Cecile Carroll is the co-director of Blocks Together, a community organization dedicated to leadership development and grassroots organizing in the West Humboldt Park community. Cecile has been organizing for over a decade in low-income Chicago communities. In 2008, she was appointed to serve on the Illinois General Assembly’s Chicago Educational Facilities Taskforce to help to create legislation and to create a new process for Chicago Public Schools long term planning. She also serves as vice chair on the editorial board of Catalyst magazine. In 2013, she was awarded the Emerging Leadership Chicago Community Trust Fellowship where she was offered the opportunity to study other low income communities across the country doing community organizing around participatory planning. She has a Masters in Not Profit Management from Spertus Institute and a Masters in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Blocks Together’s mission is to build a grassroots community infrastructure governed from the bottom up, which provides resources, leadership development and sustained focused efforts to achieve widespread improvements for the community and advance economic and social justice.

Blocks Together is part of the national revival of The Poor People's Campaign, leading it here in Chicago. Why did you join the campaign and why do you think it matters in this moment?

With the state budget crisis, one of the things that continues to happen across Illinois and Chicago is the elimination of human services that impact people living in poverty. I’m thinking about the budget cuts in Chicago Public Schools, the cuts in mental health care, the high unemployment, joblessness, and underemployment. We also continue to see the mismanagement of public funds and how our state is prioritizing affluent communities at the expense of lower income communities. On top of what's happening at the city and state levels, federal cuts and policies continue to impact the poor in this country.

Working to address poverty is about being able to state clearly that the biggest tax is on poor people and poor people are the ones being sacrificed when the government created a financial crisis. We are the ones who are overtaxed and under-resourced. Poor people are not the ones to blame for financial mismanagement and we shouldn’t be feeling the brunt of the cuts.

Blocks Together sees the opportunity around a people’s agenda to address poverty by connecting issues and people that usually don't connect. The campaign is creating an agenda that crosscuts around issues and can hold more elected officials accountable to how their votes are continuing to hurt poor people.

This May is the 50th anniversary of the original Poor People’s Campaign. We want to show that that we may have so much at stake and how important it is to address the policies that keep people impoverished.

You do a variety of organizing work across the city, including the Westside and Englewood, where you live. Why do you think it's important for people to organize in a community where they live and they call home?

With organizing, I think having solidarity with the community is important. With my work at Blocks Together, and the other work I do, many times I come to this point where I ask myself, do I keep going even though this doesn't look winnable? What I know is when you are intimately connected to the work and it matters to your own survival, you definitely approach the work from a place of more endurance. You are going to be more innovative, creative, and go the long-haul with a specific strategy, plan, or campaign. Not to say that organizers can’t do that in a community where they don't have a connection but I know there's just something about seeing yourself in that community that will make you go the long-haul and make you be more creative when it comes to thinking about how to create a victory.

Could you expand a little bit on what you think solidarity means?

An important aspect to solidarity is validating people's experiences and their perspective. When we are organizing around school issues, we often see people not validating personal experience. We will organize around some of the intentional policies and structures that negatively impact students and we will bump into this resistance from folks who say things like: “We don't believe that.” “Are you sure?” “There must be something else to it.” or “Where’s the personal responsibility?”  You cannot take away the authentic experience of the people from these communities just because you don't think it's realistic. An organizer has to meet people where they are, truly listen, and don’t try to challenge when people state what their experience is. You cannot minimize it, dismiss it, make it seem like it's something that they can get over, or act like that’s just the way that it is and the way that it will be. Some of the words that describe being in solidarity with community are compassion, trust, and understanding. To be in solidarity means to uplift experiences and the need to address those experiences.

How did you come into movement work and why do you think that work is important?

I started to do movement work towards the end of my college career. I really felt connected to and wanted to make changes to the world that I saw. Organizing doesn't really do social services per se but organizing is more about everyone doing their part to challenge systems. If a system or institution is biased or set-up to penalize others for race, class, or gender, then you are always going to need change to that system.

What do you think Crossroad Fund's role is in movement work? Do you think there’s a role for the organization that's more than just funding?

I’ve been connected to Crossroads Fund for about ten years. What I appreciate is how Crossroads Fund reviews how community organization’s processes work and how intentional these organizations are about engaging those who are directly impacted and creating the space for collective work. Because Crossroads Fund is so intentional about that, they have been able to elevate great campaign work that’s happening in this city by supporting it with funds, connecting groups that are leading grassroots movement work, and highlighting movements that do not receive the spotlight or are not in the political conversations in Chicago but should be.

Tue, Feb 27, 2018


Bob Horton grew up in Spokane, Washington and moved to Chicago in 1981. Four years ago, he and his husband moved downtown after living in Northwest Chicago. He spent his career in banking and finance and is now in his second career as a long-term volunteer with Crossroads Fund, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Center on Halsted, St. Pauls House, and others. Bob is a currently a member of the Finance Committee and previously served on the Board of Directors. We sat down with Bob to talk about how he sees his role in movement work and the non-profit sector.


Is there a current social justice movement that you feel strongly or passionate about?

It’s hard not to be passionate about social justice because we’re so challenged right now. It seems like it should be universal for everybody to say “I believe in social justice” but I’m not sure right now whether all people would say that and that’s scary. I don’t always agree with some of the positions of the groups that are funded by Crossroads Fund, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think they should be funded. Progressive groups that are passionate and have a strong social justice plan should be given the space to fight for their cause and see what they can do – if some fail that’s ok. My point is that I’m passionate about having a more community approach that can lead to being challenged by ideas and people who you disagree with, for whatever reason. As long as we’re faced with the political situation that we have right now, we need to unite and not go into our little pockets – to do so is unhealthy.


How’d you come into movement/justice/non-profit work and why do you think it’s important?

I was always politically involved and curious but I wouldn’t call myself an activist. How I actually came to activist, movement work was coincidental and accidental. I had worked on campaigns a little bit but I was more aware than involved. When I retired, I wanted to remain engaged so I found lots of different volunteer opportunities. I wanted to give back and I wanted to be around smart people. It was probably just fortuitous that I had a friend on the Finance Committee at Crossroads Fund and that got me in the door. It’s been my only activist movement experience in my life. I want to be around people that are passionate about what they do and Crossroads Fund fits that.


How has your relationship to Chicago changed since you’ve been at Crossroads Fund?

If I had stayed forever in my own niche, I would be missing out on a lot of the diversity that exists in Chicago. You know the corporate finance world isn't exactly known for its diversity, open-mindedness, or thoughtfulness towards progressive or social issues. Being involved in Crossroads Fund clearly got me involved in a much bigger community of people with different thoughts than my own, different backgrounds than my own, and different agendas than mine. Crossroads Fund brings a lot of different people and groups together. There are places where these groups intersect and have the same goals and places where they have different goals. But it's critical that people are brought together and listen to each other. I would not have the views I have today if I hadn't been around Crossroads Fund and been willing to listen. Lots of people have convinced me of things without knowing they have influenced my thinking. If you’re not open-minded or if we are separating ourselves into little groups that don't cross-pollinate, you're never going to change people's minds. We can’t lose allies because we're so busy being in our own little boxes.


Do you have advice for Crossroads Fund and other organizations on how to retain good volunteers?

I have been incredibly lucky as a volunteer at Crossroads Fund because I’m appreciated. No one's ever shut me down if I have an idea. No one has to adopt anything I say but people let me think, let me participate, let me contribute where I can. So what should Crossroads Fund do? What it’s doing. It's an incredible place just to be. I guess if you ask any volunteer who has actually volunteered at the office and come here and spent two or three hours on a weekly basis over a period of time, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't say it was a fantastic, eye-opening, and educational experience. I’m not being gratuitous when I say I've learned a ton from the staff, the Board of Directors, and from the grantees at Crossroads Fund. Since retiring, this has been my job and my passion because I've been allowed to contribute in a meaningful way than at other places. This has sort of become my home and my spot to do things that I think are beneficial. 


How has your presence changed Crossroads Fund and how has Crossroads Fund changed you?

Since I've been volunteering, Crossroads Fund has been in a period of tremendous growth and I believe that’s because what Crossroads Fund does is so necessary. Over time, we've increased our fundraising tremendously so we have more money coming in the door. Part of my role here has been to try to figure out how you manage the money better. How to spend it most efficiently. The whole budgeting process is more complex. We have endowments now and that's more complex. So I think I've been helpful in that. I’ve said this before, I also benefit and that’s through seeing how our grants are supporting important initiatives and having results across Chicago. 


How has being connected to Crossroads Fund deepened your commitment to racial, social, and economic justice work?

You cannot be in the Crossroads Fund office on a weekly basis without learning a lot and being around people who are passionate about a variety of social justice issues. You can’t help but learn by being around the people that are here and by being around the grantees that come through the door. I ultimately ended up not only on the Finance Committee but on the Board. So I was around the other Board Members, who are all incredibly active in movement building and that was bound to influence me. I don't want to imply that I wasn't interested in social justice before I came here. My political views have evolved to the point where I care and I hope most people care about social justice, equality, and equal opportunity for folks to make their way.



Fri, Jan 05, 2018

photo by Sarah-Ji Rhee

In early 2017, Crossroads Fund opened the Critical Response Fund (CRF) to support grassroots organizations protecting and empowering community members in this time of heightened racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and xenophobia.

Through the CRF, Crossroads Fund awarded over $80,000 to fifteen grassroots organizations who are building strong resistance movements in the face of hate and systemic violence being inflicted by all levels of government.

Crossroads Fund expedited the application and approval process to respond on a case-by-case basis to needs on the ground as quickly as possible. CRF grant recipients included:

  • The Arab American Action Network’s powerful organizing to bring thousands of people to O’Hare International Airport in January to raise their voices against the implementation of the “Muslim Ban” and demonstrate against fear-mongering. 
  • The Illinois Women’s March on Springfield united an extensive coalition of organizations with a sophisticated intersectional analysis to educate and agitate for progressive legislation during the peak of the state budget impasse in the spring 2017 session of the Illinois Legislature.
  • Organized Communities Against Deportation’s offering of “know your rights” trainings to thousands of undocumented people and allies in response to the increase in ICE raids and deportations.

The Critical Response Fund was one component of Crossroads Fund’s grantmaking in 2017. Overall, Crossroads Fund used strategic fundraising to increase its grantmaking by 47% over the year in order to help organizers meet the challenges facing their communities.

Crossroads Fund would like to thank the Chicago Community Trust for their collaboration in the Critical Response Fund.


A full report on the impact of the Critical Response Fund is available for download.

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Tue, Nov 28, 2017

Crossroads Fund is excited to announce a new series highlighting inspiring individuals in movement work. Our first profile features the dedication of one committed community leader and volunteer, Lizette Garza.

Lizette, a Chicago native and Pilsen resident with a passion for hip-hop and youth development, currently works as a Program Specialist with After School Matters. She participated in the 2017 Giving Project and is now a member of the Communications and Fundraising Committee at Crossroads Fund.

How did you come into movement work and why do you think it is important?

Movement work was instilled in me due to my parents. I remember being young and going to my first protest with my dad, for May Day, fighting for immigrant rights. Fighting for what you believe in, taking a stance, and being very vocal was instilled early.

Moving to the suburbs at an early age and being exposed to other opportunities outside of Pilsen really opened my eyes to the reality of the world that we live in. That kind of ignited me and really got me thinking about how I can also do the work. I think that being a student of hip-hop and how it’s a form of activism has always been with me.

How is your involvement with Crossroads Fund meaningful to your commitment to racial, social, and economic justice?

It’s always been a goal of mine to help with equitable funding and that’s what I’m steering towards now. In terms of Crossroads Fund, I think it's raising awareness, especially now more than ever, to the need for the work. The Giving Project was a huge chance for me to be a part of something. I might not have tons of money or know many folks who do but still, it takes a village and it’s important to tap into resources that I might not have done before.

Overall, the Giving Project brought us together for conversations, real conversations, about the reality of the world that we live in and what we can do now to make a difference. I think that’s probably why it’s so necessary because we can, together, unite fronts and put money, resources, and time into organizations who need it. We have to fight for it. I always think about when I tell my grandkids, down the road, about what side of the fight I was on. That’s how my parents showed their commitment when I was a kid. It’s this generational thing of giving: giving your time, your money, and your resources, but also communicating why it’s important.

What is the role of young people in sustaining and imagining movements?

This is where I get all emotional. Our Chicago teens have tools, but we need to equip them with enough tools and the right tools because they are the ones leading. Sometimes, as adults, we forget that. Young people are so smart and they’re so important to have within conversations. They need a seat at the table, especially young People of Color, because they know what they’re talking about - they’ve seen and experienced it.

Young people know what they want and they know how to say it, it’s just - who is listening? That’s why, when we’re having any conversations, young people need to be present. Are we doing that? Whether you’re with an organization or within your church or building a movement, are you reflecting and seeing if young people are really a part of the conversation?

What do you think the role arts plays in social justice work?

I think various art forms bring the cultural background and roots to the forefront of taking a stance or shedding light on a specific issue. Artists are definitely at the forefront of this and they are often the ones that are the most visible with imagining new possibilities. I think that’s why art always brings these controversial topics to light. I think that’s why it is so necessary. 

Mon, Nov 06, 2017

The president is a coward. Yesterday President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was enacted by President Obama in 2012. He didn't have the courage to make the announcement himself. He sent overt racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions to deliver the message, and later gave Congress a timeline of "6 months to legalize DACA." The President is holding over 800,000 young people's lives hostage to pass an immigration measure that will pay for more militarization, detention and deportation of immigrants, and a wall along our southern border. Groups on the ground are mobilizing and demanding protection for all immigrants.

Make no mistake - undocumented youth campaigned to put the pressure on Obama to provide DACA’s relief. By participating in sit-ins at congressional offices across the country and coming out of the shadows as undocumented in public forums, they changed the narrative from fear to courage. While President Trump hides behind his tweets, immigrant communities are organizing and ready to resist.

Crossroads Fund is proud to work with the following organization fighting on the front lines of our immigration crisis. Get involved and share the following resources widely.

Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD)

On Thursday, September 7, OCAD will hold a press conference regarding Chicago’s gang database, an index that can only be accessed or edited by law enforcement officials and whose accuracy cannot be contested by those who are placed in it. This database is instrumental for all law enforcement agencies who are harassing, detaining, and criminalizing families in order to assert their power and profit from their suffering. For more information visit their Facebook page.

Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA)

CALA is offering a helpline for any DACA recipients that might need more information, would like to talk to an attorney for a free consultation on legal options, and to discuss the effects this week’s announcement has on their lives. #CALAHelpline #DACA (872) 267-CALA

PASO - West Suburban Action Project

PASO - West Suburban Action Project, in coalition with other immigrant rights groups, organized to pass the TRUST Act, a bill that limits the interaction of police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Illinois.

If your DACA work permit expires BEFORE March 5, 2018, and you want to renew, you must file the renewal application BEFORE October 5, 2017. If your DACA expires on or after March 6, 2018, you will no longer be allowed to renew. PASO - West Suburban Action Project is clearing all of its appointments for September to accommodate for DACA renewals. Call PASO at 708-410-2000 or message them via PASO’s Facebook page. No new initial applications will be accepted as of September 5, 2017. All pending applications for advance parole will be denied, and money returned.

Funding Opportunity at Crossroads Fund

The Critical Response Fund is a rapid response grant opportunity to support organizations taking on new work in this political moment. This fund is now open and receiving applications – interested organizations should review our funding criteria and contact Emily Duma at with questions and ideas. 

Additional Funding Resource.

Illinois Immigrant Funders Collaborative.

The Illinois Immigration Funders Collaborative (IFC) invites Illinois 501c3 organizations with a mission to advance the rights and well-being of immigrants and refugees, and/or programming that is focused on them to apply for grant funding. Interested, eligible organizations should send Letters of Inquiry (LOIs). View Letter of Inquiry information here.

Please consider making a gift to the Critical Response Fund so we can continue to support grassroots groups in this moment of heightened racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism and xenophobia. 


Thu, Sep 07, 2017