Approximately 200 businessmen and women, representing some of Chicago’s top economic and urban development thought leaders, convened at the Federal Reserve for a unique symposium to discuss ways in which investments and economic growth can be brought into Chicago’s Black neighborhoods.
The symposium, “Business Growth and Employment in Chicago’s African American Neighborhoods,” was held on June 1, 2017 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
After a robust welcome, Jane Rhodes, professor of African American history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, presented the keynote lecture on Perceptions of Communities of Color, an overview of race and discrimination in America. The historical overview put into context how hundreds of years of racism and institutional discrimination have denied many groups opportunities for economic growth.
“The well-being of any community depends on investment and economic opportunity,” said Maude Toussaint-Comeau, a researcher at the Community Development and Policy Studies Division at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. “This symposium is a tremendous opportunity for stakeholders and experts to gather and find new ways to drive further investment to the Greater Chatham area. We are pleased to be a co-host for this important dialogue, along with the Greater Chat- ham Initiative and World Business Chicago.”
The day-long symposium was sponsored by the Community Development and Policy Studies (CDPS) division of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI) and World Business Chicago. The Greater Chat-
ham Initiative drives investment in African American communities on the south side of Chicago, including Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Avalon Park, and Auburn Gresham. GCI came together a year ago under the impetus of Congressman Bobby Rush, U.S. representative for the 1st Congressional District, the city of Chicago, and other civic leaders. June 1 was the one-year anniversary of GCI.
The program offered commentary and Q & A with the likes of Cong. Rush; Andrea Zopp, deputy mayor for the city of Chicago; Theaster Gates, director, Arts and Public Life, Office of the Provost at the University of Chicago; Natalie Moore, author of The South Side; Jane Rhodes, professor of African American history at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Nedra Sims-Fears, executive director of The Greater Chatham Initiative; and Terry Mazany, president of The Chicago Community Trust. Topics addressed in the four panels were “Reflections on Community Change in South Side Neighborhoods,” “Data on Business Growth and Employment in Chicago Communities,” “Accelerating Business Growth and Employment in Minority Neighborhoods,” and “Challenging Inequality, Driving Economic Growth.”
In her remarks, Nedra Sims-Fears thanked her major funders the Sacks Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Exelon. “This was an important and engaging conversation about the critical issues facing our communities,” said Sims-Fears. “If community renewal comes from collaboration, then it started by bringing different stakeholders together like this today.”
Also addressing the sold-out crowd was Cong. Bobby Rush. In his speech he warned against being lackadaisical and spoke about the gun violence and lack of hope felt by many. “I don’t have time to speak in platitudes and empty words,” he said. “People are suffering.” On a more positive note, Cong. Rush praised GCI, calling it “a vehicle to meet the challenges in Chatham…all the potential to meet that pivotal point, to speak the truth and have a take no prisoner’s attitude.”
In concluding remarks, given by Michael Sacks, vice chairman, World Business Chicago, he cautioned, “We need more inclusive growth and neighborhood development. It’s not just the downtown that matters.” He went on to say that there are issues of inclusiveness and segregation in Chicago. They are very real. “There’s a problem here and outside the city. We have to make sure everybody understands that. When you close that inclusion gap, crime goes down and other positive impacts [happen].”
A highlight of the symposium was presentation of the Chatham Business Awards. The recipients were: Food Processing Awardee, John Clark, founder and president of Reggio’s Pizza; Metal Fabrication Awardee, Ernest Edwards, president and COO of US Architectural Glass and Metal; Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Awardee, Pamela Rakestraw, founder and CEO of SCR Transport; Institutional Anchor Awardee, Alyssa Berman-Cutler, director, University of Chicago; and Social Enterprise Award, Pastor John Hannah, New Life Covenant Church.