Thursday, July 18, 2019

Invigorate Chicagoland's Public Institutions

The third and final pillar of the Democracy Program’s strategy centers on invigorating public institutions with an emphasis on inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability to Chicagoland residents (see previous posts on youth civic engagement and local journalism).

By inclusive we mean representative and considering the needs and interests of Chicagoland’s diverse communities. Transparency entails a presumption of and deep commitment to full public access to information pertinent to public policy and governance. Accountability relates to institutions’ prioritizing public trust and responsibly using information from the media, watchdog groups, and the public at large to improve performance.

Chicago City Hall

We believe that local institutions will produce policies, governance, and constituent services shaped by, and responsive to the region’s diverse communities by developing high-capacity civic leaders. Also critical to this end is improving the transparency and accountability of public institutions. Finally, we must deepen Chicagoland residents’ participation and representation in democratic processes and ensure inclusion of underrepresented communities through both policy and practice.

We seek to develop civic leaders representative of the communities they serve, who cultivate constituent participation in elections and public policy, and advocate for and implement inclusive policies. Currently, the Democracy Program is evaluating the extent to which existing civic leadership programs meet these goals. Ideally, public institutions will develop leaders internally, prioritizing public accessibility, responsiveness to constituents, and construction of inclusive policies.

In our efforts to ensure accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of public institutions, we partner with organizations that possess deep knowledge of government practice, paired with authentic forms of community engagement, to empower civic action.

Turning to efforts to deepen participation and inclusion in public institutions, we currently have investments in three priority areas: expanding Chicagoland residents’ participation and representation in elections and Census 2020, improving the accessibility of public institutions through inclusive policymaking processes, and providing pathways to citizenship and protected status for local immigrant communities.

We are committed to modernizing and ensuring the integrity of election processes to ensure more representative participation and ballot security. Census 2020 is only nine months away, and we are part of the Illinois 2020 Count Me In Coalition led by Forefront to ensure a complete and accurate count for Illinois. Our grant to Forefront supported sub-grants to nonprofits statewide for outreach to hard-to-count constituencies (HTCs). The Coalition’s efforts were critical to the state’s recent $29 million appropriation for Census outreach.

We opposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census form for fear that it would inhibit participation among HTCs. Although it appears that the question will not be placed on Census forms, the damage has already been done in eliciting fear within immigrant communities. Therefore, we endorse expanded engagement with these constituencies to achieve a complete count.

Participation in government beyond elections is critical to a healthy democracy, and several current partners specialize in engaging residents in the policy making process. For example, Participatory Budgeting (PB) Chicago leads residents in city wards and schools through a process where they identify and vote upon infrastructural needs. Already present in nine wards and a growing number of CPS schools, PB Chicago anticipates continued expansion in the aftermath of this spring’s municipal elections. Beyond PB, the Democracy Program is exploring other emerging innovative methods that public institutions can use to better engage Chicagoland residents and underrepresented communities.

The Democracy Program strives to ensure that Chicagoland’s immigrant communities are mobilized to take full advantage of existing opportunities to secure citizenship and protected status. More broadly, we seek partnerships to further engage our state’s immigrant and refugee populations in the democratic process. In the long term, we are supportive of federal comprehensive immigration reform, believing that it is beneficial for both immigrant communities and society at large.

By developing high-capacity civic leaders, ensuring institutional accountability, transparency, and effectiveness, and deepening participation and inclusion in our local democracy, we will ensure that Chicagoland public institutions are inclusive, transparent, and accountable to the communities they serve.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Early Education Takes the Red Carpet

Here is an update from the last Insights Newsletter highlighting the recent premiere of the documentary “No Small Matter”.

Years in the making, the documentary No Small Matter premiered in Chicago June 20 to a sold out crowd of statewide early childhood leaders and educators at the Gene Siskel Film Center. No Small Matter aims to engage broader audiences in the effort to strengthen both access to and quality within our early childhood system in order to better prepare young children for school success.

The McCormick Foundation, along with other foundations locally and nationally, have supported the development, completion, dissemination and engagement strategy in the wake of the film’s release. The feature-length documentary features humorous cameos by Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, agonizing scenes of parents struggling to find quality care for their infant that they could afford, and the heart-wrenching decision of a beloved preschool teacher to leave the classroom for a more self-sustaining job as a bartender.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker kicked off the premier with remarks that reaffirmed his own commitment to bolstering Illinois’ early childhood system in the coming years. “I believe to my core that every child should get quality child care and quality education, no matter the color of their skin, no matter the income level of their parents, no matter what zip code they live in,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “I want Illinois to lead the nation in early childhood education and childcare and I won't stop until we get there.”

Cornelia Grumman, Director of the Foundation’s Education Program, moderated a panel discussion following the film with Deputy Governor for Education Jesse Ruiz, Co-Director Greg Jacobs and former Preschool Teacher Rachel Gianni, featured in the film but now working at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a proclamation declaring June 20 “No Small Matter Day” in Chicago.

Film producers created accompanying tools to help make parenting easier, action steps to use the film to champion early learning, and encouragements that providers, houses of worship, community centers, agencies, advocates, educators and others host their own screenings.

No Small Matter was co-produced by Kindling Group and Siskel/Jacobs Productions.

Careers for South Side Residents

Guest blog by Becky Raymond, Career Pathways' Executive Director

The Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition (CCLC) has had strong roots on the South Side of Chicago. Many founding coalition members were South Side providers. In 2010, when CCLC did a landscape scan of literacy providers in Chicago, there were 12 providers on the South Side.

Since the 2010 scan, there has been a steady decline of adult education programming available on Chicago’s South Side. Particularly during the State Budget Impasse of 2016 and 2017, there was a steep decrease in programming and services among our base members south and west of the city. Although the need is still high — roughly 250,000 individuals that would benefit from adult education — the lack of services continues to decrease.

To address this decline in services and serve the persistent need, CCLC has launched the South Side Career Pathways Collaborative. They have identified assets, engaged community voices (both program participants and providers), built a common agenda and connected programs to each other to create a coordinated career pathway system for South Side residents. Based on this extensive community input, in the fall of 2019, CCLC will staff a Career Pathways Navigator on the South Side to help residents connect to social services and find programs. This Navigator will also connect programs to each other, with a goal of helping providers build their capacity. The overarching goal of the South Side Career Pathways Collaborative is to expand the work of the providers and increase the number of individuals receiving services on the South Side.

USO Launches New Veterans Program

Guest blog by Justin Miller, Pathfinder's Program Manager

Transitioning from military to civilian life is a distinct challenge faced by our nation’s service members and their families. While there are many impressive organizations that provide services for transitioning military, two-thirds of service members are not effectively connecting with these resources. In 2017, USO launched the USO Pathfinder Program nationally to help service members and their families navigate the challenges of transitioning over a 24-month period.

The hallmark of the USO Pathfinder Program is a comprehensive support network that includes access to a Pathfinder Scout, a trained case manager who works directly with the transitioning families and connects them to the services and support they need. The USO Pathfinder Program focuses on connecting them to eight key areas of service, including employment, education, financial readiness, housing and family strength and wellness. In addition, participants have access to the USO Mobile App, which provides resources and access to a Scout in real time. The App allows program participants to view their customized selection of services and resources 24/7 and create their own transition roadmap all on their smart phone.

In Illinois, the USO Pathfinder Program is unique due to the large population of National Guard and Reserve service members and their spouses who are in a constant state of transition. More than 70% of military deployed since 9/11 are National Guard and Reserve, and USO of Illinois is working to ensure Guard, Reserve and their families have access to the Pathfinder Program throughout the state. This month will mark the largest deployment from Illinois in a decade with more than 350 Guard members called up to be deployed.

“The USO is a trusted presence for our military, supporting them from boot camp to deployment to separation for nearly 80 years,” said Justin Miller, USO Transition Program Manager. “USO Pathfinder works to reduce the friction of transitioning and help streamline the process of reintegrating into civilian life.”

Service members and their families can learn about the USO Pathfinder Program online, at any USO Center or Program throughout Illinois. Service members and their spouses can also access services by calling 312-777-3333 or going to

New Restorative Justice Court in North Lawndale

Opened in August 2017 in the North Lawndale community, the first ever Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) is an innovative collaboration between community-based service providers and the Circuit Court of Cook County. It aims to address the vicious cycle of mutually reinforcing problems: mass incarceration, crime and community violence, mistrust between the community and the criminal justice system, and the mismatch between the adult justice system and the developmental capacities and needs of emerging adults. Research has shown that this population is less future oriented, more susceptible to peer influence and risk-taking and more volatile in emotionally charged settings especially if they suffered childhood trauma. The Court takes this distinct stage of life into account by applying restorative practices to address root causes of behavior while also focusing on accountability for wrong doing through open dialogue between the victim, perpetrator and the community through peace circles and harm repair agreements. The RJCC relies heavily on its community-based partners to provide the necessary wrap around services to carry out the model effectively. The Court’s intention is to offer participants an off ramp out of the system that ultimately influences their life trajectory away from further criminal justice involvement.

Eligible participants are between the ages of 18-26, who reside in the North Lawndale community, and have plead guilty to nonviolent felonies charges. At their bond hearing, the defendant must be recommended by the presiding judge, prosecutor and the defense attorney for diversion to the RJCC instead of the traditional justice system. In its first year, the court saw 73 individuals, 45 of whom currently have active cases. Twelve participants have completed the court and 16 were either rearrested, transferred back for noncompliance or transferred for administrative reasons. The McCormick Foundation is in its second year of supporting the evaluation of the RJCC being conducted by Adler University. This is critical to understanding if the court is having an impact on stopping the cycle of young adults in and out of the system and if the model can be replicated in other neighborhoods in Chicago and across the country. As is the case with any pilot, there have been many challenges and lessons learned in the first year of operations, most notably those arising from the difficult but necessary trust building that is taking place between the community of North Lawndale and the criminal justice system to create a functional court that meets the expectations of each.

Krewasky Salter leads First Division at Cantigny Park

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation and Cantigny Park recently named Krewasky A. Salter, Ph.D., executive director of the First Division Museum in Wheaton.

Salter, a U.S. Army Colonel (retired), brings more than 34 years of experience to the museum, with 25 years gained in active military duty. He served as a senior staff officer at the Pentagon before retiring from the military in 2010.

Most recently, Salter was a guest curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). He curated the museum’s inaugural exhibition, Double Victory: The African American Military Experience. The exhibit opened in late 2016. He is also serving as curator of an upcoming exhibition, We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I, scheduled to open in December 2019 at the NMAAHC.

“Krewasky’s experience as an Army officer, teacher and scholar of military history and museum curator, made him an ideal choice for this leadership role,” said David Hiller, McCormick Foundation president and CEO. “We’re delighted to have him on our team at Cantigny.”

Salter succeeds Paul Herbert, who retired in December. His appointment comes less than two years after the First Division Museum completed a comprehensive renovation. The update, part of the park’s ongoing Project New Leaf, enables visitors to experience the proud history of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division — the “Big Red One” — in exciting new ways through cutting-edge exhibits and storytelling technology.

A Florida native, Salter earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida where he was a Distinguished Military Graduate, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Florida State University. He also holds a Master of Strategic Studies from the Air War University. He taught Military History at the United States Military Academy, West Point; Military Strategy at the Command and General Staff College, Leavenworth; Military Leadership at Howard University, Washington, D.C.; and African American History at several other institutions as an adjunct professor.

Salter was a contributing author and advisor to three publications of the National Museum of African American History and Culture: Dream A World Anew: The African American Experience and the Shaping of America, Volume #5 Double Exposure: Fighting for Freedom and Many Lenses: The Buffalo Robe. He also wrote The Story of Black Military Officers, 1861–1948, and served as associate producer and senior historian for the Army-sponsored PBS documentary, Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots. Salter has appeared on “CBS This Morning” and is featured in the Netflix documentary, Medal of Honor. He serves on the Army Historical Foundation Executive Board of Directors.

Illinois General Assembly Advances #CivicsInTheMiddle with Bipartisan Supermajorities

This spring, legislation to require a semester of civics within grades 6, 7, or 8 (House Bill 2265), passed the Illinois General Assembly with bipartisan supermajorities in both chambers. It moves next to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s desk for final approval.

Four years earlier, lawmakers required a semester of civics in high school for the graduating class of 2020 and beyond. House Bill (HB) 2265 drives the same high-quality civic learning practices down to the middle grades, with parallel language infusing instruction on government institutions, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes into the new course beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Keys to the successful “CivicsInTheMiddle" legislative campaign included:

  • Our statewide network of educators and their students making their voices heard in the General Assembly, filing nearly 900 electronic witness slips for the bill in committee and reaching out directly to their Representatives and Senators as it moved to the floors of the respective chambers.
  • Strong organizational support for HB 2265 from the private, nonprofit, and civic sectors, rallied by McCormick Foundation President and CEO David Hiller.
  • Favorable media coverage, including strategically-placed letters to the editor and timely endorsements from The Rock Island Dispatch Argus and the Rockford Register Star.
  • A proven track record of implementing the high school requirement, with more than 1,100 hours of professional development provided to 8,200-plus teachers since October 2015.
  • A promise to make middle school civics a funded mandate through a three-year, privately-funded $3 million plan ($1 million annually) to support middle school teachers, schools, and districts to incorporate a civics course in grades 6, 7, or 8.

As HB 2265 moves to Governor Pritzker’s desk by June 22, you can voice your support for the legislation by contacting him via both e/mail and phone. Upon arrival, the Governor has sixty days to sign or veto HB 2265, so please act today.

Governor Pritzker’s Contact Information

Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Phone: 217-782-6830 or 217-782-6831

Email contact form

Turning to presumptive implementation of middle school civics, we currently have a survey in the field to assess the needs of Illinois middle school social studies teachers and administrators. The results, combined with our high school experience and evaluation results, will further shape our initial plans.

Current highlights include:

  • Ongoing teacher professional development opportunities, both in person and online, will be offered in partnership with civic education nonprofits and institutional partners, including universities and regional offices of education.
  • We are especially excited about a new partnership with the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida to develop high-production learning modules for teachers centered on proven civic learning practices. Participating teachers will earn microcredentials in each practice. We anticipate the first module, focused on discussion of current and controversial issues, to launch this fall.
  • Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors have been central to our high school course implementation efforts, and we intend to continue the program with modifications to account for lessons learned and the unique needs of middle schools.
  • As was true of our high school efforts, we will partner with the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) to evaluate the impact of our teacher professional development offerings and, reciprocally, the fidelity of middle school course implementation. At the end of the implementation period, we will also assess the impact the course has on students’ civic development, measuring growth in knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Supporting Youth Civic Development

This article is written by Program Officer, Sonia Mathew, and introduces the Democracy Program’s work in youth civic learning.

In my three years at the Foundation, I have had the privilege of working with the Democracy Schools Initiative, which has strengthened schoolwide civic learning and engagement throughout Illinois. Illinois Democracy Schools are high schools recognized for consciously promoting civic engagement by all students, focusing intentionally on fostering participatory citizenship and placing an emphasis on helping students understand how the fundamental ideals and principles of our democratic society relate to important current problems, opportunities and controversies. Since 2006, 74 high schools have been recognized throughout the state.

Our work to “Engage Youth Civically” builds upon the important foundation that Democracy Schools have created to ensure that our young people are informed, actively participate in their communities, and have healthy civic dispositions. It is our goal for schools to support youth in their civic development through the equity and quality of civic learning experiences and organizational supports that sustain democratic practices in schools. Over the past year, we have worked to redefine Democracy Schools indicators and created a new assessment rubric that will be launched statewide in August. This strategic redesign of the Democracy Schools Initiative is shaping the integration of our grantmaking with key elements of Democracy Schools, where grant partners will be able to support the needs identified from Democracy Schools.

Our first strategy supports teachers to strengthen the proven practices of civic learning (Foundational Civic Knowledge, Discussion of Current and Controversial Issues, Simulations of Democratic Processes, Service Learning/Informed Action, and Extracurricular Activities) that connect with the lived experiences and identities of students. Teachers also need support to better integrate media literacy skills with these proven practices of civic learning. This support for teachers can occur both through external providers as well as through the Democracy Schools Network. This strategy is one that directly addresses inequities that exist with the quantity and quality of civic learning experiences in school, as teacher professional development ensures that our educators can help cultivate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that our students need to be effective and engaged citizens.

Our second strategy supports school leadership to advance a commitment to the civic mission of schools, dedicating resources to sustain the vision and ensure all students have equitable access to civic learning. The McCormick Foundation has developed an Administrator Academy to support K-12 administrators implementing the new Illinois social science standards and civics course requirements, and the Democracy Schools Network has convened administrators for intentional professional development. As public schools were created with the purpose of promoting civic ideals, this important work with administrators supports schools to restore their civic mission, which has unfortunately been deprioritized. Supporting school leadership ultimately leads to schools being transformed into democratic spaces.

Our third strategy is to promote student voice in schools both through representation and student media programs. One current partner in this work is Loyola University, who has partnered with Senn and Sullivan High Schools on Chicago’s north side (both Democracy Schools) to operate a storefront news bureau called the RogersEdge Reporter, where high school and college students report hyper-local news in Rogers Park and Edgewater. With less than 1% of CPS high school students enrolled in a journalism class, partnerships like this provide an invaluable resource for schools to strengthen scholastic journalism and promote student voice. Additionally, when there are multiple avenues for student representation in schools, students have further opportunities to develop their civic dispositions. Students are truly practicing democracy in these environments and this positions them to continue these practices into adulthood.

Our fourth strategy is to create partnerships to build democratic school climates and implement Illinois’ school discipline law, Senate Bill (SB) 100. Promoting a positive school climate is very much connected with academic achievement and correlates with building the civic capacities of our students. It also addresses many of the opportunity gaps that exist in schools. SB100 was passed in 2015 with the purpose of reducing racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, emphasizing restorative practices instead. Our work in this area directly meets the implementation needs of this important law by supporting teachers, administrators, and student leadership.

Our final strategy supports national and statewide field-building efforts to strengthen youth civic learning and engagement. On a national level, the CivXNow coalition has developed a national nonpartisan strategy that establishes civic education as a priority in preserving American democracy and supports the implementation of effective policies and practices to ensure that students engage in high quality civic education for generations to come. At the state level, the McCormick Foundation has been advocating for the passage of a Middle School Civics bill and plans to mobilize support for professional development for educators to meet the demands of this bill.

These investments in school-based civic learning opportunities will promote equitable access and stronger civic engagement outcomes for students, connect educators with the lived experiences and identities of students, and transform schools to be more democratic spaces. If you work supports these strategies in the Chicagoland area, we invite you to participate in an open application process for grants over $50,000 to engage youth civically with a deadline of October 1st.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Repelling Attacks on Press Freedom

This article is the fifth in a series, written by program officer Andres Torres, introducing the Democracy Program’s work in journalism. Read our prior posts to learn about our goal to create an information-rich region and our three other strategies to support this goal: telling the untold stories, enhancing collaboration, engagement, and entrepreneurship, and investing in human capital.

The McCormick Foundation’s commitment to defending press freedom originates with our establishment. As Robert R. McCormick wrote in his will, he hoped his charitable trust would use his bequest “to assist in repelling any attacks upon the right of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

He recognized that informing the public, the central responsibility of the press, carries risk. In the U.S., the First Amendment to our Constitution sought to mitigate this risk and provide the American press a protection from censorship to which the English press was vulnerable.

Over two centuries since the First Amendment was ratified, informing the public remains a challenged practice. Sometimes these obstacles are evident, such as government action to prevent publication of information. The U.S. government famously tried to do this during the Vietnam War when it went to the Supreme Court to prevent the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the “Pentagon Papers,” classified government documents about the war. In 2017, Steven Spielberg dramatized this historic victory for the press.

Yet, orders of prior restraint are not just historical practice. In just the past few months, ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Sun-Times have been prohibited from publishing information they uncovered in the course of their reporting. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, an order of prior restraint is “relatively rare,” but especially serious because it prohibits an organization with no connection to a case from publishing information it independently collected.

Prior restraint is just one of myriad legal challenges journalists face in the course of reporting. Denials of access and chilling statements can stymy an investigation at its outset, while private defamation suits and subpoenas for a journalist’s notes and sources can place a punishing burden on reporters and their outlets after stories are published.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker highlights recent threats to press freedom, including chilling statements, denials of access, orders of prior restraint, and physical attacks on journalists, but these reports are indicators of a potentially broader current legal risk to journalism. My colleague at the Democracy Fund, Estizer Smith, lays out in a recent piece a concerning description of how mounting public and private assaults on journalism are coming at a time when it is at its most vulnerable financially, politically, and socially. These threats include disturbing action that is reported upon, as well as insidious public and private assaults that we don’t yet know of or understand.

A committed defender of press freedom, McCormick famously funded, out of his own pocket, a case cited by the Supreme Court in repudiating the government’s claim against the Times and Post. Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Grossman recently reminded readers of McCormick’s ties to the precedent-setting Near v. Minnesota, noting that so important was this 1931 Supreme Court verdict affirming “the primary need of a vigilant and courageous press, especially in great cities” that an excerpt from the majority opinion was etched into the wall of the Tribune Tower lobby.

Against this backdrop of public, private, known, and unknown threats to press independence, and building on the Foundation’s longstanding work in support of press freedom, the Democracy Program is committed to continuing to support organizations that defend the press, such as the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Student Press Law Center, and, locally, Citizen Advocacy Center and the Better Government Association. Their efforts are important, but we recognize the threats are evolving and news outlets’ capacity to withstand them, especially locally, are weakened.

Therefore, in executing our fourth journalism strategy, our first priority is to better understand the types of supports local outlets need. We will then use this knowledge to structure additional interventions that will help ensure local conditions continue to support a vigilant and vigorous press that can meet the information needs of all our local communities.

In the meantime, the Democracy Program is accepting applications through June 15, 2019 from nonprofit organizations that believe their work helps advance our goal to defend press freedom. We are also accepting applications for work supporting our other three journalism strategies, which you can learn about on our website and read more about on this blog.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Investing in Human Capital

This article is the fourth in a series, written by program officer Andres Torres, introducing the Democracy Program’s work in journalism. Read our prior posts to learn about our goal to create an information-rich region and two of our strategies to support this goal: telling the untold stories and enhancing collaboration, engagement, and entrepreneurship.

Much has been written about the challenges of being a journalist in today’s media environment. Resources are scarce, advancement opportunities limited, the public’s perception sour, and the outlook bleak. For the sake of our democracy, however, we need people to thrive in this industry. Therefore, we are investigating how to support those who persist in their service, especially women and people of color, whose voices need to be elevated if journalism is going to reflect and resonate with the residents it must serve.

When I started at the McCormick Foundation in 2017, I embarked on a listening tour to learn from reporters at various stages of their careers what they needed to succeed in their work, and what obstacles they were facing. I heard how legacy newsrooms have been left with limited capacity to provide the professional development, legal, editorial, and other supports they had offered in the past. Meanwhile, though the number of nonprofit newsrooms has been growing steadily over the last decade, their individual capacities to withstand threats of litigation, much less support deeper dives on stories, was limited.

Through my conversations with many staff reporters, I began to connect with freelancers from whom I learned the unique struggles of working independently. I remember one reporter describing the precariousness of stringing together a month’s rent from gigs paying far less than $1 per word, which seemed to, sadly, be a lofty standard.

Despite the constraints, the reporters with whom I spoke were producing great journalism. I say this not to minimize their challenges, but as evidence of the potential return an investment in human capital could have. Unfortunately, philanthropy is not well placed to mitigate all the pains, but a few issues might present an opportunity for philanthropic intervention.

Investing in Deeper Dives

In describing our first journalism strategy, I shared an interest in supporting organizations and initiatives telling the untold stories. There is also an opportunity to complement institutional supports with individual supports. Type Investigations, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Education Writers Association Reporting Fellowships, and the McGraw Fellowship for Business Journalism, to name a few funds, attest to the value of individualized supports to help reporters turn unexplored ideas into high-impact stories. We are still listening, learning, and considering how we might support reporters in their work locally and we welcome input.

Expanding Access to Editing and Mentorship

The contraction of the media industry has taken its toll on the ranks of editors. In many newsrooms, fewer editors are juggling more projects leaving them less time to work with reporters. Ensuring reporters and their stories blossom requires partnership, from editors and from mentors in the industry. Some organizations are responding to this need at a national level, such as the Online News Association and Investigative Reporters and Editors. We are interested in possible local approaches to address this challenge.

Providing Exposure and Enrichment

For many years, the Foundation has supported partners, such as The Poynter Institute, to develop and deliver trainings that offer local journalists tools and help them develop the skills and deepen the knowledge they need to report effectively. Trainings have been consistently well attended and well rated and we look forward to continue working with partners locally and nationally to bring accessible and relevant professional development opportunities to the region. We always appreciate recommendations from local journalists on the type of training they are seeking.

Next Steps

There are many obstacles to creating a robust, diverse, and resilient local talent pool. We have identified a few opportunities for further exploration. Over the next year, we will continue to consider how the Foundation might best leverage the tools at its disposal to provide journalists in the region, especially women and people of color, access to the support and training they need to explore broadly and dive deeply.

In keeping with the Foundation and the Democracy Program’s values, we believe our future work must focus on addressing the racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in investment and access to resources in the newsroom. To meet our program’s goal of closing the civic empowerment gap and serving under-resourced communities, we expect our work to support newsrooms that commit to equitably provide resources and create opportunities.

In the meantime, the Democracy Program is currently accepting applications from nonprofit organizations that believe their work helps advance our goal to increase the racial and ethnic diversity and the capacity of reporters working locally. We are also accepting applications for work supporting our other three journalism strategies, which you can learn about on our website and read more about on this blog.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Enhancing Collaboration, Engagement, and Entrepreneurship

This article is the third in a series, written by program officer Andres Torres, introducing the Democracy Program’s work in journalism. Read our prior posts to learn about our goal to create an information-rich region and our first strategy to support this goal: telling the untold stories.

In my conversations with people in local media, I have heard many compelling ideas for how to improve the process of developing and telling our region’s stories. Some of these ideas have been tested, others have yet to be attempted. In the Democracy Program, we hope to support innovative activities with the promise to set the practice of local reporting on a more sustainable path. Specifically, we are interested in work that invites partnership, engages the region’s residents, and experiments with new solutions.


To optimize limited resources. To leverage complementary skills. To extend reach. To augment impact. Our partners in media cite numerous reasons for informally and formally collaborating with each other. From cross-platform, multi-outlet, polylingual publishing partnerships to informal peer editing exchanges, collaborations are yielding dividends, and we are excited by the benefits further collaboration might unlock. Benefits to audience trust, to the bottom line, and to our region’s democratic health are all potential outcomes. Despite the benefits, we understand that building the trust and structures to execute successful collaborations can be resource-intensive, which presents an opportunity for us to draw on our role as grantmaker and convener to facilitate greater collaboration in the Chicago.

Community Engagement

The collaborations that we believe are critical are not just those between newsrooms, but between reporters and the people they serve. This can be a challenge in a region that is diversifying and in which people of color make up nearly half of the region’s population, though they made up less than 17% of newsrooms in 2017. But the cost of not genuinely engaging residents is too high, not just to journalism’s bottom line, but to the sustainability of our democracy.

Less than a quarter of Chicagoans say they have ever communicated with a journalist, according to a recent study by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin. This figure is even lower on Chicago’s South Side where only 17% of residents have ever communicated with a journalist, compared to 30% of the city’s North Side residents. Seeing these statistics, it is hard not to wonder at the impact differential engagement has on trust in media and news outlets’ sustainability, not to mention to level and quality of information all residents have to engage in our democracy. We believe more, and more regular, engagement is needed in journalism and we seek partners who are committed to engaging residents before, while, and after they report their stories.


Embracing engagement and committing to collaboration will require updating the ways journalism works. This will require new outlooks, tools, and, perhaps, new organizations. With the pace of change in journalism, it’s difficult to predict how today’s solutions might apply to tomorrow’s situations. Tomorrow will surely bring new challenges and hopefully present new opportunities. In either case, we believe entrepreneurial thinking is needed to sustain and strengthen journalism. We welcome ideas for how we might move forward together.

Our Role

In the Democracy Program, we will work to identify and empower outlets, and the partners that support them, to be collaborative and engaged. We will also continue to work with universities and other organizations researching how to shift the way journalism works and collect and share the insights they bring. To this end, we look forward to continuing to convene and connect our partners to advance our shared learning and inform our respective work.

The Democracy Program is currently accepting applications from nonprofit organizations that believe their work helps advance our goal to enhance collaboration, engagement, and entrepreneurship. We are also accepting applications for work supporting our other three journalism strategies, which you can learn about on our website and read more about on this blog.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Telling the Untold Stories

This article is the second in a series, written by program officer Andres Torres, introducing the Democracy Program’s work in journalism. Read our prior post to learn about our goal to create an information-rich region.

In 2015, 15 locomotives operating in five Chicago railyards were upgraded. There are likely hundreds of locomotives operating at any given time in our region, so are 15 new ones significant? To some, including residents living near those railyards, they might have been. The government invested almost $20 million to upgrade the old engines because they were releasing over 7.5 tons of particulate matter and almost 200 tons of nitrogen oxide annually. The overhauls cut emissions by about 75%, comparable to taking about 10,000 cars off the road.

In 2014, concerned citizens noticed healthy trees being cut down in their neighborhoods. There are often worthwhile reasons for taking down live trees, but these residents were unsure. They brought their concerns to a local environmental organization that investigated these claims. It examined public records and confirmed hundreds of live, healthy trees had been removed, despite a backlog of thousands of dead, standing trees remaining, and in contrast to the municipality’s environmental position that acknowledged the role trees play in improving air quality and addressing chronic flooding.

Should these stories be told? It’s not for me to say, but the McCormick Foundation sponsored a study that revealed last year that only a third of Chicago’s residents believed the media were doing a good or very good job covering the issues that most mattered to them. Americans continue to value news, especially local news. It is a resource critical to active and informed civic engagement.

The health of democracy in the Chicago region requires a local news ecosystem with a broad range of reporting that is sufficiently deep and accessible to inform and inspire residents in their civic activity. Yet, the media landscape is eroding. Reporter and correspondent jobs in newspaper publishing have decreased almost 50% nationwide from 2005 to 2017, with a less grim, but still serious decline in radio, TV, and even digital media.

Mirroring national trends, the number of reporters and correspondents in the Chicago region continues to decline. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 850 reporters and correspondents remaining in the region as of May 2018, a third less than a decade ago.

Presented with this challenge, the McCormick Foundation sees an opportunity to improve democratic practice in our region by investing in efforts to enhance and extend the information available to citizens.

Our first journalism strategy is to continue to support organizations and initiatives that provide essential public affairs coverage and help them broaden and deepen their reporting. When considering the evidence of increasing resource constraints at outlets, especially for reporting that takes more time to tell deeper stories, we see an opportunity for philanthropy to continue to support newsrooms to bring a broader array of questions into our civic discourse and dive deeper to explore and explain their interconnection.

How we can best support newsrooms is a question we are continuing to explore and intend to keep doing so with our journalism partners. A primary vehicle will be our grantmaking. In 2018, the Democracy Program supported eight news outlets with a mix of general operating funds and support for projects that expanded the breadth and depth of stories available to the public. For example, we supported Injustice Watch’s robust coverage of Cook County’s judicial system in the run-up to the November 2018 elections, when voters rejected an incumbent judge for the first time in 28 years.

The Foundation remains committed to partnering with outlets that are producing high-impact stories on public issues and increasing the volume, variety, and quality of reporting in the region. As we evaluate partnership opportunities, we will be seeking outlets that prioritize engaging with communities to ensure that the civic potential of broader and deeper reporting is realized.

We are also interested in supporting newsrooms that emphasize collaboration over competition, recognizing the advantages this disposition presents for optimizing limited resources to deliver a broader impact. Finally, we seek organizations aligned with McCormick’s commitment to embrace diversity and inclusion and create equitable opportunities.

Chicago has incredible reporters and high-achieving newsrooms. In them, we see promise to explore so many more stories. In our work, we see an opportunity to support these efforts. Whether these new stories investigate our transportation infrastructure and the policies that shape it, the challenges of our criminal justice system, the promise of our educational system, the opportunities for improving environmental policy, or other issues, we hope to invest our resources in building deeper and more inclusive narratives that inform and activate citizens to engage with the world around them.

The Democracy Program is currently accepting applications from nonprofit organizations that believe their work helps advance our goal to broaden and deepen public affairs reporting in the region. We are also accepting applications for work supporting our other three journalism strategies, which you can learn about on our website and read more about on this blog.

Creating an Information-Rich Region

This article is the first in a series, written by program officer Andres Torres, introducing the Democracy Program’s work in journalism.”

Every election, about a night or two before voting, my family gathers to caucus. Over a meal and a drink, we share research on candidates, try to decode any ballot initiatives, and discuss the merits of our options. We were fortunate during Chicago’s recent election to have a range of sources to draw from and inform our debate.

New initiatives like Chi.Vote collected articles from local outlets so we could see, for example, education coverage from Chalkbeat Chicago alongside campaign finance data from Reform for Illinois and an article from The Daily Line offering context on the donors fueling the campaign. New outlets and new ventures augmented coverage available from long-standing sources, such as the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader, WBEZ, and local TV stations.

As we moved down the ballot, however, we had to dig harder to find information. What are the prospective rewards and risks of a public bank? Just searching City Treasurer candidates “Conyears-Ervin and Pawar” in Google News returned a fraction of the results that “Lightfoot and Preckwinkle” did, leaving us with more questions than answers. This challenge grew exponentially more difficult as we sought to sort between our incumbent Alderman and his several primary challengers.

There was some great neighborhood-level political reporting in the most recent election, such as Block Club Chicago’s reporting on aldermanic forums or the City Bureau and Austin Weekly News collaboration to bring resident concerns into election coverage. However, as my family wrestled with our decisions, we found less, and less credible, information on the races closest to home or on issues that might be pressing to us, but perhaps weren’t central to the campaign, such as support for cultural programming and public art.

I acknowledge my family’s privilege in confronting the challenge of finding relevant and reliable information to inform our participation in Chicago’s election. We can access information in English, we have reliable internet access, we have high educational attainment, which has helped us develop the analytical skills needed to sort fact from fiction, and we have robust networks with educated and civically engaged peers who can help us fill the gaps in our knowledge. But many Chicagoans lack these privileges.

Information is essential to educating and activating citizens to participate in their democracy. Without civic participation, our democracy withers. While we are acutely aware of our need for civic information when we have a pressing decision, such as a ballot to punch, a healthy democratic society needs information perpetually and universally.

It is around this lofty goal of creating an information-rich environment that supports all residents across our region, regardless of race or ethnicity, to be informed and engaged citizens, that the McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Program is focusing its investments in journalism. Our hope is not just to augment the quantity and quality of public affairs reporting, but ensure that across the region, all people have access to this information.

We have developed four strategies for achieving this goal, and we are now accepting Letters of Inquiry (LOI) for grants to support organizations and initiatives that advance one or more of these strategies. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be introducing these four strategies on our blog to offer insights into how we came to these priorities and how we envision advancing the work. In the meantime, I welcome your questions.

Monday, March 25, 2019

No Small Matter

No Small Matter is the first feature documentary to explore the most overlooked, underestimated, and powerful force for good in America today: early childhood education. Through poignant stories and surprising humor, the film lays out the overwhelming evidence for the importance of the first five years, and reveals how our failure to act on that evidence has resulted in an everyday crisis for American families. No Small Matter will be debuting in Illinois this summer as part of larger campaign to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities faced in early childhood.

A Statewide Legal Aid Hotline Established to Serve Illinois Veterans

In 2013, an amendment to the Access to Justice Act created the Illinois Access to Civil Justice Council, with the mandate to create a pilot statewide legal assistance hotline and coordinated network of legal support services for military personnel, veterans, and their families. This effort is funded by a $2 filing fee on all civil filings until 2020. The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) was charged with the implementation of this network now called the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network (IL-AFLAN).

Why is this important for the veteran community? Civil legal problems destabilize families and can be barriers to benefits, housing, and employment. The top civil legal needs fall into the broad categories of housing, family, and consumer law issues. In addition, veterans often need assistance with VA benefits and appeals and discharge upgrades.

IL-AFLAN provides free legal aid services across Illinois utilizing a network of 10 legal aid organizations and law school clinics. In its first year, IL-AFLAN has helped 2650 people, provided 3000 services, provided $1.28 million in benefits to clients, and prevented homelessness for 111 clients. The Veterans Program is proud to partner with IEJF and IL-AFLAN to help connect this vital service to the communities across Illinois.

“As far as I know, IL-AFLAN is the most comprehensive civil legal aid network for veterans and members of the military who cannot afford any attorney in the country. In some states there are programs that handle a few areas of law, or that cover a county or two, but IL-AFLAN handles any civil legal issue, including VA benefits appeals and discharge upgrades, across the entire state of. In fact, IL-AFLAN solves Illinois based problems even if the client isn’t currently in Illinois, when, for example, we are working with active duty military who are deployed.” – Zach Zarnow, Program Director of IL-AFLAN

To learn more about IL-AFLAN and its affiliated network partners visit: If you or a veteran you know is need of civil legal aid services call the hotline directly at 855-452-3526

Illinois General Assembly Debates #CivicsInTheMiddle Grades

Fresh off successful implementation of a high school civics course requirement, the Illinois General Assembly is considering driving high quality civic learning down to the middle grades. House Bill (HB) 2265 would require a semester of civics within grades 6, 7, or 8, including instruction on government institutions, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes.

The dilemma: Middle school students are ill-prepared for informed and effective civic engagement in our democracy.

The solution: High-quality civic learning opportunities in Illinois middle schools for ALL students can help reverse this trajectory, building civic knowledge and skills.

  • The more knowledgeable and confident a person is in their own civic competencies and skills, the more likely they will vote regularly, participate in a range of civic engagement activities, and believe that government is a source for good.
  • By requiring a semester of civics in middle school infused with proven civic learning practices, HB-2265 will build students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions, leading to lifelong, informed, and effective engagement in our democracy.

Why now? With the new high school civics requirement firmly in place, Illinois is well-positioned to strengthen civic learning in the middle grades.

  • Since October 2015, the McCormick Foundation has provided more than 1,300 hours of professional development to more than 10,000 teachers statewide.
  • These professional development opportunities have improved teachers’ feelings of competence in key instructional strategies, and a Spring 2018 survey shows strong civic outcomes among students as a result of course exposure, including enhanced knowledge and skills. Students are also more likely to report engagement in a range of civic behaviors (see graph below).

The plan: Like implementation of the high school course, the McCormick Foundation proposes a three-year, privately-funded $3 million plan ($1 million annually) to support middle school teachers, schools, and districts to incorporate a civics course in grades 6, 7, or 8.

  • Ongoing teacher professional development opportunities, both in person and online, are central to our proposed effort. They will be offered in partnership with civic education nonprofits and institutional partners, including universities and regional offices of education.
  • To ensure that expertise on best practices in civic education is embedded in Illinois middle schools, we intend to recruit and train instructional coaches in each school and/ or district serving students in grades 6-8.
  • In addition to the McCormick Foundation’s ongoing investments in youth civic education and engagement in Illinois ($4.2 million in grants in 2018), our course implementation efforts have an annual operating budget of $1 million. We pledge to contribute an additional $400,000 to this effort each year and are working to raise the balance through local philanthropic partners.

The problems that plague our state and nation are generational in nature. By investing in the civic development of our youth, we will empower them to resolve these issues, building a better Illinois and a heathier democracy.

HB 2265 furthers this cause. It passed the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on School Curriculum and Policies on March 20 and advances to the floor with an April 12th deadline for consideration. Follow the Illinois Civics blog for further updates and the #CivicsInTheMiddle hash tag on Twitter.

Reclaiming Southwest Chicago

Guest Blog by Chris Brown, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP)

When 500 people gathered at St. Adrian Church in 2017 to announce the next phase of the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign it was both the culmination of years of work and the declaration that there was so much more to do. In a community that had been devastated by the foreclosure crisis, people would have been forgiven if they thought the neighborhood was dead and moved on. Instead, most of them stayed and fought for a better place to live, work, and play. They came together that day in May to say they were there for the long-haul.

This begs the question: Why? Mostly, it was because they had built a network of people in the community, people like themselves that shared a common interest in the schools and safety and immigration and employment options. They knew this because they had participated in a Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) community organizing campaign. They had met one to one with neighbors and fellow parishioners and parents and other stakeholders to talk about each other and what motivates them to participate in public life.

Through these meetings, they built a strong social network. Stakeholders kept meeting and developed a Quality of Life plan for Southwest Chicago. They secured resources and they moved, together, into action. To date, together, they have leveraged more than $40 million in investments into the community. The Reclaiming campaign alone has transformed more than 80 buildings into 100 units of affordable housing, seen crime decrease by 55%, and seen all the local schools improve by at least one CPS level. Reason enough to come together and to keep working, together.

Golf for the Greater Good

In Wheaton, Cantigny celebrates 30 years of golf excellence and growing the game.

To many, Cantigny Golf’s scenic and challenging 27 holes may appear to be well over three decades old. The layout has a mature look and feel, thanks to the stately oaks and hickories lining its lush fairways. Can it be only 30 years since Andy North struck the inaugural tee shot?

It’s true. Cantigny Golf was dedicated on June 5, 1989. Amid many spectators, a 9-hole exhibition match was played that day by North, the two-time U.S. Open champion, and three top amateurs from Illinois. Two of the latter were reigning 1988 high school champions—an early sign that youth would be well served at Cantigny Golf. (This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9-hole Cantigny Youth Links.)

In its January 1990 issue, Golf Digest named Cantigny Golf the “Best New Public Course in America.” The honor was a tribute to course architect Roger Packard and it put Cantigny on the map for golfers throughout the region. Glowing local press coverage also fueled demand for tee times.

The late 1980s and 1990s were a boom time for golf. The golf industry has slowed since then but Cantigny still ranks among the top courses in Chicagoland. This summer, July 16-18, Cantigny will host the Illinois State Amateur Championship for the fifth time. Spectators are welcome!

It’s important to know, however, that the McCormick Foundation has always positioned Cantigny Golf as more than a fine test of golf.

Managed by KemperSports since 2014, Cantigny believes in the game’s power to improve lives. For example, more than 800 local students have participated in Cantigny’s caddie program, and for some the experience is life changing. Sixteen Cantigny caddies have earned the prestigious Evans Scholarship.

In addition, more than 1,200 kids are introduced to “the game of a lifetime” every year through Cantigny’s junior golf clinics and Youth Links. Cantigny also partners with The First Tee of Greater Chicago and Illinois Junior Golf Association. Besides being fun, junior golf promotes camaraderie, character building, responsibility and sportsmanship. Cantigny instructors emphasize these values right along with proper swing technique and putting drills.

Reflecting the McCormick Foundation’s commitment to veterans, Cantigny Golf—through the free-to-join Cantigny Honor Club—offers special green fees and other benefits to veterans and active duty members of our armed services. It also supports organizations that assist veterans and children with special needs through donated facility use and staff time. Nonprofit partners include Revelation Golf, Sunshine Through Golf and Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.

Finally, Cantigny Golf demonstrates a strong commitment to the environment. The 300-acre property is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, a status achieved through responsible land and water management, and with high-quality natural areas for wildlife.

Golf has changed a lot since Cantigny’s splashy debut 30 years ago. Check out the equipment and technology now offered at the Cantigny Golf Academy! But the traditions that define golf’s enduring greatness are intact and celebrated along Mack Road in Wheaton. For those who love the game, and those wishing to learn it, Cantigny awaits.

For more information, or to book a tee time, please visit

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Building an Equitable Justice System in Chicago

Guest Blog by Sharone Mitchell, Jr., Deputy Director, Illinois Justice Project
Sharone Mitchell, Jr.

Last month, the Center for Racial and Gender Equity produced its Racial Justice Scorecard: A Report on the Racial Equity & Aldermanic Accountability in Chicago. The report graded Aldermen on five issues that systematically benefitted or harmed Black Chicagoans: police accountability, equitable economic investment, equitable schools, workers’ rights, and affordable housing.

The report found that as a whole, the City Council earned an F grade.

While Illinois Justice Project’s work focuses on criminal justice reform, an issue that makes up only a subsection of what is covered in the CRGE paper, there is little doubt that the current failures of the justice system are a fair barometer of the broader issues addressed in the report card. Given many Black Chicagoans and Black communities struggle with the realities of the justice system, it is of no surprise that the city legislative body has struggled to meet the expectations of groups that are calling for a fundamental transformation in the way the city treats its Black residents.

We see that failure in the criminal justice system most notably in the over-investment in policing and incarceration in Black communities, which at best works as a band-aid to problems built by historical disinvestment and at worst exacerbates the byproducts we see harming these communities; lack of economic opportunity and violence that outpaces other more advantaged neighborhoods.

We should not just see these communities through their failures, but call for leadership which believes solutions must come through a more holistic investment in communities. That leadership should be willing to make wholesale changes to approaches that have produced consistently failing results.

The report card acknowledged the work of Aldermen willing to challenge racially and economically discriminatory law enforcement practices, invest in historically disadvantaged communities, and develop solutions that give reformers the ability to radically change policing in Chicago.

ILJP’s calls for reform extend beyond policing reform, but those calls are undoubtedly applicable to the report card topics. We’ve synthesized this call through the development of the Collaborative Principles, a set of requirements or framework that we believe successful solutions should follow. They include:

  • Taking a public health approach to fighting violence that targets root causes
  • Prioritizing options that feature best practices and build the capacity of community partners
  • Targeting the highest-need communities with resources that match their needs
  • Promoting coordination among governmental entities
  • Including the voices of impacted and community voices in decision making
  • Ensuring that performance measurement is built into solutions

We hope that with future changes, new city leaders will abandon the old way of operating described in CRGE report card and foster solutions built on the foundation of the Collaborative Principles.

For those that choose that path, the A+’s on next year’s report card are sure to follow.