Tag: #fight

The Chicago Crusader: Chicago’s Lei’Anna Young says that gun violence-related trauma is real

This article appeared in the Chicago Crusader on July 11, 2019. 

How gun violence impacts kids like 17-year-old Lei’Anna Young is not so obvious. Lei’Anna is quiet and spends most of her time alone. Unless she’s performing with her school dance team, she avoids attention. But if you give her time to trust you, she’ll open up and say a lot and her trauma will become all too real.

That’s what Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., Advocate Gia Cephas did back in March when she met the Chicago Vocational High School (CVS) junior. YAP’s paid advocate-mentors, recruited from the neighborhoods they serve, are trained to help young people identify and realize their strengths while connecting them and their parents/guardians to tools to help firm their foundation.

“Before YAP, I kept to myself; I didn’t like groups. I would have been a loner all four years,” Lei’Anna said. “I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was living a boring depressing life.”

YAP’s services are based on its core model, introduced more than 13 years ago in Chicago, as a community-based alternative to youth incarceration and other out-of-home placements. While YAP continues its partnership with local youth justice and child welfare systems, a growing number of schools and organizations working to reduce violence in the city also connect Chicago youth to YAP. Lei’Anna said she got involved when her school dean saw her potential. The referral came to the nonprofit through the school’s partnership with Chicago Beyond.

Lei’Anna said her grandmother, who is also raising her brother and sister, keeps the children inside as much as possible to protect them. “It can be really lonely,” Lei’Anna aid. “When it’s too quiet and I’m hearing or seeing something about murder, it’s depressing.

Gia heard and felt Lei ’Anna’s desire for opportunities to learn and grow and make connections. She also realized that the best way to support and mentor Lei’Anna was by ensuring that she had buy-in from her family.

“Gia met my grandmother the third week and my younger sister at the same time. She’s very open and she’s like family already. She’s easy to communicate with,” Lei’Anna said.

Gia connects Lei’Anna with resources to help her cope with her feelings and gives her outlets to  identify, explore and realize her gifts and talents. In addition to the one-to-one mentoring, Gia gives Lei’Anna opportunities to interact with other YAP participants in group sessions and field trips.

“Now that I’m in YAP, I have opportunities to talk to people and have fun,” she said. “I’m meeting a lot of kids and learning that whether we’ve been in trouble or not, we all want more. Other programs might take you off the streets by putting you in a youth center or something; but YAP gives you tools you can use all the time.”

Lei’Anna told Gia she loves cosmetology and dance — in particular, choreography.  Now she also realizes she wants to go to college so that she can learn how to bring both talents together and build a business where she can be her own boss and give jobs to others.

One of Lei’Anna’s most memorable YAP experiences so far was a recent visit to Springfield where youth and their advocates got an opportunity to use their leadership skills. It was a chance to show and tell lawmakers why they should support the intensive mentorship program.

“Being with other YAP kids, I don’t worry about whose around. I feel safe and I’m happy. I can see myself being who I really am,” she said. “I’m a good person, especially when I have the chance to do things that let me share and open up.

Beyond the fun and learning, Lei’Anna said her time in YAP makes her feel healthier, stronger and more empowered.

“With YAP — with Gia — life is just better. Every day is a session,” she said with a giggle.

Philanthropy News Digest: Why Am I Always Being Researched?

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

WTTW: In New Role, Nneka Jones Tapia to Address Mental Wellness of Youth

This article and video appeared on WTTW on July 26, 2018. 

Nneka Jones Tapia, the former executive director of Cook County Jail, knows what it’s like to have a parent behind bars. She remembers weekly visits as a child to share Sunday dinner with her father, who was incarcerated for several years for possession of drugs.

“I was fortunate that both of my parents made sure I still had that bond with my dad,” she said, adding that her siblings and mother created a strong support system during those years. “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.”

Some of those risk factors, according to a recent study, include engaging in unhealthy behaviors and skipping needed health care.

Jones Tapia left Cook County Jail at the end of March. Now, she’s leading a new initiative at Chicago Beyond, an organization dedicated to addressing youth equity. In her role, Jones Tapia will address the mental wellness of children whose parents are incarcerated as part of the group’s newly launched Leadership Venture initiative.

Described in a press release as a “fellowship for high-potential community leaders,” the program will invest in people like Jones Tapia who are “focused on tackling significant challenges facing Chicago’s youth.”

Chicago Beyond CEO Liz Dozier said Jones Tapia was chosen for the 18-month fellowship because of her expertise and experiences. “We have someone who is leading this effort who has firsthand experience (in) what this effort is trying to impact,” said Dozier, whose own father was incarcerated when she was young. “Nneka has this incredible background not only having experienced that as a child, but then having led what some have said is the largest mental health facility in the country – Cook County Jail.”

Jones Tapia served as executive director of the jail for nearly three years before beginning a fellowship with the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago this past spring. Before being named as jail warden, she served as the first assistant executive director in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, where she oversaw mental health strategy at the Cook County Jail. Prior to that, she worked as the chief psychologist at Cermak Health Services, the county jail’s onsite medical and mental health provider. 

Both Dozier and Jones Tapia described one another as “kindred spirits” because of their shared experiences and efforts to create equity in marginalized communities.

As she settles into her new role, Jones Tapia has been speaking with community members about how to best address mental wellness.

“The most important players have been youth themselves. I’ve been engaged with quite a few youth, particularly on the South Side of Chicago, but really representative of all of Chicagoland,” said Jones Tapia. “I’ve been speaking with people in the community just trying to better understand what is out there now, and where gaps may lay and how we can begin to fill those gaps.”

While Jones Tapia will allow for these conversations to guide how to best address the issue, Dozier said she hopes Chicago Beyond can make an impact around mental wellness, “specifically for youth who are most affected by having an incarcerated parent. … There can be a light at the end of the tunnel for them in terms of their own health and wellness.”

Sun-Times: Ex-Fenger Principal Switches Role to Attack Same Problem

This article appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on April 25, 2016

The screensaver on Liz Dozier’s phone is a photo of the former Fenger High School principal with her favorite problem student Jason Barrett.

Dozier’s passionate advocacy for her students made her a star of the CNN documentary series “Chicagoland,” which focused in part on her mentoring of the talented but troubled Barrett.

Now the screensaver serves as a reminder that the work she left behind last year remains her motivation for a quite different pursuit.

Dozier has resurfaced as managing director of Chicago Beyond, a new organization offering “investments” of up to $2 million each to nonprofits with innovative ideas about how to increase opportunities for Chicago’s young people.

The reason those groups should check out ChicagoBeyond.org right away is that Dozier has a fast-approaching Friday deadline for them to send a letter of interest to compete for funding.

“We’re really just looking for great ideas,” Dozier told me last week, urging small organizations not to be intimidated by the application process.

Dozier, who was greeted at Fenger by the sensational beating death of student Derrion Albert just weeks into the 2009 school year, says Chicago Beyond will treat youth safety and educational attainment as “flip sides of the same coin.”

Where Dozier once was the hands-on principal patrolling the streets outside her school and visiting Barrett weekly at Cook County Jail, now she will fund others doing the up-close-and-personal work.

On a visit to Roseland two months ago, Dozier stopped in on some of her former students. At Barrett’s home, the report wasn’t good.

“He had been shot again. Summer is coming. I don’t know. It’s not good. I don’t know,” she said, her voice trailing off.

“I carry those stories with me,” she continued, back at full volume. “I’ve left Fenger, but I haven’t left Fenger. It’s still like in my heart. The lessons I learned from Fenger are really what I’m trying to support with what I’m trying to do.”

If there is a more important job in our society than that of a teacher, then it might be a school principal. Good principals who allow teachers and students to perform to their fullest are vital to making our schools work.

Losing a go-getter such as Dozier from the ranks of Chicago principals was hardly good news.

So it was reassuring to see her tap on Barrett’s photo and say: “It’s about this kid right here, what’s going to happen to him and all the other 40,000 that are just like him.”

Dozier, 38, declined to discuss why she quit CPS after six years at Fenger, saying only she “wanted to have a broader impact.” She didn’t have her new job lined up when she left.

Dozier won’t identify her funders either, describing them only as a “group of private investors interested in supporting this work.”

Although Chicago Beyond is organized as a foundation, Dozier casts it in the language of business, making “investments” instead of grants.

She says that’s because she has something larger in mind than traditional grant-making. She wants her investments to be “transformational” with the possibility of being replicated elsewhere.

Each investment must answer a larger question, such as how to attract boys to after school programs, where girls currently outnumber them 2-to-1.

A key part of Dozier’s plan is a partnership with University of Chicago’s Urban Labs to evaluate the success of programs that receive funding.

Dozier is currently seeking proposals on programs to help Chicago students complete college, having seen for herself too many drop out in the first year.

She also is looking for ideas on how to re-engage 16-to-24-year-olds such as Barrett who are neither in school nor working.

“Chicago Beyond believes that if children aren’t successful, it’s not for a lack of potential. It’s about a lack of opportunity and access. Every child has that potential,” Dozier said.

I believe that, too, and I believe Liz Dozier is someone who can help more of them attain it.