Author: chicagobeyond

Why I Believe Violence Is A Public Health Concern That Requires A Public Health Approach

This op-ed ran on October 29, 2020 on Blavity by Steve Gates, Growth Director at Chicago Beyond and Chicago CRED Roseland Site Manager.

As a Black man in America, working to reduce gun violence in Chicago, I find the rhetoric between presidential candidates — and what is not being said — dangerously irresponsible. We all have to acknowledge the reality of racism in our country along with the monumental efforts of those working seriously and honestly to confront our past for a more just future.

People look at my community as hopeless. I know personally about wrongly executed warrants and arrests. I know what gun violence does to a person, family and communities intimately. I also know what intentional disinvestment looks and feels like and I know what happens when you address racism with law enforcement. Roseland, one of the 77 neighborhoods in Chicago, is a community where redlining, white flight, the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, the war on drugs and mass incarceration has led to the current state of the place I call home.

Unfortunately, America does have a racist past filled with racist policies that have been and continue to be oppressive to people of color. There are dominant beliefs in our country about race that continue to contribute to inequities. America has had a steady level of violence for the last 50 years with few exceptions. Chicago has not had under 400 murders since 1965. The common denominators are the places where violence is highly concentrated. A closer look will show that these places have much more in common than skin color.

Within communities disproportionately affected by gun violence, like Roseland, unemployment is usually twice that of other communities. Educational opportunities are subpar at best. The housing market has yet to recover and the tax base is among the lowest in the city. The people in these places are voiceless and deliberately removed from any serious political process. The median income pales in comparison to other parts of the city, and there is always an underground economy. Another important commonality is that there is always a large presence of law enforcement.

Just as public health has considered the environment as a factor for disease and injury, it should also consider the environment when considering violence prevention strategies. Rather than an issue that needs to be policed, violence is a public health issue that needs a public health approach.

In a year where violence is up across the country, and especially in my fair city of Chicago, where violence is up almost 51%, there has been a 33% decrease in fatal shootings in the Roseland community where we work to make those environmental modifications. Chicago CRED, for example, uses a data driven approach and multidisciplinary team to support men and women who have been victims and perpetrators of violence. The men are strategically recruited by credible messengers from the community. Next, the participants are surrounded with supportive clinicians, life coaches and employment and training specialists. The team then supports the participants in meeting goals they have set for themselves with safety and an aversion to violence being at the center of it. The multidisciplinary team focuses on trauma, safety, education, family and employment.

As a country, we should reimagine public safety and not ignore what has failed us as a nation to this point, but learn, be smarter and do better. Reimagining public safety is not about dismantling the criminal justice system, or defunding the police. Reimagining public safety is actually about reducing violence, crime, racist policies and financial waste.

The most important thing that Chicago CRED provides the men with is hope. Consistent relationships, meeting the men where they are, while dealing with years of trauma appears to have some key ingredients to the success in Roseland. While we can’t take all the credit for the reduction in fatal shootings, nor should we want to, we can say we have done things that we know work. This trauma-informed approach looks at the whole person, educational opportunities, job training and trusting relationships.

As a country, many agree that we cannot address racial issues with law enforcement. We know inequities have negative consequences and glaring disparities around quality of life. We know resources, and the lack thereof, are also key determinants to violence.

There is an example in Roseland where we are reimagining public safety. We are addressing years of disinvestment one man at a time. We are providing wraparound services and support where institutions have failed. We are treating the years of trauma and violence from a clinical framework. We are engaging with the community to do with and not for. We are trying to give these men a vision of peace and safety for the first time.

Take it from individuals on the ground. We know what works. Today, we need our nation’s leaders to acknowledge the harsh reality of our past and reimagine what public health really means — for all citizens.

Comes A Time: Liz Dozier

This podcast episode was published on Comes A Time on October 16, 2020. 

Our Founder and CEO, Liz Dozier, joined the hosts of Comes A Time podcast, Mike & Oteil to talk through key lessons from her life journey thus far. In the conversation, they touch on everything from her experiences as principal of Fenger High School to the DNA that’s guiding our work at Chicago Beyond.

You can watch the full video below.

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Recap: Unpacking Race, Wealth, and Individual Power

On Wednesday, September 23, Chicago Beyond hosted the third session of our Unpacking series titled, “Unpacking Race, Wealth, and Individual Power.” We were joined by Brookings Institute Fellow and author Dr. Andre Perry and the Director of the UChicago Institute of Politics David Axelrod to discuss racial wealth inequality in America.

In the discussion moderated by Chicago Beyond Founder & CEO Liz Dozier, panelists talked about the manifestations of this inequality, such as the disparities it creates in Black homeownership, its impact on the public consciousness, and how it influences the ways we value each other and the communities we belong to. The discussion compelled the virtual audience to learn more about the way this inequity pervades society, challenge preconceived notions, and advocate for changes to policies and mindsets.

These are not accidents. These are a function of longstanding policies.

David Axelrod

According to the Brookings Institute, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family. We must never forget how we got here, as David Axelrod reminded us, “These are not accidents. These are a function of longstanding policies that we see to this day.” Many policies cited throughout the conversation, like the GI Bill, granted enormous amounts of wealth and opportunity to the American public yet systemically excluded Black people from many of their benefits.

As Dr. Perry shared, the GI Bill, for example, wasn’t an isolated incident, and neither are the disparities we see in homeownership today, in which Black homes are significantly undervalued—resulting in over $156 billion in losses for homeowners and their communities.

Here’s what that $156 billion could fund:

Based on the numbers presented by Dr. Perry, it is clear that the costs of these disparities have serious implications for the life chances of the people experiencing the discrimination.

We are robbing these young people, and by limiting their potential, we are limiting our own potential.

David Axelrod

The panelists also explored how deeming Black lives and Black assets “riskier” or “unworthy” of investment not only pervades the mindsets of banks and lenders, but members of the community themselves—especially our country’s youth. Axelrod shared a conversation he had with President Barack Obama where he revealed the most dispiriting part of his job as a public official was seeing firsthand that false sense of unworthiness in our nation’s students. The contrast was on display during visits to elementary schools where he saw kindergarteners filled with dreams and enthusiasm, and would then visit middle schools where he saw hope fleeting from students because of what they had come to perceive as the reality of what they could achieve.

These are the stakes associated with racist policies and the racial wealth gap it creates. Axelrod explained that the real risk is actually the byproduct of disinvestment, and how it ultimately hurts all of us. It’s how a lack of investment in Black communities limits the life chances of our nation’s youth, further exacerbating existing inequities and the racial wealth gap. Dr. Perry suggested that while the models that society operates on created these disparities, we must challenge them and “come up with new models together.”

There's nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can't solve.

Dr. Andre Perry

Catch the full conversation below, and take the time to read David Axelrod’s op-ed on race and Dr. Perry’s book Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities

Thank you to Kendall Ramseur for opening our afternoon with his music! You can learn more about Kendall here

How To Citizen with Barantunde: How to Use Your Voice on Social Justice

On Thursday, September 3rd, 2020, our Leader in Residence Nneka Jones Tapia interviewed comedian and author Baratunde Thurston for Chief’s Election 2020 series. The topic of the conversation was ‘How to Use Your Voice on Social Justice,’ and Baratundeauthor of How to Be Blackand host of the podcast How to Citizen, shared his perspective on the responsibility that we, as members of society, have to speak out and act against injustice. 

Below are four fast quotes that capture Baratunde’s challenge to the audience:

Baratunde’s Four Pillars of How to Citizen: Participate in society, relate to others, understand the power we have collectively, and apply that power for the good of the many, not just the few.

TIME: ‘We Don’t Need More Cops; We Need Better Cops.’ Why Chicagoans Are Skeptical of Federal Agents in the Fight Against Gun Violence

This article ran in the August 2020 issue of TIME. By Tessa Berenson, Leslie Dickstein and Mariah Espada

The trouble began, as too often it does in Chicago, with a gun.

On a humid afternoon, on Aug. 9, a woman called 911 to report that a man in a red hat and shirt was starting a fight at Moran Park in Englewood, a predominantly Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. There were children playing nearby, she warned, and he had a gun. At 2:38 p.m., four Chicago police officers in an unmarked Ford SUV rolled past the park, where they spotted a man matching the caller’s description. When they flipped on their lights, he ran. The chase led down an alley, where the suspect fired at least eight shots at two officers sprinting after him, according to prosecutors. The cops returned fire. The suspect fell to the ground, then stood back up and disappeared into an abandoned lot.

As the officers hunted for him, the radios clipped to their bulletproof vests crackled to life: a gunshot victim needed help at a house nearby. The police headed to a powder blue bungalow, where they saw a trail of blood leading from the foot of the front door, through the house and down to the basement. There, police say, they found the suspect, blood seeping from wounds in his cheek and abdomen. The man, later identified as 20-year-old Latrell Allen, was taken into custody and sent to a hospital for treatment.

It didn’t take long for news of the shooting to circulate as yet another example of racial injustice at the hands of police. Tempers flared, particularly in the South Side and West Side communities, where a legacy of segregation, police discrimination, failed schools and misguided public-housing policy have thwarted advancement of Black families for generations. That night, for more than three hours, hundreds of looters smashed windows and carried away armfuls of jewelry, clothes and electronics from retail stores, first on the South Side, then farther north, into downtown shopping districts, including the city’s Magnificent Mile.

When the sun rose on Monday, Aug. 10, shattered glass carpeted sidewalks, trash billowed down major streets, and police stood guard in riot gear on corners. In an interview the next day with TIME, Mayor Lori Lightfoot laid the blame for the chaos not on protesters but on organized criminal operatives taking advantage of an emotional moment to strike. “It was a planned attack,” the mayor declared.

The cryptic allegation was lent credence by the person making it. Elected in 2019 as the first Black woman and openly gay person to serve as Chicago’s mayor, Lightfoot has a history of independence and a balanced background in criminal justice, having served as a federal prosecutor and led two bodies that police the city’s law enforcement. Where some saw mindless violence, she observed elements of preparation “with U-Haul trucks and cargo vans and sophisticated equipment used to cut metal.”

Riots may look alike, especially from a distance. But locals close to the ground, including mayors, are in position to tell the difference between damage done by a protest that’s spun out of control — and by those simply using social unrest as cover for personal gain.

As he seeks re-election as a law-and-order candidate, President Donald Trump has seized upon violent crime in Democrat-led cities as a problem only he and the federal government can fix. On July 22, he expanded Operation Legend, the plan to “surge” hundreds of federal agents into U.S. cities experiencing what he called “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.” After decades of declining crime, cities across the U.S. are experiencing a spike in shootings and homicides this summer. No city has been hit worse than Chicago. In July alone, 565 people were shot — at least 63 of them juveniles.

But while Operation Legend, which has deployed agents from the FBI, DEA and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in nine cities, offers critical expertise to solve crimes, it is irrelevant to the deeper systemic issues that contribute to the violence, such as poverty, underfunded public schools and structural racism. These matters may be of secondary importance to a President running for re-election who is brazenly attempting to stoke fears of suburban voters by associating race with violence.

“If tamping down violence were a policing problem, it would’ve been solved decades ago in Chicago,” says Elce Redmond, 56, a community organizer from the South Side’s Bronzeville neighborhood. “We don’t need more cops; we need better cops.”

That leaves officials like Lightfoot where they were before Trump waded in: looking for real solutions. She recognizes the city is at an inflection point brought on by the pandemic, the ensuing economic paralysis, and the widening gulf of suspicion between the Black community and her police force. “The question is, How do we find opportunity out of even these very dark days?” Lightfoot asks. “And what do we do to band together? Because — it sounds clichéd, but it is so true — we won’t survive this moment. We will not thrive. We will not move beyond, get stronger and better, if we don’t unite.”

Less than two years in office, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces a surge of gun violence

Less than two years in office, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot faces a surge of gun violence Sebastián Hidalgo for TIME

Every time somebody is murdered in Chicago, Oji Eggleston’s Android phone vibrates with a text. As executive director with Chicago Survivors, a nonprofit that provides services to the families of homicide victims in the city, he gets a message generated by a Chicago police reporting system that alerts him to another grieving family. “I receive the name, gender, age and location of every single homicide victim,” he says. “They come at all hours of the day, nearly every day.”

Eggleston’s organization guides each family through the complicated processes that go with caring for a dead loved one: what to do at the medical examiner’s office, what to ask at the funeral parlor and how to pay for it all. But it’s the city’s cycle of violence that drives the need for Chicago Survivors. “When families are grieving and they don’t receive the necessary resources in a timely manner, that grief can turn to anger and that anger can turn to retaliation,” Eggleston says. “So that’s where we look to provide the violence interruption.”

No challenge has proved more vexing to Lightfoot during her first full year in office than stopping this grim tide. The 443 homicides recorded in Chicago through July were a 53% increase over a year earlier. (New York City, with three times the population, had just 244 murders.) It’s difficult to find a corner in Chicago’s South and West sides not in some way affected by gang violence. Police say there are 117,000 gang members across the city, which counts 55 known gangs. Officers in Chicago routinely confiscate more illegal guns than those in New York City and Los Angeles combined. Now, during the pandemic, gun sales are hitting record highs across the country. FBI background checks, a proxy to track sales, have surged.

Chicago has no gun shops in the city and no background-check loopholes for private sales. And yet so far this year, Chicago police have seized more than 6,400 guns, a pace set to match the 10,000 confiscated last year. A 2017 study found that some 60% of guns used in crimes come from states like Wisconsin, Mississippi and Indiana. “They have very different sensibilities about guns than we do here in Chicago,” Lightfoot says. “You can literally drive over the border into Indiana and get military-grade weapons in any quantity that your money will buy. And they bring them back to Chicago.”

The fourth of July weekend in Chicago was particularly gruesome. There were 87 people shot across the city. Among the 17 people killed was Tyrone Long, 33. He was outside with friends when a man riding in a blue SUV opened fire. Shot several times in the chest, he died at a nearby hospital. “It wasn’t like he just died or got hit by a bus,” says Linda Long, his mother. “Someone took his life. And it really hurts my soul that my son is not here.”

Tyrone, nicknamed Boomer by his father, was the second oldest of Linda’s four boys. He was a cook, just like her, and the father of an 8-year-old daughter, Zhuri. He volunteered time at his aunt’s antiviolence organization, Sacred Ground Ministries, where he counseled young people about the risks of getting involved in gangs and drugs. His cousin Eric Williams, 25, was killed by gun violence in 2012. Detectives haven’t called for weeks about Tyrone’s murder. “No one has ever got caught for my nephew’s death, and it ain’t looking good on finding Tyrone’s killer,” Linda says. “Nobody is listening. When are they going to listen? When are they going to hear us crying out for help? When?”

To say the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has a trust problem in Black neighborhoods is a gross understatement. The department’s long, troubled history with communities of color spans generations. For decades, long before George Floyd’s death, waves of demonstrations routinely choked city streets to denounce an institution seen as more akin to an occupying force than committed public servants.

A 2017 Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found officers in the city had acted with a “pattern and practice of excessive force,” disproportionately targeting people of color in stops, searches, arrests and shootings, including the notorious 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. In 2019, the DOJ and the city agreed to police-reform agreements enforced by a judge, known as a consent decree, that would address civil rights abuses the probe brought to light.

One year after being elected, Lightfoot hired as superintendent the former Dallas police chief David Brown, renowned for his earnest efforts to bridge the gap between cops and communities of color. “I’m going to go back to what I believe has been the most promising aspect of policing in the last 20 years — community-oriented policing,” Brown says. “We are all safer when we work together, when we trust each other, when the relationship is strong. Even when we have mistakes made by police, we shouldn’t let our missteps or past indiscretions prevent us from moving forward together.”

That takes an investment of his officers’ time inside neighborhoods, going block by block, meeting people and building trust, Brown says. The city increased the number of cops on the streets, spent more than $7 million to expand local organizations’ antiviolence outreach and launched a new 300-officer unit to participate with community-relations programs, including food drives and church gatherings.

The head of Chicago’s police union initially celebrated Trump’s approach of sending additional federal officers. But community activists ask how a couple hundred agents from out of town can meaningfully augment a police force of 13,000, the nation’s second largest.

“The false pretense here is that we can inject a number of people from three-letter agencies and that’s going to fix all the problems,” says Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois. “That kind of thinking has never really gotten anywhere and, in fact, has driven further wedges between the police and communities.”

Lightfoot agrees, recalling the chaos federal agents provoked in Portland, Ore. As additional agents from the FBI, DEA and ATF began arriving in Chicago, Lightfoot detected more national politics than local impact. “A lot of rhetoric and hype,” she said, adding: “The jury’s out as to whether or not they’re actually going to be helpful.”

Linda Long’s son Tyrone, and the father of an 8-year-old daughter, Zhuri, was killed on July 4 in a drive-by shooting.

Linda Long’s son Tyrone, and the father of an 8-year-old daughter, Zhuri, was killed on July 4 in a drive-by shooting. TIME MAGAZINE

On July 27, ATF agents in Chicago popped the trunk of a midnight blue 2015 Dodge Charger and found seven handguns lying inside. According to court documents, the guns belonged to Benjamin Cortez-Gomez, 27, a convicted felon nicknamed Bennie Blanco. Agents had tracked Cortez-Gomez after he allegedly purchased the weapons in the Indianapolis area and brought them into Chicago for resale.

Now he had been arrested, and his guns sat on a gray countertop inside a modified tractortrailer parked outside a police facility on Chicago’s West Side. The $1.3 million mobile crime lab and the personnel who came with it are part of Trump’s Operation Legend. ATF technician Jill Jacobson selects a black Glock pistol, carefully loads it with 9-mm ammunition and inserts the gun’s muzzle into a red metal tank called a “snail trap.” She squeezes the trigger. A muffled pop. Then another.

Jacobson collects the two spent cartridges and walks them to a workstation on the other end of the air-conditioned trailer. A colleague briefly studies the cartridges under a microscope, then uploads their images into a national database. The firing pin and explosion inside each gun leave behind tiny markings, like fingerprints, which can be matched to previous crimes. There are no hits on these guns, which Kristen deTineo, ATF’s special agent in charge in Chicago, takes as good news. “They were taken off the street before a crime took place,” she says. “That’s our goal.”

It’s not unusual for federal agents to be working alongside local police in U.S. cities. DEA agents routinely play a role on drug-trafficking cases, and ATF agents in gun cases. What’s unusual is the politics: Trump and his Administration talk about Operation Legend as a way to repair Democratled cities. That leads mayors like Lightfoot to question whether the goal is to help local law enforcement or help Trump get re-elected.

Operation Legend takes its name from LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy shot and killed as he slept at his home in Kansas City, Mo., at the end of June. It has thus far expanded to Chicago; Albuquerque, N.M.; Cleveland; Detroit; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; Memphis; and St. Louis. The decision to add a city to the list is ultimately signed off on by Attorney General William Barr.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch of the Northern District of Illinois says bringing in agents to work closely with local police “provides critical help” on stopping and deterring crime from taking place. Prosecutors at the federal level are capable of pursuing charges that carry stiffer penalties than at the county level. For instance, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, one of the charges Cortez-Gomez faces for allegedly having seven guns in his trunk, is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison. Additionally, convicts must serve at least 85% of their sentence, which can be in a prison located in a state on the other side of the country. “In the federal system, we have very strong sentences for violent crimes, and that helps us get further information from these offenders. Criminals know that,” Barr said at an Aug. 19 press conference, adding that Operation Legend had netted 1,485 arrests thus far. “Our work is just getting started.”

And yet even though Lausch’s office has prosecuted more gun crimes each year for the past three years, gun violence continues to rise. Community activists, organizers and civil rights groups worry that the arrival of feds is not making things better. The agents are not subject to the same level of oversight as local police on matters like use of force and body cameras. Not long after the Operation Legend announcement, hundreds of protesters gathered for a rally near where ATF agents set up their trailer. For several days, protesters assembled outside, calling for a decrease in the $1.6 billion CPD budget and for the money to be invested instead in long-neglected communities.

Operation Legend sparked protests in Albuquerque. Mayors in several cities say they have serious reservations about its impact and intent. Quinton Lucas, mayor of Kansas City, where the program first rolled out, thought Trump purposefully muddled the use of federal forces in Portland and the deployment of agents under Operation Legend to project authority during instability. “It’s a culture war,” Lucas says. “It’s about cities, and cities being out of control and Trump’s going to have something that helps, whether it helps or not. And we’re pawns in this game.”

ATF technician Jill Jacobson is a member of a team of specialists sent to Chicago as part of the Operation Legend task force

ATF technician Jill Jacobson is a member of a team of specialists sent to Chicago as part of the Operation Legend task force Sebastián Hidalgo for TIME

Chicago’s problems are stubborn, and speak to the tension at the heart of public safety, as officials across the country address questions of race and policing. Lightfoot came into office intent on providing more opportunities to neighborhoods of color, which activists say know best how to prevent violence. But the mayor has been frustrated by the criminal activity already taking place.

“To see young people who are Black act in the way that they acted, like they had every right to take somebody else’s property — and not just the big guys who have lots of insurance but the little shop owners in neighborhoods all across the city — they have so little respect for all the sacrifice that people who look like them put into forming a business, all their hurdles, all their challenges that small businesses have,” Lightfoot says. “Particularly small businesses of color, without any regard for not only hurting those business owners but hurting also employees, who also are generally employees of color. That offends me to the core.”

And by its nature, the drama of crime overwhelms all else, including the straits that confine many of the city’s poor. In June, the city’s unemployment rate was 15.6%, significantly higher than the national rate but higher still outside wealthy North Side neighborhoods, where single-digit jobless rates skew the city-wide figure, analysts say. Severe poverty, insecurity and childhood hunger are geographically concentrated in the West and South sides.

Many Black families, who have given up hope or managed to pull themselves out of poverty, have moved away. In 2019, for the fourth year in a row, Chicago saw its population decline. Nearly 50,000 Black residents have left over the past five years.

“There are parts of our city that haven’t financially recovered since the 2008 recession,” says Liz Dozier, a former high school principal who runs Chicago Beyond, a nonprofit that seeks to alleviate economic pressures within low-income communities. “The pandemic has just devastated communities even more.” Chicago Beyond has invested more than $30 million in organizations that target at-risk youth and young adults. Since the onset of the pandemic, Chicago Beyond has been running weekly food drives across the city. But quarantines and lockdowns have restricted access to churches, schools and community centers.

Dozier argues that with its hardworking ethos and multiculturalism, Chicago still qualifies as a microcosm of America. Its problems may be deep-seated, she says, but they are the problems the country must confront if we are to move forward. And the starting point in any discussion is the question of security — for everyone.

Despite economic and racial disparities, the city is interconnected in ways that are not always apparent. On Jewelers Row along Wabash Avenue in Chicago’s central business district, some small-business owners saw their entire livelihood wiped away in this month’s mass looting. Mohammad Ashiq, the 60-year-old owner of Watch Clinic, entered his watch-repair shop to discover that all his inventory, some $900,000 worth, had been stolen from his glass showcases. Hundreds of watches for sale and those he was fixing for customers were missing. None of it was insured. “It is my entire life,” he says as a nearby L train rumbles above his store. “Forty-two years in this business. I am left with nothing but my health.”

His fate had been decided less than 24 hours earlier, less than 10 miles away, when a Chicagoan spotted a man with a gun.

— With reporting by Tessa Berenson, Leslie Dickstein and Mariah Espada

This appears in the August 31, 2020 issue of TIME.

How to Achieve The Just Treatment of Blacks – and All People of Color

Photo by Life Matters from Pexels

See below for a statement from women of color leaders in philanthropy on how to achieve just treatment of Blacks – and all people of color.  This statement was published in Crain’s Chicago Business on August 11, 2020.

This year has been brutal for Blacks in Chicago. COVID-19 has hit the community hard. Forty-four percent of the lives lost to COVID-19 have been Black. The callous murder of George Floyd by a white police officer sparked weeks of uprisings and protests.

It showed the world that anti-Black racism is not insidious, it exists in broad daylight. We are having new conversations about the perpetual oppression of Black people and see a continuous stream of statements declaring solidarity across sectors. Calls for action are louder and more frequent. This is the dawn of a new era for fighting racism.

The last several weeks have made clear that anti-Black racism needs to be specifically called out. Black leaders and communities must be immersed and centered in redesigning the systems that distinctively oppress them. Eliminating anti-Black racism does not stop the work of ending all forms of racism and discrimination. In fact, we believe centering anti-Black racism in this fight and calling in all people of color will ultimately lead to our collective liberation.

Chicago cannot realize its full potential until it gets past its history of racism. We remain one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. Nearly half of the region’s 1.6 million residents live in majority Black neighborhoods and over 25 percent live at below the federal poverty rate.

As a result, Black communities in the region have endured decades of disinvestment and over-policing, perpetuating the false narrative that Blacks are dangerous and unworthy. The George Floyd uprisings in Chicago also revealed anti-Black racism from residents of other communities of color, particularly the Latino community, a community that also shares a history of oppression rooted in colorism and racism.

As women of color leaders in philanthropy, we are engaged in honest conversations about our role in addressing this pivotal moment. Our non-Black philanthropy sisters have expressed serious concerns about how anti-Blackness has existed “unspoken” in their respective communities—communities that also share histories of oppression rooted in colorism and racism.

This pivotal moment opens a new frontier in eradicating racism. The 21st-century activists who lead peaceful protests in our city and around the world represent the full spectrum of race, class and gender identity. They have boldly shouted in unison that Black. Lives. Matter. Chicago’s civic and philanthropic communities also need to embrace this moment with bold leadership and action.

Our goal is just treatment of Black people and, ultimately, all people of color in the region. Changing this entrenched reality means supporting redesign of narratives and systems that produce persistent anti-Black sentiment and racial disparities. To achieve this, we call on Chicago’s civic and philanthropic communities to act in the following ways:

Black-, Indigenous- and POC-led organizations have not been afforded generational wealth but often have other futurist models based on mutual aid, earned revenue, in-kind support and more. Metrics should be rethought in partnership with these grantees. Use tools such as Chicago Beyond’s Why Am I Always Being Researched? to work with your board and staff on how power and privilege manifests in evidence and outcomes, and make changes.

Many of the proposed actions are not new and, in fact, have been repeated for decades. This is a pivotal moment for Chicago, and we can no longer delay or ignore these actions. The leadership of Chicago’s foundations is changing. There are over 20 people of color leading foundations. Most are women; nearly half are Black women. This new leadership is advancing a new narrative for philanthropy. It is one willing to shine a light on racial inequities and injustice and invites others to join us on the front lines.

Women of Color: Sharon Bush, Cecilia Conrad, Felicia Davis, Shelley Davis, Amina Dickerson, Liz Dozier, Patricia Ford, Helene Gayle, Monique Brunson Jones, Jane Kimondo, Dinaz Mansuri, Michelle Morales, Serena Moy, Na’ilah Suad Nasir, Heather Parish, Maria Pesqueira, Angelique Power, Unmi Song, Sejal Shah-Myers and Elizabeth Thompson.

Recap: So, You Want to Be Antiracist. Now What?

On August 10, Chicago Beyond hosted the second session of our antiracism series titled, “So, You Want to Be Antiracist. Now What?” During the hourlong conversation, Chicago Beyond Founder & CEO Liz Dozier, Professor and author Ibram X. Kendi, and Chicago Public Schools’ Chief Equity Officer Dr. Maurice Swinney, we dove into the obstacles that stand in the way of being truly antiracist in thought and in practice—and what we can do about it.

Although 76% of Americans now agree that racism against Black people is widespread and systemic, it is not enough to simply acknowledge that it exists: we must persistently adopt an antiracist attitude and embed that sentiment in our daily lives.

The heartbeat of racism itself is denial, and the sound of that heartbeat is [the phrase] ‘I’m not racist.'

Professor Ibram X. Kendi

As Professor Kendi pointed out, the history of the phrase, “I’m not racist,” has been commonly used by slaveholders, segregationists, and white nationalists to preserve the status quo of their day. Those individuals, whether directly or indirectly engaging with Black people, were advocating or upholding a racist system. Therefore, this sentiment, “I’m not racist,” represents the heartbeat of racism itself: denial.


Professor Kendi leaves us with these three keys to being antiracist:

In order to be antiracist, we cannot do just one of the steps above, we must embody all of them, and the spirit of antiracism should reflect in our everyday actions.

From the lens of three educators, our speakers dug into the deeply rooted racism that exists in the American education system. They drew on examples of how school resources are inequitably distributed to unfair metrics like standardized testingmost of these policies and practices were created to preserve, and in some cases exacerbate, racial inequalityAnd for all the ways that our schools measure academic success, as Maurice Swinney says, we must ask ourselves: “When students fail, whose fault is it? Where does that fault lie? Who has to take responsibility?”

For our speakers, taking an antiracist approach in our school system means:

The key takeaway: becoming antiracist is a journey. In order to be antiracist, we have to choose not to accept things the way they’ve come to be, and seek out new thoughts, new mental models, and new stories about our reality. This could mean ditching old subscriptions for the new, restructuring the language or metrics we use, or picking up new books. But it’s through these actions that we become antiracist–by continuously challenging our own individual biases and perspectives in order to fight alongside each other in pursuit of a more equitable society.

For an in-depth recap of this conversation, check out our Notes Guide link below. For Professor Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist, click here. For the CPS Equity Framework, click here.

Injecting Humanity into the Justice System

On August 11th, 2020, our Leader in Residence Nneka Jones Tapia joined JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) for their Live with #JustUs discussion series. She was virtually joined by JLUSA President & CEO Deanna Hopkins, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Corrections Scott Semple, and social justice activist Jimmie C. Gardner. Together they discussed solitary confinement, which is the practice of isolating inmates for 22-24 hours a day, free of human contact for a variable period of time.

When looking at the origins and the consequences of solitary confinement, the four speakers drew direct ties between solitary confinement and slavery, its dehumanizing impacts, its ability to perpetuate existing problems and create new ones, as well as its statistical inability to fulfill the purpose it was meant for: correcting behavior.

Here are a few takeaways from the conversation:

"Solitary confinement is a traumatic stressor. And the impact of trauma doesn’t just impact us socially and through our behaviors, it impacts us in a neurological way."

- Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia

In recalling her experience as the Warden of the Cook County Jail, part of the third largest jail system in the United States. [link to bio or article of Nneka’s work], Nneka shared her administration’s motivation behind reforming the system around solitary confinement. Trauma takes many forms and has many consequences, and those consequences are oftentimes the catalyst for criminal behavior. If a tool within the correctional system is creating more of these traumas, it must be abandoned.  

"From what we know about the detrimental impacts that solitary confinement has on people that are thrown into it, it flies in the face of what a system is actually supposed to do."

- Scott Semple

The data shows us that people who are placed in solitary confinement are not only more likely to return to solitary confinement once they’re released, but they’re also more likely to re-enter the correctional system with even more problems than before.  

“You don’t know any other forms of corrections because you’ve never been exposed to any other forms of corrections”

- Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia

A failure of the correctional system and the administrators within it is the refusal to investigate their methods and ask themselves about their impact. By several metrics, most forms of corrections are ineffective, and it’s up to the leaders in these spaces to reimagine the way they do their work in order to truly fulfill their vision.

With the final question of the conversation, Deanna Hopkins calls on us to look at the big picture: 

“Get back to the overall purpose and intention behind correctional institutions; reminding people that it’s not about punishment, it’s about increasing the safety of the community—which should not include a distribution of suffering; we have to offer supports and rehabilitative services for people. What contributed to their situation? What did they lack? How can we reinvest in them?”

- Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia

You can watch the full recording below.

Reflections on White Allyship


Following our June event with Christian Picciolini and Arne Duncan on anti-racism and Unpacking White Privilege, we have been diving deeper into what it means to reflect, rethink, and check the implicit bias we each carry. In order to find an entry point into this conversation, it’s often easier to start to see more clearly your own situation through the words and experiences of others. Below are reflections from four White women, each on their own journeys of unlearning and understanding.

Reflecting on White Allyship – What it is, What it Means to Me

Reflecting on White Allyship - What it is, What it Means to Me

by Mary Ann Pitcher

I’m a 54-year old White woman, a Chicagoan, a fellow educator to many of you I am guessing. For decades my commitment has been to transforming our Chicago high schools to be places that welcome, support, inspire, challenge, and engage students, supporting them to see and create visions for their future selves, particularly our Black and Brown students who have been so severely marginalized by our system. While my commitment to social and racial justice in education remains strong, my perspective on my position and power is shifting as I wrestle with the skin that I’m in and the current social and political context: how can I believe that education is the ‘great equalizer’ when we see countless instances in which those who have been through the education system still face racism and injustices daily? What is my role in reproducing this inequitable and oppressive system? How do I show up as a White ally in such an explicitly atrocious time of White supremacy and anti-Black racism?

I like to think of myself as a White ally though in all honesty it’s a journey, a life-long one for sure, and I have to grapple with the fact that I can easily absolve myself from fulfilling that responsibility if I’m not vigilant, and that I’ll never fully arrive…On my journey over the years I have experienced movement in my own consciousness and allyship, though much more movement is necessary:

  • Moving from being non-racist to anti-racist. My neutrality in simply not being racist is insufficient to say the least, harmful most of the time. Continuously recognizing the racism that inherently lives in me helps me to understand the need to explicitly combat it by working to become anti-racist. You may have seen this graphic in this link. Andrew M. Ibrahim created it (modified from the covid-19 graphic, original author unknown) to hold himself accountable. I revisit it regularly to do the same.
  • Moving from performative allyship to authentic allyship. I strive daily to understand what being ‘authentic’ means for me and what it looks like. I love this graphic by Seerut K. Chawla which helps me reflect on my allyship and when and how I show up.
  • Moving from understanding racism as the burden of people of color to understanding it as a White people problem; and that our humanity and liberation are inextricably linkedThe words of James Baldwin say it all for me:
    • “The truth which frees Black people will also free White people, but this is a truth which White people find very difficult to swallow.” – No Name in the Street
    • “And I repeat: The price of the liberation of White people is the liberation of the Blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind.”
    • “There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by White people, still less to be loved by them; they, the Blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the Whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and will not be today and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” – The Fire Next Time
  • Moving from reading, and listening, and talking to There is so much to learn and read and understand…I’ve got a lifetime of catching up to do…and while I must continue to engage in reading and listening and talking, I must move to action!
  • Moving from ally to co-conspirator. Bettina Love talks about White people as co-conspirators. She charges us to take risks, to put ourselves on the line. This clip moves me to act!

Call to Action

While allyship is a process and a journey, I/we as White people have got to do better NOW. I/we’ve got to get with it, stay in it, and stick with it. Not letting go when it becomes uncomfortable, or is inconvenient, when life starts to return to ‘normal’ after covid-19, when we stop seeing protests in the nightly news. Calling on us to not be this:

“Racists are counting on you to continue doing nothing. They are certain that before long, you will return to your blissful state of denial, where racism is somebody else’s problem. And you will not disappoint them. Racists know some of you better than you know yourselves.”

We can and we must be this!:

Happy Birthday, Ahmaud. Your murder was so egregious, we just might get the cross-racial coalition we need, which is the only strategy against racism that ever truly works. Rest peacefully and don’t worry.

I’ve enlisted the antiracist White people, and with them we are unstoppable. The racism that killed you doesn’t stand a chance. It’s just a matter of time now.”

Mary Ann Pitcher is currently serving as an education consultant and coach. She co-founded and co-directed the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago (NCS), a high school network and research-practice partnership that supports leaders in improving their schools with a particular focus on supporting students through graduation and postsecondary preparation, access and success. Prior to NCS, Mary Ann co-founded and co-directed the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School of Chicago and taught English and co-founded a small school at Harper High School, Chicago Public Schools. Mary Ann has a Master in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Illinois at Chicago and thirty years experience working for equitable learning environments and outcomes for students in Chicago. She continues to examine and strengthen her own equity stance, knowledge, will, and skill as a White educator.