It is incredulous that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would deny that Chicago is a tale of two cities. Everyone knows there are two Chicagos.
One Chicago enjoys our sports teams, the variety of restaurants, world-class museums, our great theaters and special events, such as last weekend’s Air and Water Show.
The other Chicago is left behind and disconnected from our city’s success. This Chicago — primarily on the West and South sides — attends failing schools, sees 50 public schools closed (despite community opposition), witnesses the closing of much-needed mental health clinics and suffers through poverty and high unemployment.
The residents of this Chicago spend much of their time in hospital rooms, worried that a loved one won’t survive a bullet, or they are recovering themselves from a gunshot wound. Or they are attending a funeral.
Each day, more people from this Chicago are added to the growing casualty list. More than 375 people have been killed so far this year, and more than 1,950 people have been shot.
Chicago’s tale of two cities is clearly illustrated in the disparities of education. According to a 2017 report by the New Schools of Chicago (now Kids First Chicago), one in four African-American students attends a failing school, and two in 25 Latino children attend a failing school. But only two in 100 white students attend a failing school.
Why is this acceptable? And what, if anything, is being done to address the problem?
All of Chicago’s children, regardless of race or zip code, deserve a high-quality education. When a young person attends a failing school, it is much more likely that he or she will have a difficult time succeeding at college or in the workplace.
Too many neighborhoods on Chicago’s West and South sides have seen disinvestment for decades.
The city’s Tax Increment Financing program was designed to help people in poor and distressed communities by creating more capital investment. Instead, tens of millions of these dollars have been diverted to support projects located downtown and in other affluent parts of the city.
When this is pointed out, Emanuel seeks to create a false narrative that “it is not in our interest to pit one side of the city against another.” In fact, those of us who believe in equity in Chicago are seeking to create a unified city where everyone has equal access and an equal opportunity to succeed.
It is this policy of unequal and unfair treatment for West and South side residents that feeds resentment and creates barriers to success for our young people and adults.
But Chicago’s tale of two cities is most starkly told in the mass exodus of African-Americans who have decided that this city is no longer for them. The Great Migration has become the Great Black Exodus.
Since 1980, when Chicago’s black population peaked at 1.2 million, we have lost more than 200,000 black Chicagoans. The Urban Institute estimates that Chicago’s black population will shrink to 665,000 by 2030. In other words, Chicago will see a decline in its black population of 500,000 — half a million — in 50 years.
As Alden Loury, a senior editor at WBEZ, wrote last month in the Sun-Times: “That hasn’t happened in any other American city at any point in our nation’s history — ever. Only in Chicago, and only now.”
For people who are suffering in this other Chicago, the tale of two cities is very real. For them, it is a state of emergency.
The only question is whether there is a will to end this sorry state of affairs — two separate and unequal Chicagos — and create a new Chicago in which everyone has equal opportunity to grow, develop and be successful.
David Cherry is City leader of All Stars Project of Chicago. Ira Acree is pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. He is also co-chairman of The Leaders Network Chicago.
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