On May 12, the Chicago Community Trust (CCT) began more than 1,100 mealtime conversations that ran across the spectrum of Chicago neighborhoods and through each of the six metro counties. More than 11,500 people were welcome to set their ideas "On the Table"an initiative that brought together representatives from the arts, business, education, religious, immigrant, youth, LGBTQ and even juvenile detention communities, to name a few. The goal was to add a piece of the puzzle ensuring Chicago's future as a robust, diverse and inclusive city in a constant and energetic state of growth.
Chicago Community Trust President and CEO Terry Mazany announced the results of the discussions at a sold-out City Club of Chicago public policy luncheon held at Maggiano's June 18. "All of usacross every corner of the regionare bound together and need to act together," Mazany said. "Our wellbeing, prosperity and our future are all interdependent."
According to Mazany, inspiration across the dinner table formed the genesis of the Trust nearly a century ago, when a group of Chicago philanthropists decided to combine forces in 1915. "If a small group of people could give life to such a powerful idea, what brilliance could thousands generate?" He wondered.
The answers were born out of an impassioned and enterprising need among On the Table participants to work together. "There is a strong desire to shed our image of a city divided and beset with conflict and instead build a narrative of respectful deliberation and collaboration," Mazany told the audience. "What we learned from these individuals is that our fellow residents have a wealth of powerful and actionable ideas to improve the quality of their own lives and the lives of others."
Those ideas centered on education, community engagement and collaboration. They included the organization of an interfaith festival, increasing the available time for a student to graduate from high school while providing every child with an adult mentor in their academic and personal lives. Participants also suggested enhancing and expanding financial literacy programs both for youth and adults. There was overwhelming agreement that education should be accessible regardless of income. "Bottom line: no qualified student in our country should be denied the opportunity to go to college because of lack of money," Mazany said. "We are perpetrating a cruel hoax on our nation's children telling students that college is the prerequisite for the American dream and then holding that opportunity just out of reach."
On the Table yielded a deep hunger for a more consolidated sense of community across the city. "We need to care as much about Inglewood and Lawndale as we do about Lincoln Park and Lakeview," Mazany challenged the audience. "Chicago has sister cities programs. What if we had a sister neighborhoods program to create dialogue?"
The suggestion was met with resounding applause.
In an interview with Windy City Times after the luncheon, Mazany stated that he believes Chicago must end its history of segregation. "Different groups and backgrounds feel a sense of marginalization and isolation," he said. "We need to work to overcome and end that."
"The LGBTQ community has made tremendous strides in Chicago," Mazany added. "At the same time, they want to be connected more broadly to the overall culture of our city and region. We need to make sure opportunities for housing are available for youth and senior LGBT people. We've also been on the record with a very strong pro-immigration reform stance. We don't make distinctions between if a person is here as a legal resident or undocumented. They require and merit services, education, healthcare and inclusion in our community."
Through initiatives such as the trust's LGBT Community Fund, Mazany stated that he and his staff have recognized the vital importance of integrating LGBTQ culture into Chicago while ensuring that the community always has a place at the table. "We've seen the very troubling reality of young people who are coming out and their options are limited," he said. "Then they may engage in behaviors simply to survive. We need to help these people find specific connections to education, jobs and careers."
Mazany said that the CCT's Board of Directors intends to frame programs around a mandate of creating an inclusive city. "Within that context, we have the empowerment needed for the leaders of the LGBT Community Fund. People who are invited to the table have great ideas, they breed passion and they have the ability to act and bring about improvement."
For more information, go to www.onthetable2014.com/about/on-the-table/ and www.cct.org/impact/partnerships-initiatives/strengthening-communities/lgbt-community-fund .