for Renewal. The issues included decreasing the population of the cook county jail and investing the savings into community based violence prevention strategies; opposing mandatory minimum sentencing; eliminating lifetime bars on employment for ex-offenders; and supporting a progressive graduated income tax.
“Dr. King was about more than prayer breakfasts and days of service,” said the Rev. Jason Coulter, pastor of Ravenswood United Church of Christ, board member of Community Renewal Society and one of the co-chairs of the event. “He was about challenging unjust systems and taking direct action for justice and that’s what we are doing here today!”
Community Renewal Society, in partnership with the Gamaliel Foundation of Metro Chicago called on County President Toni Preckwinkle and the County Board of Commissioners to endorse the Reclaim Campaign, a grassroots effort to reduce the population of the Cook County Jail and redirect resources to Restorative Justice programs, mental health care, and other county needs. President Preckwinkle and a majority of the Board members endorsed the campaign’s proposals. “The Cook County court system is failing us,” said Russell Cunningham a leader of the campaign from First Baptist Congregational Church. “I was held in the County jail for over six months without a trial for a non-violent charge. That cost the County over $25,000 that should have been spent to make our streets safe instead of making me lose my job and hurting my family.”
Community leaders also called on the members of the Illinois General Assembly to reform the criminal justice system by rejecting mandatory minimum sentencing and removing barriers which keep people with criminal records from finding employment. More than 10 members of the General Assembly attended and committed to launching these new initiatives.
“Even after our sentences are finished, our punishment continues,” said Reginald DeBerry a leader or the FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) Project. “All we want is a chance to apply for jobs, provide for our families, and contribute to our communities. Why is the state looking to lock more people up for longer instead of helping us re-integrate into society?”
After winning the commitments of President Preckwinkle and the assembled County Commissioners and State Legislators, the crowd vowed to keep moving forward to win changes in the Cook County Justice System and pass their proposed legislation in the Illinois General Assembly.
The Community Renewal Society empowers people to build just communities by working to eradicate racism and poverty. It does so by informing, organizing, training, and encouraging individuals and communities in sustained and strategic efforts to engender systemic change and bring forth a vision of a just community where race and class no longer limit each person’s full participation in all aspects of society. For more information, please see our website at

Today, as we reflect on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’m reminded of “The Drum Major Instinct,” one of Dr. King’s final sermons. In it, he explained how The Drum Major Instinct inspires each of us to reach for greatness, how it can cause us to lose sight of what’s truly important, and how that instinct can be transformed through the ideal of service.
Dr. King called us to serve others. He led by example. As we remember his legacy and leadership, we should ask ourselves what more can we do? What more should we do?

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If we all join together, in service to each other, I’m confident that there is nothing we cannot accomplish.