Over a two-day span, stakeholders, municipal agency officers, thought leaders, and private sector partners both locally and from across the country convened to discuss racial inequality and identify solutions at the University of Chicago’s Urban America Forward 2017: Bridging the Racial Wealth Divide held at the Chicago Theological Seminary, 1407 E. 60th St.
Urban America Forward 2017 sought to address economic and financial empowerment, financial literacy, bridging the racial wealth divide, homeownership, educating and upskilling, and investment in minority owned business, according to Alaina Beverly, assistant vice president for Urban Affairs, Office of Federal Relations at the University of Chicago. The annual Urban America Forward series was launched in 2015.
“The university sees itself as essential to its education mission to shed light on the challenges that are confronting urban America and to try to present solutions to improve quality of life,” said Beverly. “We are looking at today some of the best solutions from across the country in terms of asset building along four pillars.”
Beverly emceed several conversations involving speakers representing UC including former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter. Nutter, who gave the keynote address on the second day, is a senior fellow at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and an executive fellow at the University of Chicago Urban Labs. During his remarks, Nutter spoke about the household median income disparity between African American and Hispanic families compared to that of Caucasian families. Specifically, he said the gap between African American and Caucasian families remains unchanged over several decades. He urged listeners to “stay woke.”
“Many of the things that some of us might take for granted…there’s a whole host of people, especially Black and Brown people, who can’t take any of those things for granted and who are literally living day-to-day, and actually for many, things are getting worse,” Nutter said.
He continued and said that despite a wide variety of statistics that illustrate the American economy has rebounded since the Great Recession, there are several groups of people who simply have missed their opportunity to engage in the recovery and now are looking for new paths to recovery. He suggested the best way toward positively affecting change in one’s life is through education.
In addition to the two day event, the UC announced the launch of a new program that will offer $35,000 grants to enhance the capacity of racial justice advocacy organizations’ ability to engage in financial empowerment and wealth-building work.
“Those two grants will be in the effort to help build the capacity for the real lifeblood of this work,” said Beverly.
Beverly said the grants will not be limited to just Chicago, however, the UC is invested in providing multiple resources to local efforts. She said an important aspect of the application is the ability to demonstrate a connection with a public sector partner.
Beverly said there’s greater attention being drawn to the idea that government in and of itself cannot affect change on its own. She said in her travels to Brazil, Colombia and other locales, there’s a greater emphasis being put on universities to impact communities by both helping to identify problems and finding solutions. She said UC along with its students work alongside the Chicago Public School system, partners with small and medium sized businesses for employment opportunities, and more.
“I think the University of Chicago has been heralded as an anchor institution because of its commitment to working with leaders in the surrounding community, and I think that from my perspective it is an honor to be able to work at the national level and highlight the great work that’s being done here in Chicago at the University of Chicago on the South Side,” said Beverly.
The principle presenter of Urban America Forward 2017: Bridging the Racial Wealth Divide was the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture; event co-sponsors included the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy; The Prudential Foundation; Prosperity Now; and Ariel Investments, LLC.
To learn more about Urban America Forward or the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, visit csrpc.uchicago.edu/.