At Elgin festival, Foxx recalls how she was 'made by history'

 
 
Updated 2/3/2018 11:30 PM
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  • Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx delivers the keynote speech Saturday at the Black History Family Festival at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

      Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx delivers the keynote speech Saturday at the Black History Family Festival at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • State Sen. Christina Castro, an Elgin Democrat, meets with Elgin Community College President David Sam Saturday at the Black History Family Festival at the Gail Borden Public Library.

      State Sen. Christina Castro, an Elgin Democrat, meets with Elgin Community College President David Sam Saturday at the Black History Family Festival at the Gail Borden Public Library. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Emerson Carter, 6, looks around the room Saturday during the Black History Family Festival at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin as Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx gives a keynote speech. Foxx grew up in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project.

      Emerson Carter, 6, looks around the room Saturday during the Black History Family Festival at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin as Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx gives a keynote speech. Foxx grew up in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing project. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Visitors gather around a display Saturday at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin during the Black History Family Festival.

      Visitors gather around a display Saturday at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin during the Black History Family Festival. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx often is introduced and defined as the first African-American woman to hold the office.

But Foxx responded to that familiar script by invoking the words of Martin Luther King Jr. as the keynote speaker of an Elgin festival Saturday in honor of Black History Month.

"We are not history makers," Foxx told her audience at the Gail Borden Public Library. "We are made by history."

So Foxx looked back on her childhood and its influence on the criminal justice reforms she's championed over her career.

"I have more in common with the young people who come through our detention center than the attorneys who work for me," Foxx said. "Most of the young people who come through our detention centers have lived in areas of concentrated poverty."

Foxx grew up in a high-rise in the former Cabrini-Green housing project, a roughly 70-acre complex and an "island unto itself" in Chicago. Her mother was 18 when Foxx was born and long struggled with depression. In the 1970s, she went to a school housed in Cabrini.

"There was no racial diversity in that school. The irony? The name of the school was Sojourner Truth," said Foxx, referring to the African-American abolitionist. "And the resources in Sojourner Truth were vastly different than the resources in the schools that were not that far from where we lived. And when I say vastly different, I'm meaning under-resourced."

How did she overcome those barriers? The question is frequently asked of Foxx. "And I have to turn the question back. That if we recognize that all of those conditions are meant for people to fail, we ought not celebrate one escapee. We ought to go back and save the rest," said Foxx, drawing applause.

Foxx used the address not to reflect on her own professional and political rise, but to draw attention to racial divides in housing, education and health care.

"We must in our policy decisions and how we look at the universe not succumb to making people feel comfortable by not addressing strong truths: that our justice system has failed many because it has been based upon practices rooted in racist ideology, that we are not going to be able to deal with the issues of violence if we don't look holistically at those who are engaged in the behavior, and that we're not going to have the trust and the credibility of those whom we serve if we pretend that the legacies that proceeded us, the history that made us, doesn't also define us," she said.

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