EDGEWATER — On a freezing Thursday morning, dozens of Edgewater community members, educators and city officials gathered outside Swift elementary school to vow to protect the neighborhood's immigrant population and rich diversity.
The event was assembled in about a week, after several parents from the school rallied at O'Hare Airport in response to President Donald Trump's recent executive orders restricting travel and immigration.
Samantha Gamble, a union delegate at Swift, said students at the diverse neighborhood school had been feeling anxiety for a while.
"The day after the election, the kids were walking around saying, 'We're being purged, we're being purged,'" Gamble said. "We're not going to let that happen to you."
That sentiment was echoed by 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman, who said Trump's orders were "xenophobic and hateful" and failed to make anyone safer.
The orders "aim to divide us," Osterman said.
"We are going to stand unified to the immigrant/refugee community," said the alderman. "They want to pick us apart one at a time. We want to take this group first, and this group second, until they come for you — we've seen this before in history.
"We know that our diversity makes us stronger as a country," he said.
To kick off the event, seven students held the flags of the seven Muslim-majority countries Trump has banned people emigrating from — Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Libya and Iran.
The father of one of those students, an Iraqi national who asked not to be named because of fears about the ban and future of immigration, said he came to the U.S. for his son "to live in freedom and peace."
The man said he believed the focus of border safety should remain on terrorists, but not to lump them together with refugees and immigrants seeking a better life.
Allison Brock, a teacher at the school, said Swift was there to "offer love and open arms" to families in the neighborhood who need information, resources or feel fearful about the future, calling Swift's diversity its "biggest strength."
Milvia Rodriguez, parent of a Swift student and Cuban immigrant, said she moved to Chicago three years ago after coming to the U.S. two decades earlier.
When she saw her country's national flag wasn't among the many others lining the halls of Swift, she said she asked her daughter's teacher if it could be displayed.
The next time she went to the school, a Cuban flag was outside her daughter's room.
"That was one of the most beautiful things since I came to Chicago," Rodriguez said. "I am a woman, I'm black, I'm an immigrant ... I'm a lot of things, but above everything else we are human."
Troy LaRaviere, educator and activist, also showed up to make remarks.
LaRaviere didn't mention Mayor Rahm Emanuel by name, but said Chicago's top brass would have to do more than "talk tough" to Trump when it comes to immigration and sanctuary city status — city leaders need to do more to invest in a school system that largely serves immigrants, LaRaviere said.
"In this country, we reject hate and we welcome all," LaRaviere said. "But we can't say we're a sanctuary city and then not support the institutions" that support refugee and immigrant human and social services, like public schools.
LaRaviere said he and principals of Chicago's public schools would continue to fight for its students "as much as possible."
Photos by Linze Rice.