On Saturday, The Southern is going to host a public conversation about its ongoing coverage of the public housing crisis in Cairo.

The program will be at 3 p.m. at The Varsity Center in Carbondale. The Phonics, a Cairo-based band, will take the stage afterward at 7:30 p.m.

So, why are we hosting this discussion now? And why is it in Carbondale, and not in Cairo?

First, our mission here is to be an advocate for positive change in the communities we serve. Holding this event at a great, historic venue like The Varsity Center helps with that — it’s centralized in a large community, and it can accommodate a large crowd.

We may at some point host a similar public forum in Cairo — we were in the planning stages for such an event in April, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would be razing the troubled Elmwood and McBride apartment buildings. That announcement put the entirety of Cairo into a lurch, and we (like everyone in Cairo) had to adjust accordingly.

The housing and economic crisis in Cairo doesn’t just affect Cairo. It affects Southern Illinois as a whole.

"I think it's important that we recognize that in Southern Illinois, we really are one region, and we are all in this together. When one community hurts, we all hurt. When one community celebrates, we all celebrate. The only way we can be strong is to stand together. That's why we named this forum, 'We are all Cairo,'" Molly Parker, the lead investigative reporter on the series, said in a story we published about the event.

That’s a perfect way of putting it. This issue reaches beyond Cairo, and beyond Alexander County.

People in Jackson County care about this. And Williamson County. And Franklin County. Believe us, we’ve heard it — people care everywhere. And Parker’s reporting last week from East St. Louis, where HUD handed local control back to the housing authority, 32 years after HUD took over the agency, showed that the crisis in our backyard is just one example of a crisis that effects other communities in the state, the Midwest, and the country.

Second, since we started running these stories, a lot of people have asked us how they can help — people all over Southern Illinois, and a lot of them in Carbondale, where community groups like the Carbondale-based Race Unity Group met with community organizers and leaders from Cairo, have continuously asked questions in pursuit of a better understanding of the crisis, and have looked for ways to lend a hand.

Our event seeks to address Southern Illinoisans who are interested both of those things: We’ll answer questions readers have about the issues, and we’ll have a discussion about those issues our staff has witnessed and reported.

Remember, Jackson County shares a congressional district with Cairo, and voters in Carbondale should be thinking of what our representative (and our senators) did in the face of this crisis in their district when they enter the ballot box in 2018. Cairo’s crisis is not just Cairo’s problem.

Above all, we are proud to live in a community that is interested in helping neighbors a county or two away.

The event is free, but donations will be accepted and used to assist relocating families with replacing household items they may not be able to take with them.

The donations will go directly to Family Counseling Center Inc.'s fund in support of families living at the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes that are going to be demolished. Family Counseling also is accepting donations online and at its office locations in Cairo and Vienna.

We’ve been trying for months to organize an event like this. We’ve tried many locations, times, dates — everything has either fallen through or not come to fruition.

On Saturday, we’ll host a Q&A, and show a short documentary we produced called “People Still Live Here.” We’ll also have a gallery of staff photographs from Cairo. We will be talking, but we will be listening, too. We look forward to continuing this important conversation with you.


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