CHICAGO (WLS) -- The unprecedented challenges faced in 2020 and 2021 have placed a spotlight on inequalities the Black community has battled for centuries. There is still much work to be done for racial equity in criminal justice, health, education and opportunity.
Calls for criminal justice reform, in particular, have echoed around the world. So how far have we come? What has changed?
"I think that we had a lot of fits and starts," said Xavier Ramey, CEO of Justice Informed. "I think that a lot of people jumped into this work, which I am super excited about, because so many people, especially people of color, taking the reins of the conversation, as well as the actions, around seeking equity. Now the challenge of that is what we're up against. And in that space, the question of does our City of Chicago work better for Black people, and brown people, towards our empowerment and towards our sustainability? And I don't think that's the case."
Ramey said his hopes for 2021 include reducing what he called the cost of learning.
"Right now, the cost of learning about racial progress, indifference and violence in America is the blood of Black and brown people," Ramey said.
Ramey and other thought leaders ABC7 Eyewitness News spoke to first came together for our Juneteenth "Do You Hear Me? A Discussion About Race" town hall.
WATCH: ABC 7 Chicago presents: Do You Hear Me? A Discussion about Race
"So much has changed since Juneteenth and today, the end of January, so six months later," said Heather Dalmage, sociology professor at Roosevelt University.
Dalmage, who is also the director of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University, said the country is at a "can't turn back point."
"Certainly, the young people that I'm talking to and interacting with, they're seeing in ways they haven't seen before," she said. "I also think that given the pandemic, in the political structures as they are, young people understand that these systems are not tenable in a way they they've been functioning. They, young people, can't just assume that they can go to college and get a degree and they can live this nice life. There is an understanding now that these structures are not functioning for, perhaps, the majority of people."
She said one of the images that sticks in her mind is that of Chicago's bridges raised during the days of unrest following George Floyd's death.
"And I think forever, at this point, those bridges will stand as the symbol of what happens relative to protecting privilege and power," she said. "You know, those bridges could have been used to help, to move resources and build understanding, et cetera. But what did the city of Chicago do? They lift the bridges, they, they literally break apart the bridges and use them to further divide and oppress one group while protecting the other."
"The protests were a public acknowledgement of the tragedy of American democracy, the public protests were an outward sign of what people of color had experienced in this country from the founding of this nation," said Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.
Moss said despite the challenges ahead, he thinks progress is ongoing and tangible, even if it's not universal.
"We are not 'getting it' as a nation, but I believe there is a deep yearning, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, that people don't want to see others in deep physical pain, we don't want to see them suffering," he said. "It's just growing; every day we hit a new watermark."
He said that as more and more people recognize what is happening, the country is faced with a choice.
"I believe that America is going through birth pains, and America is going to have to decide whether it wants to birth a child of justice and transformation, or whether it wants to abort what is about to be born."
Ainsley Pulley was not able to join ABC7 Eyewitness News for the conversation but we hope to get her perspective in the future.
How far has the fight for racial justice come since Juneteenth?
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