At 81 years young, Ms. Banks is one of KOCO’s oldest members and during her 17 years of membership has been part of KOCO’s many significant campaigns, such as the fight to keep Mercy Hospital open and the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Campaign (CBA). She is a part of Involved Seniors for Justice of KOCO and a member of KOCO’s Board of Directors.

Ms. Banks first got involved with KOCO when she was living in a senior building and was facing eviction by disrespectful management who chose to retaliate against her when she made demands for basic rights. At about the same time, she and a friend were invited to a KOCO meeting where they shared their issues and concerns and KOCO assisted the seniors in developing a strategy to help them change their conditions. stepped in to help. “I was stunned when KOCO said they could do something to solve our problems,” says Ms. Banks. “I was even more stunned when they followed through – even going so far as to stand by me in court.” This experience led Ms. Banks to become a KOCO member and recruit other seniors. Together they formed Involved Seniors for Justice (ISJ), which has since grown to include 14 senior buildings.

Involved Seniors for Justice of KOCO has been a powerful tool in amplifying the too often ignored voices of seniors in our communities. Their tireless efforts have shown that seniors not only have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, but also to exercise their fundamental 1st amendment right to free speech without fear of retaliation or eviction. Through their advocacy work, Involved Seniors for Justice has created a community where seniors feel empowered and supported, where their voices are heard and where their concerns are taken seriously. Ms. Banks is one of many who have inspired countless seniors to stand together and fight for their rights.

Most recently, the Involved Seniors for Justice created the Senior Bill of Rights. “We wrote a Bill of Rights that gave us the right to speak,” says Ms. Banks. “We, as seniors, feel like we cannot raise our voice – like we have no right to respond to injustice. But KOCO taught us how we could respond to injustice.”

Over the past year, ISJ has worked diligently to get input from seniors across Kenwood-Oakland and across the city to contribute to the Bill of Rights. The Seniors have met with Alderman Taylor to get it presented to the City Council as an ordinance. The Senior Bill of Rights includes 10 points, which start with the most important one: All seniors deserve to be valued, respected, treated fairly and with dignity.

In the coming months, KOCO will expand our services for seniors with the addition of the Silver Fox Café – which will provide affordable and delicious meals, not only to seniors but to the community at large, in a safe and welcoming environment. Seniors need a safe space where they can sit, relax and connect with other community members. “Social isolation is a huge problem for our seniors,” says Ms. Banks. “It will be great to have a place where we can come together, socialize and not worry about anything else.”

Ms. Banks was proud to be a part of the campaign to reopen Dyett High School when it was voted to be phased out in 2013. “Young people came asking for help because the Chicago Public Schools was phasing out and closing their school. They wanted to graduate from the school. They wanted their siblings and other youth in the community to attend the school in the future. We sat down and we listened to the young people.” she recalls.

Everything in society tells Black people not to fight and to just accept the conditions that have been provided to us. KOCO’s very existence directly challenges this narrative. By inviting people to come together to identify and organize around issues they care about, we can develop the strategies and campaigns to improve the quality of life of the community. Ms. Banks’ level of commitment reflects that spirit. “KOCO is involved in so many areas where Black people are used and abused,” she says. “We always fight for our community. And when we fight we win”

Click here to watch a 90-second video of Ms. Banks speaking about a few of the lessons she’s learned as KOCO member.