The last 10 years of Chicago news — especially nationally — have been less than stellar. Our city’s positive attributes took a backseat to subzero temperatures, police brutality and gun violence, the latter of which earned a national stage when then-GOP candidate Donald Trump mentioned Chicago more than four dozen times during his campaign for president.
So with a new decade ahead of us, we decided to ask eight thought and business leaders around the city for their opinion on the single biggest challenge facing the city, and what we can collectively do to fix it.
These are people who spend every day working on the big, complex problems of a big, complex metropolis. You will definitely see a theme — equality is more than a buzzword — that reflects a systemic illness that manifests in various forms across various industries.
What follows is the (potentially uncomfortable) reality of being a city that benefited from the Great Migration of the 20th century, a distinction that typically included a legacy of severe segregation. The good news? These leaders are hopeful and resolute that solutions are on the horizon.
Chicago Beyond Founder and CEO
In your position, what do you see as the biggest issue facing Chicago in the new decade?
The biggest issue facing Chicago in this new decade is the same issue that has always been part of our cultural fabric. It’s the ease in which we “otherize” our neighbors, and that somehow our collective liberation is not connected. At its root, we are talking about racism disguised as disinvestment, and policies and practices that continue to uphold inequities that impact all people, regardless of their zip code. Dr. King spoke about an “inescapable network of mutuality,” that whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This single idea was true more than 50 years ago, and I believe it remains one the greatest issues facing society today.
What will be the barriers to resolving this issue?
There is no “solve” to systemic racism or deep-rooted language that has developed over generations, but there is a huge opportunity for anyone to start from the inside by shifting their orientation to others.
To be clear, we all do this. It shows up everywhere, and we barely notice it’s happening. For example, language is one way in which we all disregard our network of mutuality. In Chicago and cities like ours, many refer to our youth who are not working or not in school as “disconnected.” But I would argue we have intentionally structured systems that have disconnected them from us. By propagating that language and not acknowledging the blamelessness of our youth, we are strengthening the idea that our children have chosen to disconnect, rather than their ecosystems failing to provide them with the resources and nutrients they need to “be connected.” This is just one incredibly impactful way we can begin noticing and shifting our orientation to one another — by recognizing and changing narratives that create unnecessary harm.
What do people need to know about this issue that they don’t right now?
The issue of otherizing starts with each of us, individually. Anyone has the opportunity to notice and shift their orientation — whether it be in a conversation with friends or colleagues, or during a board meeting where communities are at the center of the conversation. Take the time to notice how things and people are framed and ask yourself why that is. It all begins with one small change in language that over time, can create a seismic shift in a narrative that impacts our inescapable network of mutuality.