This month I am excited to feature a guest blog entry written by a number of All Stars Project corporate partners in Chicago. These individuals are all passionate about the importance of bringing together people from very different backgrounds with very different ideas, and trying to engage the issues of poverty. Below is their story.
Business Leaders Can Help Bridge the Divide Between “Two Chicagos”
Felicia Hill Murray and Mya Middleton, like thousands of other young people, were summer interns this past year. They worked at the Loop offices of law firm Polsinelli delivering mail, filing papers and making copies. They also learned how an office runs: how calls are answered, meetings are scheduled, and bills are paid. Some of it was mundane, to be sure, but for Felicia and Mya and 50 other young people ages 16 – 21 from the South and West Sides of Chicago, participating in the All Stars Project of Chicago Development School for Youth (DSY) program, it was life-changing.
The commute from the girls’ Austin neighborhood on the West Side to downtown takes less than an hour. In some ways, though, it is a trip from one world to another: from one Chicago, the one that is too-often written off as crime-ridden or hopeless; to the other, the global city that powers the economy of the future. In learning how to navigate this journey, Felicia and Mya have become part of an important movement.
For Polsinelli, Equity Residential, Nuveen Investments, AMLI Residential and the 26 other professional companies participating in DSY, the presence of these young people is a symbol of our commitment to helping bridge the divide between the two Chicagos. And today, as we reflect upon both the charitable spirit of the holiday season and the tumultuous times facing our city, we recognize that the experience of being connected with young people from the other side of Chicago’s great divide was life-changing for us as well.
Too often we, as business leaders, leave things to the politicians, schools and social programs. We are so wrapped up in the day-to-day work of building our enterprises that we fail to see the big picture. The fact is that our futures are just as tied to what happens in the city’s most-challenged neighborhoods as Felicia’s and Mya’s futures are tied to what happens downtown. Yes, we strengthen the city by fueling its business economy. But that is not enough. If we allow one Chicago to fail, we risk the ruin of the other as well.
Felicia, who wants to be a lawyer, attends the Legal Prep Charter Academy, and Mya, who hasn’t yet decided on a career path, attends the selective-enrollment Westinghouse College Prep. The program in which they participate, however, is open to all young people who want to grow, not just those attending top schools or making top grades. Though there is no GPA requirement, the interns have all successfully graduated from DSY’s rigorous 12-week training that uses a performance-based model — wearing the right costume, for example, and speaking so your audience can understand you — to prepare young people from struggling neighborhoods to participate in the vibrant economic and cultural life of the entire city.
Our companies provide internships, in partnership with the DSY, that create a high-quality environment — a stage upon which the students can perform in new ways. The employees who supervise them are also trained by the All Stars Project, with the goal of helping maximize the developmental experience for the young people. As they connected with each other over the summer, they found they are creating something new together: a bond that easily cuts across that supposedly “unbridgeable” divide between the two Chicagos. And both the interns and their supervisors feel better about themselves and their city for having participated.
We would urge our fellow business leaders to look at this and other worthy programs as more than just potential recipients of our end-of-year charitable donations, but as partners in moving our city forward.
There are sound economic reasons to try to connect our companies to the tremendous pool of untapped, under-developed talent here in Chicago. Beyond that, though, working together is quite simply the right thing to do. The business community can and must do its part to bring us back together as one city, one economy, one Chicago.
Margo Cook, Senior Executive Vice President, Nuveen Investments and Chair, ASP of Chicago Board and member, All Stars Project Board of Directors
Greg Mutz, Chairman & CEO, AMLI Residential
Tony Nasharr, Managing Director/Chicago, Polsinelli
David Neithercut, President & CEO, Equity Residential