Since coming to Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust a little over a year ago, I have been spending a lot of time listening and learning about Chicago and the work of the Trust. In talking to a wide range of people from diverse communities and civic, nonprofit, business and government sectors, I heard a couple of consistent themes. First, in its 103 years, the Trust has been a powerful force in the region, touching nearly every major civic project. However, it can do more to have even greater, more focused impact. Second, Chicago’s biggest challenges are rooted in social and economic inequity.
Over the last few months, the Trust, including its board, has been engaged in developing a strategic vision that responds to that feedback by concentrating on having more focused, long-term impact in addressing the issue of inequity. Drawing from data about the greatest challenges to the Chicago region, we narrowed our focus on the economic inequity that increasingly impacts economic growth in the region overall.
Here in Chicago, as in much of the country, this economic inequity is linked to decades-long racial inequity, and well-respected organizations have researched its impact. In the report by the Metropolitan Planning Council, The Cost of Segregation, the data indicate that the cost of the racial and economic inequity in the region is $8 billion a year in gross domestic product. Furthermore, there are large wealth gaps between White residents and Black or Latinx residents. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, in the Chicago region, for every $100 in White family wealth, Black families hold only $10.29 and Latinx families hold $12.11—a nearly ten-fold difference. Also, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently released its long-term regional plan, ON TO 2050, that focuses on the need for greater economic equity as a requirement for economic growth in this region. That report says our region’s economic progress has “stalled,” lagging well behind growth in other big American cities, and a major reason is the economic disparity here between Whites and people of color, especially African Americans.
These gaps are expected to become even more severe if we don’t act. This will create a region with residents who are increasingly economically and socially separate, and a region that is unable to compete nationally or globally.
Therefore, the Trust has committed to the strategic goal of closing the racial wealth gap in Chicago. By focusing on closing this wealth gap, we hope to have an impact on economic inequity as well as the major problems it creates such as violence, lack of access to education and poor health.
In order to accomplish this goal and maintain our commitment to a thriving, vibrant region, the Trust has also set three other supporting goals as priorities:
- We will build social capital or tighter bonds within and across communities. This means we will strengthen and connect resources and networks that, taken together, can make communities more resilient and able to unite around positive change.
- We will help strengthen the social impact sector—those organizations across government, business and nonprofits that strive, every day, to find better, more innovative solutions for change in society.
- And, as part of our constant commitment to the region, we will continue to grow the amount of philanthropy committed to Chicago and, importantly, connect generous donors to the programs and people working to have greater equity in the Chicagoland region.
To make sure that the Trust delivers on these goals, we will continue to deepen our engagement with communities. We will work to balance short-term benefits with longer-term goals, and we will work on creating more systemic change.
This is the overall plan we will use to identify our specific actions over the next several months. Already, internal teams have been formed to further develop these goals, and they will continue to listen, engage stakeholders and plot the course forward. We anticipate that this work will be completed by early this summer. We welcome and want input. We want to hear about opportunities that are in line with these goals. We want to hear your ideas.
As we continue to sharpen our focus and create lasting change, we look forward to working with you on this important journey.