Meet Chicago’s First-Ever Chief Equity Officer | WBEZ
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Meet Chicago’s First-Ever Chief Equity Officer

A few days before Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave her inaugural speech in May, she announced something new was coming: The Office of Equity and Racial Justice and a new chief equity officer whose job it would be to bring an equity lens to policymaking.

The new cabinet-level position focuses on examining systemic racism that exists in Chicago and figuring out policies to help correct those racial disparities. 

The city’s first-ever chief equity officer stops by the Morning Shift after one month on the job. 

What has the first month of your job looked like? 

Candace Moore: Equity officers, which there are these positions that are cropping up around the country in different cities, really look at the outcomes and the practices and the services of different departments within the city to really examine what ways are we contributing to the inequity that continues to exist … and then what are we going to do about it … that will work to both reduce those disparities but really address historical wrongs and harms that have happened in communities.

Jenn White: What are the first steps you have to take to begin to assess where those inequities exist and the systems that support those inequities?

Moore: In a lot of ways, my first step is understanding — building understanding, researching understanding, how the departments work, what’s going on.

But a big part of this work initially is about normalizing the conversation around race. It’s a really difficult conversation. And that’s not just true for government, that’s true for all society.

White: And is normalizing that conversation something you’re focused on in City Hall, or is it about expanding that conversation to the rest of the city?

Moore: It’s sort of a both/and. It’s certainly about City Hall, it’s certainly about supporting city employees with the language, with the frameworks, to understand how to engage in these conversations. But it’s not just the responsibility of City Hall. We also have to have that conversation in our communities.

On the structure of the Office of Equity and Racial Justice

Moore: A month in and we are really at the beginning of building it out. When you look across the country, which is a lot of what I’ve been doing so far, the staff is usually not huge. Some caveats is that Chicago represents one of the largest jurisdictions to take on this work, so there’s a question mark about how many staff we really need to do this work.

But there’s a danger in believing that the office is where you go to get racial equity work done. It really is about supporting our department and our existing work to get the work done. And so, in that way, when you look at work teams and leadership teams around racial equity, they utilize the existing infrastructure, the existing employees, because the work is about infusing this work into the existing work the city’s engaged in.

White: When you’re talking about equity, what does success look like? How do you measure that?

Moore: That’s a really important question and a somewhat difficult one, quite honestly, to answer. The way I conceptualize equity is really paying attention to not just the outcomes, not just that we reduce the disparities, but what is our process to get there? Who are we engaging? How are we sharing our decision-making with communities, especially those who have been most impacted, to ensure that they have what they need to be successful?

And so, the measurement is, yes, the outcomes — are we closing gaps? Are we getting more services to communities that have been historically disconnected? But also, how are we doing the work? Do we have more authentic partnerships? Are we thinking about who is engaging with us as we make these decisions?

On engaging communities in solving the city's most pressing issues

Moore: It actually has to start with some fundamental understanding of, 'What are some of our challenges?' And for some folks, they’ll roll their eyes a little bit when I say it’s training work and it’s bringing folks in to have these kinds of conversations and get strong. But that’s absolutely what we’re talking about. We are talking about needing to support people with the conversation, really being able to air some of these things out. So practically, there’s training work to do … us exploring different models of how we think about community engagement.

There are different ways we might engage communities for different issues … so really thinking about this as an art. This is an art and this is a science that can allow us to tap into the promise of different kinds of outcomes, improved outcomes for our city.

White: When you think about some of the biggest challenges the city is facing right now, and how they intersect with systemic racism, what are those issues you feel need to be tackled right away?

Moore: I come from a background around education … one of the biggest things I saw in education is that many of the challenges that we were experiencing in education came from issues we were having in housing… in public safety … around economics.

Some of the first things I’m thinking about is really beginning to understand how these things are connected and what is the support and what are the initial conversations that we need to be having that people actually begin to fundamentally understand how some of these things are connected because that will impact how they show up in practice. There are tools like the Racial Equity Impact Assessment that ask, ‘What are the benefits and burdens of a policy that we’re going to put on?’ 

On integrating the work so it becomes a permanent part of city government 

Moore: I think a key thing there is to invest in the infrastructure that is government, to think about our departments as it is your responsibility to do this work. We are going to support you in owning that responsibility, building up your capacity to do this work. But this isn't about just pushing out work in one office. It is about helping out every single department in our city get there, and I think that's what makes it long-term. 

We have a responsibility to support those departments to do work that's really important and really think about the practices, not just the people. It is important to have the right people, but there are practices that move and create the exact outputs that we see right now regardless of who is there. And that's the work we have to look at — what are the policies and practices that creates this condition?

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity by Stephanie Kim. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.

GUEST: Candace Moore, Chief Equity Officer for the City of Chicago

LEARN MORE: Mayor-elect Lightfoot Names Candace Moore As City’s First Chief Equity Officer (Lori Lightfoot for Chicago 5/15/19)

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot Names Lawyer As Chief Equity Officer (Chicago Sun-Times 5/15/19)

Cities Are Hiring A New Kind Of CEO (Governing 5/30/19)

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