Author: chicagobeyond

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.

Self-Portrait of a White Woman​

Self-Portrait of a White Woman​

by Jen Brown

Why now, White people?
Why now, White woman?
Why now, Jen Brown?

Scrolling on my phone through the crowds of half-masked White friends and colleagues in full streets.

Passing White family portraits in my hall so many times a day in close quarantine quarters.

Vainly staring at my own zoom image for too many hours of meetings.

Past time
to spend more time
asking myself questions.

The more in focus and closer it gets, the more uncomfortable it gets for me to keep my eyes wide.

It was easier on me to feel part of the earnest ‘we,’ wagging fingers at a racist bogeyman or idea ‘out there.’ Self-righteous anger. Our eyes trained to a place of othering.

Too slowly and circuitously, our ‘we’ came to seeing and naming the racism and anti-Blackness  our own institutions and systems wrought. More self-righteous anger at the unveiling.

There are deeper truths in gazing at our collective self-portrait but still easier to not look for myself in the second row, third from the margin.

A harder moment is staring at my own framed self. In stillness. Almost under force of repetitive aching headlines and sorrrowed chants to not avert my eyes downward.

How was I raised? When I was old enough to make my own choices, which did I make? Whose voices are on my bookshelf spines? If I thought I was doing ‘the work’ at work, why was I running that meeting? Whose leadership did I support? What power am I afraid to share? What history do I continue? What do I do with my power to choose, power to ‘go home’? I could end a day of ‘working on equity’ but whose story of racism am I telling? Am I telling mine? Who have I held myself accountable to? What is my White son learning from me? Can I self-consciously look inward and out at my Whiteness benefitting me? What do I do with this privilege to look or to look away? What will I ask of myself next year, next ten?

I reflect on what’s mirrored before me. It’s embarrassing to be exposed by this self-portrait and discover about myself what others have experienced in me for my near half-century.

I have to look, to account, to ask forgiveness, to do more. Radical honesty calls for understanding that my feelings have nothing to do with the murderous impact of anti-Black racism.

Pictures capture split moments but not movement.

I stare back at my serious eyes knowing this discomfort is a practice and a reminder, not an end. This is not about a neat resolution or answers that I do not have. 

I must see the injustice and beauty in my world at the same time. This is about love and also knowing that being kind and loving doesn’t reimagine or rebuild a new justice.

The more I look, reflect, question what I had not questioned before,

The more I see that this self-portrait is still a work in progress.

Jen Brown is Director and Co-Founder of the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities ( at Northwestern University. ARCC aims to catalyze and support community-academic research partnerships that lead to health and equity and our work is led by a community-academic participatory governance structure. We are thankful to Chicago Beyond for the ‘Why Am I Always Being Researched?’ guidebook. Jen was a 2019 Chicago United for Equity fellow. Find her at @JenBrownARCC on twitter.

Liz Dozier of Chicago Beyond: 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country

This article ran online at Authority Magazine on August 4, 2020. By Jason Hartman

Aspart of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Dozier.

Liz Dozier is Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, a social impact investor backing the fight for youth and racial equity. From education to activism, Liz Dozier has spent her career working tirelessly to disrupt the culture of inequity that is often pervasive in urban neighborhoods. During her tenure as principal at Fenger Academy High School, Liz and her team turned the school from one of the most violent and underperforming schools in Chicago to a leader in restorative justice practices, academic interventions and social emotional learning.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Liz Dozier: I grew up between the suburbs and city of Chicago in a predominantly white neighborhood. My family was the only Black family that lived in our neighborhood of Crestwood, Illinois. My mom is white and a former nun who actually met my dad while she was ministering to men in prison. A significant part of how my parents came together, in addition to the neighborhood I grew up in, influenced a lot of what I think and do today personally and professionally.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Liz: In the 5th or 6th grade I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I devoured it. I was able to view several aspects of my own experience through the lens of the main character who was also a little Black girl growing up in White dominant culture. In the novel, she had several home issues and through the influence of Dick and Jane characters believed that somehow her life would be better if she was White with blue eyes. Growing up in a predominantly White neighborhood at a time when many media images were White centered, this sentiment resonated with me. As a young adult I came to understand how racism and exclusively dominant culture narratives and images can destroy one’s self-confidence and self-worth. Through that experience, I also came to understand the power of new and inclusive narratives.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Liz: In the Bible, the book of Genesis Chapter 37 tells the story of Joseph who is someone that went through many trials and tribulations — slavery, imprisonment — and goes on to become very powerful and revered. Prior to this, Joseph had a dream that one day his brothers would be his servants. When he shares the dream with his brothers they respond with the quote, “Come now, let’s kill him. Let’s kill this dreamer.”

Joseph, who came from nothing, went on to save Israel from a seven-year famine despite his doubters and detractors. This struck a chord with me because I too have dealt with people who judged my dreams and tried to convince me that those ambitions were too big or audacious. His story is a powerful lesson to hold steadfastly onto your dreams and not be deterred by the limited imaginations or expectations of others.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Liz: Leadership is about being courageous enough to make tough calls for the benefit of the people you are serving. When I was principal at Fenger High School, we had many challenges. At the time it was known as one of the most violent and underperforming schools in Chicago, with a 19 percent dropout rate. During my tenure the dropout rate decreased to two percent, along with double digit increases in the school’s attendance and graduation rates.

These wins didn’t come easily. They resulted from a series of tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. Through those experiences I learned that leadership isn’t a popularity contest or a race to be the most liked or the most admired. True leadership is about making difficult choices that are firmly rooted in your values and reflect your commitment to the greater good.

In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?

Liz: For me that person is my Dad, who is the reason why I’ve chosen the career path that I’m on. He grew up touching all of the systems that we at Chicago Beyond are fighting to disrupt: education, foster care, criminal justice. These systems that were supposed to provide a quality education, healthy home, rehabilitation — they all failed. To this day my Dad cannot read. Because all of those systems failed — systems that are undergirded by structural racism — he never got to truly live his full life. Yet at 70 years, even with the barriers he’s encountered, my Dad is one of the smartest and most caring people I know, and the one who inspires me most.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Liz: Systemic racism is the cancer of our country. Racism is insidious in nature and, like a cancer, it spreads and kills individuals’ potential as well as our collective possibility as a country. Racism doesn’t allow us to be who we set out to be in our Declaration of Independence. This is an issue that resonates deeply because of my own experiences dealing with and talking about racism growing up, during my time working in the Chicago school system, and now with the work we’re leading at Chicago Beyond.

This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Liz: The crisis of systemic racism has evolved to this point because we’ve never fully addressed and reckoned with our history as a country. Black people were brought to the U.S. essentially as physical assets and were enslaved for hundreds of years. Even when slavery “legally” ended other measures were intentionally put into place that did not allow for true freedom and the pursuit of the American Dream. From Jim Crow to mass incarceration, we have denied the realization of that dream to our fellow citizens. The remnants of these deliberate measures still remain and still impact the masses. Until we as a country truly acknowledge and address our history through truth and reconciliation, we are never going to heal. This is why we are at the current boiling point.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?

Liz: At Chicago Beyond we’ve been leading conversations to help people unpack what White privilege is and how to become anti-racist. Some people may ask, “Well what can I do? I’m just one person at one company,” or, “I’m just one person in my neighborhood,” or, “I don’t even deeply know any people who are Black.” Through these conversations, we’re providing people with actionable steps towards dismantling systemic racism.

Recently in the LA Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described racism as being like dust in the air. He said that like dust, racism seems invisible until you realize you’re choking on it and it’s not until you let the sun in that you realize there’s dust everywhere. In order for us to get rid of racism, we have to shine light on it. These conversations are an attempt to keep shining the light and to challenge us to do better.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.


1) Educate yourself and then use what you’ve learned to help educate others. Through our anti-racism series, we’ve been hosting critical conversations with anti-racist leaders, as well as creating toolkits that people can use to begin incorporating these practices into their work, their organizations and everyday lives.

2) Recognize the power of voting and why it truly matters. Paying attention to elections at the local and state level are equally, if not even more, important than federal elections. The people we vote into our local and state offices determine what resources either go into or are kept out of certain communities. Additionally, we must be informed on the ways in which systemic racism is embedded in our legal institutions, which impacts our voting systems and the rights of Black people and people of color to fully participate in our democracy.

3) We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable and remove ourselves from the neutral ground of silence and inaction. The iconic writer and author James Baldwin once said, “We live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal… for if they take you in the morning they will be coming for us that night.” In other words, to be silent is to be complicit. If we fail to speak out and take meaningful action to stanch systemic racism, America’s future and our ability to truly heal and recover as a nation will never be fully realized.

4) The voices and stories of people and communities directly impacted by explicit and systemic racism must be centered. The people in society with power and privilege must speak out for those who have neither. We must use our platforms to amplify and highlight their lived experiences.

5) We must recognize how implicit, unrecognized biases show up in our funding institutions, and in our research and analysis. Those of us who are working in philanthropy, grantmaking, social impact investing and venture capital are uniquely positioned to facilitate change. Chicago Beyond has done extensive research and produced guidebooks on this very topic to help cross-sector leaders be more racially equitable and inclusive in their own policies and practices.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Liz: Yes, I think we as a nation are capable of coming together to tackle systemic racism head on and begin dismantling institutions and policies that have excluded so many Black people and people of color from reaching their fullest potential. This is especially so for our youth, which is what also makes me optimistic. Our young people today, the Z Generation, have been awakened and are mobilizing for change every day — in their own homes, neighborhoods and cities. The path forward has always been shaped by our young people and they continue to give me great hope that a brighter future lies still ahead.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Liz: I want our young people to know that racism in all of its forms, while complex, is not insurmountable. If we value our freedom and the freedom of other human beings, we all must be in this fight. Our young people have such an important role to play in changing the trajectory of how we talk about and address issues of race in this country. I also want our youth to know that we will all have different roles to play and there isn’t just one right way to take action. Some of us will be out there protesting or writing legislation; others may be the storytellers and helping amplify voices through various forms of media. We each have a responsibility to make America live up to the ideals that it promised to all of us.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Liz: Michelle Obama is my first reaction because she’s magical in every sense. However, I really respect the work of the wonderful author and academic Ibram X. Kendi, who has written extensively about racism, particularly his book How to be an Anti-Racist. He’s been very influential to me and the work we do at Chicago Beyond.

How can our readers follow you online?

Liz: We invite everyone to visit to learn all about our work backing the fight for youth and racial equity. You can also find us on Twitter at @chicago_beyond and on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram at @chicagobeyond.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Chicago Beyond announces Backing The Fight Fund


Chicago Beyond launches the Backing the Fight Fund to stand in solidarity with organizations working on the front lines of Chicago’s communities. The Backing the Fight Fund is designed to quickly deploy resources to hyperlocal community organizations taking action and fighting for a more equitable future for Chicago’s youth and communities.

The Fund is a direct response to the current crises that are having a disproportionate impact on Chicago’s Black and Brown communities.

Key characteristics of the Backing the Fight Fund include:

The initial 12 organizations supported by the Backing the Fight Fund are taking a variety of creative approaches to meet the needs of the communities they serve – including reshaping the narrative of Black Chicago through journalism, increasing neighborhood safety, youth-led organizing, distributing necessities and resources to thousands of immigrants, seniors, young people, and those undocumented, and racial healing circles amongst Black and Brown communities on the South and West Sides. Approximately 75% of the organizations operate with a budget under $250,000 annually.

Read our full page dedicated to the Backing The Fight Fund here.