The future is now

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Can you imagine living in a city where every Black child receives a Gold Coast education? Where Black entrepreneurs have equal access to capital? And where jobs are located in your community? I can. It’s called “Chicago” %uFFFD in about 10 yea

Visions of a city firing on all cylinders was the inspiration behind the Chicago Urban League’s newest research study, The Future of Economic Development for African Americans in the Chicago Metropolitan Area: The Next Ten Years. The report was released recently at the CUL’s first-ever Economic Forum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

The Futures Study, as it’s become known at CUL, guided the discussion at the forum, along with the results of a joint Chicago Urban League/Nielsen Media poll of Black Chicagoans, gauging their thoughts and fears about the future. Both the study and the poll were intended to help answer the question: “What does Chicago need to do to become a truly global city and how does Black

Chicago impact that?” First, the CUL sought advice from Chicago’s thought leaders during a series of focus groups last year. We asked participants to list the main drivers for change in a diverse metropolis such as Chicago. Improvements in education and in entrepreneurship and workforce development rose to the top. From there, we created four possible scenarios for Chicago in 10 years.

Outcomes were tested based on improvements in education, or lack thereof, and support for entrepreneurs and workforce development, or lack thereof. In one of the futures, the city invests in education but ignores business development.

In another, education suffers while businesses thrive. In two of the scenarios, the city wins its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games; in the other two, it does not. The poll, however, tapped the opinions of average Black citizens, the ones who live and work in the neighborhoods.

Similar to the study, concerns about education and entrepreneurship and workforce development dominated. More than a third of respondents (35.7 percent) said access to better quality education is the most important factor in their future economic success.

Lack of education was mentioned as the third-largest threat to personal job security in the future, behind outsourcing and the economy, and 54 percent named education as the most important factor in getting a good job. The poll showed that confidence in the public education system, however, is low among Black Chicagoans, with only 25 percent agreeing that the Chicago Public Schools provide a quality education.

On the topic of entrepreneurship, 52.7 percent of respondents said they would like to start a business, but the majority (59.2 percent) agreed there is not sufficient economic and government support for business startups. Interestingly, 85 percent cited a stable home environment as the most important factor to a child’s academic growth, and 20.3 percent named inattentive parents as a main barrier to African American children obtaining a high school diploma.

Here’s what I found most remarkable: Despite citing as problems the lack of access to a quality education, good-paying jobs and investment in Black-owned business, more than 70 percent of Blacks polled believe they will be better off in a decade and nearly 64 percent believe that Blacks are responsible for their own economic future.

After seeing the results of the study and the poll, I’m reminded that Black Chicago still believes in the American dream; they just lack the pathways that lead to the dream. No city can call itself a true global leader as long as a significant segment of its population flounders.

I, too, am hopeful that Chicago’s best days lie ahead. Getting there will require integrated solutions and policies that devote equal attention to education and business and workforce development. And it will require that we all chip in.

______ Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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