Evanston Interview: Yancey Hughes

This interview is part of the Project LRN: Evanston Interviews series, which will be featured in the new book Say It Forward compiled and edited by Voice of Witness. It was recorded August 12, 2014, and is presented here in full.

Yancey Hughes is owner and operator of Yancey Hughes Photography. His studio focuses on commercial and social awareness—offering professional, friendly, and thoughtful service. Yancey shoots on location and in the studio, with specialization in event, wedding, and portrait photography.

He has lived all over the country and traveled the world, including regular visits to Ethiopia. One of his recent prints features a key aspect of daily life in Ethiopia, the coffee ceremony. He currently lives in Evanston with his beautiful wife and two amazing sons.

Listen now or read an edited interview excerpt, below:


Yancey Hughes: We’re Unitarians… have been Unitarians for 20-odd years. And we gravitated towards the Unitarian church on Ridge. And like most churches that we seem to gravitate towards, they were in an interim minister search process. So it’s lovely; they bring in all these people, all different colors and denominations, and they speak. And it’s great. But then the search committee narrows down their choice, and they pick this white guy from Texas who doesn’t speak to us.

So we go over to Lake Street Church, which is great. And everyone talks about diversity… how they want a diverse congregation, they want a diverse choir… but it’s got to be something other than the wife of the executive that’s not filling the position, you know? That’s not diversity to me. Don’t bring in the white wife of the white exec and call it diversity.

When the definition of public and diverse is just a broader scope of what everyone’s talking about, that’s not diversity to me. There’s so much to offer in the country, in the culture. Let’s not just narrow it down to safe choices…

Int: So we hopped to a very macro-level, which is totally cool. We’re bringing it back down micro for a second. When you think about Evanston and your experiences in Evanston so far, is there anything that you don’t like about living here, or that you’ve noticed that you would identify as a challenge or a barrier?

YH: … It’s great that, you know, there’s apartments that you can live in amongst all the amenities that wealth brings, if you’re aware of it. And the challenge then, to your question, what I see is us as a family making sure we are aware of the benefits that the city has to offer… to give our son just as much experience and abilities as his buddies that have tutors and coaches and private sessions. Just to keep him confident that he can compete with them. That’s the challenge.

Int: It sounds like there are a lot of barriers to opportunity that you’re identifying, and I’m wondering: Do you feel like those barriers are primarily connected to economic—?

YH: —I wouldn’t say there’s barriers; I just say that it requires a lot of reading. You have to know where to go to read to find out you can play baseball—you can play high-level baseball with these boys from Wilmette and New Trier—on a scholarship. But many families don’t know that. You can get classes at Northwestern if you qualify on numbers, but they don’t know that. Family Services will help out with behavioral issues. But you have to know where to read; you have to know who to talk to [when] you happen on a conversation.

Families [where] both parents are working and they’re getting in at 6 o’clock… 8]oclock, and they’re working Saturday. They’re tired, you know? Meanwhile, the ladies who have the wine clutch at the Goddess: they’ve got all the time on their hands. They’re not going to challenge themselves. So they enjoy the peace.

But I don’t think it’s [solely] economic, I think you just have to be aware: Where do you go? Every place we go, you walk in the lobby and there’s the flyer shelf. So we pick up the material: The art programs, the shows, the free things, the readings… all the publicity that’s there. That’s our habit. That’s how we get informed when we come into something. But many families don’t do it… aren’t aware… don’t have the time for it. I won’t say it’s economical barriers. You just have to know what’s out there, and that requires a lot of reading. A lot of computer scrolling and whatnot.

Interviewer: And having the sense of where to hunt the information down.

Narrator: Yeah, what are your needs? Where do you go for [that]? Not taking no for an answer. Not being afraid to challenge the school administration. Some families don’t do that; they don’t want to be confronted. They’d just rather move on and try to keep a job. Try to keep rent on time.


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