The Chicago Urban League is launching a 10-year effort to save Chicago communities that have been devastated by neglect. The “Blueprint for an Equitable Chicago” includes improving education, jobs prospects and economic development among black Chicagoans.
We sat down with Urban League CEO Shari Runner to dig into the Urban League’s goals. She says attacking symptoms, like violent crime, isn’t enough—change will come from addressing the underlying issues.
This plan focuses on 19 Chicago communities that are racially concentrated areas of poverty—they’re segregated. What concrete goals do you have for these neighborhoods by 2026?
We’re looking at educational improvements and outcomes, we’re looking at job creation, and we’re looking at wealth creation.
We’re trying to increase the youth employment rates by 30 percent. Our youth are up to 47 percent unemployment. In younger ages, between 16 and 19, almost 88 percent unemployed. That leads to things that create opportunities for people to engage in high risk activities as a way of earning money.
You’re not the first to say these neighborhoods need better schools, better jobs and more investment. But there are Chicago institutions that are still prolonging the legacy of segregation today. How do you combat that?
It’s important to say it. We’ve sort of been dancing around it— we’ve allowed a lot of things to occur that are at a crisis, a boiling point. So we need to have some hard conversations and it starts with race. What are we doing to impede the success of African Americans in the city?
How will some of the goals in this blueprint directly impact violent crime?
I think that the violent crime is a symptom of what’s not going right in the community. It’s lack of education, lack of opportunity, lack of jobs. It’s lack of investment in the community and those communities being overrun, and disinvested in, and actually disenfranchised throughout the city, [that] creates an environment where some kinds of violent lifestyles are the only opportunity to make money.
We have been fighting symptoms for a long, long time. We’ve allowed a lot of what’s going on in our community to explode and really not focusing on the root causes of those symptoms. We want to draw a line in the sand.
There’s no dollar figure attached to this blueprint, but how much could this effort cost?
I can’t give you a dollar figure, but I do know that it would cost a lot.
The non-profit community has to get involved and provide funding. But I also think there’s a corporate community that needs to be involved as well, because not only are the people who’re involved with what we’re trying to do their next workforce, but they’re also their consumers. I would behoove everybody to think about how we support this part of our community.