Tag: fight

Investing in Fatherhood: The Dovetail Project

“1 in 3 black men will go to prison in his lifetime. 67% of black children grow up in a single parent home. 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.”

These statistics appear in rotation on the homepage of Chicago Beyond’s partner The Dovetail Project, and they tell the story of the cycle that plagues fatherhood nationwide; when a child, particularly a black child, grows up with an absent father, they are lacking stability in the home, a consistent male role model, and are often times at high risk of incarceration.

In 2016, Dovetail was one of three winners of Chicago Beyond’s inaugural Innovation Challenge, which sought innovative, early-stage ideas from nonprofits backing the fight for youth equity. In the past three years Chicago Beyond has watched Dovetail double its reach and impact the lives of hundreds of young fathers. Chicago Beyond invested in Dovetail for its triple bottom line: impacting young fathers economically changes the trajectory of their lives, their children’s lives, and ultimately strengthens the entire community ecosystem. 

Dovetail is an organization that gives young black fathers the skills and resources they need to fortify relationships with their children. Throughout its 12-week program, designed by founder and Executive Director Sheldon Smith, Dovetail’s curriculum teaches its participants how to be present, through felony street law education which helps them avoid incarceration and stay in their children’s lives; how to be a provider, through financial literacy and job interview preparation; and how to be a parent, through basic and individualized parenting skills. Beyond the curriculum, the fathers receive holistic support from Dovetail’s case managers. 

Each class of Dovetail participants is called a “cohort,” with each cohort made up of about 50 fathers. Dovetail recruits its participants by sending a team consisting mostly of Dovetail alumni go into communities around Chicago, clad in bright orange shirts. They strike up conversations with young men on the street, asking if they’re fathers and inviting them to Dovetail.

“They’re meeting these young men where they are. They’re bringing together men from different cliques, different blocks, but when they’re together as a cohort, they’re all Dovetail dads,” said Chicago Beyond’s Director of Growth Nichole Wilson. “They’re coming together to be there for their kids, and they’re realizing for the first time that they’re not alone.”

Sheldon’s goals for Dovetail transcend race, class and neighborhood; according to him, the problems that fathers face are universal.

“Fatherhood is not just a black issue,” he said. “It’s not a white issue, it’s not a brown issue, it’s not an orange issue. It’s a people issue. It’s a global issue. It’s a national issue. It’s an issue that we all need to pay attention to. It doesn’t matter what color you are, what background you come from, we all have those issues within our family, and family is everything.”

On June 13, the Spring 2019 Dovetail cohort graduated, which marks the fourth cohort since the Dovetail Project and Chicago Beyond partnership started

“You see this room?” said Sheldon at the graduation ceremony. “We call these young men mythbusters. [The Dovetail Project has] been in existence now for 10 years. This is our 20th graduation. We’ve graduated 476 young men. And it’s a major accomplishment. I never thought at the age of 21 when I launched the Dovetail Project that we would be here today at this moment.”

Sheldon also surprised Chicago Beyond with an award to show his appreciation for Chicago Beyond’s investment in fatherhood, and for the approximately $1 million investment made into Dovetail.

“This philanthropic organization believed in the mission and vision of [Dovetail],” he said about Chicago Beyond. “We would not be able to serve as many fathers as we serve, we wouldn’t have the three campuses across the city, we wouldn’t have been able to scale up to 18 staff across the board– none of these things would have happened without that initial investment into our infrastructure.”

In its three years of working with Dovetail, Chicago Beyond has supported four cohorts of young fathers through the program, and partnered with them on strategic initiatives. As Dovetail works to disrupt and change those rotating statistics on its website, Chicago Beyond is excited to enter a new chapter of our partnership with them and find new ways to continue working together to empower young fathers to reach their fullest potential.   

WBEZ: Chicago Beyond Creates Toolkit To Address Research Bias

This interview aired on WBEZ on June 12, 2019

Chicago Beyond has unveiled a new guidebook they say will help make research “more authentic” and equitable by breaking down the power dynamic between funders, researchers and community organizations.

Morning Shift talks to Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, for more on how the toolkit could shape the future of urban research.

GUEST: Liz Dozier, founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond

LEARN MORE: Why Am I Always Being Researched? (Chicago Beyond guidebook)

More from the Morning Shift Podcast


Undoing The Bias Of People Studying Bias
Morning Shift Podcast

When people say there are “two Chicagos”, they’re talking about inequities: the way resources are distributed among schools, the way neighborhoods are policed, grants and other monies given to help small businesses flourish, a difference in city services. A new study documenting many of those inequities, and offering some solutions, has just arrived from the Chicago Urban League. Plus, the researchers and the money people looking to identify and erase inequity are often subject to the very biases they’re trying to eliminate. We’ll talk to one woman who’s recognized it, and is doing something about it.


Chronicle of Philanthropy: 5 Steps Nonprofits Can Take to Make Research More Equitable

This article appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on May 16, 2019 

In the report “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond, the authors call for an “equity-based approach to research.” Since its founding in 2016, Chicago Beyond has given more than $30 million to mostly small Chicago-area charities. 

Here are five steps, adapted from that report, to help nonprofit researchers incorporate the views and experiences of those being studied, whose firsthand experience can often lead to better solutions.

The guidance is written for researchers but also applies to big grant makers, grant recipients, and nonprofits involved in the research.

The way a nonprofit approaches a problem depends on the institution, the kinds of research it uses, and the experience of the researchers.

It’s important to reflect individually or as a group on how biases can flow into the research but it’s also helpful to get the perspective of community members to help you shape the study and come up with the research questions.

Construct timelines with room to build trust among community members, solicit their input, and test the survey.

When the research is complete, think carefully about which numbers and stories you highlight.

Changing your approach to research requires a willingness to break old habits and an openness to new perspectives. Humanizing the research process enables you to find the right fit between purpose and research design.

Here are five ways to make research more equitable.

Build trust. Spend time in the community you will study. Share what motivates your research and what you hope to accomplish. Be willing to share your data as much as possible during the study and after it is published. For many nonprofit managers, the instinct, based on previous experience, is “never give data to someone I don’t really know.”

If you skip this step in the rush to meet a deadline, your results could be flawed.

Share your agenda. Explain how the work fits into your research agenda and discuss the other types of research you conduct. Talk about your intentions for the work and your research institution’s priorities.

Share your previous experiences. Stories from past research can help illustrate how you will work with members of the community and the nonprofits that serve them.

Set goals for the research. Determine a few statements to help your organization “fill in the blanks” at the end of the work, and outline what you hope to achieve in doing so. Not all programs have immediate benefits. Establish methods for determining the benefits your study may have over the long term.

Identify the target audience. Determine whom the study is intended for and which type of data and research design serve your purpose, while placing the least burden on the organization or its participants.

This checklist is adapted from “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” published by Chicago Beyond. Download the full report.

Watch: Moving From Charity to Justice at the Collective Impact Convening

On May 16, 2019, Chicago Beyond’s Founder & CEO Liz Dozier joined the Collective Impact Convening to share a keynote on “Moving from Charity to Justice.” So often, individuals and organizations aiming to do good fall into a trap of doing charity work where the social change work is happening to a community rather than with the community. When collaborations for impact approach the work with that traditional mindset, it can uphold existing power dynamics, structural barriers, and inequities. At the convening, Liz, a former high school principal, shared “how” to shift mindsets and actions from charity to justice work in our communities and introduced “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” as a tool to help guide action. Watch below! 

Who Do You Really See?

Chicago Beyond believes in the importance of mental wellness for young Chicagoans and so much more needs to be done to ensure equitable access to supports for all of Chicago’s youth. Join us at events across Chicago to learn and discuss how trauma & mental health supports are crucial for our city and our youth. Come out and back the fight, learn, and engage with us in conversations throughout the month of May. #WhoDoYouReallySee

MAY 8 Standing Together: A Conversation About Equity Hosted by The Heartland Alliance

7:45AM – 9:45AM  – Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph Street, Claudia Cassidy Theater

Hear a panel of women leaders discuss how gender shapes people’s life opportunities and outcomes and what more we can do to bring about equity and opportunity for all. Chicago Beyond’s Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia will talk specifically about incarcerated women and the trauma that led them to incarceration and the additional trauma they experience while detained. Click here to register.

MAY 14 JPA Premiere Screening of Broken Places, A New Film About Equity

6:30PM – 8:30PM  – Davis Theater, 4614 N. Lincoln Avenue

Watch Broken Places, a film that poses questions about the complex impact of trauma on children and how it effects their lives as adults. Stay for a community discussion with Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia and Karen G. Foley, CEO of Juvenile Protection Agency, as they talk about how everyone can get involved in helping children who experience trauma, abuse and neglect so they can heal and go on to lead productive lives. Click here to register.

MAY 17 UNICEF Unite for Children Summit

10:30AM – TechNexus, 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr #1200

The summit aims to educate and empower anyone who wants to make the world a better place for our children. Join Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia in a panel discussion about how gang violence is claiming children’s lives and causing irreparable trauma in Chicago and worldwide. Find out how you can get involved with what UNICEF and its partners are doing to stop the spread of violence. Click here to register.

MAY 20 Who Do You Really See? A Conversation with Alex Kotlowitz and Liz Dozier

6:00PM – 8:00PM – You Are Beautiful HQ, 3368 N. Elston Avenue

Join Liz Dozier, Founder of Chicago Beyond in conversation with award-winning journalist Alex Kotlowitz about his latest book, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. They will discuss the other side of a Chicago summer for youth living in some of the city’s turbulent neighborhoods, what inspired Kotlowitz to write the book, and stories of the young people he profiled throughout. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Also tour You Are Beautiful’s new space. Click here to register.

Chicago Magazine: The New Do-Gooders

Chicago Magazine: The innovators at these five upstart nonprofits are bringing out-of-the-box thinking to tough problems. And they’re getting results.

This article was featured in the November 2018 issue of Chicago Magazine. By Kim Bellware and Joel Reese. Photo by Ross Feighery.

THE PROBLEM: The do-more-with-less financial reality at many local nonprofits

THE FIX: A startup-style incubator fund

THE BACKSTORY: There’s one word that Liz Dozier wants to banish from descriptions of the nonprofit she started in 2016: charity. “What charities do is set this really unhealthy system of how you’re giving people fish,” Dozier says, alluding to the adage about teaching someone to care for themselves. Rather, she characterizes Chicago Beyond as an incubator-meets-venture-capital fund for community- and justice-focused groups that nurtures them with holistic support including professional development, guidance on strategic planning, and, most important, meaningful financial resources.

The former principal of Christian Fenger Academy High School and a star of CNN’s 2014 docuseries Chicagoland, Dozier knows the impact that deep coffers can have. At Fenger, she injected new life into one of the city’s poorly performing schools with the help of a federal grant totaling $4 million over four years. “Not that I didn’t appreciate a $500 grant,” Dozier says, “but in the grand scheme of things, that’s just a Band-Aid.”

In two years, Chicago Beyond has given $30 million raised by a small group of private donors to 13 local groups that target at-risk youth and young adults. Among them: the Dovetail Project, which provides young black fathers with life-skills training and parenting resources, and Storycatchers Theatre, a musical theater program for kids involved with the court system.

This summer, Chicago Beyond launched an 18-month fellowship for individuals whose research or projects are youth oriented and address community, justice, health, or education issues. The inaugural recipient, Nneka Tapia, the former executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections, will focus on developing strategies for supporting the mental health needs of kids whose parents are in prison.

WHERE YOU COME IN: Volunteer your professional services (such as legal, consulting, communications) to help Chicago Beyond partners by emailing info@chicagobeyond.org.

Chicago Sun-Times: Initiative seeks to interrupt prison pipeline, help kids of incarcerated parents

“Without those supports, we start to see our young people go into these cycles, which makes what we’re doing so critical and imperative.”

This article and video appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on July 9, 2018. 

Ask those fighting intractable violence in some South and West Side Chicago neighborhoods, and they’ll tell you. With resources — education, jobs, mentoring or trauma counseling — youth can transcend any dysfunction.

It’s what activists like the Rev. Michael Pfleger, whose decades-long crusade against violence led to the weekend shut-down of the Dan Ryan, have long hammered.

Two women launching a new volley in that crusade are saying that as well.

But while naysayers might argue with solutions demanded by others, there’s no arguing with Liz Dozier, former principal of Fenger High School, and Nneka Jones Tapia, former executive director of the Cook County Department of Corrections, who have walked the path of the youth they are now targeting and climbed to professional peaks.

“Our primary focus is on children with incarcerated parents. That comes from my personal experience, as well as what I saw day in and day out at that jail,” Jones Tapia said.

The clinical psychologist was recently selected to head the inaugural “Leadership Venture” program of Dozier’s two-year-old organization, Chicago Beyond. It involves research and implementation of best practices supporting mental health of children of the incarcerated.

Statistically, some 2.7 million children nationally are separated from parents in prison, with one in nine African-American children separated from incarcerated parents, vs. one in 17 white children.

“The demand is so great,” said Jones Tapia, who as a child was separated from a father who did several prison stints for drugs.

“Those numbers are just the prison population. A lot of work is being done in prisons, but little is being done in jails. We don’t really know how many children are impacted by jail incarceration.”

Jones Tapia, who was warden at Cook County Jail until resigning in March for field work, is charged over the next 18 months with investigating the programs and capacity of organizations serving such youth, to help expand successful models and develop new ones to fill unmet need.

“It’s essentially a fellowship on steroids,” said Dozier, who left the Chicago Public Schools in 2015 to lead the organization supported by private investors, which funds organizations focused on youth education and safety, then partners with them to help them grow.

“Our Leadership Venture is an opportunity for an incredible leader to have not just monetary resources, but the full resources of Chicago Beyond behind them, to work on a problem that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention,” she said.

Chicago Beyond has invested $30 million in 12 community groups to date, partnering with the University of Chicago Urban Labs and other research organizations to measure impact, and share and expand best practices.

The Leadership Venture will now also fund the youth work of innovative individuals.

This first project is personal. Until the age of 5, Dozier too was separated from a father in prison, and drug addiction would take him out of her life again at age 13.

“My first memory of him is driving down with my mom to Joliet on weekends to see him. It wasn’t until he was released that I got to experience what it was like to have two parents in the home. Before that, I thought everybody visited a family member in prison on weekends,” she said.

“But I had my mom, my grandmother and my uncle, who provided this like wrap-around support,” added the educator who was thrust into the national spotlight in 2009 with the fatal beating of 16-year-old Derrion Albert outside Fenger, a video that went viral and brought the city and its school district international notoriety.

But it also brought a four-year federal grant that helped the new, young principal turn the school around — the drop-out rate going from 19 percent to 2 percent, and the graduation rate from 30 percent to 80 percent — in her six-year tenure.

“A lot of my students had parents who were incarcerated, but not every child had that family support. I saw firsthand the sense of loss that can be coupled with depression, sense of shame. There’s all these things that can be residuals,” she said.

“Without those supports, we start to see our young people go into these cycles, which makes what we’re doing so critical and imperative,” Dozier added.

And it’s those cycles that feed the school-to-prison pipeline, said Jones Tapia, who spent 11 1/2 years in the county corrections division. Sheriff Tom Dart drew national attention in appointing her warden in 2015, underscoring his complaint the jail had become “the largest mental hospital in the country.”

“The very people Liz was helping in their younger years, I saw matriculating into the criminal justice system,” Jones Tapia said.

“Any time we separate children from families, it’s traumatic to say the least. So building a strong support system for those youth is critically important, as is maintaining an ongoing bond with the incarcerated parent,” she said.

“While my father was incarcerated, my mother had to work two and three jobs. But I had the support of that village, and thankfully, my mom made sure we maintained that connection with my dad. With those two things, you can overcome many obstacles. So today, we’re saying to those youth, ‘You’re not alone. Many people want to see you succeed. We’re here. And we’re coming.’ ”

Crain’s Chicago Business: Chicago Beyond Awards $1.66 Million to Lawndale Christian Legal Center

This article appeared in Chicago Business on December 5, 2017. 

Chicago Beyond, the venture philanthropy fund launched by former Fenger Academy High School principal Liz Dozier, will invest $1.66 million in Lawndale Christian Legal Center, a nonprofit that provides high-quality legal defense and social services to young people facing legal charges. The investment, to be made over three years, will help the center serve more young people a year and align Chicago Beyond as a strategic partner. The center, founded in 2010, has helped 650 young people in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

The legal center is the winner of Chicago Beyond’s second Go Innovate Challenge, the winners of which receive funding and operational support from Chicago Beyond.

“Chicago Beyond recognizes the disproportionate burden of arrest and incarceration faced by youth of color and is driven by the need for more intervention and diversion opportunities in Chicago and nationwide,” Dozier, CEO of Chicago Beyond, said in today’s press release announcing the investment.

“This partnership with Chicago Beyond is a game-changer,” Cliff Nellis, founder, executive director and lead attorney of Lawndale Christian Legal Center, said in the release. “With their investment, we will not only be able to provide more youth with community-based holistic legal services, we will also be able to more deeply evaluate and expand our unique program model.”

Chicago Beyond uses nonprofit professions as well as people from the communities it serves to help select challenge winners. This year, Zach Strother, a Chicago police officer and Beverly resident, served on the 19-person committee. Strother met Dozier at Fenger, when he was a counselor for the Becoming a Man mentoring program, and accepted her invitation to serve on the selection committee.

Strother attended four or five committee meetings and read material submitted by the 200-plus nonprofits that entered the Go Innovate Challenge. Strother says his experience led the group to include in its recommendations an Englewood-based community center. “I know if you can reach a child at a young age, at 10 or 11, that’s huge,” says Strother, noting that he was speaking as a private citizen, not as a police officer. “You can change their thinking process.”

People like Strother add a measure of reality to the process, says Dozier. “If we are trying to impact young people, we have to have people from the community at the table, with a real voice,” she says. The committee also includes executives from last year’s Go Innovate winners, educators and local elected officials.

The selection committee makes recommendations, and Dozier and Chicago Beyond executives pick the winner. “I’m OK with that,” says Strother, adding that “it would be great to be part of” the voting process.

During her six years at Fenger, Dozier raised private money to support the school and improved the graduation rate to 80 percent from 30 percent. She left in June 2015 and launched Chicago Beyond in April 2016. She declines to name the private philanthropists who support the fund.

In addition to investing in nonprofit organizations, Chicago Beyond works with University of Chicago Urban Labs to study the organizations’ effectiveness.

Inside Philanthropy: Got an Idea and a Camera Phone? This Venture Philanthropy Fund Is Interested

This article appeared in Inside Philanthropy on June 27, 2017. 

Last fall, we highlighted a new philanthropic venture fund called Chicago Beyond that was created by a former high school principal, Liz Dozier, to fund early-stage ideas to improve opportunity for young Chicagoans. Back then, three Chicago nonprofits secured about $3 million in grants as part of a competitive challenge. The winners earned Chicago Beyond’s support for efforts involving young fathers, at-risk high school seniors, and research into ongoing program effectiveness.

While Chicago Beyond is a venture fund rather than a traditional grant-making foundation, it’s been interesting to watch it evolve from year one to year two. It moved millions through four large programs as part of its Go Together initiative, which was all about personalized learning, college success, high-risk students, and summer opportunities for teens. When announcing its second annual Innovation Challenge, Chicago Beyond emphasized its focus on youth safety and educational attainment.

Liz Dozier also announced the new opportunity with a little help from Chance the Rapper, who has suddenly started making waves in the Chicago philanthropy scene in a big way, as we’ve reported. This music star is getting involved with all sorts of local groups lately, and is helping funders of all shapes and sizes make giving back seem more hip and sexy.

The second-year challenge is called Go Innovate, and it was designed to support transformative programs, ideas and approaches with the potential to improve the lives of young Chicagoans. It’s a bit vague, but in its second year, the group is still pretty open to whatever ideas come its way. Once again, the geographic focus of this group is very tight and strictly focused on the city. But what’s different about this grant opportunity is that it demands a tech-savvy approach.

Interested grant-seekers have to submit a 90-second video to pitch their ideas and compete for grants. Apparently, all you need is a killer idea and a camera phone, because there’s no initial paperwork or forms to fuss with. Ultimately, the winners will get up to $2 million each.

Chicago Beyond is open to well-established nonprofits and newer groups with early-stage programs right now. However, there’s an eligibility requirement that your nonprofit must have a three-year history or experience working with a group that has been around that long. 

Past areas of interest for Chicago Beyond include youth summer jobs, helping violently injured youth heal physically and emotionally, and justice-focused storytelling for youth. Unsurprisingly, Chicago’s south and west sides have been heavily targeted.

In you’re thinking that this grant-making sounds a bit scattershot or gimmicky, it’s worth mentioning that Chicago Beyond says it’s keen to learn from its grant-making. It has partnered with the University of Chicago Urban Labs to assess the impact of its investments. It says about this outfit: “They pair rigorous scientific evaluation methods and expert analysis to ensure our investments maximize the good we do for young people across our city.” Let’s hope this evaluation work is shared publicly, so everyone can learn from it. 

You can learn all the details about Chicago Beyond’s Go Innovate challenge here. It all starts with a minute-and-a-half video, but selected applicants will need to submit a more detailed response about their ideas. The new Go Innovate challenge recipients will be awarded with their grants this December.  

Aspen Institute: Believing in Justice and Opportunity on the Streets of Chicago

This article and video appeared in The Aspen Institute on June 26, 2017. 

My passion is human rights. While some may associate the lack of human rights with far-flung dictatorships like North Korea, we all know human rights can be denied anywhere. It can happen right in our own backyard. And I’ve seen it up close on the streets of Chicago. As the former principal of Fenger High School, I was confronted every day by the struggle for basic human rights — for justice and opportunity for all through education, access, and safety.

Fenger was the intersection of every failure we’ve perpetrated as a society: fractured family units, lack of funding, and plain old neglect. But every one of those students was a microcosm of possibility to me, and our days were filled with turning the tides that enveloped our kids. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I lost students. And by lost, I mean they were shot, and killed, in the streets. But I didn’t want to forget them.  As a leader, I wanted their memories to fuel better actions, and better decisions. So, I would say their names out loud every morning to remember.

Micah. Shamari. Derrion. Fred. Lee. Marquel.

Marquel was one of my students who I met at the start of his 9th grade year.  Tall and lanky, Marquel stuck out. He was a bit of a court jester — with the flip of a hat or a clever joke he created humor and energy, but not always at the best times. He began having issues in class, and I was drawn to him, and wanted to know the source. Issues in class devolved into gang affiliation, a gun charge, and an arrest. Ultimately, we visited his home, and it became clear that there were substantive challenges there.

We can, though the greatest gesture and the smallest moment, create the just world we should live in.

Marquel wound up on probation, where he actually flourished. The structure, the boundaries, the attention and check-ins helped him to become grounded and more successful. He was still the court jester, but he was able to engage with his environment in a positive way. So, when the court decided to end probation, I was apprehensive, and tried to influence them to continue keeping a watchful eye on Marquel. But his probation ended and it wasn’t long before he began acting out. Not silly anymore, but more aggressive, missing school and creating chaos in the hallways. I passed him on one occasion and we connected briefly. I gave him the “side eye.”  He looked right in my eyes, and put his head down. He knew how I felt, and he was disappointed in himself.

The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital. Marquel was shot in the head. He was alone in that room. There was nothing I could do to change that last interaction, that last look between us.  How I wished I could go back and treat him with more empathy, more humanity. Every one of our actions has the potential to empower, or heal. Nothing made that clearer than my impotence in that hospital room. We can, though the greatest gesture and the smallest moment, create the just world we should live in.

The barriers to success for young people like Marquel don’t exist due to a lack of care or love for our city, our children, and their futures. In fact, there are hundreds of people and organizations across Chicago that employ programs and strategies dedicated to improving life trajectories for young people. But they need help.

I came to Chicago Beyond with a deep and personal desire to champion justice and human rights for the young people of Chicago. I’ve seen too many stories like Marquel’s.

So, we set out to create justice by funding innovative, disruptive ideas that change the human rights narrative of Chicago. We decided to be a partner and an advocate — to not only supply investment and funding, but also to learn from and work together with innovative nonprofits to grow their programs and ideas. We wanted to not only move the field of knowledge forward but also improve life outcomes for more young Chicagoans. In the end, our mission is to help them achieve their missions.

We do it through programs like Storycatchers, one of our first innovation challenge winners, that breaks the cycle of incarceration through theater and storytelling. Because we know 90 percent of young people that are incarcerated will return to incarceration in five years or less, Storycatchers is disruptive and gets them back to school, to work, and to life. With a $1 million investment, our research partnership with Storycatchers’ Changing Voices program is testing how they support court-involved youth to help them successfully re-enter society by connecting them with a job.

We need to do more to give young people the chance to see life beyond their block.

Changing Voices has seen success time and time again and they believe their program is moving the needle for this incredibly at-risk population. But in order for the program to grow, they need proof that it works. If proven effective, our study with Storycatchers could give them the evidence they need to secure additional funding, create more meaningful employment opportunities and reduce inmate populations by decreasing recidivism on a statewide level.

The young people of Storycatchers are about tapping potential — giving young people who want and can do better an opportunity by investing in them and what they can be.

And that’s important, because it’s a most critical and fundamental human right for our children: the freedom and the opportunity to pursue their potential, to push their capabilities, and realize their possibilities. In Chicago, and elsewhere, we’re failing in providing that opportunity. We need to do more to give young people the chance to see life beyond their block, beyond their immediate situation.

As a high school principal, I saw so many students whose futures were unclear at best. They came from fractured families, endured tragedies and hardships. Many were fighting just to survive. I saw firsthand how education and safety are sides of the same coin.

We need to do more to harness the drive and ambition these kids have. And we need to recognize that many of the established structures for helping these young people are not working. So we cannot be afraid of new ideas, of change. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the stories of those still awaiting justice.

At Chicago Beyond, when we talk about “breaking the status quo,” that’s what we mean. To achieve justice, to create opportunity and possibility, we have to be disruptors. We have to be innovators. We have to be believers.