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Illinois will distribute $31.5 million in grants over the next year to local nonprofits, faith- or community-based organizations and governmental bodies to address issues in historically underserved parts of the state.

The money for these grants comes from 25% of the tax revenue the state collects from recreational marijuana sales. 

It’s part of Illinois’ Restore, Reinvest and Renew program, known as R3, which aims to fund local projects around civil legal aid, economic development, re-entry from prison, violence prevention and youth development. 

This initial funding is one of the first indications of how Illinois plans to help address longstanding issues in underserved communities, which was key to the success of passing cannabis legalization.

“That’s the spirit of this program, to shift resources and power back into communities that have suffered historically from the war on drugs,” said Quinn Rallins, state director of justice, equity and opportunity initiatives at a town hall about the program last week.

To determine where funding should go, Illinois used data from rates of gun injury, unemployment, child poverty and incarceration and areas of the state already identified as being disproportionately affected by historic economic disinvestment. In the Metro East, that means areas in and around East St. Louis, Alton, Granite City and parts of Collinsville.

The funding is flexible and centers on addressing the individual needs of communities in the state, Rallins said. He added that Illinois tried to remove restrictions on how groups can use funding, as long as they’re addressing at least one of the five areas the R3 program identifies.

“Our communities have the best understanding of their own need,” he said. “We know that organizations have had ideas baked for a long time that they necessarily didn’t have the resources for or got some funding but haven’t been able to get to scale.” 

Grant applications are reviewed by people who live in the same community as the applicant. While applications are closed, the state is still looking for local community members to review them.

“The whole process of allowing a community to choose is the genius of the program,” said state Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia. “It allows people in those communities who know where the pitfalls are in their home to decide where the money should go for the programming.”

Emphasizing local involvement from the community sets this grant opportunity apart from other kinds of programs or projects in the past, said Wyvetta Granger, executive director of Community Lifeline in East St. Louis.

“It looks like this will provide some groundwork to start to reshape some of the disparities that have formed in our community,” she said. “So many times in impoverished communities, people have come in and tried to do things to us, instead of doing things with us.” 

Granger’s organization applied for an R3 grant to target legal aid issues, violence prevention and youth development in the area. She explained she wants to help young adults get to a place where they can find fulfilling employment, which is often blocked by minor charges on their record.

“It’s not that other kids don’t do them or other populations don’t have the same issues,” she said. “It’s that ours are recorded more. It starts this pattern where it builds a record up against you.”

Addressing and correcting the issues that stem from systemic disinvestment is challenging and takes time, Granger said. 

“It takes more than a year to three years to change mindsets,” she said. “It might take us 10 years before we start to really see the investment that’s been made.”

In the past, community development programs have seemed to end before she could see if they were working, Granger said. R3 is also different in this regard, because the state will continue to distribute money each year, up to $125 million depending on the growth of the state’s cannabis market, according to the program’s website.

That’s a good commitment, but capital alone is not enough, Granger said. She said the people of East St. Louis need to feel like they have ownership over their community. 

“In order to stop crime, in order to stop violence in our community, the community has to own it,” she said. “They have to say, ‘We’re part of this.’” 

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

Send questions and comments about this article to: feedback@stlpublicradio.org

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