Spotlight on Tierra Finley, Community Organizing Intern with Access Living

Story by Alexa Dean, Public Relations Intern

2017-August 11-Power to the People -Tierra
Tierra Finley (Right) with Michelle Garcia and Theodore Daffin, seated in front of a “Power to the People” Banner.
After nearly a year working at Access Living, Tierra Finley finished her community organizing internship on August 11, 2017. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Community Health from the University of Illinois, Finley applied for a position with AmeriCorps after graduation. Specifically, she applied for a position within the division of AmeriCorps called VISTA, whose acronym stands for “volunteer in service to America.”

Through VISTA, Tierra was placed with Access Living. She has certainly been “of service” at Access Living. Tierra has been working with DRACH. The “Disability Rights Action Coalition for Housing” is the go-to group for all things affordable and accessible housing. DRACH fights for the housing rights of people with disabilities, especially public housing. Finley says of the task, “We fight for affordable, accessible, integrated housing across Chicago. North, South, Westside-wherever. Given the current housing state we are in, that’s a big job.”

A proposal for accessible and affordable housing in Jefferson Park show just how “big” of a job obtaining decent housing can be. The proposal has led to difficult disputes between certain members of the Jefferson Park Community, Alderman John Arena, and social justice and housing advocates. The proposed seven-story affordable housing development was run through the ringer for fear that more “crime” and “overcrowding of schools” would occur if the initiative went through. Of course these fears overlook the very real buying power that these families would provide for neighborhood businesses. A press conference hosted by Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park and DRACH was mounted as a response. The initiative has passed through committee at City Hall. Committee approval was a significant hurdle but the development is not yet finalized.

When asked why affordable housing is so important, Tierra answered predictably for a person with a background in health. “I feel that housing is directly related to health. As far as what you eat what (activities) you can do. Also physical living circumstances, is there mold in the building? If so that can cause asthma. If not, are you in a building you can afford? One of DRACH’s slogans is ‘housing is a human right.’ Everybody deserves housing because it’s directly related to how successful you are, how healthy you are. ” She drives home the point that “Along with housing being affordable, it should be a certain standard of livable.”

It is Tierra’s task to support the community members in this righteous endeavor. She has been particularly instrumental to the monthly meetings. Using team building and restorative justice practices, Finley’s mission is to make the team of housing advocates as strong as they can possibly be. Fostering leadership within the community-based group has been instrumental in driving the task force forward.

Honing in on Finley’s dedication to restorative justice practices, it is easy to see why she has been so successful at bringing leadership and inclusivity to the group.

“Restorative justice” or “restorative practices” are broad term used in many fields. The International Institute for Restorative Justices states, “
Restorative practices builds healthy communities, increases social capital, reduces the impact of crime, decreases antisocial behavior, repairs harm and restores relationships.”

A way this can be applied to the meetings and advocacy going on at Access Living is the practice of meetings being conducted in a circle. This way, everyone can see each other and everyone is equal.

Tierra has also written a piece that includes restorative practices titled, “Checklist for Accessible Gatherings” which has been published on . Finley says of the chart, “This directly relates to team building and having more people be a part of your team. You can miss out on a whole demographic of people simply because they cannot get into the space.” The checklist is focused toward those who facilitate meetings and public events. It includes guidelines for venues such as: wide doorways, elevators and accessible bathrooms. A large piece of the checklist also addresses emotional accommodations, including facilitating ground rules that help build safe and welcoming spaces.
(photo below includes Finley (middle) with community organizers Cathleen O’Brien (right) and Michelle Garcia)

image of three people posing for a picture. The person in the middle is standing. The two to the right are left are in chairs. All are smiling.

Tierra is now off to a new position. She will become a coordinator and coach with an organization called “Girls and the Game.” This group focuses on building leadership for young girls’ ages elementary through high school, using sports as motivation. Housing organizer Cathleen O’Brien adds this, “Tierra’s contribution to DRACH has been immense and immeasurable. Her team building restorative work has made it possible for DRACH to make many systems change gains. She is trusted and loved and we will miss her contributions and positivity every day.” We at Access Living wish Tierra luck with this new position and thank her for her service here at Access Living.