Race and Healing in Chicago

by David Hiller, President and CEO

After the terrible events last week in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, our country is shocked, saddened and deeply worried about where we are and where we are going as a nation. As a foundation in Chicagoland committed to strengthening our communities, we are reflecting on what we can do to help our community heal, build trust, and move forward.

The center of our problem is the failure of community itself, with the perception and fact that we are divided along racial lines, and that police and other institutions do not treat communities of color equitably, sometimes with violent and lethal consequences. This problem is as old as our nation, and is rooted in our long history of slavery, racism, and segregation, a legacy we have not fully confronted and certainly not solved.

At the McCormick Foundation we have over the past year begun exploring more intentionally how race and racial equity impact our communities, and our own mission to help make our communities better. We are benefitting on this journey from our work with community-based organizations and individuals who are living these issues daily. It is a journey we all need to travel together.

Even early on, we can see a number of related needs that must be addressed.

  1. Police accountability and community relations. We should support the public process of reconciliation, trust building, along with changes to improve police accountability and police community relations. Along with other foundations, we helped fund the Police Accountability Task Force that has made a very strong set of recommendations to deal with racism and bias in policing, improve accountability and transparency, and improve police community relations. We now need to develop and implement a process to make these changes in ways that build trust and confidence between the police and the people they serve and protect.
  2. Public safety and violence reduction. Heightened shootings and killings in our communities of color is the setting in which police and community interactions occur. This rising violence places greater demands on law enforcement at the same time that trust and confidence have been diminished. We should continue our support for violence reduction efforts in the neighborhoods, including measures that will build trust and support for the police.
  3. Strengthening Families in low-income communities of color. Deep poverty in our segregated communities on the south and west sides contributes in myriad ways to the racial divisions and disparities in education, employment, health, homelessness, and experiencing violence. We need to deepen city-wide efforts to help families and children in these communities, with an increasing emphasis on systemic level change that can have bigger long term impact. Creating jobs is especially important in these communities, where nearly half of African American young men between 16 and 24 are not in school and not employed.
  4. Democracy and Civics. The challenges we are facing are fundamentally about the effectiveness – and short-comings – of our civic and community institutions. Solutions will require active democratic participation, vigorous journalistic reporting, and more accountable and transparent government. Implementing the Police Accountability Task Force recommendations, in a process genuinely embraced and informed by our communities, will be critical.

Much of what our country confronts is part of our painful history of race and prejudice, and needs to be addressed in those terms. Our own work on racial equity is helping us build our capacity to work with others in the community to deal with these issues in open, honest and constructive ways. This is something we all need to do together, in the prayer that terrible events as we have seen in the past week do not happen again.


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