Rich Wallace, The Millennial Mind Who Leads by Example as a Change Agent

Rich Wallace uses his influence to impact through his non-profit organization, E.A.T. Chicago. The primary mission of E.A.T. Chicago is to push equity and transformative work and uplift black Chicagoans engaged in the informal economy. Rich talks with the Chicago Defender about the many misconceptions regarding marginalized and formerly incarcerated people and how his work allows Black informal workers to imagine new possibilities.

Chicago Defender: Rich, how does your influence impact the world?

Rich Wallace: I can only pray that my influence on the world is that your past doesn’t determine your future. I want to challenge every misconception held by the state and the people who reside in the state regarding the dignity and value of formerly incarcerated and incarcerated people. I want to humanize a demographic that has been dehumanized for far too long. I hope that by doing so, we can build toward a world without prisons or permanent punishments.

Chicago Defender: Rich, explain the importance and purpose of your organization E.A.T. Chicago?

Rich Wallace: Equity and Transformation (EAT) is a non-profit, community-led organization founded by and for post-incarcerated people. EAT was established in 2018 with the mission to uplift the voices and power of Black Chicagoans engaged in the informal economy: the diversified set of economic activities, enterprises, jobs, and workers that are not regulated or protected by the state

I have continuously witnessed system-impacted people face significant barriers in their everyday lives; they are shut out of the workforce, which forces many into informality and criminalizes them for surviving. These systemic inequalities often lead to extreme poverty and additional periods of incarceration.

EAT applies structured organizing to affect social change and establish community-led alternatives to harmful state interventions. We empower people in the communities we serve through political education and encourage them to question the status quo. Concretely, we make space for Black informal workers to imagine new possibilities and empower them with the tools to build them.

Chicago Defender: Shifting gears, what does self-care mean to you, and how do you make non-negotiable efforts to prioritize peace doing such “real work”?

Rich Wallace: You can’t give people something that you don’t have. As a community organizer, who aims to transform the community, I have to do my best to embody the transformation I hope to see in those communities. If our vision for the future is grounded in Black joy, trust, and safety, then I have to try and walk in that vision when I’m in the community. I can’t do that unless I practice self-care.

Leading a nonprofit organization that addresses the issue of anti-Black racism can be a daunting experience. Every day, a new injustice occurs in the US that demands your attention. To keep your peace, you must create boundaries and commit to them. To me, that looks like turning off my phone, limiting access to the news and social media, and adding family time, gym days, and therapy appointments to my calendar like I do with all the other essential things I don’t want to forget.

Chicago Defender: Rich, share with us your thoughts on one of the biggest misconceptions about being a Black man in America?

Rich Wallace: The most common misconception about Black men is our strength. We are strong but feel pain just like everyone else, and we have weaknesses like everyone else. Some of the strongest men I know are the ones who openly discuss their weaknesses. Society, relationships, and family don’t often afford Black Men in America the space to express their weaknesses or when they are hurt. The absence of space to expose those hurts and weaknesses prevent many Black Men in America from healing.

To heal, you have to acknowledge you are hurt. If being, “A strong Black Man ”, means ignoring that hurt then your identity is constantly in conflict with your healing. We have to redefine what it means to be a strong Black man in America and in that, create space as a pathway to healing.

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