Happy Birthday, Chicago Beyond.   

Five years ago, I stood in a room with funders, researchers, and city leaders to introduce and launch Chicago Beyond into the world. One word silently clung to my every breath. Freedom. It was my North Star. I wanted to use this opportunity to fight for the freedom my father never had and to make sure every person had the opportunity to heal, prosper, and reach their full potential. As the former principal of Fenger High School, it was what I lived and breathed. In that room, I shared my vision for what Chicago Beyond would stand for, and how it would contribute to our collective liberation, a return to humanness — an opportunity to make our systems work for Chicago’s young people, and ultimately beyond.

In our early days, I remember entering meetings and rooms with some of our city’s and country’s largest funders. Our conversations were steeped in theory and far removed from people’s lived experiences and the issues they were facing. They were far removed from the lived experiences of my former students. Somehow, we had lost the humanness of this work within our dialogue.

When I took a step back early on to assess the progress Chicago Beyond was making against our aspirations, it was not hard to see that we, too, had fallen way short. Not only were we not making as much progress as I knew was possible, we were potentially creating more harm and widening inequities. Some examples included:   

  • Reinforcing particular narratives by using deficit language about our young people
  • Leaning into the “thunderdome” mentality of whoever tells us the best, worst story wins the money  
  • Participating in the power dynamics between funders, researchers, and community organizations, rather than disrupting them  

In order to have the type of impact I knew possible, we had to orient ourselves differently. It was then that we decided to take a human and holistic approach to investing, similar to how my school team and I invested in our students at Fenger High School: through trust. We put trust and empathy first, not a title or dollar amount.    

As a result, we started to shift what we invested in, and began to see a more significant impact on people and communities. From education to the safety of young people to community development and more, we take a holistic approach to investing — because there is no single barrier to equity.    

Our investments have ranged from early-stage ideas such as a Safe House for young people, and supports for young Black fathers through The Dovetail Project, to developing the first-of-its-kind blueprint for holistic trauma supports for over 350,000 students in Chicago Public Schools.    

In 2019, Chicago Beyond shared our learnings in Why Am I Always Being Researched?, a guidebook designed for funders, researchers, and community organizations to move from harmful power dynamics to more authentic truth. It has been used in all 50 states and more than 90 countries. It has informed the guiding principles at one of the largest funders globally, national and Chicago-based nonprofits, state government early childhood agencies, national research institutes, and youth development groups from South Africa to Northern Uganda, and beyond. 

Today, Chicago Beyond’s North Star, “Our Why,” remains the same: Chicago’s young people and their freedom. Our dedication to investing in Black and Brown people and communities has never wavered. It is critical, though, that we remain vigilant still to challenging ourselves on several fronts:

  • How we do the work: We are committed to shifting our orientation to the work. Being conscious and connected leads to us showing up with, and not for our partners, and the young people they serve. Read Whole Philanthropy, also known as “our approach,” here.
    • What we invest in: We are committed to supporting hyperlocal community-based initiatives as well as those that drive at systemic change. There are a few specific areas that we want to do better on. Specifically:
      • Support of Black-led organizations: To accelerate and sustain the efforts of community-driven solutions and innovationswe must make transformative investments in communities. These investments cannot be small grants. They must signal belief in the power of the people on the ground. Not only that, we must support our partners with the tools and resources they need to be successful, including time for themselves to rest and recharge.
      • Support of Holistic Healing: Holistic healing has driven Chicago Beyond’s work since our very founding. It was also core to our work at Fenger High School. Since launching Chicago Beyond, we’ve invested in organizations that center healing in young people, such as Storycatchers Theatre and Healing Hurt People-Chicago. Today the need for holistic healing is greater than ever and we are doubling down on our commitment.


      • Dismantling systems that have never served our young people well: We are committed to backing the fight against these systems and reduce the harm they have brought upon young people. This year, we launched Justice Initiativeswhich is our commitment to fighting for justice reform in Chicago and beyond.

As we celebrate our 5th anniversary, we also look forward to what we can accomplish in the next five years. We are committed to investing further in creating more space for all people to be free and reach their fullest potential.   

This is just the start, there is so much more to come. I didn’t start Chicago Beyond with an idea of radically reconceptualizing philanthropy, but instead stumbled upon the need for it based on our own missteps. As we continue on this journey, we know that as much as we strive to be doing differently, there will be more missteps and opportunities to learn from others. It’s an ongoing process to free ourselves from “how it’s always been done,” and, there is no arrival. While we remain steadfast to our North Star, we hope that you will remain with us: hold us accountable, challenge us, and walk with us in the fight.     

Here’s to the next five years, and beyond.  

Liz Signature Small@300x

Liz Dozier
Founder & CEO
Chicago Beyond