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Balancing Act: Chicago-area police officer launches group to support Black-owned startups: 'I have a duty to do more for my ancestors'

Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- At 42, Tosha Wilson has her retirement plans mapped out.

An Evanston police officer for the past two decades, Wilson figures she has about five more years on the force. Her cousin Jacqui White is a Highland Park police officer on roughly the same time table.

For the past year and a half, Wilson and White have been researching and planning to open a laundromat and cafe in Evanston's historically Black 5th Ward, not far from where they both grew up. They'll spend their retirements side by side, joining and leading their community in conversations and camaraderie over shared meals and clean clothes.

"We want to make it where we're employing people in Evanston and having different types of get-togethers and literacy programs and community meetings," Wilson said. "You can wash your clothes there, but once you step in further, we want there to be other experiences that you want to have."

In May 2019, the cousins were turned down for a small-business loan.

"Two professionals with decent jobs (and) good credit scores, and the bank basically told us, 'You don't have enough experience,'" Wilson said. "I just thought, 'How in the world do you beat the red tape to get a dream to unfold?'"

 

Four months later, Wilson was among a group of Evanston folks -- Black, white, Asian, Latinx, Jewish, Christian, ages 18 to 80 -- who filled two buses and rode together to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. They called it their "uncomfortable journey."

"You go to the museum and you see all the things Black Americans have gone through for years and generations, and you have a feeling of needing to do more," Wilson said. "I have a duty to do more for my ancestors and for Evanston in general.

"It's easy to go to work every day," she said. "It's easy to get paid every other Friday. But there's something powerful about that perspective that you not only have to push yourself through, you have to push others through. If we're all locked in chains, there's no way I can move if you can't move. Everyone has to move or we can't move together."

The laundromat/cafe will be in service of that duty, Wilson said. But it's still a ways off -- and it's not enough. So last month, on July 20, she launched a Facebook group called Boosting Black Business.

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