To celebrate Black History Month, the Trust will be spotlighting Black leaders and Black-serving organizations that have contributed to the betterment of the Chicago region – past and present. Check back throughout the month for more profiles.
Kim Casey is a seasoned professional in the nonprofit and social impact sector, with expertise in strategic thinking and implementation to bring about organizational, technical, and service enhancements. She has led change across the organizations she has worked at, with a career that includes leadership roles at organizations like Forefront, UCAN, and Chicago United. She has an extensive background in diversity, equity, and inclusion engagement that has led to her building successful relationships with leaders in both public and private sectors and communities. She has also served on many boards that strive towards social change and recently became the vice-chair for African American Legacy.
She joined Liz Weber, content specialist for the Trust, for an interview to discuss why she enjoys helping others, the importance of DEI work, and drawing inspiration from Harriet Tubman.
Liz Weber: You have had a notable career in the nonprofit and social service sector. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to work in these sectors?
Kim Casey: I’m a servant leader. I like helping people and connecting the dots between people to organizations, and organizations to communities. Where I choose to work depends on the mission of the organization—I am very mission-driven. I have worked with and for organizations that serve the African American community, small diverse businesses and women and children. There is a resource and opportunity disparity among those groups, so I prefer to spend my personal and professional time working to positively change the disparities.
LW: You have served on a number of nonprofits board, including for Black-serving organizations like African American Legacy and the Young Professional Auxiliary of the Chicago Urban League. Why is this type of board service important to you?
KC: Well, I think many of those organizations have been under-resourced and overlooked for so long that when people say, “I want to be on a board,” those aren’t the boards that people tend to choose. When we think about where we can make the greatest impact for the lives of people in communities that are living at the fringes, or maybe they’re living in food deserts or they’re housing insecure, then we have to think about organizations that are actually in relationship and in community with the people that we’re actually trying to serve.
LW: You have a lot of experience with DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives? Why is this work so important?
KC: Because that’s the unspoken glue that’s going to keep us together. In the last couple of years, post-George Floyd, there’s been a charge towards DEI. But now going into the third year after Floyd’s death, we need to ask,“Okay, we had a lot of activity, but have we changed any outcomes?”
We as a society do a great job going to a workshop and checking the box. What we don’t do a good job on is having civil conversations about things that matter to us that are hard to talk about. I feel like DEI, when done correctly, allows for divergent perspectives to be shared in a productive way that benefits everybody. Authentic relationships can be made, better decisions can be imagined, and new ways of being in community can be realized.
LW: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Chicago, particularly for the Black community?
KC: One of the reasons why I joined AAL’s board was because that was their focus—empowering the Black community, empowering the organizations that serve the Black community, and ensuring that not only are Black residents surviving, but they are also thriving. And no matter your zip code we all are prepared and can access the same opportunities. My hope is that we can create a Chicago where children and families can live in different zip codes and have the resources that they need to be successful.
LW: In the spirit of Black History Month, are there any leaders or icons, past or present, who inspire you?
KC: Harriet Tubman, without a doubt. We share the same birthday. She was a warrior. She was committed to saving people. She put her life on the line to save others. I think about myself sometimes in that I put other people first, sometimes to my own detriment. I’m learning to say no and to balance my sense of duty to others and self-care. This warrior spirit always has me thinking about, “What would this mean for somebody else? And if I have this opportunity, how can I create a platform for others to have that same type of opportunity?”