Author: chicagobeyond

Liz Dozier on Cracking Open podcast with Molly Carroll

Our Founder & CEO, Liz Dozier spoke with Molly Carrol from the Cracking Open podcast that was published on February 2, 2023.

Our Founder & CEO, Liz Dozier, discusses how her life experiences have shaped her life of service, and showing up for people in the way they need to be seen. In the episode, Liz reminds listeners that we all have the power to stand up for individuals and communities.
“I believe in people. Period. Full stop. I believe in the power of calling out inequities and calling in righteous and radical truth.” ~ Liz Dozier

Backed by a Billionaire Couple, a Chicago Nonprofit Takes a Community-Led Approach to Youth Equity – Inside Philanthropy

This article by Ade Adeniji, was published on December 7, 2022 in Inside Philanthropy.

Philanthropy isn’t moving as fast as its most forward-thinking leaders might hope — Marguerite Casey Foundation CEO Carmen Rojas once told me she envisions a world where foundations no longer need to exist. But a section of philanthropy is increasingly thinking about more ways to put power and decision-making into the hands of leaders on the ground.

This has been a long-running theme in our ongoing series on the many forms of family philanthropy, with families like the Disneys and the Sobratos thinking about ways to reshape old philanthropic practices. Chicago Beyond, a grantmaking nonprofit that invests in organizations and community leaders seeking to change the lives of young people in Chicago, was also founded in this spirit.

Backed by billionaire couple Mark and Kimbra Walter, Chicago Beyond was started in 2016 by Liz Dozier, a former star principal who turned around a troubled school on the South Side of Chicago. Dozier said she wanted to change the paradigm of how we attempt to help struggling students. So instead of asking students “What’s wrong with you?” she asked: “What’s happened to you?”

I recently sat down with Dozier and other Chicago Beyond brass to find out how they connected with the Walters, Chicago Beyond’s work toward systemic change, and how the organization is pushing other donors and changemakers across the country to think differently about philanthropy.

It started with a school 

The daughter of a teacher, Dozier started working in Chicago Public Schools, first as an elementary school teacher, then a high school teacher, then a principal, including at Jones College Prep in Downtown Chicago. She also worked as a turnaround strategist at the now shuttered Harper High School, which was once featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, calling attention to the lack of vital resources like computers.


Then, in 2009, she started as a principal at Christian Fenger High School on the South Side of Chicago. “It was one of the most rewarding jobs I think I’ve ever had in my entire life, but also one of the hardest,” Dozier said.

In late September of that year, a fight between students from two different neighborhoods broke out and a sophomore honor roll student, Derrion Albert, was beaten to death with a wooden plank on his way home from school. A cellphone video of the incident went viral, reverberating across the city and the country.

“When I first got there, we had about 1,500 young people. There was about a 20% dropout rate every year, and a little over 300 arrests inside of the school building every year. We had a 40% graduation rate. It was failing by every measure,” Dozier said.

Still, even in the face of grim odds, she believed that she could turn things around. She fought to secure money and resources for her kids, and at times, leaned on philanthropy to do so. However, she also started to sense the inherent power imbalance involved in this process, even if donors were well-meaning.

A few years in, Dozier’s efforts started to foster some changes at Christian Fenger, leaning on strategies like smaller class sizes, after-school mentorship, restorative justice programs, and anger-management training. Dozier has spoken at length about why police do not belong in schools and a CNN docuseries highlighted her work.

“We were gaining traction. Arrest rate had gone down by about 90%. Graduation had started to increase,” Dozier said. And yet, when she applied for grants, she felt donors were still insistent on directing where grants would go, rather than allowing her and the community to guide these decisions. In one instance, the funders of a school-based group counseling program insisted on randomly accepting students to the program, rather than allowing school staff to select youth they felt were best fit.

Standing up a nonprofit

Dozier’s second act began in 2016 and is deeply informed by her experiences at Christian Fenger. As she tells it, billionaire Chicago couple Mark and Kimbra Walter reached out to her and they quickly found an aligned mission. “It actually wasn’t a hard sell. It wasn’t even a sell. The Walters selected me. I don’t come from philanthropy. But I believe, intuitively, they wanted a different approach. They believed in the value of people who are proximate [to the issues] leading the work,” Dozier said.

The Walters’ philanthropy focuses on education, social equity and conservation through the Walter Family Causes (TWF Causes). Mark is the CEO of investment firm Guggenheim Partners, which has over $300 billion in assets under management. He is also a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Forbes puts his net worth at $5.3 billion. Kimbra is an attorney who serves on several boards of trustees.

TWF Causes states that it “seeks opportunities to build sustainable models of philanthropy that create permanent capital from direct ownership of stakes in businesses or business operations and that fund the causes, reducing the need for continuous philanthropic investment.” The Walters are steady backers of a handful of social impact organizations outside of Chicago Beyond, including OneGoal, which aims to boost college access for students from low-income families, and The Academy Group, which works with students starting in fourth grade and supports them throughout their academic careers and beyond.

With support from the Walters, Chicago Beyond takes an impact investment approach to help in the fight for youth equity. Dozier and TWF Social Impact began working with Chicago Public Schools to develop a pioneering blueprint for trauma support. The $24 million initiative is centered on comprehensive and holistic healing and has been shaped by ideas and feedback from hundreds of teachers, staff, students, administrators, families and community partners.

So far, Chicago Beyond has invested more than $40 million in community-led initiatives and individuals. The Walters are the nonprofit’s sole funders, but Eva Liu, Chicago Beyond chief strategy and operations officer, says that part of their model has been to think about ways to influence other funders to better support young people.

“We want to help them show up in a much more equitable manner, whether that’s through initiatives based on our learnings or actually getting foundations to connect to nonprofits in our community,” Liu explains.

Initiatives and research

By “learnings,” Liu is referring to Chicago Beyond’s research projects aimed at helping its community partners grow the impact of their work. One 2019 paper, Why Am I Always Being Researched?” was born out of Dozier’s experiences working in schools. She noticed that programming that got a “gold star” from well-heeled academic institutions was more likely to rake in philanthropic dollars and take hold in schools.

A few years ago, Chicago Beyond was conducting a study alongside the University of Chicago, when a young participant turned to the team and asked plainly, “Why am I always being researched? Why is my community always being researched?”

The organization ended up asking that question to over 200 people so that Chicago Beyond could really think about how to do research in a more equitable way. To her surprise, that guidebook really took off and resonated. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation even uses it to inform its K-12 research guidelines.

Besides trying to disrupt the way research is conducted, Chicago Beyond also invests in organizations including Healing Hurt People Chicago, a hospital-based youth violence intervention program, and Storycatchers Theater’s Changing Voices program, which employs young people impacted by the juvenile justice system to write their lived stories then and perform them.

Chicago Beyond also developed a model called Whole Philanthropy. “As an antidote to the typical philanthropic power dynamic, Whole Philanthropy is grounded in justice. Justice is not just an abstract state of liberation that exists ‘out there.’ We enact justice every day, in each encounter with others,” states a document outlining the model.

Rather than an “us and them” framework, the model focuses on creating deep connection between partners, and critiques the “sharp lines” that typically exist between grantmakers and grantees. The model also challenges typical approaches to philanthropic metrics, favoring an embrace of the messy and complex, instead of fixating on outcomes that are easy to measure. Whole Philanthropy also emphasizes centering the voices of those closest to the work, including young people, rather than leaning on researchers and outside observers.

Expect these principles to continue to drive the Chicago nonprofit going forward.

“I feel like we’ve almost lost the humaneness of philanthropy. It’s become all about numbers and metrics. It’s not that those things are inherently bad. But we’ve sort of weaponized them to keep people in particular buckets or to tell particular stories,” Dozier said, adding, “I think we are really beckoned into something different — the idea of being in relationship with each other to make our communities thrive.”

Jeanine Valrie Logan fights for maternal equality and reproductive justice – Vocalo Radio

This article by Ari Mejia, was published on December 1, 2022 on Vocalo Radio.

Through her work at Chicago South Side Birth Center, founder, activist and certified midwife Jeanine Valrie Logan fights for access to compassionate, individualized healthcare for mothers and infants.

Jeanine Valrie Logan never expected to go back to school after earning her master’s degree  — until she found herself searching for a Black midwife during her own pregnancy.

Not wanting to give birth in a hospital and instead seeking out professionals to provide care in a birth center or for a home birth, Logan says she thought it was weird when she was unable to find women of color working in maternal healthcare.

“The need was so emerging — not only for myself, but for the community,” Logan recalled. “So I decided to go back to school and become a nurse, and then become a midwife.”

In midwifery school, Logan and her colleague dreamed of building their own birthing center, one rooted in community and fighting against racial prejudice in the healthcare industry. They wanted their center to advocate for Black and Brown women in underserved communities, like Chicago’s South and West sides. 

Logan notes Black mothers and infants fare better in birthing centers, especially those led by women of color, compared to hospitals. In 2017, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found 22% of African Americans surveyed say they have avoided medical care, even when in need, out of fear of discrimination. And, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in  August 2017, Black women have a 3.4 times higher maternal mortality ratio than white women — when the general maternal mortality rate was 17 out of 100,000 women between 2011 and 2013. In contrast, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health found, of roughly 13,000 women who gave birth in one of 79 midwifery-led birth centers across 33 states, no maternal deaths were recorded.

“There’s research that shows when people are taken care of [by] providers that look like them, their outcomes are even better,” Logan said. “So then, if we’re talking about Black infant and maternal health, folks having babies in a Black-led birth center, it just makes total sense.”

Alongside other activists, Logan helped to write and pass House Bill 738 this August, which expanded the number of alternative birthing centers in Illinois counties including Cook, DuPage and Lake.

Logan notes the South Side Birth Center will officially open in 2023. She intends for the space to give mothers and families access to individualized maternal and infant healthcare services, as well as community resources.

“I’m thinking about the ways in which the birth center is gonna give,” Logan said. “We want to pay attention to people… I think that’s really important.”

For this installment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Jeanine Valrie Logan discusses midwifery, birth centers and her fight for reproductive justice.

What is different about midwifery? Is it related to reproductive justice?

Our specialty is normal, physiologic birth. Birth was medicalized and taken out of homes and taken out of communities. And really, people who were interested in that were shamed… it’s all part of colonization, it’s all part of what looks good in the white gaze. And then when we look at the statistics, we can look nationally… at statistics for maternal and infant health, those numbers are coming from the hospitals, that’s not coming from us. That’s not coming from community birth, and then not have these experiences of racialized obstetric trauma. 

Reproductive justice includes joy in birth experience, but also in reproductive health, that people have that access to be able to choose what they want to do, what providers they want to see, what kind of care they want to get, which would include midwifery care. Having true ownership and autonomy — that is our specialty… That’s midwife specialty. 

The term “reproductive justice” came from Black women, Black and Brown women. Yeah, 10 Black women coined the term “reproductive justice,” here in Chicago at a conference. 

Are you from Chicago?

Actually, I’m from Evanston. I’m fourth-generation Evanstonian. I live on the far South Side. I feel like here, I have people that really know me. They keep me authentic. I have a lot of chosen family and community here, too, a bunch of healers and farmers and birth workers. I’m sure I can find my people anywhere, but these… they’re my people. I choose to be here. 

I wasn’t here for a long time. And I realized, this is where I’m from. And Chicago is an amazing place. I love the seasons. I’ve been in places that didn’t really have seasons like that. I love the nature, we go hiking almost every week. And there’s so many beautiful, cool places that I’ve never even experienced in Chicago. I just feel like it’s just always changing, which I love. It’s very Octavia Butler of me… I’m never bored here. I feel grounded and supported here in Chicago, and I haven’t felt that in any other places… not this deeply, in any other places that I’ve lived. It’s home, honestly.

How did you get into this line of work?

I’ve been a birth worker for maybe 15 years. I started out as a doula, doula is just a support person. Doulas can give partners a break, doulas can rub on you, give you a massage, or feed you or provide that emotional and physical support. Even spiritual support, sometimes. Because there’s such a limited amount of providers of color and a limited amount of spaces where people are having the ideal birth that they want, a doula is really useful as a liberatory tool that somebody can use to create a safe space for the birth. 

My husband and I were pregnant with our first child. I knew we wanted to do out-of-hospital birth, not a hospital site, either a birth center or a home birth, and I couldn’t find a Black midwife… I didn’t want to go back to school, I already had a master’s. I was done with school. But the need was so emerging — not only for myself, but for the community. It was just weird to be in a city, and I couldn’t find a Black midwife. And it was hard to find my Black doula community. So I decided to go back to school and become a nurse and then become a midwife. And I did a lot of advocacy around breastfeeding, I co-edited a book on Black breastfeeding narratives. We had spent so much time breastfeeding other people’s children on plantations that it was like, let’s take a step back. And we can afford formula, we can afford these things that white folks have. And so this is really a reclaiming of what is actually traditional for us. And what works, what’s proven. There’s so much research that shows that this is better. And so all of my work, up to that point, had been a lot of advocacy and activism, a lot of legislative work, because my first master’s in health policy.

My experience, up to that point, had been with this birth center in DC. And so that had been a dream. Actually, it was a dream of my friend and I, we were both in nursing school together, and then we ended up doing midwifery school together. We were like, “Let’s just start a birth center.” So we founded last year, June, we’re not open yet, but we just found a building. And so since then, we’ve just been advocating and doing an application for the state, which is super involved; you have to have a building, you have to have these transfer agreements, you have to have a collaborating physician. So that’s just been the work over the last year. If my thinking is correct, we will be open winter of 2023. 

Why aren’t there more birth centers? 

We had to change the law to expand the number of birth centers in the state, and who can own that. Me and another Black midwife, we did that with a bunch of advocates and birth center activists, and some amazing people who did a lot of the pushing of the legislative stuff. We had some awesome sponsors for the bill, and so we got the legislation changed. So now we can have birth centers everywhere. Especially where the outcomes are worse for Black and Brown folks, like the South Side, the West Side, East St. Louis. 

A lot of our hospitals don’t have midwives, and… the model of care that is midwifery is completely different. It’s kind of slow-living. And understanding that pregnancy and birth and postpartum are all normal parts of people’s lives. They’re not to be pathologized — unless something is going on. And there’s places where people can go to get that higher level of care, but 95% of people who are going to experience pregnancy are totally normal. And they deserve this very… high touch, low intervention kind of care. Our outcomes are better in birth centers. There’s less rates of cesarean section, there’s totally less rates of maternal and infant mortality. People have better experiences and feel like they’re really taken care of. There’s research that shows when people are taken care of [by] providers that look like them, their outcomes are even better. So then, if we’re talking about Black infant and maternal health, folks having babies in a Black-led birth center, it just makes total sense. And it’s cheaper than having a baby in the hospital, it’s cost-effective.

What are you looking forward to with the opening of the South Side Birth Center?

I’m thinking about the ways in which the birth center is gonna give… thinking about the space, we have a huge community education room that we are going to invite partners and organizers to come and have their meetings there, or come and do their yoga there. And it also is a children’s room, so people can bring their children to their appointments. We want to have a position as an elder, and literally their job is just to sit in the space and provide unsolicited advice and love up on people and hold babies, that’s your role. We’re gonna have a safe-space curator, and we have gardens in the back so that people can come and have classes there or pick some herbs or tomatoes before you go home… At my college, we call it fussing over, we’ll fuss over someone or do their hair, all these different things that should be done on the regular, but really aren’t. We want to pay attention to people, and so I think that’s really important.

Illinois keeping the spotlight on uplifting the wrongfully convicted – Chicago Sun-Times

This editorial by The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, was published on December 3, 2022 in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wrongful convictions and exonerations of men and women who spent years wasting away in prison have made countless headlines in Illinois over the years.

The fallout from the torture inflicted on dozens of Black men by the late former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” of underlings continues to reverberate today, decades after the torture — which led to false confessions — occurred from 1971-1991.

Recently, more than 20 cases handled by former Chicago Police Det. Reynaldo Guevara have been overturned, based on allegations of abuse and his refusal to answer questions on the stand about past trials.

Then there’s the dismissal of dozens of tainted drug cases associated with former Chicago Police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew of officers, who were accused of framing residents and shaking down drug dealers in the former Ida B. Wells housing project.

The worst, of course, are those cases in which men were sent to death row but later exonerated. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 22 individuals were exonerated from death row in Illinois — nearly twice the number that were executed, 12 — after the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s. (Illinois ended capital punishment in 2011.)

In 2021, for the fourth year in a row, Illinois had the highest number of criminal exonerations in the nation, mostly because of the overturned convictions tied to Watts, according a report by the National Registry of Exonerations. 

Awareness and action

Nothing can fully make up for such gross injustices, or ease the pain and strife inflicted on so many families. But the silver lining is that there is an awareness in our city and state about the need to right, as much as possible, the unconscionable wrongs.

The Sun-Times’ David Streutt reported last week that the philanthropic organization Chicago Beyond has donated $3.2 million to Life After Justice, a local nonprofit that aims to change laws, overturn wrongful convictions and help exonerees live a productive life. 

The money will allow Life After Justice to hire its first paid legal staff and move forward in its first major legal challenge: securing a clemency petition for two men in Virginia who, because of a judge’s sentencing decision, are still behind bars years after a jury acquitted them of murdering a police officer.


Life After Justice, founded by exonerees Jarrett Adams and Antione Day, will also use the donation for mental health support for those re-learning how to lead a life outside prison.

Feel-good news stories of how those just released from prison will celebrate their first days of freedom are rarely followed up with stories of the harsh reality — of the pitfalls the exonerees might encounter when they try to find a job or navigate a world that has vastly changed since they were imprisoned.

“Prison is like a ghost. It haunts you. It haunts you,” as University of Chicago professor Reuben Jonathan Miller says on the podcast Big Brains.

A game-changer

Adams, who has a law degree, Day and other exonerees on staff know first-hand about the hurdles involved. That’s important, since other activists might be well-meaning, but haven’t faced the same hardships or don’t share similar backgrounds with those who have been locked up.

We think that personal knowledge and experience can be a game-changer.

Anyone who has spent time at Cook County courthouses can attest to the the continued and important work being done by groups like Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project and the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission. Their legal expertise is essential in pushing for changes to make our criminal justice system fairer and more worthy of public trust.

Life After Justice’s work and Chicago Beyond’s donation will, we hope, propel the movement to help exonerees forward even more. It’s a chance for Illinois to make up for its sorry track record, and ensure that men and women who were wrongfully sent behind bars are given a chance to fully repair their lives.

Philanthropic group to invest $3.2 million to overturn unjust convictions, support exonerees – Chicago Sun Times

Attorney Jarrett Adams, co-founder of Life After Justice. Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

This article by David Struett, was published on November 30, 2022 in The Chicago Sun-Times.

Philanthropic group Chicago Beyond has donated $3.2 million to the nonprofit Life After Justice to help it overturn wrongful convictions and support exonerees with mental health programs.

The funding will significantly boost the operations of Life After Justice, a Chicago organization founded by two exonerees that has been running on a volunteer basis.

“Chicago Beyond is proud to support a transformative organization like Life After Justice,” Chicago Beyond founder and CEO Liz Dozier said in a statement announcing the gift.

The money will help Life After Justice hire its first paid staff for legal matters, including case discovery and litigation.

Richardson and Claiborne have served more than 20 years in federal prison for the 1998 murder of a Virginia police officer, despite a federal jury finding them not guilty of the crime. 

Richardson and Claiborne pleaded guilty to the murder in state court, accepting plea deals to avoid death sentences. Years later, federal prosecutors added drug trafficking charges, landing both of them in federal court. They were found guilty of a drug charge that would typically result in 10 years in prison, but the judge increased and enhanced their sentence because of their earlier guilty pleas.

Life After Justice was founded a decade ago by Jarrett Adams and Antione Day, two Black men whose own convictions were overturned after they each served nearly 10 years in prison.

After he was exonerated, Adams got a law degree and clerked at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that overturned his conviction. He began working with criminal justice groups like the Innocence Project, opened his law practice, then started Life After Justice to help other exonerees like himself.

“The disproportionate effect the criminal system is having on communities of color can only be described as persistent traumatic stress,” Adams said in a statement. “The holistic approach of LAJ is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, pass laws that protect against wrongful convictions and provide the mental healthcare support that is desperately needed.”

The gift is also expected to help the group transform the criminal legal system. The group is seeking to secure a clemency petition in Virginia for Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne, the group’s first major legal challenge.

Chicago Beyond Invests $3.2 Million in Life After Justice, an Innocence Organization Founded and Led by Exonerees of Color

The Life After Justice team welcomed to Chicago Beyond. October 10, 2022. Roger Morales | Chicago Beyond

Chicago Beyond, an impact investor that works to ensure all young people have the opportunity to live a free and full life, announced today its $3.2 million partnership with Life After Justice (LAJ), a non-profit organization that works to correct unjust laws, exonerate the wrongfully convicted and assist exonerees in rebuilding their lives. 

LAJ was founded in 2012 by Jarrett Adams and Antione Day, two Black men convicted for crimes they did not commit. Adams and Day were both exonerated after serving nearly ten years in prison. When they came home to find a shortage of support services and employment opportunities, Adams and Day created LAJ to provide re-entry support for exonerees. LAJ expanded their mission to tackle the criminal legal system’s deep flaws and injustices in policing, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration that disproportionately impact people of color. Adams later obtained a law degree, clerked on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (the same court that overturned his conviction), began working with criminal justice groups like the Innocence Project, and opened his law practice.  

LAJ’s approach is distinct in that it focuses on the cases of innocent individuals that have no exculpatory DNA evidence, which is considerably more difficult to prove.  Through strategic litigation, LAJ also seeks to correct the 5 key flaws in the legal and legislative systems that are responsible for 80% of wrongful conviction cases: witness misidentification, faulty forensic evidence, false confessions, perjury/false accusations and official misconduct. Importantly, LAJ also addresses exoneree’s personal needs for holistic healing and financial wellbeing.  

 “Chicago Beyond is proud to support a transformative organization like Life After Justice.  Jarrett and his team are committed to righting the wrongs of our nation’s criminal justice system through legislative action, supporting people who were wrongly convicted, and creating holistic healing environments for people released from prison,” said Liz Dozier, Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond.   

Chicago Beyond’s investment in LAJ is significant to the organization, which has been operating on a volunteer basis, with no institutional funding, since 2012. Chicago Beyond’s partnership and $3.2 million in financial support will help LAJ to:

  • Hire legal and after exoneration program staff; 
  • Support initial case discovery and litigation; 
  • Increase access to holistic mental health care and ancillary services for exonerees; 
  • Build out organizational infrastructure; and  
  • Elevate LAJ’s work in transforming the criminal legal system, which includes securing a clemency petition for Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne, LAJ’s first major legal challenge that addresses the incongruities that exist between federal and state courts.  

LAJ’s work aims to create lasting change in the legal system on the legislative, judicial, and societal levels. LAJ’s Program Model includes: 

  • Battling Injustice-Strategic Litigation: Change laws, policies, and practices to prevent wrongful convictions by creating new, precedent-setting case law that undoes ill-conceived legislation and the poorly written laws it creates; secure relief or benefits, including monetary awards for exonerees; raise public awareness on injustices and wrongful convictions; and prioritize non-DNA evidence cases. By taking on non-DNA cases, LAJ navigates the appellate process to secure the release of wrongfully convicted individuals, while simultaneously working to change laws that will affect thousands of Americans each year.          
  • Reclaiming Lives-Holistic Mental Health & Wellness Empowerment Programming: Support individuals with the tools and resources they need to process their traumatic experiences by providing access to trained psychologists and therapists;  supply exonerees with technology that helps them to navigate the shifting technological landscape, which can include cell phones and laptops.   
  • Economic Justice Advocacy: Demonstrate and advocate for governments to provide holistic support integral to exonerees thriving post-release, which includes adequate monetary awards and holistic social services. 

Clemency Petition for Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne 
Currently, LAJ is bringing awareness to a case in Virginia and requesting that President Joe Biden grant clemency and exonerate Terrence Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne.  Richardson and Claiborne have served more than 20 years in federal prison for the 1998 murder of Alan Gibson, a Waverly, Virginia police officer, despite a federal jury finding them not guilty of the crime.  

Richardson and Claiborne pleaded guilty to the murder in state court, accepting plea deals to avoid possible death sentences. A few years later, federal prosecutors added drug trafficking charges, landing both of them in federal court. They were found guilty of a drug charge that would typically result in about ten years in prison, but the judge increased and enhanced their sentence based on their earlier guilty pleas.   

The disproportionate effect the criminal system is having on communities of color can only be described as persistent traumatic stress. The holistic approach of LAJ is to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, pass laws that protect against wrongful convictions and provide the mental healthcare support that is desperately needed,” said Jarrett Adams, Esq., President and Exoneree of Life After Justice.  

The new partnership builds on Chicago Beyond’s Justice Initiatives, a commitment that focuses on strategies to reduce incarceration and increase safety in all communities – including the ones behind the correctional walls – because of both the magnitude of people impacted and the collective trauma of the status quo. Last year, Chicago Beyond became LAJ’s first institutional funder when they received resources through Chicago Beyond’s Rapid Response Fund.  The funding provided LAJ exonerees access to therapy for mental and emotional healing and cell phones and laptops to pursue job opportunities and connect with friends and family.   

To learn more about the clemency petition involving Terrance Richardson and Ferrone Claiborne, click here 

To learn more about LAJ’s work to obtain justice for wrongfully convicted individuals and to protect our future freedom, click here 

To learn more about Chicago Beyond’s work in ensuring all people are free to live up to their fullest potential and live in a just and equitable society, click here.   

The Rise of Black-Owned Birth Centers – Word In Black

Chicago-based certified nurse midwife Jeanine Valrie Logan and doula Shaquan Dupart are opening a birth center on the city’s south side. Photo courtesy of Chicago South Side Birth Center.

This article by Alexa Spencer, was published on November 23, 2022 in Word In Black.

Less than 5% of birth centers are owned by Black or Indigenous folks, or other people of color. But that could change as Black midwives and doulas open facilities to help end the maternal and infant mortality crisis.

As the United States reckons with its Black maternal and infant mortality crisis — where Black mothers and babies are dying mostly due to racism and interventions in hospitals — Black birth workers are building birth centers to meet families’ needs for safe, culturally competent care.

There were about 380 freestanding birth centers around the U.S. in 2020, according to the American Association of Birth Centers (AABC).

With built-in bedrooms and bathroom suites, these low-tech healthcare facilities provide midwifery care in a home-like environment for pregnant people who are considered “low-risk” for complications.

Research has associated midwifery-led birth centers with low rates of infant and maternal deaths and cesarean sections. Black-owned birth centers, in particular, have been found to produce outcomes that fare better than national averages.

In 2020, amid the response to the murder of George Floyd, Roots Community Birth Center — based in Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis — had a 0% low birth weight rate, compared to an 8% national average, and 9% cesarean birth rate, compared to 32% nationally.

Roots’ clients — two-thirds of which are Black — also receive at least six visits after their babies are born, which is more than what typical postpartum care offers.

Fewer than 5% of birth centers are owned by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), according to data from Birth Center Equity, an organization that financially supports BIPOC-led birth centers.

But on Chicago’s South Side, a new Black-owned birth center is springing up while others around the nation roll out their blueprints and follow suit. 

For years, Jeanine Valrie Logan has dreamt of opening a birth center in Chicago, where she supports families as a certified nurse midwife. 

After pushing for legislation to expand Illinois’ birth centers in 2021, she teamed up with local doula Shaquan Dupart to open a facility that can serve a section of the city that is, in some U.S. Census tracts, as much as 99% Black — but which only has four hospitals with maternity wards.

“When people come in the space, [I want] people to realize that they have the knowledge and the technology that they need to achieve their wildest dreams for themselves, for their families, for their children, for their community,” Logan says. “I just want people to come in and kick off their shoes and make some tea and just really feel like they can be at home.”

The midwife-doula duo are bringing Chicago South Side Birth Center (CSSBC) to the city at a time when other medical institutions are bowing out. 

“Specifically on the South Side of Chicago, since 2019, four of our community hospitals have closed,” Logan says. “There are many who still don’t accept all insurances.”

While those challenges persist, Black women are about three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications in Illinois. 

And in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the nation, at 14.8%, the rates for preterm birth are highest among Black infants, compared to 8.2% for white infants. 

A 2019 study revealed that Black neighborhoods in the Windy City that were impacted by redlining had higher preterm birth rates than Black neighborhoods not impacted by the racist mortgage practices. 

Logan and Dupart seek to interrupt these trends by establishing a birth center that’s community-centered.

The facility will host three bedrooms, complete with bathtubs and other amenities. 

“Each of the suites have a private courtyard, like a garden. And then behind the birth center is a community garden. So, that’s where we would have outdoor classes or shared space if we want to have food together,” Logan says. 

In addition, Dupart says “there will be a children’s area for when families come. There will be a room for lactation consults. There will be a space where different heroes within the community can come and share their services.”

Yoga teachers, mental health professionals, massage therapists, and other practitioners will be invited to service clients at CSSBC. 

Another unique feature of the birth center is that it will accept Medicaid. 

“We’ll be able to see folks who normally wouldn’t be able to afford an out-of-hospital experience. Or, you know, many birth centers don’t take Medicaid,” Logan says. 

Having a robust reproductive clinic with wrap-around care is also a top priority.

Logan adds, “where a lot of birth centers will only see their birthing clients prenatally and postpartum, we want to see folks in community for STD testing, pregnancy tests, paps, any abnormal bleeding issues, family planning, and gender-affirming care.”

The CSSBC team launched a 90-day fundraising campaign to raise $400,000 for their new building. They currently have about 30 days left to meet their goal. 

On “Giving Tuesday,” the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, they plan to share 3D photos of the birth center on social media. 

As the center prepares to officially open its doors, Dupart envisions the facility as a place that will positively impact local families for generations to come.  

“We always say that healing takes seven generations forward and seven generations back. And I hope that this birth center can be a part of that healing back and forward,” she says. 

“I hope that people are able to come here and just feel safe and a sense of community and that it is a place to help. Because I know that this birth center alone won’t help change that Black birth narrative. We can be one of the catalysts in helping to change that narrative for Black birthing folks in general.”