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Answering Lightfoot’s call, Chicago Community Trust launches $25M plan to help Chicago rebuild equitably after pandemic

The goal is to ensure Black and Hispanic communities that bore the brunt of the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus can make a strong comeback from that double whammy.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference last month.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference last month.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been urging Chicago’s corporate and philanthropic communities to help Chicago rebuild more equitably after the economic devastation created by the coronavirus and the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

On Thursday, both sectors answered the call.

Armed with $25 million in “initial” philanthropic contributions and “corporate commitments,” the Chicago Community Trust launched, Together We Rise.

The goal is to make certain that Black and Hispanic communities that bore the brunt of both the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus can make a strong comeback from that double-whammy.

“Every neighborhood. Every corner. Not just the downtown, River North, South Loop. But the entirety of our city that has been dramatically impacted — not just by COVID-19, but by way too many years of lack of investment,” Lightfoot said Thursday.

On the corporate side, the program calls for several ways to “foster economic equity.” They include: “procurement and hiring commitments” and “other in-kind, catalytic contributions” as well as “workforce and income supports, such as earned income tax credit,” and “policies that incentivize investment in disinvested communities.”

Even before the pandemic exposed Chicago’s ugly underbelly of poverty, lack of access to health care and disparities in investment and jobs, Lightfoot had launched a war on poverty with the ambitious goal of eliminating it in a generation.

On Thursday, the mayor applauded Chicago’s corporate and philanthropic titans for responding to those “flashing neon signs” in an unprecedented way.

But she exhorted other corporations to get on board and put their money where their mouths have been since what she called the “civic uprising” that followed the “murder of George Floyd.”

“Companies all across the country made pledges and commitments. Many of them were over many years. Many of them didn’t have a lot of details. This is your opportunity to fulfill the pledge that you already made,” Lightfoot said.

“Do it here to help Chicago, to help our neighborhoods . . . so that our young children understand that the corporate community in this city sees them, cares about them and is committed to their future.”

Helene Gayle, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, said it’s time to build on the $35 million fund created by the Trust at the onset of the pandemic to meet “immediate needs” and focus on putting Black and Latinx communities “historically left behind” at the center of the long-term recovery.

Asked how the $25 million would be distributed by a steering committee, Gayle said the most immediate investments would go to “projects that we know are already ready to go.”

“There’s a lot of work already ongoing around developing eco-systems for small businesses. We will probably invest in some of those partnerships,” she said.

“We want to make some of those early investments in the next couple of months to really catalyze some growth and economic opportunity as quickly as possible.”

As one of two “anchor corporate supporters,” of the new initiative, JPMorgan Chase has made a five-year, $600 million home lending commitment to increase home ownership among 3,000 Black and Hispanic families in the Chicago area, including the city’s South and West sides.

“Every Chicagoan should have equal access to home ownership opportunity. And we all have work to do to make this happen. We are absolutely committed to helping more Black and Latinx households in Chicago achieve affordable, sustainable home ownership,” said Curtis Reed, Chicago market leader for JPMorgan Chase.

The other corporate anchor is PepsiCo. The soft-drink giant announced a commitment to invest $500,000 a year in job training and youth development in South and West side neighborhoods.

PepsiCo also announced $1.5 million in “new programming” that includes $1 million for the Hatchery to help 400 small food business entrepreneurs owned by women, and a three-year, $300,000 partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago.

Two months ago, Lightfoot exhorted the Executives’ Club of Chicago to participate by following what she called a “new economic model based on dynamic, inclusive growth.”

The mayor said on that day that she was prepared to lead the way with her $750 million Invest South/West plan to rebuild 10 inner-city neighborhoods.

But she argued that the city, philanthropic and community-based organizations together “account for, at most, 20% of the city’s economic activity” and “cannot do this alone.”

“It’s our business community, all of you, that make up the other 80%. And until that 80% finds a new way to invest in our people and our neighborhoods, the grinding poverty and the violence born out of desperation and despair simply will not end. But when we put that 80% to work in our neighborhoods, anything is possible,” the mayor said then.

Editor’s note: The Chicago Community Trust has provided a grant to the Sun-Times to fund the work of two reporters who cover the environment and public health, and social justice and income inequality.