The Chicago region is at an inflection point: As we near the end of this tough year and our focus turns to economic recovery, it’s time to rewrite our “tale of two cities” as a unified success narrative. To ensure Black and Latinx communities recover from the economic impact of COVID on pace with white communities—the only way our region will achieve its full potential—the Trust is spearheading an unprecedented coalition effort, Together We Rise: For an Equitable and Just Recovery.
Together We Rise is uniting philanthropy, business, government, nonprofits and communities to ensure metropolitan Chicago builds back stronger than we started at the pandemic’s onset.
“When COVID-19 hit, the Trust worked with the philanthropic community to launch the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, to get money out the door quickly and into the hands of nonprofits meeting daily, immediate, urgent needs,” said Joan Garvey Lundgren, senior director of resource development at the Trust. “Soon after launching the response fund we realized that COVID was going to have a very long tail—even if we didn’t and still don’t know how long. It’s a health crisis with severe economic impacts.”
The initiative aims to avoid repeating history: Many Black and Latinx communities never fully recovered from the Great Recession and these same communities have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Almost three-quarters of Chicago residents who have died from COVID-19 were Black or Latinx. At the same time, 60 percent of Black households in Chicago and 72 percent of Latinx households recently reported having “serious” financial problems—compared with 36 percent of white households in the city.
“The pandemic and the economic and racial injustices we’ve witnessed this year didn’t give birth to new problems. They just revealed pre-existing inequities—they were fuel thrown upon a smoldering fire that’s been burning for a long time,” said Michael Davidson, the Trust’s senior director of community impact. “Together We Rise is doing the work that our region has needed to do for many years—and tackling in what we hope is a pivotal way the issues that are on the minds and agendas of many, including the Trust.”
Together We Rise is making change in three interconnected ways:
- A philanthropic fund for making catalytic grants and investments;
- Galvanizing the private sector to adopt equitable business practices; and
- Identifying public policy and systems changes to achieve and sustain results that advance equity in metropolitan Chicago.
The fund has been largely seeded with initial donations from Chicago’s philanthropic community, but it is a way for all who care about Chicago to support an equitable recovery. Since launching in early October, the Together We Rise fund has received donations ranging from $25.00 to over $10 million. Anyone interested in learning more about Together We Rise can sign up at www.cct.org/togetherwerise.
While companies are pledging significant dollars to the fund, a hallmark of this effort is that many companies are also taking an important next step of rethinking their own business decisions, said Garvey Lundgren.
“In this political climate, companies are leaning into certain values and then being held accountable by their customers, shareholders and employees,” said Garvey Lundgren. We’re talking with corporate leaders who want to reconsider their hiring practices, supply chain commitments, capital investments and lending decisions to bring opportunity to traditionally disinvested areas. The Trust is here to help companies be as impactful as they say they want to be.”
While Together We Rise aligns with the Trust’s core work streams, such as Catalyzing Neighborhood Investment which Davidson leads, the initiative is aimed at addressing the specific impacts of the COVID recession on hardest-hit communities. Together We Rise will focus on a few key priorities that are critical to a lasting economic turnaround, including increasing employment, strengthening small businesses and spurring catalytic development in disinvested neighborhoods.
The Together We Rise fund will make its first illustrative set of grants this winter. A Steering Committee comprised of leadership from philanthropy, community and business is coming together, and will finalize the grantmaking process with a new executive director.
While Together We Rise will fund initiatives led by a range of partners, successful Trust-funded initiatives will help inform it, said Davidson. For example, Together We Rise could grant gap financing to close a commercial development deal in a chronically disinvested neighborhood—bringing sorely needed jobs and brick-and-mortar opportunities for local entrepreneurs, while also improving local property values and making future investments more attractive to lenders.
“We support the many activities required for a community to be ready to steward and receive capital for a deal, and Together We Rise could provide the dollars to close it,” Davidson said. “We’ll continue that work while Together We Rise gives us the necessary boost that shows a community things are really beginning to change.”
To learn more about Together We Rise and to donate, visit www.cct.org/togetherwerise/