This article appeared in Chicago Business on December 5, 2017.
Chicago Beyond, the venture philanthropy fund launched by former Fenger Academy High School principal Liz Dozier, will invest $1.66 million in Lawndale Christian Legal Center, a nonprofit that provides high-quality legal defense and social services to young people facing legal charges. The investment, to be made over three years, will help the center serve more young people a year and align Chicago Beyond as a strategic partner. The center, founded in 2010, has helped 650 young people in the North Lawndale neighborhood.
The legal center is the winner of Chicago Beyond’s second Go Innovate Challenge, the winners of which receive funding and operational support from Chicago Beyond.
“Chicago Beyond recognizes the disproportionate burden of arrest and incarceration faced by youth of color and is driven by the need for more intervention and diversion opportunities in Chicago and nationwide,” Dozier, CEO of Chicago Beyond, said in today’s press release announcing the investment.
“This partnership with Chicago Beyond is a game-changer,” Cliff Nellis, founder, executive director and lead attorney of Lawndale Christian Legal Center, said in the release. “With their investment, we will not only be able to provide more youth with community-based holistic legal services, we will also be able to more deeply evaluate and expand our unique program model.”
Chicago Beyond uses nonprofit professions as well as people from the communities it serves to help select challenge winners. This year, Zach Strother, a Chicago police officer and Beverly resident, served on the 19-person committee. Strother met Dozier at Fenger, when he was a counselor for the Becoming a Man mentoring program, and accepted her invitation to serve on the selection committee.
Strother attended four or five committee meetings and read material submitted by the 200-plus nonprofits that entered the Go Innovate Challenge. Strother says his experience led the group to include in its recommendations an Englewood-based community center. “I know if you can reach a child at a young age, at 10 or 11, that’s huge,” says Strother, noting that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a police officer. “You can change their thinking process.”
People like Strother add a measure of reality to the process, says Dozier. “If we are trying to impact young people, we have to have people from the community at the table, with a real voice,” she says. The committee also includes executives from last year’s Go Innovate winners, educators and local elected officials.
The selection committee makes recommendations, and Dozier and Chicago Beyond executives pick the winner. “I’m OK with that,” says Strother, adding that “it would be great to be part of” the voting process.
During her six years at Fenger, Dozier raised private money to support the school and improved the graduation rate to 80 percent from 30 percent. She left in June 2015 and launched Chicago Beyond in April 2016. She declines to name the private philanthropists who support the fund.
In addition to investing in nonprofit organizations, Chicago Beyond works with University of Chicago Urban Labs to study the organizations’ effectiveness.