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.

NPR: Former Chicago Principal Discusses Schools’ Reliance On Police Officers

This article ran online on WBEZ/NPR on July 4, 2020. 
By Scott Simon



Metal detectors and armed resource officers have become common in U.S. schools. Of course, there is also a movement to remove police from schools and resistance to that change. June 24, the Chicago Board of Education narrowly voted to keep its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department to provide officers in its schools. Liz Dozier was principal at Chicago’s Fenger Academy High School for six years and changed that school’s approach to security and its reliance on resource officers with results that have been praised. She’s now the founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, an organization that raises capital funds for community, justice and youth initiatives and joins us now from Chicago. Ms. Dozier, thanks so much for being with us.

LIZ DOZIER: Thanks so much for having me. I’m glad to be here.

SIMON: We should preface you didn’t think that police officers in your school were to blame for violence that occurred.

DOZIER: That’s right. A lot of folks think that, you know, when we have police officers in schools that it provides safety. And at least from my vantage point and what I’ve seen throughout the years is that it’s a false sense of safety. And what really undergirds safety is often those student-adult relationships. It is mental health and wellness support. It is an environment that is intentionally created where each student’s needs matter.

SIMON: Well, tell us about Fenger when you came there.

DOZIER: Challenging is not even the correct word to describe it. My first year there, we had approximately 300 arrests inside of the school building. We had a 20% dropout rate, about a 40% state graduation rate. I was there for six years with my team, and you fast-forward and those results dramatically shifted. So those arrest rates went down to virtually zero. The graduation rate doubled from 40% to over 80% and that dropout rate was down below 2%. And what caused that shift was not us having school resource officers. It was investing in those things matter. It was creating an environment that was intentionally built around our young people and their specific needs. And that’s truly what supports safety in our schools.

SIMON: Does having school resource officers on the grounds get in the way of that?

DOZIER: So we originally had two resource officers that we worked with the commander to move out. They weren’t best positioned to work with children. And then we got two resource officers who were fantastic who really bought in to the idea of restorative justice, who bought in to the idea of peace circles and were just absolutely phenomenal.

SIMON: With youngsters seeing protests and learning about the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and videos of police killing unarmed Black people, what do you say to students who might be returning to school in the fall – actually, they’ve opened summer schools now in Chicago – and who will see police resource officers there?

DOZIER: As I think about our young people coming back to school in whatever form that might be, I think that, as a country, we are at this critical juncture of really understanding, you know, the history of police and, you know, how police were formed, police brutality, you know, what’s happened, and it gives a definite (ph) opportunity for learning.

SIMON: I have to ask you on this holiday weekend, Ms. Dozier, the violence is beginning to match the high levels of 2016.


SIMON: And so many of the victims so young. I wonder what your feelings are.

DOZIER: It’s almost unfathomable when you think about the number of deaths but also the number of children that we’re seeing. I mean, you know, the gun violence over the most recent weekend left 16 people dead, I mean, two young children, 50 others wounded. Father’s Day weekend, same thing – 104 people shot, 14 fatally. It is absolutely incredible. But I am – I do have hope, and I think it is not going to be the police alone. It’s not going to be the community alone. But it will be us both community and police working together to ensure that our streets are safe.

SIMON: Liz Dozier is a former high school principal of Fenger Academy High School in Chicago and founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond. Thank you so much for being with us.

DOZIER: Thanks for having me.

The Relentless School Nurse: Unpacking White Privilege How to be a White Ally and an Anti- Racist

This article ran online on The Relentless School Nurse on July 3, 2020. 
By Robin Cogan

Chicago Beyond CEO, Liz Dozier, is hosting a series of conversations about what it means to be anti-racist.

It is not enough to say “I am not racist.” Calling ourselves “not racist” is to be silent about what is happening in our country. Silence is complicit. We need to be anti-racist and yes, it is uncomfortable but necessary. It demands that white people end our silence & take action to counter-balance the structures that perpetuate racism. No more statements, stand for something that might make you feel uncomfortable. Recognize the structural racism in housing, jobs, healthcare, education, and work to change the systems that are inequitable. 

We are living in a moment in history where we can fundamentally change the structural inequities in our country that perpetuate racism or we can be silent. We have a collective responsibility to take action and be anti-racist.  But what does it look like? Advocate for policies that are anti-racist. Hold our leaders accountable. Vote out leaders that do not address the policies that perpetuate racist structures that continue oppression.

If you are in a position of power and have agency, be intentional and hire people of color in positions of power and agency. We have momentum at this moment in time, let’s not squander it by inaction. That’s being an ally.

Chicago Sun-Times: Ex-CPS principal who turned around tough Fenger High explains why cops don’t belong in schools

Liz Dozier significantly improved a violent, under-performing South Side school. Here’s why she thinks there are better ways to create a safe school environment than having police in Chicago’s schools.

This article ran in the Chicago Sun-Times on June 26, 2020. 
By Mark Brown

Liz Dozier knows a little something about police in the schools.

As principal of Fenger Academy High School from 2009 to 2015, Dozier was widely credited with turning a violent and under-performing school into a welcoming place that gave kids a chance to succeed.

And what she’ll tell you now, with benefit of hindsight, is that police do not belong in Chicago schools, at least not stationed there full-time.

That’s not a knock on police. That’s her sincere belief that there are better ways to create a safe school environment without exposing children to the criminal justice system that comes with having police in the building.

The Chicago Board of Education this past week narrowly rejected an attempt to end a $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department that provides armed, uniformed “school resource officers” in most high schools.

But the issue is far from settled. The question of renewing the contract will be back before the school board within weeks. Some Chicago City Council members are pushing to take up the matter as well.

That’s why I sought out Dozier, who I knew from her work at Fenger before the CNN docu-series “Chicagoland” made her an education celebrity.

I believe her to be the real deal, as apparently do Chicagoans Kimbra and Mark Walter, who have channeled millions of dollars into her good works through an organization she founded in 2016, Chicago Beyond, dedicated to helping young people realize their potential.

Dozier has been out of CPS for a while. But that also gives her the freedom to speak her mind. She definitely opened my mind.

Dozier inherited a bad situation at Fenger, which is located in Roseland, with daily brawls involving 50 to 60 students. In the second week of school, one of her students, Derrion Albert, was clubbed to death in a melee on his way home.

Police made 300 arrests at Fenger in her first year there.

What eventually turned around those problems, Dozier believes, was building relationships with students, not making arrests.

Dozier and her Fenger staff emphasized creating a school more attuned to the emotional needs of its students than to policing them. That required understanding why students were acting out.

Instead of relying on police to enforce discipline, they instituted restorative justice practices, which focus on repairing harm rather than applying punishment, and held peace circles to defuse conflicts. They provided grief counseling and anger-management training to students and created trauma groups to help deal with emotional baggage they brought to school from home.

It might sound like mumbo-jumbo, but these methods work well with young people.

By the time I visited Fenger a few years later, I encountered a warm, friendly atmosphere and a more relaxed student body.

After her first year at Fenger, Dozier moved to replace the police officers assigned to the school with new ones more attuned to her philosophy. She has only good things to say about the work of that second set of school resource officers.

But she thinks her students would have been better off with more counselors, social workers or therapists instead. Security guards from the neighborhood trained in de-escalation techniques are just as effective in providing school security in most situations, she says, and can call in police in extreme circumstances.

A school principal will always need a good working relationship with the local district commander, but police are asked to intervene in too many situations, Dozier believes.

“We put too much on them,” she says. “It doesn’t necessarily warrant a police response.”

The problem with getting police involved is that it sucks students into a situation from which they might never recover.

“Once a kid touches the criminal justice system, it just steamrolls,” Dozier says.

It’s not enough for CPS to give a school the option of getting rid of its police officers if no resources are offered to take their place.

In Chicago’s resource-poor schools, it’s hardly a surprise that school communities would choose to hang on to what little they have, no matter how imperfect.

Dozier agrees with those who say the $33 million that CPS spends on its police contract should be reinvested in alternative resources.

“You have to give the schools what they need,” she says. “You can’t just take [police] out and say, ‘Good luck.’ ”

Maybe that can’t be accomplished by the beginning of this school year. But it ought to be the stated goal of the Chicago Public Schools.

Shelterforce: Feeding People in a Pandemic

This article ran online at Shelterforce on June 22, 2020. 
By Amanda Abrams

Across the country, community organizations and food-related businesses have found creative ways to provide meals and groceries to low-income people in need.

When Americans began sheltering in place this spring, some experienced their first real worries about accessing food. Many workers were laid off and suddenly without an income. Supermarket shelves sat eerily empty. Trips out of the house to purchase the usual variety of groceries felt hazardous. But thanks to unemployment benefits, restocking, and the passage of time, those fears have begun to recede for many people.

Not for all, though. Around the country, community development organizations have reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to food—being able to pay for it, traveling outside of the house to get it—has been a top concern among people they work with. Feeding America estimated that prior to the crisis, over 37 million people lived in food-insecure households; today, that number may be as high as 54 million. And most of those households were already low-income.

In response, organizations around the country have pivoted. Some already worked in food production or distribution but had to change their model after business evaporated due to a lack of demand. Others are simply mission-driven to help low-income people and waded into providing food assistance when they saw how crucial the need was.

Each initiative is unique, but all have leaned heavily on new and existing partnerships with likeminded organizations. That’s partially the result of hard-nosed decision-making and letting partner groups do what they do best rather than reinventing the wheel. But there is also a deep, heartening spirit of collaboration that has emerged during this era of COVID-19: a sense that many people are suffering, and an effort to spread the wealth coming in as widely as possible.

Keeping People Fed, Keeping Restaurants in Businesses

That’s clearly been the case in Seattle, where four affordable housing organizations joined forces with about 20 restaurants across the city to provide meals to residents.

The partnership originated in March, with informal discussions between Capitol Hill HousingMercy Housing NorthwestSCIDpda, and Bellwether Housing about how to secure financial assistance for their residents during the crisis. “But it quickly transformed into ‘What are some of these other issues that we’re starting to see?’” remembers Marcia Wright-Soika, director of philanthropy and strategic partnerships at Mercy Housing Northwest.

All four groups were hearing about an increase in the number of people struggling to access food. Mercy Housing Northwest had been working with a volunteer caterer to provide a weekly meal to one of the organization’s housing communities, and a lightbulb went off, says Wright-Soika: “It started to click that there was a natural alignment here of matching up small restaurants that have been struggling to keep their businesses open with communities that were increasingly food insecure.”

In early April, Bank of America published its COVID-19 response plan. Wright-Soika and the others applied for funding, and later that month, they were awarded a $500,000 grant that was apportioned between the four groups.

“[Bank of America] really liked the idea of not just helping one group, but a few—it really points to the success of partnering up with not just housing but meal providers,” says Donna Moodie, executive director of the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, an initiative of Capitol Hill Housing.

The housing groups contracted individually with restaurants of their choice, working out the numbers to make as many meals as possible while still allowing the restaurants to pay their staff and put some money toward rent. Ninety percent of the eateries are women- or minority-owned businesses. Capitol Hill Housing, for example, is partnering with Edouardo Jordan, a James Beard award–winning chef who is Black; SCIDpda, based in Seattle’s Chinatown, is channeling funding to Asian restaurants that suffered as a result of coronavirus-related xenophobia.

The restaurants make and box the food, and the housing organizations deliver it to tenants. In their first two weeks, Capitol Hill Housing delivered 130 meals per week; this week, they began distributing 700 meals across the city.

Aside from their nutritional content, the deliveries are a way to connect and check in with residents who may have been experiencing serious isolation. But the food itself is a huge draw. “The meals are amazing,” says Moodie. “Not to disparage food-bank food, but a restaurant-quality prepared meal is a treat for many of us, especially people in affordable housing. It feels especially great to be able to offer it to them.”

Residents agreed. Among the many “love notes” the groups have received was one from Paul, an elderly resident in one of Bellwether Housing’s properties: “My dinner last night was one of the best meals I have ever had, anyplace, anytime. If the intention of this effort to bring a fine restaurant meal to my door is to both provide sustenance and to demonstrate community concern and support . . . mission accomplished. I am so grateful to the chef and crew, and to all those who are part of this lovely, life-affirming program.”

Partnerships with a dual mission of supporting restaurants and feeding residents are not uncommon now. In New York City, the organization Rethink Food is funneling local government funding to shuttered restaurants in order to feed residents in need. In Durham, North Carolina, the public school system is working with a coalition of nonprofits and restaurants to provide meals to families.

And in Bakersfield, California, Dignity Health collaborated with Sonder restaurant and CityServe, a national faith-based group headquartered there, to feed local families. Over the course of 11 days in May, the partners cooked and delivered roughly 1,000 meals per day to far-flung parts of Kern County, where Bakersfield lies.

CityServe, which engages with all denominations, worked through churches across the county in order to reach marginalized populations, because, as CityServe’s Pastor Robin Robinson pointed out, “There’s always a church in every neighborhood.”

As a result, the partners were able to help hard-to-find groups like migrant and seasonal workers, for whom food insecurity can be a chronic problem. And Sonder restaurant, whose owners had considered going out of business, was able to survive and eventually reopen.

Farm Fresh Food Straight to Needy Consumers

In Atlanta, The Common Market isn’t new to food distribution. That’s its bread and butter. A national network with three branches—Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Texas—The Common Market is a nonprofit food distributor that connects communities with food from nearby sustainable farms. In the Southeast, the organization had been growing its operations by providing institutions—public and private schools, universities, hospitals, senior centers—with locally grown food.

And then the coronavirus hit, and everything ground to a halt. Schools and universities emptied out, hospitals wound down their elective procedures in preparation for a deluge of COVID-19 patients, senior centers sealed themselves off to the outside.

“Within a two-week time frame, we weren’t sure what [our business] would look like,” says Bill Green, executive director of The Common Market’s Southeast operations.

He and his staff began brainstorming. The organization’s buyers weren’t open, but its partner farms were still producing. “So we doubled down on our farmshare program,” says Green. “We started talking to various local agencies, working with local food access-challenged populations—low-income people, seniors, refugees—and started offering these boxes.”

The agencies responded, ordering 20, 50, 300 boxes to feed their clients. Soon, The Common Market bid on and was awarded an eight-week, $180,000 contract with the City of Atlanta Senior Food Assistance Program to deliver 300 boxes of food weekly to older people throughout the metro region; the contract was just renewed for another six weeks.

The boxes are full of locally grown food: squash, green beans, Vidalia onions, sweet potatoes, peaches, and blackberries, as well as eggs, dairy products, and meat. “It’s high-quality, non-GMO, raised in an environmentally responsible way,” says Green. “The pork looks like beef because it’s so red. It’s good meat.”

“The seniors are telling us that this food came right on time,” he adds. “Many seniors have obvious health challenges: diabetes, they’re overweight—they’re suffering from lack of good food.”

Indeed, one resident has been very pleased with the groceries. “I like the items I received,” says the resident, who didn’t want to share her name. “Pork chops, I was surprised to get that. Broccoli, I love broccoli—I make a broccoli salad, put in raisins, cranberries, a little mayo. It’s excellent and easy to make. I thank God for letting me receive this.”  


That’s not the only new initiative for The Common Market. Together with the Mid-Atlantic branch, the Atlanta group was awarded a $5.7 million contract through the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program to provide produce to communities in need for eight weeks. So Green’s Southeast operation is now delivering 15,000 boxes of fruits and vegetables to food banks, YMCAs, and organizations that serve senior and refugee populations.

“It’s a large expansion,” says Green. “To deliver on that level, we’ve had to expand our producer network.” Normally, The Common Market in Atlanta buys from 40 to 50 farmers; to meet the new demand, the group added 10 more producers, all of them on the larger side. Green says interested farmers weren’t hard to find. After all, many growers—especially those lacking secure contracts with big grocery stores—took a big hit with the coronavirus and have been seeking relief.

One of those struggling farmers was Howard Berk, who runs Ellijay Mushrooms, located about 85 miles north of Atlanta. He had already been working with The Common Market and was just ramping up for a big year when sheltering in place began. “It felt like all of a sudden the water was shut off,” says Berk. “We were trying to figure out what to do.”

So when the Common Market offered Ellijay Mushrooms space in its USDA food boxes for three of the total 6 weeks, it felt like a godsend. “This is a game changer,” says Berk, adding that the farm hasn’t had to lay anyone off. “Those three weeks will help keep the farm afloat.”

Both Berk and Green say the crisis pushed them to change their business models, and both are certain their companies will come out of this pandemic stronger and better. Berk says he and his coworkers were pushed to find a better way to package and sell their mushrooms, and that will continue into the future. For his part, Green believes that selling directly to consumers is where food distribution is going—something he has been forced to prepare for over the past few months.

Doing What It Takes to Help Hungry Residents

In some parts of the country, community development organizations have jumped in to provide food assistance despite having little or no previous experience in that area. They simply saw a need and were determined to help.

“When this first started, that was the first thing we thought about: What are people going to do about food when they’re strapped for cash?” says Tejal Shah, director of neighborhood and economic development at East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC). The organization has affordable housing units across the East Bay, including several properties for seniors. “We really prioritized seniors first—how will they get access to their basic needs and food?”

EBALDC had been building partnerships with community organizations for years and began to leverage those relationships in order to help residents. Spectrum Community Services, for example, was providing food for seniors through Meals on Wheels, and EBALDC engaged the group to deliver meals three days a week to its seniors. Other organizations like the Mercy Brown Bag program and the Alameda County Food Bank also provided groceries.

Those efforts are bearing fruit. EBALDC is delivering some kind of food—prepared, groceries, or nonperishables—to 15 of its 32 sites, a total of about 600 households per week.

“We’ve been getting food like every two weeks from Mercy Brown Bag,” says Beverly Smith, 68; she’s lived in one of EBALDC’s East Oakland properties for nine years. The food is helpful, but not always enough, she adds. “A lot of people are struggling—they’re not able to get around, and don’t have the money. People are hard hit.”

That seems to be universally true. In the Windy City, the staff of Chicago Beyond was also hearing repeatedly that food insecurity was a serious problem for residents. In response, the organization, which normally focuses on impact investing to benefit youth, called on its existing partnerships to reach individuals who might not otherwise obtain assistance.

“We started with partners we already knew”—like the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Chicago CRED, and the Resident Association of Greater Englewood—”but each of them has other organizations they were working with, too,” explains Eva Liu, the chief strategy and operations officer at Chicago Beyond. Gradually, the group has expanded its reach to about 40 nonprofit organizations throughout the city.

With $250,000 in funding every week from Mark and Kimbra Walter, who have invested heavily in Chicago Beyond, the organization has been able to provide 700,000 pounds of food to Chicagoans since early April. Composed largely of nonperishables like pasta, rice, canned goods, and peanut butter, the food boxes are designed to feed a small family for a week.

In New York City, the local government has been laboring to keep its residents fed, often working through community organizations. But Neighborhood Housing Services of Queens (NHS) isn’t one of those groups. Though it is providing food assistance, executive director Yoselin Genao-Estrella says her organization is going it alone.

Genao-Estrella emphasizes that her organization isn’t trying to take the place of local government in its efforts to feed citizens. “This is to complement it, because the need is so tremendous.”

NHS’s program is a little different from some of the others. Because it can’t feed everyone—as Genao-Estrella puts it, Queens is “the epicenter of the epicenter” of the pandemic—the organization is encouraging potential donors to “adopt” a family that might not otherwise qualify for government assistance. A donation of $180 can feed a family of four for two weeks.

In Genao-Estrella’s mind, it’s a slightly more respectful way of providing help than, say, asking families to line up and wait for it, something she’s seen quite a bit lately. “We said, we may not be able to save all of the families. We may have only a few families that we can adopt,” she explains. “[But] to those families, we’re going to have a dignified way of providing the food, where they don’t need to make a line. It will be delivered to their home, so for the next two weeks, that’s one less thing they can worry about.” So far, 250 families have been adopted and almost 54,000 meals have been delivered to the community.

NHS buys the groceries—culturally appropriate food for a largely Latinx population—from local supermarkets that have been suffering from a loss of customers. That was a deliberate decision to boost the local economy, says Genao-Estrella.

Contributions, currently totaling $38,000, have come from range of places, including workers from nearby LaGuardia Airport, East Elmhurst Corona Civic Association, and responses to a solicitation sent out by local Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Recipient families, meanwhile, have been referred by churches, schools, and older neighborhood residents who keep tabs on everyone in their community.

One of those referrals was Martha Elena Ramirez, 68, a longtime Queens resident. She and her husband both were infected with COVID-19, and her husband died of the disease. In the past few weeks, in order to cut costs, she has returned her car to the dealer and downsized from an apartment to a single room. “Money is very tight now. It’s a very hard time,” says Ramirez through a translator. “I’m grateful,” she says of the food assistance. “It’s very helpful.”

WGNTV NEWS:Chicago Beyond founder steps in to help vulnerable communities during pandemic

This interview was aired on WGNTV Chicago on April 16, 2020. 
By Julie Unruh

CHICAGO – A former principal in Roseland is pivoting her philanthropic venture to bring the basics to Chicago’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

For the past four years, Liz Dozier has been raising money for the city’s youth through her program Chicago Beyond.

“It’s incredible,” Dozier said. “We are now seeing as a society that we are all connected, inextricably linked.”

Dozier used to be the principal at Fenger High School and received local acclaim for her tough love, which was always delivered with a dose of kindness.

Her energy is now 100% invested in raising money to better places like Roseland after she founded Chicago Beyond.

For families and especially students, homelessness during the pandemic is unthinkable.


“I saw it firsthand at Fenger,” Dozier said. “It’s devastating.”

Since Dozier is a woman of action, Chicago Beyond mobilized. Picking up where food pantries manned by volunteers left off.

“We looked at some of the data and saw hotels in the city just didn’t have the same usage rate in normal times,” Dozier said. “We made hygiene packets for families and kids as well.”

Chicago Beyond bought 20,000 items to help during the crisis. They even partnered with global hospitality supplier, American Hotel, to get basic needs distributed.

They donated the items below.

  • Food = 167,000 lbs
  • Hand Sanitizer = 275 gallons
  • Diapers and wipes = 100,000
  • Covid-19 Info cards = 26,000
  • Masks for essential workers = 1,000

In just a week, they have donated $250,000 worth of supplies.

Chicago Tribune: In Chicago-area food deserts, it’s getting even harder for residents to find fresh, healthy groceries because of the coronavirus

This article ran online in The Chicago Tribune on April 3, 2020. 
By Darcel Rockett

Rosa Gaytan was at Sanad Social Services in West Lawn before 10 a.m. Wednesday with her children, ages 9 and 5, picking up food items for herself and her brother — who have lost their jobs as a waitress at a nearby restaurant and a worker at a mattress factory, respectively.

The Chicago Lawn resident was able to get two bags with groceries like beans, oatmeal, rice, peanut butter, fruits and vegetables, eggs and chocolate truffles.

“I found this pantry when I was Googling,” she said. “I’m looking for other locations. Maybe I’ll come back next week.”

Jamilah Salahuddin and her daughter Jennah, 12, sing while they package food at the IMAN Youth & Family Health Center in the Marquette Park neighborhood. IMAN was distributing groceries and paper products on April 3, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

A rise in unemployment and the closing of food pantries are exacerbating the problem of food insecurity around the Chicago area. In food deserts, areas where people live more than a mile from a grocery store, it’s getting even harder to find fresh, healthy foods. The United States Department of Agriculture classified 39 census tracts in Cook County as food deserts in 2010 — among those tracts were areas in West Pullman, Pullman, Woodlawn, Roseland, Riverdale and Englewood. Outside of Chicago, most of the tracts were in Thornton, Bloom, Bremen, Calumet and Worth. In the meantime, about one-third of the Greater Chicago Food Depository network pantries have closed due to coronavirus, according to spokesperson Greg Trotter.

“People who had never had to come and ask for food are reaching out,” said Aber Abueid, Sanad’s food pantry manager. “On a regular monthly basis, we usually order, like 11-12,000 pounds of food, but this time we had to order over 40,000 pounds — the need is so great. We used to open twice a month; now we’ll be open every week in April.

“We’re buying more food because we have to,” he said. “We’re getting a lot less from grocery stores right now because of the run on grocery stores, but we’ve been building thousands of boxes of nonperishable food items to help support our partners that are still open. Some food pantries have geographic boundaries, but many of them are dropping their boundaries because we’ve had closures, so they are seeing people that they haven’t seen before.”

Maria Ruiz, of Brighton Park, drove over with her youngest son, Alejandro, 29, and her oldest daughter, Cindy, 35. A clerk at St. Bernard Hospital, Maria said she hasn’t been able to work because she has to stay at home with Alejandro, who has a developmental delay.

“My job is important, but my son is also important,” she said. “I’m having a very hard time because he’s special and doesn’t understand about no touching, distancing.”

It was the family’s first visit to Sanad’s pantry. Cindy heard about it from one of her neighbors.

Araceli Pizano, a Sanad volunteer for the past eight years, was handing out food packages on tables marked with tape to make sure people were staying separated. People would walk up or pull up in their cars, put their ZIP code and the number of people in their family on a sheet of paper, and walk away with the food packages.

Trotter said it helps that Chicago Public Schools is continuing to provide student meals. Also the University of Chicago’s on-campus dining facilities are preparing meals to be distributed in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to locations on the South Side through June 12, helping to make sure no one falls through gaps in coverage.

“It’s all helping at this point,” Trotter said. “That’s been one great thing about this — all of the partnerships that have emerged. … We’re all in communication with each other, collecting data, sharing information on where the gaps of service are, and that’s all good.

Michael Nasir Blackwell loads a van with food for delivery to elderly residents at the IMAN Youth & Family Health Center on April 3, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

“The concern is the longer this goes on, the harder it’s going to be for our most vulnerable neighbors and working families who are in a tough financial spot, who may have less income because of the work stoppages or business closings, and they have increased costs because of the school closings. It’s very likely that many people will experience food insecurity for the first time as a result of this.”

In the last three weeks, Trottter said, the depository’s benefits outreach team of about 16 has been busy connecting people to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. Calls to its hotline have significantly increased: The week of March 9, it received 203 calls; the week of March 16, 1,094; and last week, there were 1,721. Most of the calls are from clients who were recently laid off and seniors, Trotter said.

The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in West Lawn is doing rounds of food packaging and distribution for folks in the Englewood and Chicago Lawn neighborhoods and to some of its health center clients, said senior organizer Sara Hamdan. It’s partnering with Teamwork Englewood, Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.) and Chicago Beyond in supporting this effort to continue to get emergency food packages out to folks.

On Friday, Chicago Beyond launched its hyperlocal response to the pandemic with an initiative that will deliver basic necessities to people on Chicago’s South and West sides through IMAN (and other hyperlocal nonprofits). The campaign gave $250,000 worth of nonperishable food items, toilet paper and paper towels (a total of 32,000 pounds) for about 2,200 families, according to Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond. She said the endeavor will continue at least until May 1. The goal is to support 5,000 families a week.

“People’s basic health is at stake here … and my philosophy has always been you meet people where they are, so obviously with COVID and what’s happening now, there are incredible needs popping up,” Dozier said. “It’s food today, but who knows what it will be like in four weeks, six weeks and three months from now, so I think it’s Chicago Beyond’s responsibility to be keep our ears to the ground and make sure we’re doing whatever we can with whatever is in our power to meet those needs.”

From its Corner Store campaign to its Farmers Market that typically begins in July, IMAN’s work around food is very much a part of its ethos, Hamdan said.

“There’s going to continue to be difficult decisions for families over the next several weeks, even months, where people are having to decide whether they pay a bill or whether they put food on the table for their families and all the fear and anxiety around leaving the house,” she said. “The last few weeks, we knew that our food ecosystem work was going to have to continue, but it was also very much going to have to respond to this moment.”

Growing Home, a farm-based training program in Englewood for people with employment barriers, is looking at how to support its alumni and the new cohort that was set to start a job training program March 31. Since the trainees can’t come in, the organization is connecting them to services like local food banks, counseling and employment opportunities for essential businesses looking for employees, said Danielle Perry, Growing Home’s executive director.

“We’re doing that and still managing our farm. We have to shift our model from farmers markets to a delivery model,” she said. “You call us, tell us what you want, you pay online, and we put it on your doorstep. It’s a big change for us.”

Teamwork Englewood is in the process of pivoting its services to meet current needs as well, said Cecile De Mello, executive director. Its clientele is a mix of youths, people returning to communities after prison, Englewood residents and female heads of households. The most pressing calls center on needs for food, supplies like paper towels and toilet paper, and rental assistance.

“We’re calling our clients and letting them know that we can support them in different ways than we traditionally have — some of that being food support,” she said. “I’ve been spending most of my time seeing how we can repurpose our current funds and grants to support families in this time.”

On Thursday and Friday, the organization delivered food and gift cards to community members with the support of IMAN. More information and a way to donate to the organization can be found here. The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s website allows people to search by ZIP code to find food pantries within a 2-mile radius; you will also see a way to donate to the group on the site. For ways to help other Chicago nonprofits, see the Tribune’s running list here.

“A lot of people are relying on us. It’s a responsibility, and we have to help one another,” Sanad’s food pantry manager Abueid said. “Usually we’d serve around 300 a month, but because of what’s going on, the last food pantry saw over 250 families in one week. We don’t turn anybody away.”

WTTW: COVID-19 Behind Bars: How Illinois is Protecting the Incarcerated

This article ran online at WTTW Chicago on March 24, 2020. 
By Blair Paddock

Among those most vulnerable to COVID-19 are jail and prison populations, where people live in tight quarters, with potentially limited health care and access to basic needs like soap.

This week, at least three people tested positive for the coronavirus at Cook County Jail, including a correctional officer and two detainees.

Some advocates describe the situation as a ticking time bomb and are now calling for the release of elderly detainees and nonviolent offenders.

Former Cook County Jail Warden Nneka Jones Tapia, who is now with Chicago Beyond, a group addressing youth equity, said she’s concerned about the situation unfolding at jails and prisons.

“It’s a petri dish for this virus,” Jones Tapia said. “The particular focus has to be prevention in terms of minimizing the number of people who are incarcerated and at risk of exposure to the virus.”

The office of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is also thinking about preventive measures, such as suspending visits and creating housing tiers for new arrivals in which they are observed for seven days for any symptoms of the virus.

Meanwhile, Cook County public defender Amy Campanelli is taking action to get people out of Cook County Jail. Late last week, she released an emergency petition calling for the release of people who might be at an elevated risk of contracting the virus, who are pregnant or have been charged with a misdemeanor, among other criteria.

“My clients have homes, they have places to go,” Campanelli said. “They’re not numbers, not detainees and they have lives.”

Campanelli hopes these conversations about reducing jail populations will continue after the crisis subsides.

“We don’t lock up 49,000 people because 1,000 will reoffend—that’s not how you do it,” Campanelli said. “This pandemic should make us all rethink about how many people we lock up.”

Insidehook: The Biggest Challenges Facing Chicago Over the Next Decade

This article ran online at Insidehook on February 11, 2020. 
By Claire Young

The last 10 years of Chicago news — especially nationally — have been less than stellar. Our city’s positive attributes took a backseat to subzero temperatures, police brutality and gun violence, the latter of which earned a national stage when then-GOP candidate Donald Trump mentioned Chicago more than four dozen times during his campaign for president.

So with a new decade ahead of us, we decided to ask eight thought and business leaders around the city for their opinion on the single biggest challenge facing the city, and what we can collectively do to fix it.

These are people who spend every day working on the big, complex problems of a big, complex metropolis. You will definitely see a theme — equality is more than a buzzword — that reflects a systemic illness that manifests in various forms across various industries.

What follows is the (potentially uncomfortable) reality of being a city that benefited from the Great Migration of the 20th century, a distinction that typically included a legacy of severe segregation. The good news? These leaders are hopeful and resolute that solutions are on the horizon.

Liz Dozier
Chicago Beyond Founder and CEO 

In your position, what do you see as the biggest issue facing Chicago in the new decade?

Systemic racism.

The biggest issue facing Chicago in this new decade is the same issue that has always been part of our cultural fabric. It’s the ease in which we “otherize” our neighbors, and that somehow our collective liberation is not connected. At its root, we are talking about racism disguised as disinvestment, and policies and practices that continue to uphold inequities that impact all people, regardless of their zip code. Dr. King spoke about an “inescapable network of mutuality,” that whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This single idea was true more than 50 years ago, and I believe it remains one the greatest issues facing society today.

What will be the barriers to resolving this issue?

There is no “solve” to systemic racism or deep-rooted language that has developed over generations, but there is a huge opportunity for anyone to start from the inside by shifting their orientation to others.

To be clear, we all do this. It shows up everywhere, and we barely notice it’s happening. For example, language is one way in which we all disregard our network of mutuality. In Chicago and cities like ours, many refer to our youth who are not working or not in school as “disconnected.” But I would argue we have intentionally structured systems that have disconnected them from us. By propagating that language and not acknowledging the blamelessness of our youth, we are strengthening the idea that our children have chosen to disconnect, rather than their ecosystems failing to provide them with the resources and nutrients they need to “be connected.” This is just one incredibly impactful way we can begin noticing and shifting our orientation to one another — by recognizing and changing narratives that create unnecessary harm.

What do people need to know about this issue that they don’t right now?

The issue of otherizing starts with each of us, individually. Anyone has the opportunity to notice and shift their orientation — whether it be in a conversation with friends or colleagues, or during a board meeting where communities are at the center of the conversation. Take the time to notice how things and people are framed and ask yourself why that is. It all begins with one small change in language that over time, can create a seismic shift in a narrative that impacts our inescapable network of mutuality.

Beyond Incarceration: Supporting the 37,000+ Silent Victims Impacted by Incarceration in Cook County

Our Steps to Support the 37,000 Silent Victims of Incarceration in Cook County: Children.

Chicago Beyond, The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, The Chicago Children’s Museum and The Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital Launch Program to Support Youth Whose Fathers are Incarcerated

“At the core of this initiative are the silent victims of incarceration: more than 37,000 children in Cook County alone who have been impacted by parental separation caused by incarceration in the last six months. This is the first program of its kind in the nation that applies a trauma-informed lens to promote healing from the shame and stigma associated with having an incarcerated parent and specifically focuses on fatherhood. Our hope is that with this groundbreaking pilot, we can support the children of incarcerated parents with safe visitation opportunities that are conducive to strengthening families and their relationships as the parents await trial.” 

– Chicago Beyond, The Cook County Sheriff’s Office, The Chicago Children’s Museum and The Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital

Nationally, more than five million children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their childhood. In Cook County alone, more than 37,000 children in the past six months have experienced losing a parent to incarceration.

Black children and children from poverty-stricken families are more likely to experience parental incarceration, and the overwhelming majority of incarcerated parents are fathers. Losing a parent to incarceration can impact children’s mental health, social behavior and academic achievement, increasing their risk of future involvement with the criminal justice system. The emotional trauma that may result from parental incarceration is often exacerbated by the social stigma that youth may face. 

Research shows that the preservation of a child’s relationship with the incarcerated parent is beneficial to the child, the incarcerated parent, and society as a whole. This relationship can reduce the possibility of the child experiencing mental health issues, increase the likelihood of the successful reentry of the incarcerated parent to society and lower the odds of recidivism.

Very few programs exist to support these bonds and heal these relationships. Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart has been working to change this reality by exploring ways to improve safe visitation practices that are guided by the latest research and experts in this field.

That’s why, expanding on the work of other correctional institutions, such as Riker’s Island and Topeka Correctional Institution, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Chicago Beyond and the Chicago Children’s Museum to initiate family-friendly, child-centered visitation experiences for children whose parents are incarcerated, their incarcerated fathers and their caregivers

This initiative is the first-of-its-kind in the nation to focus on the father-child relationship, and with the support of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital, apply a trauma-informed approach throughout the visit to support all participants and staff. Planning took place over the course of one year and included learnings from the Riker’s Island and Children’s Museum of Manhattan visitation program as well as the Topeka Correctional Facility and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center program.

Additionally, extensive training, collaboration, and planning meetings occurred over the course of eight months to ensure the safety of all involved, particularly the children. On August 12, 2019 the partnership of the aforementioned organizations supported six children and their caregivers as they were allowed to reconnect with their fathers in a healthy environment and reduce the lasting impact of the trauma caused by family separation.

This program builds off of the work of Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, Chicago Beyond’s inaugural Leader in Residence. Nneka is a psychologist and former warden of the Cook County Department of Corrections. Since Nneka joined the team at Chicago Beyond in 2018, she has been working to improve the mental health of young Chicagoans by developing initiatives to influence and support the development of a trauma-sensitive city for Chicago’s youth including those whose parents have been incarcerated. 

Parental incarceration is personal to Nneka, as she experienced it herself at a young age, losing her father for a number of years due to drug charges. 

“I was fortunate that both of my parents made sure I still had that bond with my dad,” Nneka told WTTW in an interview last year. “I recognize now as an adult, had it not been for the support system … that I could’ve very easily fallen prey to some of the risk factors that children with incarcerated parents often experience.”

You can read more about Nneka and Chicago Beyond’s Leadership Venture here. 

For more information, please contact