Metropolitan Planning Council picks new leader

Darlene Hightower, with a background working for racial justice, will be the group’s first Black president and CEO.

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Darlene Hightower will be the Metropolitan Planning Council’s first Black president and CEO.

Darlene Hightower


The Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit that advises communities about equitable and sound growth, has named Darlene Hightower as its president and CEO.

Hightower, with more than two decades of civic activism, will be the first Black person to lead the council, which dates from 1934. She succeeds MarySue Barrett, who stepped down after 25 years leading the council.

An attorney, Hightower will move over from Rush University Medical Center where she has been vice president of community health equity. Hightower has been involved in social justice initiatives at Rush and helped organize West Side United, a coalition that promotes health and economic growth.

Hightower will start the job in January.

“She is a strategic, data-driven leader of high integrity and possesses the visionary leadership to achieve a new level of impact for MPC,” said the council’s board chair, Melissa Washington, in a news release. “With a proven track record of building innovative programs to address systemic inequities in the Chicagoland region, Darlene has the perfect blend of skills and experience to honor MPC’s heritage while simultaneously transforming the organization to embrace its future potential for years to come.”

Hightower formerly led Public Allies, a nonprofit leadership development organization. She has been an administrative law judge for the Chicago Department of Human Relations. Her LinkedIn profile lists that she was a partner at the firm Robinson Curley & Clayton and a trial attorney for the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

The Bradley University graduate earned her juris doctorate at Georgetown University.

“The mission of the organization, which is to create a better, bolder, and more equitable future for everyone, allows me the opportunity to combine my personal passions and blend them with my professional experience and goals,” Hightower said in the council’s release.

The council said it conducted a national search with the help of Koya Partners.

The organization has advocated for regional cooperation to address problems that arise from development or the lack of it. It has focused on issues such as affordable housing and modernizing zoning rules. In 2017, it produced a “Cost of Segregation” study that quantified how racial injustice has led to lost lives and slower economic growth in the region.

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