Not far from where we live in Chicago’s River West, the street was blocked by trucks Monday morning when my son and I were outside. Kids always want to know why. Explaining injustice to kids is the hardest part about being a parent. It’s also one of the best motivations for renewing my commitment to be a better ally to people of color in my family, neighborhood, city, region, and country.
That commitment is front and center in my role as the leader of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Our staff is heartbroken over the senseless killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and more. These tragedies have inflicted immeasurable pain and loss on the Black community, at a time when a global pandemic is disproportionately affecting Black people and other people of color.
These recent injustices are not isolated acts. They must be viewed in light of the history and ongoing legacy of systemic racism, including discrimination that has led to issues in housing, transportation, education, and employment for Black youth and families. And we can no longer ignore that some of this discrimination was carried out by the planning profession itself. A number of planning policies have contributed to racial segregation and denied homeownership to people of color through zoning codes, transit funding and by the private sector through unfair lending practices.
I received a deeper understanding of equity at Cleveland State University during a graduate-level planning class I took with Norm Krumholtz, the city’s former planning director. His focus on equity was radical in the 1970s and he had the philosophy that “government institutions give priority attention to the goal of promoting a wider range of choices for those residents who have few, if any, choices.”
I wish I could say the planning field has made more progress on this goal since Professor Krumholtz’s era, but it’s clear we have much more to do. The world around us is constantly changing. Today, nearly half of our region’s population is people of color. We as planners and policymakers must change as well to truly succeed in our mission of improving communities. As I reflect on the past and look to the future, I know our work and our commitment to the principles of ON TO 2050 — inclusive growth, prioritized investment, and resilience — are crucial to the recovery and rebuilding of our communities from COVID-19.
There are things each of us can do within our organizations and within our communities. When I started at CMAP last July, I asked staff to review and refresh our core values. We added equity as a value and are continuing to find ways to center equity in our work. As one example, CMAP has transformed the way we allocate transportation dollars so more resources are available to our most vulnerable communities — an approach developed with support from the city of Chicago and all 11 Councils of Mayors in the region.
CMAP is doing internal racial equity work, as well. This week, we completed another staff-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion training — which we are now doing on a quarterly basis. We have started sharing resources with employees every week, and the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, formed by employees in summer of 2016, is focused on fostering belonging and amplifying unheard voices. We believe that Black lives matter. Together, we will grow, reflect, and do better, emerging stronger because we acknowledge and accept that mistakes are part of the learning process.
CMAP stands in solidarity with communities of color at this painful time, and we commit to be part of solutions that create equity and opportunity for all. It starts with individual action and concrete steps. Here are some ideas:
Help to increase workforce diversity across the region. Partner with organizations that have programs for minority job seekers, like the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Chicago Jobs Council, and The Partnership for College Completion.
Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace. Create a DEI statement, conduct training, share and create resources, and hire diverse staff, especially at the leadership level.
Do internal racial equity work and educate yourself through articles, books, podcasts, and documentaries. For this purpose, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture just launched Talking About Race.
Donate and support minority-owned businesses. Give to My Block, My Hood, My City’s Small Business Relief Fund, the regional Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, and the Black-Owned Restaurant Relief Fund.
Listen — really listen — to the lived experience of people of color, particularly Black people. This is the moment for empathy, compassion, and deep reflection, both personally and organizationally.
Now, more than ever, is the time for every community in northeastern Illinois to come together. Through a shared vision and collective action, we can create lasting change and build a stronger, more equitable region. Let’s stand together for a better future for all.
Erin Aleman, CMAP Executive Director