The Chicago Beyond and Chicago Blackhawks Leadership Exchange Series
“1 in 3 black men will go to prison in his lifetime. 67% of black children grow up in a single parent home. 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.”
These statistics appear in rotation on the homepage of Chicago Beyond’s partner The Dovetail Project, and they tell the story of the cycle that plagues fatherhood nationwide; when a child, particularly a black child, grows up with an absent father, they are lacking stability in the home, a consistent male role model, and are often times at high risk of incarceration.
In 2016, Dovetail was one of three winners of Chicago Beyond’s inaugural Innovation Challenge, which sought innovative, early-stage ideas from nonprofits backing the fight for youth equity. In the past three years Chicago Beyond has watched Dovetail double its reach and impact the lives of hundreds of young fathers. Chicago Beyond invested in Dovetail for its triple bottom line: impacting young fathers economically changes the trajectory of their lives, their children’s lives, and ultimately strengthens the entire community ecosystem.
Dovetail is an organization that gives young black fathers the skills and resources they need to fortify relationships with their children. Throughout its 12-week program, designed by founder and Executive Director Sheldon Smith, Dovetail’s curriculum teaches its participants how to be present, through felony street law education which helps them avoid incarceration and stay in their children’s lives; how to be a provider, through financial literacy and job interview preparation; and how to be a parent, through basic and individualized parenting skills. Beyond the curriculum, the fathers receive holistic support from Dovetail’s case managers.
Each class of Dovetail participants is called a “cohort,” with each cohort made up of about 50 fathers. Dovetail recruits its participants by sending a team consisting mostly of Dovetail alumni go into communities around Chicago, clad in bright orange shirts. They strike up conversations with young men on the street, asking if they’re fathers and inviting them to Dovetail.
“They’re meeting these young men where they are. They’re bringing together men from different cliques, different blocks, but when they’re together as a cohort, they’re all Dovetail dads,” said Chicago Beyond’s Director of Growth Nichole Wilson. “They’re coming together to be there for their kids, and they’re realizing for the first time that they’re not alone.”
Sheldon’s goals for Dovetail transcend race, class and neighborhood; according to him, the problems that fathers face are universal.
“Fatherhood is not just a black issue,” he said. “It’s not a white issue, it’s not a brown issue, it’s not an orange issue. It’s a people issue. It’s a global issue. It’s a national issue. It’s an issue that we all need to pay attention to. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what background you come from, we all have those issues within our family, and family is everything.”
On June 13, the Spring 2019 Dovetail cohort graduated, which marks the fourth cohort since the Dovetail Project and Chicago Beyond partnership started.
“You see this room?” said Sheldon at the graduation ceremony. “We call these young men mythbusters. [The Dovetail Project has] been in existence now for 10 years. This is our 20th graduation. We’ve graduated 476 young men. And it’s a major accomplishment. I never thought at the age of 21 when I launched the Dovetail Project that we would be here today at this moment.”
Sheldon also surprised Chicago Beyond with an award to show his appreciation for Chicago Beyond’s investment in fatherhood, and for the approximately $1 million investment made into Dovetail.
“This philanthropic organization believed in the mission and vision of [Dovetail],” he said about Chicago Beyond. “We would not be able to serve as many fathers as we serve, we wouldn’t have the three campuses across the city, we wouldn’t have been able to scale up to 18 staff across the board– none of these things would have happened without that initial investment into our infrastructure.”
In its three years of working with Dovetail, Chicago Beyond has supported four cohorts of young fathers through the program, and partnered with them on strategic initiatives. As Dovetail works to disrupt and change those rotating statistics on its website, Chicago Beyond is excited to enter a new chapter of our partnership with them and find new ways to continue working together to empower young fathers to reach their fullest potential.
This interview aired on WBEZ on June 12, 2019
Chicago Beyond has unveiled a new guidebook they say will help make research “more authentic” and equitable by breaking down the power dynamic between funders, researchers and community organizations.
Morning Shift talks to Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, for more on how the toolkit could shape the future of urban research.
GUEST: Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond
LEARN MORE: Why Am I Always Being Researched? (Chicago Beyond guidebook)
More from the Morning Shift Podcast
When people say there are “two Chicagos”, they’re talking about inequities: the way resources are distributed among schools, the way neighborhoods are policed, grants and other monies given to help small businesses flourish, a difference in city services. A new study documenting many of those inequities, and offering some solutions, has just arrived from the Chicago Urban League. Plus, the researchers and the money people looking to identify and erase inequity are often subject to the very biases they’re trying to eliminate. We’ll talk to one woman who’s recognized it, and is doing something about it.
This article appeared in Philanthropy News Digest on May 28, 2019
Evaluations and research projects intended to increase programmatic impact must be designed to address the unequal power dynamic between community organizations, researchers, and funders, a publication from impact investor Chicago Beyond argues.
Based on lessons learned by Chicago Beyond, the guide, Why Am I Always Being Researched? (112 pages, PDF), outlines ways to address inequities in seven areas — community access to conversations around the research; sharing of information about research options, methods, inputs, costs, benefits, and risks; validation of the expertise of community organizations and community members; community ownership of the research process; analysis of the value generated by the research, for whom, and at what cost; the accountability of researchers and funders; and full community representation and authorship of the narrative.
The report offers separate recommendations for community organizations, researchers, and funders to ensure equity at every stage of the research project, including designing and planning the study, recruitment of participants, implementation, working to improve the lives of participants, and sharing the findings of the research.
Read more here.
This article appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on May 16, 2019
By Michael Theis
A new guide for grant makers, community-focused nonprofits, and the researchers who study their efforts calls for a fresh approach to research. The power imbalance between grant makers and the smaller charities they support can result in research that fosters resentment and suspicion among the individuals they hope to help.
The guide, “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” comes from Chicago Beyond, a nonprofit that since its founding in 2016 has given more than $30 million to Chicago-area charities. Focused on advancing equity among minority communities in one of the most segregated cities in the nation, the group is a “startup-style philanthropy fund” that seeks to maximize its impact by funding smaller groups that hold promise, says founder and CEO Liz Dozier. It also runs some programs of its own.
Like many grant makers, Chicago Beyond seeks to inform its giving by gathering data and quantifying a nonprofit’s impact or the potential of programs it may support.
Dozier and her staff at Chicago Beyond realized their well-intentioned desire for data was met with skepticism by the subjects of that research. In their guide, they outline inequities they say exist among major grant makers, grantees, and the people nonprofits serve — and offer ways to minimize these.
For example, potential grantees, eager to receive a significant sum, are often asked to test different ways of delivering services before they get a grant from a foundation.
“Research, and what comes out of that, really drives dollars. It drives decisions that people make,” said Dozier. “But sometimes our nonprofit partners can’t afford a research study. It’s literally out of reach. Who can afford a … $600,000 research study to quote-unquote validate what you’re doing?”
And even if they could afford it, nonprofits would have to make tough decisions about which program participants are slotted into a control group versus the group receiving the experimental approach. What may start as a well-intentioned effort to validate a charity’s approach can end up hurting the communities it seeks to serve.
“There was a young man who literally wanted to be in an after-school program but didn’t sign up because he was in the control group for a research study, completely unrelated,” said Shruti Jayaraman, director of learning at Chicago Beyond. “He thought that by signing a paper saying ‘I’m in a control group’ that what he was signing his name to was saying, OK, I won’t get services anywhere.”
Jayaraman said that kind of unintended error is common enough that grant makers and charities need to be vigilant about preventing it.
“This is not just one kid. It’s many, many kids we know and many, many kids we don’t know,” said Jayaraman. “There’s a policy and decision-making impact that’s really big, and then there’s a very human impact.”
Other hazards that can occur when philanthropists shape research without input from community members: The wrong questions are asked, the data is gathered improperly, or the results are misinterpreted, Dozier says.
For instance, a study using data from police-operated gunshot detection systems, intended to quantify the impact of gun-violence prevention efforts, may falter due to decisions about where to place the detection equipment or an inability to discern who fired the shots or why.
In minority communities subject to more frequent police shootings and police surveillance, those factors matter, but the data can produce misleading conclusions.
“If you are in that community every day, whether you are a community member or a cop, the question comes back to you: Well, whose gun was it?” said Jayaraman. “If you’re not living there, that question doesn’t come to you.”
To guard against pitfalls like these, Chicago Beyond’s guidebook encourages donors and charities to engage the communities they hope to impact.
Oftentimes, that means pounding the pavement, identifying the most vulnerable people you want to research and inviting them not just to participate in the study but to participate in its design: determining which questions to ask and how to ask them, for example.
The authors also stress the importance of sharing the results of studies with members of the group that was examined.
“Evidence and research can end up being a crutch that works in service of inequity if we’re not conscious of it,” said Jayaraman. “The natural thing is to turn to evidence and to say, Let’s look for something evidence-based and that will guide us. But to the extent that you know of the inequities built into that evidence, you are just recreating the problem.”
For more on how to ensure research advances equity, see the full Chicago Beyond report here.
Here are five steps, adapted from that report, to help nonprofit researchers incorporate the views and experiences of those being studied, whose firsthand experience can often lead to better solutions.
The guidance is written for researchers but also applies to big grant makers, grant recipients, and nonprofits involved in the research.
The way a nonprofit approaches a problem depends on the institution, the kinds of research it uses, and the experience of the researchers.
It’s important to reflect individually or as a group on how biases can flow into the research but it’s also helpful to get the perspective of community members to help you shape the study and come up with the research questions.
Construct timelines with room to build trust among community members, solicit their input, and test the survey.
When the research is complete, think carefully about which numbers and stories you highlight.
Changing your approach to research requires a willingness to break old habits and an openness to new perspectives. Humanizing the research process enables you to find the right fit between purpose and research design.
Here are five ways to make research more equitable.
Build trust. Spend time in the community you will study. Share what motivates your research and what you hope to accomplish. Be willing to share your data as much as possible during the study and after it is published. For many nonprofit managers, the instinct, based on previous experience, is “never give data to someone I don’t really know.”
If you skip this step in the rush to meet a deadline, your results could be flawed.
Share your agenda. Explain how the work fits into your research agenda and discuss the other types of research you conduct. Talk about your intentions for the work and your research institution’s priorities.
Share your previous experiences. Stories from past research can help illustrate how you will work with members of the community and the nonprofits that serve them.
Set goals for the research. Determine a few statements to help your organization “fill in the blanks” at the end of the work, and outline what you hope to achieve in doing so. Not all programs have immediate benefits. Establish methods for determining the benefits your study may have over the long term.
Identify the target audience. Determine whom the study is intended for and which type of data and research design serve your purpose, while placing the least burden on the organization or its participants.
This checklist is adapted from “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond. Download the full report.
On May 16, 2019, Chicago Beyond’s Founder & CEO Liz Dozier joined the Collective Impact Convening to share a keynote on “Moving from Charity to Justice.” So often, individuals and organizations aiming to do good fall into a trap of doing charity work where the social change work is happening to a community rather than with the community. When collaborations for impact approach the work with that traditional mindset, it can uphold existing power dynamics, structural barriers, and inequities. At the convening, Liz, a former high school principal, shared “how” to shift mindsets and actions from charity to justice work in our communities and introduced “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” as a tool to help guide action. Watch below!
Chicago Beyond believes in the importance of mental wellness for young Chicagoans and so much more needs to be done to ensure equitable access to supports for all of Chicago’s youth. Join us at events across Chicago to learn and discuss how trauma & mental health supports are crucial for our city and our youth. Come out and back the fight, learn, and engage with us in conversations throughout the month of May. #WhoDoYouReallySee
MAY 8 Standing Together: A Conversation About Equity Hosted by The Heartland Alliance
7:45AM – 9:45AM – Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street, Claudia Cassidy Theater
Hear a panel of women leaders discuss how gender shapes people’s life opportunities and outcomes and what more we can do to bring about equity and opportunity for all. Chicago Beyond’s Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia will talk specifically about incarcerated women and the trauma that led them to incarceration and the additional trauma they experience while detained. Click here to register.
MAY 14 JPA Premiere Screening of Broken Places, A New Film About Equity
6:30PM – 8:30PM – Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Avenue
Watch Broken Places, a film that poses questions about the complex impact of trauma on children and how it effects their lives as adults. Stay for a community discussion with Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia and Karen G. Foley, CEO of Juvenile Protection Agency, as they talk about how everyone can get involved in helping children who experience trauma, abuse and neglect so they can heal and go on to lead productive lives. Click here to register.
MAY 17 UNICEF Unite for Children Summit
10:30AM – TechNexus, 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr #1200
The summit aims to educate and empower anyone who wants to make the world a better place for our children. Join Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia in a panel discussion about how gang violence is claiming children’s lives and causing irreparable trauma in Chicago and worldwide. Find out how you can get involved with what UNICEF and its partners are doing to stop the spread of violence. Click here to register.
MAY 20 Who Do You Really See? A Conversation with Alex Kotlowitz and Liz Dozier
6:00PM – 8:00PM – You Are Beautiful HQ, 3368 N. Elston Avenue
Join Liz Dozier, Founder of Chicago Beyond in conversation with award-winning journalist Alex Kotlowitz about his latest book, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. They will discuss the other side of a Chicago summer for youth living in some of the city’s turbulent neighborhoods, what inspired Kotlowitz to write the book, and stories of the young people he profiled throughout. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Also tour You Are Beautiful’s new space. Click here to register.
Sweet Water Foundation Named Winner of Chicago Beyond’s Youth Equity Challenge…
Growth. Community. Justice. When we look back at our fight for youth equity in 2018, these were the pillars of our work.