Investments in education and workforce development in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods will help stem the city’s rampant violence, according to Chicago Urban League CEO Shari Runner.
“We feel very strongly that if that’s done strategically and done well, that the violence that we’re seeing now will start to diminish,” Runner told WBEZ.
The Chicago Urban League, a civil rights organization that tackles segregation and racism in the city, is one year into its 10-year plan titled Blueprint for a More Equitable Chicago.
Runner, who’s served as the organization’s president and CEO since 2016, spoke with WBEZ South Side reporter Natalie Moore about how Chicago’s violence is a symptom of communities in need. Below are highlights from their conversation.
On the ‘monumental’ task of reducing Chicago’s violence
Shari Runner: When you listen to people talking about what kind of violence and the amount of violence that we see here in the city of Chicago — as compared to some of our cities who would be parallel to us, like New York and Los Angeles — the job is monumental. And we have to think about how we start to make a dent in that. And obviously in the last year, we really haven’t made much of a change.
On educational investment as a solution
Runner: I'm really gratified to see someone like Janice Jackson being promoted to the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. I think she’s got the background and the training with which we can start to think strategically about how we manage our schools.
But I think it’s really important to connect the failure of our school system to the violence that we’re seeing. While the graduation rate is going up, the fact of the matter is most of those kids are not prepared with the college readiness and job readiness that they need in order to succeed and thrive.
And so, as we flip forward to those people who have come through CPS who maybe have not been able to afford the things that they need to in order to survive, the next piece of this is: How do we train them? How do we get them skills-ready? And remediate what they needed to have when they came out of school so that they can now start to participate in the economy that is growing in Chicago?
We know that there are lots of jobs going unfilled, so how do we connect those two things?
On Chicago’s shrinking black population
Runner: We know that one of the biggest issues that we face in terms of doing this work is that the population of African-Americans in Chicago is dropping dramatically. How we look at the statistics and what they mean — as that population starts to dwindle — is something that’s really important to us.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. It was adapted for the web by producer Justin Bull. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.