Author: chicagobeyond

It’s Year-End Giving Season: Here Are 6 Things To Consider Before Making A Donation

This op-ed by Liz Dozier, Founder & CEO of Chicago Beyond, ran on December 22, 2022 in Blavity News.

Over the last few years, “year-end giving” has dominated the fundraising space. Nonprofits and advocacy organizations around the globe try to make their case to donors on why they should offer up their support in a crowded market. But as more and more organizations pop into your inbox, it can become overwhelming to see where you might make the most impact.

You want to be able to make your dollar go far, but how do you really make that happen? The answer might surprise you.

For a good portion of the last decade, I’ve worked to disrupt the traditional methods of philanthropic giving by leading an organization that supports the abundance of local BIPOC leaders doing on-the-ground work across Chicago’s communities. The best way to stretch your support goes far beyond dollars and cents. It’s about reframing how we think about “giving” overall.

There’s obviously an abundance of organizations worthy of your support. So as you consider where to direct support this holiday giving season, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Approach giving with a justice mindset.

Begin by asking why societal issues exist and why they remain in place. This can help shift from a charity mindset (helping someone who needs help) to a justice mindset (helping mitigate a broader societal issue). The most important thing to remember is that “giving back” shouldn’t be viewed as charity. However you contribute to a cause, you’re investing in justice. This alternative pushes one to consider the past realities of why the restoration of a community, funding and additional support is so needed in the first place.

2. Seek out hyperlocal grassroots nonprofits and leaders that may not have a large funding community.

Is the organization embedded in its community? Is the organization led by people (staff, executive director, board) with lived experience and expertise with the issue they’re addressing? These kinds of organizations tend to understand the nuances of the challenges and, because they are the most proximate, can more creatively address the real issues, not just the surface-level challenges.

3. Trust that communities know what communities need.

Ask questions and be aware of where your support is directed, but have trust in those leading the organization to make the right decision for them and their mission when allocating funds.

4. Pay attention to language.

Words matter. The ways in which an organization talks about or represents the people or communities they serve is an indicator of how they view the relationship. People who rely on services from a nonprofit should never implicitly or explicitly describe a community as “needing to be fixed” or “being saved.” Look at the communications an organization promotes via email, their social media or website. Does the language and imagery used uplift the humanity of the individuals seeking their services, or does it capitalize on hardships?

5. Keep an open mind when measuring impact.

There’s a common saying, “you are what you measure,” and the truth is many organizations are limited by a narrow definition of success. It makes sense that people might want to donate to groups that have the ability to share traditional methods of measurement through stats, such as: “we’ve fed 3 million people in the last year,” or “we’ve reached 10 people in need because of your donation.” However, there are other ways to measure if an organization is doing impactful work that don’t involve reach or scope.

Three things to look for include the following:

1. The most important insights are not always easily measurable. Instead of looking at the measures that are easy to count, look for other indicators such as qualitative stories and who the organization is seeking to impact.

2. Who defines and validates the organization’s success? Is it an external body asking questions outside-in or are their signs of impact coming from people most directly impacted by the organizations’ work? Those closest will give you the most accurate signals, even if that feedback isn’t summed up in a clean metric.

3. Finally, how are you considering not just the immediate, but the longer-term effect of the work? Inequity exists because of centuries of harmful practices that won’t change overnight, even in the most optimistic scenarios. How might you consider the organization’s broader impact not only on the urgent needs today, but also its impact on the root causes such as the systems, beliefs and narratives that hold inequity in place in the first place?

6. Deepen your support beyond one day.

Consistency is crucial. Hyperlocal grassroots organizations need your support year-round, not just around the holidays. See how you can get involved more regularly, become more proximate to their community, listen and learn. Become an ambassador: Share their content on social media, volunteer in your spare time and tell your friends about their local events.

Eradicating the issues communities face through philanthropic work isn’t about checking boxes, writing one check, and setting out to “fix people.” Understanding the power of authentic and consistent partnerships is necessary if we want to make a long-lasting impact. As the year-end fundraising season continues, ask questions, be curious and make sure that any group you contribute to values the humanity and prosperity of those they serve.

Dr. Nneka Tapia joins a conversation on Psychiatric Disorders in Incarcerated Populations

This Seminar will provide the Committee on Law and Justice (CLAJ), invited guests, and others with a forum to explore and discuss psychiatric disorders in incarcerated populations and challenges for correctional facilities and the public health system. Mental health and substance use disorders are common in youth and adults in correctional facilities. Services are insufficient. After release, there are many barriers to linkage to services in the community. We will hear from researchers and practitioners about: (1) services needs and service utilization during incarceration – in jails, prisons and juvenile detention centers; and (2) linkage to community services after release. The objective of the seminar is to address how we might improve the systems that provide care.

Breaking from the Status Quo: How Philanthropy Is Challenging Outdated Systems at Milken Institute’s Global Conference

Our Founder & CEO Liz Dozier joined the Milken Institute’s Global Conference for a conversation on how philanthropy is challenging outdated systems with Reed Hastings, Co-CEO of Netflix, moderated by Julia Boorstin, Senior Media and Technology Correspondent, CNBC.

Speaking on how nonprofits are invested into Liz said, “far too often, we lean into measurement that’s so unhealthy… we leave out the people who are most proximate to the work.” 

Liz also spoke about shifting the power from philanthropists who write the checks to those who are on the ground doing the work. 

Watch the video above for a full recap.

Reimagining Crisis Response, Inclusively

In light of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, we’ve been reflecting on the systems built around caring for the families and individuals dealing with mental health challenges, and crisis writ large. Recently, our Managing Director of Justice Initiatives, Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, participated in a Harris School of Public Policy panel about Reimagining Crisis Response.  

In 2020, a federal bill was signed into law that established 988 as the nationwide hotline for suicide and mental health crises. The law was designed to ideally pave the way for states across the nation to start building their own infrastructures around new crisis responses – ones that meet callers with care when care is required.  

The shift is direly needed. And it serves as an acknowledgement that our current crisis response system is failing us. Communities have been ravaged by these systems for generations, and it’s important that no line be drawn in addressing the intricate failures of these systems. Life-affirming alternatives to police are needed, because when emergencies are met with guns and batons, trauma, and in many cases, death, are the results. 

Our poor crisis response system has led to the deaths of countless Black and Brown people. From Daniel Prude to Nicolas Chavez, there are several examples in which police responses have led to the loss of life, particularly for our young people.  

It should be the goal of society to eradicate crisis at best, and significantly limit the number of crisis situations at the very least. In the Harris School of Public Policy panel, Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia said this:  

“The reality, at least from my perspective, is that we’re talking about this crisis response really because Chicago, the County of Cook, the State of Illinois, and this country as a whole, have not committed to the significant and sustained investment in prevention and early intervention that’s required to fully support the health and wellness specifically of Black and Brown people, and more generally of poor people.” 

It will take a full-bodied effort to transform the systems that create crises as well as the ones that respond to them. 988, and subsequent efforts, are an opportunity to rethink the way we respond to situations and what tools we walk in the door with.  

But it’s of vital importance to ensure that the communities most impacted by state violence are at the table when it’s time to make decisions and craft solutions.  

While some states and localities are embarking on their own implementation plans for the 988 system – others will also look to revamp their 911 systems. A Chicago pilot will have paramedics dispatched with mental health clinicians and “recovery specialists” for calls involving substance use crises. Illinois has also begun its process for imagining how 988 could be implemented in the community – but who is engaged in this process?  

Illinois’ 988 revamp process includes several moving parts, including a Community Linkage subcommittee, which consists of representatives from the community who are brought to the table to discuss implementation of 988 and what it means for the future of public health, policing, and their relationship to the community. 

But for all the inputs being considered, where are they coming from? The committee consists of state and local Department heads and reps from other private entities, but what about the community members who interact directly with these systems, and have already imagined new solutions? 

For every Department Head, there should be someone from Ujimaa Medics, an organization that has been putting thought and action into what community-based crisis response can look like for years. For every 911 Administrator, there should be someone from Lawndale Christian Legal Center, which has been providing free legal and mental health services to youth and young adults for years. There are many organizations that have imagined their own solutions and alternatives to this current system, they should have the floor. 

The truth is that Black, Brown, and poor communities are disproportionately surveilled and impacted by chronic trauma – they should be the primary people on the subcommittee roster. They should be defining the metrics for success so that pilots aren’t shut down due to inequitable impact analysis. They should be naming the terms and crafting definitions so that a new vocabulary emerges in the realm of crisis response. They should have power in the process because they are the experts of their own experience. They are the problem-solvers around these issues. Including their perspective and input can contribute to the success of a reimagined crisis response system.

Chicago nonprofits got $1 million in unrestricted funding. Here’s how some used it.

Kimberly Britt, right, delivers meals to Alfredo Garcia at Hope House, a transitional living home, on Oct. 12, 2021, in Chicago. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)

In July, the food service co-op ChiFresh Kitchen was running out of money for one of its initiatives. It had partnered with an urban farm to deliver free meals to those hit hard by the pandemic, but its founder Camille Kerr realized it would have to stop the deliveries if it didn’t get more money.

The food had been delivered to people who were unemployed and often unsure of how they’d get their next meal. Kimberly Britt, one of the company’s owners, remembers a line of children outside a Montessori school that stretched around the block in Englewood, a community with about 72% of its residents affected by food insecurity. They were waiting for ChiFresh’s white van to arrive with food favorites like pizza with chicken sausage or collard greens with mac and cheese.

Kerr called the schools and nonprofits they worked with to tell them that they would have to pause meal delivery. But the next day, she got a call from the impact investment group Chicago Beyond and learned that $20,000 was coming their way, no strings attached. It was “incredible timing,” she said. She called the organizations. “Never mind,” she told them.

Run by formerly incarcerated individuals, ChiFresh Kitchen is one of 26 Chicago organizations that have received money from Chicago Beyond. The money, $1 million of which has been distributed so far with $2 million still to go, is going to smaller organizations doing “hyperlocal” work that “often don’t get resources,” said Chicago Beyond founder and CEO Liz Dozier, also a former CPS principal.

The organizations were chosen by a “people’s assembly” of community leaders, whose experiences range from being retired principals to being social workers. There is no application process, allowing the money to get to organizations quickly. Some of the organizations they called thought “it was a spam call,” said Chicago Beyond’s Chief Strategy and Operations Officer Eva Liu.

The focus, according to Dozier, is in “trusting leaders to make decisions that are best for communities that they serve.” Chicago Beyond did this by making the money “unrestricted,” meaning the nonprofits have free rein to use the funds however they think is best.

For organizations such as ChiFresh Kitchen, the money made a difference as basic as allowing them to continue operating. Hood Heroes, started by counselor Jarvis Buchanan, aims to give young people on the South and West sides something meaningful to focus on during the summer. Homing in on teenagers’ own ideas about neighborhood beautification, Buchanan raised $20,000 through GoFundMe efforts in 2020 to pay young people to carry out their idea of collecting garbage around South Side neighborhoods.

Buchanan wanted to continue the work this summer but was worried it wouldn’t happen: “Do you think people are going to give $20,000 of their money again?” he thought at the time. Then $40,000 in funding from Chicago Beyond came through in July, and Hood Heroes employed nearly 60 students to clean up two more neighborhoods on the South Side.

For the Coalition on Urban Girls, previously known as the South Side Coalition on Urban Girls, the money hasn’t yet been put to use but plans are being made. CUG supports and sustain organizations that provide services for girls and do work around gender equity; the aim is to use the funding from Chicago Beyond to expand CUG’s capacity to help those organizations.

One of the plans is an event where girl-oriented nonprofits would be invited to set up in a parking lot or outside a church and put up banners with information about the organizations but also about COVID-19. Attendees “get to learn about girl-serving organizations close to you, and also COVID-19 education at same time,” said CUG president Brianna Lawrence.

The lack of restrictions around what CUG could use the money for allows the organization “to pull more people into the planning,” said Lawrence.

In the past, “the grants we received have been tailored toward a specific thing,” but the lack of regulations here “gives us flexibility, power and autonomy to be able to apply the funds where we need it most,” she said.

Chicago Beyond’s Liu acknowledged that the funding only touches a portion of Chicago’s nonprofit organizations. “There are so many more out there,” she said, adding that “it shouldn’t necessarily be a competition” between nonprofits to get funding.

For Steve Gates, Violence Prevention Is Personal

This article by Matt Rosenberg, was published in Chicago Skooled on October 11, 2021.

Steve Gates left for college at Jackson State in Mississippi sooner than he planned. He was on the run from gangbangers trying to track him down and kill him on Chicago’s South Side.

Gates was born to a seventeen-year-old mother in 1973. His father was rarely around. He grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood with his mother and grandmother. “My mother being a young single mother, my grandmother kind of stepped up. Not kind of. She raised me. It was different then. Roseland was much nicer, from what I remember. I saw it get bad. I don’t necessarily remember white flight, right, but it took place while we were there.” 

In second grade at a Chicago public school the teacher called in his mother and said, “‘Hey, you know what, this guy…he’s reading! At a higher level. Get him out of here!’..My mom…I think at that time she was driving a school bus. But somehow she made a way to take me out of Chicago Public Schools and get me into Catholic school.”

Gates was young when he had to start trying to understand pointless fatal violence. “One of my cousins was killed when I was in grammar school. Maybe second or third grade. That was my first run-in with death and murder. I can remember that kind of shook me up. He was killed in the Henry Horner projects.” This was on the West Side, where Gates’ family had roots.

“I remember getting the news that he was shot in the back. My cousin on my Dad’s side. I didn’t know much about gangs or anything at that time. Maybe by third or fourth grade there was another murder. It was on my block. They shot a guy. Tied up and killed in the garage. I remember the teachers telling us about how bad gangs were, right after that murder. Not knowing that I lived right down the block from that…that kind of shaped and scared me. It  gave me a disdain for those guys.”

The Catholic School Alternative: A Lifeline

Come ninth grade, the closest public school for Gates was Fenger. It was across a distinct boundary and unsafe for kids in his neighborhood because of gang rivalries. Years later Gates would do outreach work there. But as a student, he went several miles out of his way to the Catholic high school Saint Francis DeSalles. 

“It was tough getting back and forth there, but I still wasn’t as at-risk as going in the community. High school was decent, good, but I struggled. I had to work to help my mom pay the tuition…I was going through stuff in the neighborhood…I had to grow up pretty quickly. I had a lot on me. But I’m grateful. I think it helped. I know it helped…I was set to go off to college…”

Gates had chosen Jackson State in Mississippi. A historically black university. “That’s where my roots are. Where my dad’s people were from, some of my mom’s people.”

But there was a big hitch near the end of high school. “I got arrested for an altercation with some guys. I had a beef, they pulled guns, we ended up whuppin’ ‘em. I ended up getting charged. Almost didn’t make it to college. Criminal damage to property, aggravated battery. I’m like, ‘these guys had guns, they antagonized us.’ But the judge is, ‘364 days in County Jail.’ And hit the gavel. And here come the sherrifs, and I’m like, ‘what?’ And then my aunt just wailed, ‘Wait. Wait a minute.’ So they were able to work it out with restitution…and probation, or something.” 

Case closed? Hardly. Gates says a few days before he was going to head off for college in Mississippi, “I’m on the porch with my girlfriend, and some guys came by and just lit my house up, shot it up. And my mother didn’t have a car to drive me to school, so she had to borrow” one and “drove me that night. Dropped me at Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi. And I was essentially homeless. 

“My mom didn’t know much about housing or you know, the application fee so she was just reacting, doing the best that she could, you know, ‘if I don’t get you out of here you’re going to end up dead.’…It worked out. I ended up staying, I took the five-year plan to graduate.” Gates earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Even then, violence was right in his face. “There was murder involved during grammar school. High school. When I got to college there were maybe three or four people that I was close to that ended up murdered. In Jackson.  

“Not even counting the 90s in Chicago, and all my friends that got locked up, and were killed while I was away. It was, um, unnatural. I’ve been around a lot of death and you know, just some terrible shit. So. I ended up pledging a fraternity. When I called my mom I said, ‘hey, I need money so I can pay this registration.’ She was, ‘are you crazy? You think I’m paying you to join another gang?’

Crucial Turning Points

“She didn’t understand. And I got it. But, those milestones, those pivots, I know, saved my life. Her getting me out of here, me getting to college. I didn’t go to school trying to, with the idea of graduating, right? I went to flee. Just to get out of here. I tell the guys that. I tell the men that we work with now. I ran, from here. I didn’t go, I didn’t look, I didn’t have a visit. I was running. Relocating. And thank God it worked.”

After four years in a Catholic high school in Chicago, Steve Gates was college-ready. Despite the violence and drama in his life right up to the night his mother drove him south to Mississippi. Five years later as a graduate of Jackson State University back at home on Chicago’s South Side in Roseland, Gates found that it was still fierce on the streets.

“A lot of what happened in the 90s, right after crack hit, affected everybody I knew. I came back to Chicago around ‘95 and I put myself on house arrest. I stayed away. I was still on the block. Still at home, 113th between Wentworth and State. There were a bunch of new guys that I didn’t know, that were clinging to our area and there was still a huge conflict all around us.”

He first worked for his family’s trucking business. “My grandfather started that in a station wagon. My aunt was like, ‘hey, you didn’t have to go to college to throw boxes or deliver office supplies.’

Making Amends

“And as God would have it I met a woman, she worked for Hull House. Jane Adams Hull House. And I worked in their advocate program. She took a liking to me. She was like, ‘Steve, you really should work with these younger guys. You understand them.’ And I started at Hull House. I didn’t know how big or historic that was, when I got the job. But it was appealing, it was something that felt natural. I was trying to repent or make amends for some of the stuff that I did, or had been involved in. And it felt right.”

Some twenty-plus years after coming back home to Chicago from college, Gates would earn a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago, in 2018. A black man then in his forties, with dreadlocks, on the campus in Hyde Park. He remembers other students crossing the street to avoid him. He eventually started to wear U of C gear to make it clear he belonged. He chuckles talking about it, but there’s an edge to the memory.

Gates now works as an Innovation Manager for Chicago Beyond. They call themselves a social philanthropic partner. Since 2016 they’ve invested $30 million in fourteen Chicago-area organizations, leaders, and research. They aim to improve the lives of young people through programs in education, safety, community development, health and wellness, and more.

One of the Chicago Beyond partners that Gates works with closely is Chicago CRED. Headed by former CPS chief and ex-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, CRED focuses turnaround efforts on young men “at the highest risk of shooting or being shot.” There’s street-level outreach and then for the willing, trauma care, cognitive behavioral therapy, mentorship, work skills training, and transitional employment.

We’re talking outdoors and masked at one of CRED’s offices, on 95th Street near Chicago State University. To Steve Gates, improving public education in Chicago has to begin with correcting for the history of trauma, and bad public policy that has affected so many blacks.

“Ecological theory really fascinates me because if you look at Aid to Families with Dependent Children, that’s one policy. Like the War On Drugs. That’s another policy. The Three Strikes Law. Those are policies that played out in our communities that have direct effects…what you’re seeing now are residual effects of that policy, (and of) racism, fear, economics.”

He says, “you get a program like CRED that wants to provide a holistic wrap-around model because that’s how fucked up things are. You can’t just put a band-aid on it…It’s taking a stab at, not rehabilitation, but giving these men a fair first chance.”

Must Prison Be Traumatic?

This podcast episode of Shades of Freedom with Dr. Douglas E. Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative was published on September 7, 2021.

Prisons in the U.S. are, by design and operation, focused on punishment. But does punishment have to be traumatizing? Could prisons and jails be places of healing? While healing-centered and restorative approaches are being looked at in pre- and post-incarceration programs, less focus has been on trauma and harm reduction for those currently incarcerated.

In this episode of Shades of Freedom, our guest Nneka Jones Tapia, Managing Director for Justice Initiatives at Chicago Beyond and a former Warden of the Cook County Jail, joins us to discuss the new Square One Project report, Harm Reduction at the Center of Corrections, which begins: “The American correctional system is not a system of accountability that rehabilitates people as it purports to do. Instead, it is a system of pain and punishment with reverberating impact on the people confined there, the people who work there, and the families and communities of both.”

A Former Jail Warden Says Our Criminal Justice System Is Too Fixated on Punishment

Our Managing Director of Justice Initiatives Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia spoke with NBC LX.

Dr. Nneka Tapia was warden of the Cook County Jail in Chicago; now she is an advocate for prison reform. Tapia came to the criminal justice system with a unique background — a psychologist whose own father had been incarcerated. Today, she is using the perspective she gained on both sides of the system to push for change. You can watch the full clip here.