Black Bench program created for aspiring Black leaders


Crusader Staff Report

A training program to help a new generation of Black leaders was launched on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 18, by a group of Black politicians in Illinois.

Applications are being accepted for the Black Bench program. The sixth-month training program aims to foster “an understanding of the history and strategies of leaders, with attention to Black leaders, internationally and domestically, in challenging injustice.” The program also aims to help young leaders “demonstrate a commitment to social justice and accept responsibility for correcting societal inequities.”

The program is looking for people who aim to make an impact in public affairs by, for example, running for office or working in government, non-profits or media. Political experience isn’t needed, but it is encouraged.

The program is open to Black applicants age 25 to 45; applications will be accepted through January 31. To apply, go to [].

The Black Bench program is co-chaired by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Jacky Grimshaw, a political advisor for the late Mayor Harold Washington and the current vice president of government affairs for the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Members of the program’s advisory board include Michael Strautmanis, chief engagement officer of the Obama Foundation; Andrea Zopp, managing partner for Cleveland Avenue; Kurt Summers, former Chicago city treasurer; Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois; and Jonathan T. Swain, an election commissioner with the city’s Board of Election Commissioners.

Delmarie Cobb, owner of Publicity Works public relations firm, also serves on the program advisory board, as well as Tara Cooper, former aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO of Rise Strategy Group.

Alex Sims, co-organizer of the Black Bench, founded her own PR firm, APS and Associates; it represents the Obama Foundation and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, among others.

According to the program’s website, organizers in a statement say; “There are few mechanisms for training the next generation of Black civic leaders targeted for politics. In the past, Chicago’s Black community has relied on its ward organizations and community organizing. Many of those systems no longer exist. The Bench can fill in this gap and increase the Black political IQ for the next generation of leadership.

“The Bench brings individuals together to build community, foster creativity, develop leadership skills, and encourage more progress. During the program period, participants are challenged to think critically about leadership theories, traditions, and models to create, communicate, and carry out solutions to social justice and other challenges in Chicago’s Black community.”

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