Every Thursday in Chicago Comes Back, Emily Drake and Todd Connor provide resilient leadership insights to help your business move forward as we emerge from the pandemic. Drake and Connor facilitate Crain’s Leadership Academy. Drake is a licensed therapist, owner of the Collective Academy and a leadership coach. Connor is the founder of Bunker Labs and the Collective Academy and is also a leadership consultant.
This week we sit down with Liz Dozier, former Chicago Public Schools principal turned social entrepreneur and founder at Chicago Beyond, who has been a driving force for catalytic change for our young. To date, Chicago Beyond has invested more than $30 million in community-led initiatives and individuals to help all youth to achieve their full potential here in Chicago, and beyond. As we think about Chicago coming back, we wanted to check in with her for perspective on what recovery means and needs to look like for our young people.
Todd Connor: Liz, you’ve been at the forefront of preparing our young people for life beyond school, from your time as principal at Christian Fenger Academy High School in the Roseland neighborhood to your role now leading Chicago Beyond. Can you give us your perspective on the state of the system, as it were? How are we doing as a city?
Liz Dozier: Systemic racism still acts as an underlying driver of the state of the system. We have evidence of how that driver impacts everything from health care to our education. This last year made a huge difference in the acknowledgement of that reality. Rightly so, this time period has forced us to examine and begin to reform our city, state and national practices and policies in order to create a system that is equitable and allows access and opportunity for all people.
Emily Drake: You’ve been in direct service as a principal and in other roles supporting our young people, and now in a different role as a funder and co-creator of solutions—from grassroots ideas and narrative shifts to system-level changes in our city. What is your view of philanthropy? Are those in positions of power doing enough?
L.D.: Philanthropy sits in an incredible position of power. It has the opportunity to influence and drive agendas that set the stage for massive change. Somewhere along the way, community-based philanthropy in particular lost sight of its role as a driver in this change and instead became more concerned with investing dollars in “safe bets.” It lost a deep-rooted connection to those it serves. However, over this last year, the philanthropic landscape of our country has positively shifted and made efforts to re-center itself on addressing some of society’s biggest barriers to freedom and equity. Many in power are now seeking to understand and ultimately do more than ever before to create a more just and equitable world.
T.C.: Chicago Beyond invests in organizations that are positioned to change the lives of young people, and you in turn are making investments in everything from education, to youth safety, to health and wellness and beyond. We know that these challenges are not unique to Chicago. Tell me about the “beyond”—how are you positioned to impact youth not only in our city, but nationwide? How is your approach different from what other organizations are doing?
L.D.: Our approach at Chicago Beyond is called “whole philanthropy.” It centers the life experiences of those we are trying to impact. It was born out of my time as a principal, where we invested in the whole child—from providing trauma and mental wellness supports to academic interventions—simply to meet our students where they were. We are excited to see others in the national philanthropic space think more holistically about how to significantly impact entire communities.
E.D.: You have spent your career working tirelessly to disrupt the culture of inequity that is often pervasive in urban neighborhoods. What has changed, and what hasn’t?
L.D.: Our country is in the midst of an incredible shift. We are coming into an awakened understanding of our country’s history and policies that led to the culture of inequity that I often saw as a principal. The exciting part of this moment is that with this awakened new lens, we can reimagine and actively reshape our world.
E.D.: Right now, we are living in what is obviously a tumultuous time in our nation’s history. Are you optimistic for what comes next?
L.D.: I have been, and remain, an eternal optimist for our city and our country. We have to go through the darkness in order to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. In this instance, the light at the end of the tunnel is a more just and freer world, one that creates economic and other societal benefits for all of us.