Transforming Our Region: How Racial Healing Is Part of the Journey 

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How does transformation happen in a city like Chicago? A city where a third of Black households and a quarter of Latinx households have zero net worth. A city where its Black population may shrink from 1.2 million to 665,000 by 2030. A city where the widest racial gap in economic mobility exists, ranking last out of the 50 largest U.S. cities. Transformation is possible with programs and policies explicitly designed to address the racial and ethnic wealth gap at the household, neighborhood, and community levels. However, we will not successfully achieve this change unless we acknowledge the history that led us here and make a deliberate commitment to healing.

In 2019, The Chicago Community Trust revamped its strategic plan to tackle the wealth gap between Latinx, Black, and white households in the Chicago metropolitan area. If we make strides toward this goal, we can course-correct our current trajectory. We see the wealth gap as the root of the city’s most pressing social issues.

The need for reconciliation and historical reckoning is often overlooked but the key to long-term success. To transform our communities into places where equity, opportunity, and prosperity are realities for everyone, we need to hear, absorb, and honor people’s experiences and feelings. We need to deal with the things people are dealing with, including people’s guilt, to realize the goals we are trying to accomplish.

The late Archibishop Desmond Tutu often remarked on the gut-wrenching pain he experienced leading South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as he heard people’s stories of the inhumanity of apartheid. And, yet, that truth-telling had a significant impact on people’s willingness to build a society together. If our goal is to do that, we need to heal those wounds that prevent people from being able to think about themselves in a more holistic way.

This is why the Trust is now home to Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) of Greater Chicago. TRHT has spearheaded a movement to address the impact of racism, both past and present, through candid conversations known as racial healing circles. Over the last two years, it has organized more than 800 circles for individuals to share their stories. A strategic alliance between the Trust and TRHT will advance the transformation we both seek for a better future for our region.

TRHT is a comprehensive, national, and community-based process to plan for and bring about transformational and sustainable change. The initiative was launched in 2017 by Dr. Gail Christopher at the Kellogg Foundation. According to Christopher, TRHT is a “unique process designed to reflect, embrace, and address the unprecedented diversity and unparalleled racialized history of the United States.” Narrative Change and Racial Healing and Relationship Building are foundational pillars of the TRHT Framework. The transformation model focuses on overcoming the legacy of segregation and structured barriers to economic opportunities to ensure equitable access to health, education and jobs, and recommending solutions to discriminatory civil and criminal laws and public policies. Chicago is one of 22 cities nationwide with a version of this initiative. At The Trust, we envision a social design that connects the TRHT framework to policy and system reform. It will challenge us to maintain our pursuit as an institution known as a changemaker rather than just a grantmaker.

The Trust has previously awarded resources to support TRHT and committed to raising funds to match an endowment grant from the Kellogg Foundation. In addition to being the fiscal sponsor to the TRHT team, we will continue to make an annual commitment to support the operating budget. While housed at the Trust, TRHT will remain a community-driven operation, overseen by a leadership council made up of nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, healing circle practitioners, artists, and community organizers.

While the wealth gap is often viewed as a matter of dollars and cents, it’s equally a matter of the heart and mind. If we tracked racism’s impact in America, the debt is too high to count—and the emotional toll is incalculable. The TRHT framework is designed to acknowledge that toll and to repair trust. The path to equity includes each of the framework’s components, active in equal measure, to accomplish any meaningful reform.

The act of racial healing is complex, imperfect, and deeply emotional. But it’s essential to create opportunities where we advance programs, forge coalitions, and inform policies that envision a level of prosperity for each person. This is the Trust and TRHT’s collective call to action. Together, let’s make more spaces for everyone to bear witness of the past and of what is possible.