Lightfoot plans ‘reunion weekend’ to invite Blacks who fled Chicago to ‘come back home’

Lightfoot previewed her plans to rebuild a city economy ravaged by the pandemic while moderating “Cup of Joe,” an online panel. The local, Inauguration Day version of MSNBC’s, “Morning Joe” program featured business and community leaders and activists discussing their hopes and dreams for the incoming Biden administration.

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The Chicago skyline, viewed from the inbound Eisenhower Expressway.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that since Chicago has “lost a lot of population over the last 10-plus years,” she wants to reach out to those former residents, and urge them to give the city another look.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday she has “great plans for re-introducing Chicago to the nation” mid-summer and into the fall that includes a “reunion weekend” to encourage African Americans who have fled Chicago to “come back home.”

Lightfoot offered a sneak peek at her plans to rebuild a Chicago economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic while moderating a virtual panel she called “Cup of Joe.”

It was a local, Inauguration Day version of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, and featured Chicago business and community leaders and activists discussing their hopes and dreams for the incoming Biden administration.

Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, set the stage for Lightfoot’s preview when he talked about the need for “Black and Brown folks from our communities” to have a “lead role” in rebuilding their long-neglected neighborhoods.

“It’s so vitally important that ... catalytic projects that are so needed to establish workforce in our community rebuild wealth that has been … stolen from many of us due to systemic and structural racist policies,” Nelson said.

“I would implore you and implore the federal government that, as funds come into our community — whether it’s Opportunity Zone or stimulus or CARES Act funding — that those funds go to leaders from our communities, economic development professionals from our communities, developers from our communities, so we can build our communities back for us, by us.”

Lightfoot said she “couldn’t agree more” about the need to build wealth and capacity in Black and Brown communities. It’s what her $750 million Invest South/West plan to rebuild 10 impoverished inner-city neighborhoods is all about.

“One of the things that we have planned going into the future is a reunion weekend. We’ve lost a lot of population over the last 10-plus years. People leaving Chicago, particularly Black Chicago, going to other places in the country — Atlanta, Dallas and even just moving to the suburbs because they didn’t feel like Chicago was welcoming and their home,” the mayor said.

“We’ve got to change that around and when we open back up, we’re gonna be heavily marketing to all areas of the country that we know the Chicago diaspora has gone to and saying, ‘Come back home. Give us another look. We are a different city. We want you to come back home.’ I’m excited about that and other opportunities as we open up.”

Greg Schulson, chairman of the Illinois Restaurant Association and owner of Burrito Beach restaurant, said a pandemic-ravaged restaurant industry forced to lay off more than 20% of its employees desperately needs a bailout comparable to what the airlines got recently, and the financial industry received in 2008.

“Our almost singular focus right now is keeping people employed. Anything you can do to bring dollars into the restaurant industry, into the hospitality industry, tourism, the hotels to get people back to Chicago to then visit the restaurants — those are the things that … would really help … give more opportunities to people we employ,” Schulson said.

There are “great plans for re-introducing Chicago to the nation once we are able to fully open,” Lightfoot said.

“My hope is, by mid-summer and into the fall, there are gonna be tremendous opportunities,” the mayor added.

“We haven’t talked about it but our arts community has also been very hard hit. They’re excited about the plans for late summer and fall. And when people come back into the city people feel like they can be out and about, that’s obviously gonna … [be] to the benefit of small businesses and particularly the restaurants and bars.”

Some activists on Wednesday’s panel, hosted by Lightfoot’s political PAC, talked about the need to give eight million undocumented immigrants living in the United States a path to citizenship, as Biden has proposed. Others talked about the Equality Act, the need to repeal the Hyde Amendment (which restricts the use of federal funds to pay for abortion) and strengthen protections for transgendered Americans.

Nearly everyone acknowledged time and patience are needed, even on a day of transition filled with hope and promise; Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris are, everyone agreed, “servants — not saviors.”

“For the past four years, Chicago has been under a verbal attack by our former commander in chief. … There is kind of PTSD effect that is lingering in our communities. Kind of a hopelessness that the federal government in Washington has turned its back on those of us in the greatest need,” Nelson said.

“Our city … really needs a much-needed healing process as we begin, kind of re-connecting Chicago with the federal government. A kind of making America whole again.”

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