Author: chicagobeyond

Chicago Beyond Launches Justice Initiatives: Names Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia Managing Director

Chicago Beyond, an impact investor fighting for youth equity, today launches Justice Initiatives, its newest line of work dedicated to systems-level change. To execute on the vision of Chicago Beyond’s justice-related work, Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia permanently joins the team as the Managing Director of Justice Initiatives. In this role, Dr. Jones Tapia, an experienced clinical psychologist, will lead Chicago Beyond’s justice reform strategy both in Chicago and nationally. 

In 2018, Dr. Jones Tapia was named Chicago Beyond’s first-ever Leader in Residence through its Leadership Venture, a fellowship designed to drive systemic change by giving local leaders the platform and resources to leverage their expertise and skills to tackle significant challenges facing Chicago’s youth. Chicago Beyond’s Leadership Venture gives visionary individuals the runway and support they need to make their concepts a reality with no pre-determined plan.  

During her residency, Dr. Jones Tapia’s work centered on transforming systems to become more trauma-informed for young people in ChicagoHer efforts led to a partnership with Chicago Public Schools that supported the school district in developing its healing-centered framework to address trauma holistically. Dr. Jones Tapia also led a partnership with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to reimagine justice-involved family engagement and reduce the stigma and trauma that surrounds young people impacted by parental incarceration. The initiative has the potential to impact more than 80,000 children annually whose parents are experiencing incarceration in the Cook County Jail.   

Dr. Jones Tapia was previously the warden of Cook County Jail and is known as one of the first psychologists in the nation to lead a correctional facility. During her tenure, Dr. Jones Tapia directed several bold strategies to promote wellness and reduce recidivism in the jail, which is often categorized as “the largest mental hospital in the country,” with 2,000+ incarcerated men and women diagnosed with mental illness on any given day. While serving as warden, and in partnership with other Cook County criminal justice system stakeholders, the jail’s population was reduced by approximately 20 percent.    

“There is no better time than now to make a deliberate investment in justice work and I am thrilled to have Dr. Jones Tapia lead this crucial piece of Chicago Beyond’s vision. Her experience in clinical psychology and criminal justice systems will push us, our partners, our city, and our country to think critically about how we seek justice and how we can help heal communities impacted by trauma inflicted by various systems,” said Liz Dozier, Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond.   

“I’m honored for the opportunity to continue the fight for justice reform not only here in Chicago but nationally as well,” said Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia. “We have an opportunity to acknowledge the inherent harms that exist in the current justice system and the opportunity to make a significant investment in a different system of accountability with a foundation rooted in healing and safety. I look forward to the work ahead.”  

Dr. Jones Tapia was previously a Senior Fellow with the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. She sits on the Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy, as well as the executive boards of the Illinois Department of Corrections Advisory Board, the Illinois Association of Prescribing Psychologists Board, and the Mental Health America of Illinois Board. Dr. Jones Tapia earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her master’s in clinical psychology from East Carolina University and her doctorate of psychology from the Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology.  

What coming back means for Chicago’s youth in Crain’s Chicago Business: Liz Dozier

This podcast episode was published on Crain’s Chicago Business podcast series Chicago Comes Back on February 4, 2021 with Emily Drake Tessa and Todd Connor.

The founder of Chicago Beyond talks about how the past year has focused attention on inequity and how philanthropy can have an impact on whole communities.

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.

PBS News Hour: Why kids need special support when a parent is locked up

This article ran on January 28, 2021 on PBS News Hour By Sam Lane and Cat Wise.

CHICAGO – Ray Robinson was 8 years old when he was first detained by police.

He grew up mostly on the south side of Chicago, surrounded by poverty, drugs and gang violence. Robinson’s parents “did the best they could,” but worked long hours, he said, so he spent much of his childhood on the streets, idolizing and emulating older men in his neighborhood.

They would offer him money and candy in exchange for favors, like picking locks. His initial run-in with law enforcement came after he broke into a mailbox and stole Social Security checks. He was put into the back of a police car and officers had a long conversation with his parents before he was released.

“I didn’t really know what was going on because when you’re a child, you could be involved in dangerous activity and illegal activity and not even be aware of it,” Robinson, now 58, said.

Robinson would ultimately spend more than two decades of his life behind bars for a variety of offenses, including dealing drugs and armed robbery.

“I had to do what I had to do to survive,” he said.

But those years also had an impact on his son. At about 6 years old, he came to visit Robinson at the maximum security division of the Cook County Jail – one of the largest jails in the country. Robinson’s legs and hands were shackled. Guards escorted him to the visitation area.

“When my son and my nieces saw me, they were perplexed,” Robinson said. “You could look in their innocent eyes and it was like they were stunned. And I didn’t realize they were trying to process that mentally. And it affected them.”

More than 2.7 million kids in the United States have a parent behind bars. And parental incarceration can be a powerful adverse childhood experience (or ACE), an event in childhood that is potentially traumatic, leading to long-term physical and emotional impacts.

Robinson’s son, now 28, is himself in the criminal justice system, under house arrest for possession of a firearm. Robinson said his own incarceration “absolutely” played a role in his son’s situation.

“My faults as a father have become my son’s weakness as my son,” he said.

“Children don’t follow parental instructions as much as they follow parental examples,” he added. “So what he saw me do as far as my affiliation with street gangs and how I glamorized it, he thought it was something to become a part of and partake in.”

According to clinical social worker Dr. Anna Morgan-Mullane, children start to experience the trauma of their parents’ run-ins with the criminal justice system at the point of arrest.

“There’s a lot of children who will share narratives about how there were up to 20 police officers who came into their home,” she said. “They usually come in at night. It’s usually waking everybody up. So there’s the startled response, there is zero accountability [from law enforcement] for being able to be protective of the children witnessing what’s happening to their parent. … that’s the first point of contact in terms of the trauma.”

In that moment, Morgan-Mullane says, a “protective factor” will start to develop in the frontal lobe of the child’s brain, which controls cognitive skills, emotion, and the ability to make sense of a situation. Immediately, a level of anxiety is “overflooding the body.” Many children will feel frozen.

Once the parent is taken into custody, young children experience something Morgan-Mullane and her colleagues call “ambiguous loss.” They don’t understand why an arrest is taking place, nor do they understand where their parent has gone.

“There’s this mistrust that’s sort of developing within the brain where there is a hyper vigilance and anxiety, a fear,” Morgan-Mullane said. “And when the body is completely consumed with all of those types of symptoms, it becomes harder and harder to feel like you can control your impulses. It becomes even more challenging to feel like there’s an emotional response that you can have to somebody that feels appropriate because there’s so much distrust in the world around you.”

Morgan-Mullane is the vice president of mental health services at Children of Promise, NYC. About 12 years ago, the organization’s founder, Sharon Content, created a first-of-its kind program that weaves mental health care into after-school activities for children of incarcerated parents between the ages of 6 and 13. More than 60 percent of the children in Children of Promise witnessed their parents’ arrests.

Kids in the program come to Children of Promise, NYC sites in Brooklyn or the Bronx, where they start with a meal, then move to circle time, where they can discuss their feelings with others in their age group. Then, they can get help with their schoolwork, engage in a recreational activity like volleyball and participate in a therapeutic group session, which could be an art class. Each counselor leading those activities is trained on how to approach a child experiencing a variety of emotions, including frustration or sadness. The organization’s clinicians are on-site and speak to kids individually while the activities are ongoing.

“They know the clinician, they see the clinician,” she said. “This is not some building where it’s like ‘I go to that building once a week and I’m supposed to expose all of my secrets and my challenges and my fears to this person that I don’t really even know.’”

“Every week, when it comes time for them to really speak about the challenges and some of the emotional traumas that this particular child has gone through, it’s in a much more comfortable space,” she added.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the best solution would be to reduce jail and prison populations and limit the separation of parents from their children whenever possible. But for those who are if people must be held behind bars, their interactions with their children can be improved.

So, in Chicago, experts are trying to combat the trauma of parental incarceration at a different source: jail visitations.

Chicago Beyond – an organization that invests in programs and research to fight childhood inequality in the city – has partnered with the Cook County Sheriff’s office to rethink visitations in a “trauma-informed” way.

As part of that work, in August 2019, people detained in the Cook County jail dressed in plain clothes and were transported to the Chicago Children’s Museum. When they arrived, the detainees – all fathers – met their children, played games and took pictures.

Chicago Beyond’s Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia – whose own father was arrested on marijuana charges when she was 8 years old – helped lead that effort. She is a clinical psychologist and the former warden of the Cook County jail.

“When we put humanity back into the criminal justice system, the staff wanted to come to work, the staff felt that their job was meaningful,” Tapia said. “We found that the children played and were able to experience positive and nurturing relationships with their incarcerated loved ones. And we also found that the people who were incarcerated were less likely to act up. They were more likely to follow the facility rules and, through research, we know that they more likely to be successful upon reentry into the community.”

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said many correctional officials view their role as nothing more than “holding people.” He was troubled when he discovered the department didn’t even keep data on the average number of children detainees have. They’ve started to track that data now, he said.

“The family unit of the incarcerated person – whether you’re talking children or brothers, sisters, mothers – I don’t think has ever been that high on the list of things that were of greatest concern,” Dart said.

But he said ignoring mental health, post-incarceration opportunities and family issues is “reckless and irresponsible.”

So in recent years, his office has tried to ease the burden of parental incarceration, with programs like classes on fatherhood. And in May, Cook County will begin construction on a new domed facility that will house contact visitations between detainees and their children. It will have a separate entrance from the jail and there will be no barbed wire.

“Whether it’s the outside public or it’s my own staff, it is getting them to think of people differently, think of people like humans,” Dart said. “Think of people just as folks who have made mistakes.”

To this day, Ray Robinson carries the weight of his incarceration and its impacts on his son. He remembers one particular conversation when his son pointed out the hypocrisy of trying to keep him out of trouble.

“He said, ‘well daddy you used to do it.’ And I had to surrender to that truth.”

But Robinson knows his son’s circumstances are not the product of his actions alone – the environment in which he was raised also played a factor. And in cities across America, disinvestment and systemic racism are often determinative parts of the environment.

Content and Morgan-Mullane at Children of Promise, NYC, point to factors like underfunded schools, limited job opportunities and over-policing in communities of color as some of the main drivers of this cycle.

“It’s not that the child [of an incarcerated parent] is more likely to commit a crime,” Content said. “It’s the systems in which this child is being raised.”

Signal Boost podcast with Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia

Our Managing Director of Justice Initiatives, Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, recently joined Signal Boost with hosts Zerlina Maxwell and Jess McIntosh to talk about President Biden’s order and steps to address systemic racism by ending contracts with private prisons.

You can listen to the full podcast below.

This podcast episode was published on Signal Boost on January 28, 2021. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Charity Navigator’s New “Impact Score” Tells Us Little About a Nonprofit’s True Value

This op-ed ran on January 14, 2021 in The Chronicle of Philanthropy and was authored by Liz Dozier, Founder & CEO of Chicago Beyond and Lisa Pilar Cowan, Vice President of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.

The nonprofit watchdog group Charity Navigator last fall announced a new feature it designed to provide donors with an improved measure of nonprofit effectiveness. An “impact score” based on “how much good the nonprofit achieves per dollar of cost” will now be added to each nonprofit’s profile. Sounds great, right? Theoretically, it gives a donor insight into how much “good” will result from their dollars. In reality, it doesn’t come close to delivering on that promise.  

Charity Navigator, which acquired an organization called ImpactMatters to provide this new measure, isn’t the first or only entity to define a donation’s success by its return on investment. But this attempt to quantify impact for a broad range of nonprofits nationwide is troubling. Because Charity Navigator uses only data that can be standardized across organizations, many qualitative factors are lost. Its primary impact measures — such as share of budget spent on programs, whether program fees are charged, and whether the organization already receives private funding — are overly simplistic and do not accurately help donors understand a nonprofit’s true value for the community it serves. 

In our roles as a former high-school principal and an education program director, we‘ve seen the harms that often accompany a one-size-fits-all evaluation approach. It’s not unlike a “color-blind” approach to equity. Context is important, and when we ignore it, we may end up replicating the very thing we are fighting to eradicate. 

Consider, for example, this revealing thought exercise included in the ImpactMatters blog post about the impact score:  

A program has a limited budget of $100,000 to improve literacy in a community. It can choose between two approaches to do so: One that can boost literacy by a grade level for 100 students and a second that can also boost literacy by a grade level but for 200 students. All else equal, a sensible program administrator would choose the second, as of course it reaches twice as many students. This is a cost-effectiveness decision. We have limited resources and unlimited needs. Cost-effectiveness is a decision tool that makes those resources go further — helping more people in more ways. 

The telling words here are “all else equal.” Many factors could vary from one program to another: Do the two programs offer the same supports? At what grade level are the students reading? Who is leading the program, and who is staffing it? What is the organization’s relationship to the community? What literature are the students reading? Are the students primarily being taught how to take a test, or are they learning critical thinking skills? Are their reading materials at school in the same language they speak at home? Are they getting enough to eat during the school day?  

Both of us are now grant makers who have centered our work on trusting grantees. We think Charity Navigator’s approach to measuring impact misses the mark — and the point. Impact should be defined, or at least informed, by the organizations and communities that experience the work firsthand. (For more on this, check out Chicago Beyond’s recent guidebook, which reveals the seven inequities lurking within most evaluation systems.) Beyond the specifics of evaluating a literacy program (or food pantry or senior center), we strongly believe that what an organization chooses to measure is a statement about what it values. When we measure the quality of a nonprofit based on return on financial investment, we ignore the complexities of a grantee’s work and reinforce the idea that the most important factor in giving is protecting a foundation’s reputation or a donor’s wealth. And when we prioritize wealth and reputation over any other indicator of a human life, we are actively preserving the very inequities we purportedly want to eradicate. 

This attention to impact as a function of the grant-making process is especially relevant at a moment when philanthropy’s legitimacy has been challenged by critiques of both its effectiveness and its historic role in perpetuating systemic inequities. 

So, what’s the alternative? Here are a few ways we think about impact and evaluation at our foundations: 

“How” we fund is intimately related to “what” we fund. The nature and quality of our interactions with nonprofit partners is as important to achieving the outcomes we seek as what we fund and support. We see our grantees as equal partners in this work so how we engage with them is critical to the effectiveness of that work. While foundations typically consider themselves the “brains” and grantees the “brawn,” we believe the nonprofits we support are the experts on their own issues and solutions. Working together, as equals, without the constraints of those false roles, lays the groundwork for strong collaborative efforts that ultimately produce the results we all seek.  

Shared learning is a critical part of our evaluation process. What if we approached evaluation as an opportunity to learn with nonprofits, rather than measuring impact with overly simplistic metrics like spending ratios and program fees? What if the evaluation becomes a shared pursuit in understanding the challenges, opportunities, and evolution of a program or organization? When we approach evaluation in this way, it becomes an avenue to further understand the context in which successes and failures occurred, to notice inequities, and to collaboratively reflect on progress. This approach, far more than a grade on a nonprofit’s return on investment, would benefit any organization — and ultimately the community it serves. 

How we measure grantee success internally is a reflection of our goals for society as a whole. Approaching grantee relationships from a place of trust, humility, and transparency is key. Within our foundations, we are building the kinds of assessment and planning processes that we want to see in the larger world. This means listening, especially to grantee partners, so that we develop a shared understanding about the issues, challenges, and solutions ahead. Those of us occupying leadership positions at foundations must be self-reflective about our practices and share accountability for the impact of the work. That is what solidarity and collaborative stewardship look like. It is a deliberate, shared experience toward a common cause.  

This is why the Charity Navigator impact score is so problematic. It renders all other factors void. It gives us an excuse to put up blinders rather than open a window into the complexities and larger context behind a grantee’s potential success. Too often in philanthropy we try to boil things down. And, in the process of all that boiling, we lose the opportunity to have a lasting impact on the people and the communities we desperately want to help. 

Session 4: Unpacking The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart

On Monday, December 14, in partnership with Family Action Network, Chicago Beyond hosted the final installment of Unpacking, a four-part series with cross-sector leaders designed to unpack issues such as privilege and bias that drive racial discrimination. Our Founder and CEO, Liz Dozier, was joined by Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, to discuss her new book and guide to transformative movements, The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. The conversation spanned many topics, from the Black Lives Matter movement and its origins, to respectability politics, to the “culture wars” that we see today. Watch the full interview below. 

Liz and Alicia discussed the true power of movements beyond a brand and a hashtag, and highlighted that the Black Lives Matter movement is the largest protest movement in history, not because of its media presence, but because this year alone, more people than ever have stepped out of their homes to join a protest in solidarity with Black lives. The power of the movement lies in the sum of its parts, and when we as individuals make an effort to contribute, we are not only utilizing our power, but adding to the power behind the broader movement.

Alicia shared that in order to change society, both collectively and individually, we need to have the courage to step forward into our future, knowing that the future of Black people in America has not been written. She added that we need to be mindful about how our stories shape how people take action, and that we need to take control of our narrative and invest in counter points that battle back against falsehoods and hyperbole. 

“Part of the healing process is telling the truth of how we got here.

Alicia Garza

That is what motivated her to start the Black Census Project, one of the largest surveys of the Black community ever, with the goal of telling a more honest and nuanced story about who Black people are in this country. Likewise, in Chicago Beyond’s guidebook, “Why Am I Always Being Researched,” we explicitly named and framed the power dynamics in the philanthropic space and outlined the actions that each entity should take to ensure the space is more equitable.

Alicia talked about the process of change, and making sure that when we institute new ideas or create new spaces, we aren’t just replicating oppressive systems. To avoid this, Alicia shared that we must learn about what we have to dismantle within ourselves in order to build things that disrupt the system around us. It’s important to understand that in some way, our understanding is influenced by systems that were birthed from inequality, and narratives that are either blurred or in direct opposition to the mission of equality

To close out the conversation, Liz asked Alicia about the notion of healing, and how we take care of the people on the frontlines so that we can all stay in the fight. Alicia talked about the difference between self-care—a bubble bath or a yoga class—and reckoning with the reasons why we are experiencing trauma. She said that sometimes, part of our trauma comes from being gaslit and told that the things that are happening to us are not actually happening to us. But when we look around and see poverty, inequitable education funding, under-resourced communities and the like, who is to blame? For Alicia, reaching a space of healing and reconciliation means acknowledging the truth about the harm that society has inflicted upon people of color, and from that truth, working to build the kind of world where that harm is no longer an organizing principle.

Each of us possess immense power as individuals, and we possess even more power when we come together collectively. The Black Lives Matter movement started as a Facebook post, but it wouldn’t have reached its current status if it weren’t for people collectively mobilizing around the message and taking to the streets in solidarity with it. But more than protests, if each of us are embedded in systems, institutions, companies, or boardrooms where we see imbalances taking hold, we must ask ourselves what our power is in those situations, and how we can effectively work with people to achieve our nation’s highest ideals: liberty and justice for all.

In June of 2020, Chicago Beyond launched the Unpacking series to engage cross-sector leaders in dialogues on unpacking their own privilege, and how race, wealth, and power have driven decisions and policies that perpetuate bias, discrimination, and racial disparities that many communities of color are facing today. Thanks to a partnership with NowThis News, these conversations reached hundreds of thousands of individuals interested in learning how they, too, can unpack these issues to arrive at a more authentic truth. Click here for videos and recaps of all four sessions of Unpacking.

PBS Newshour: The overwhelming impact of childhood trauma on Chicago’s West Side

This segment was televised by PBS News Hour on December 16, 2020 by special correspondent Cat Wise and producer Sam Lane.

PBS News Hour interviewed our Leader In Residence Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia for an episode of their series, “Invisible Scars: America’s Childhood Trauma Crisis.” Dr. Tapia spoke about her own experience with parental incarceration and how inequities amongst communities increases the risk of childhood trauma.