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Black politicians launch training program for next generation

The program, called the Black Bench, will launch on Martin Luther King Day and is co-chaired by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Jacky Grimshaw, a political advisor for the late Mayor Harold Washington and the current vice president of government affairs for the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The Chicago and United States of America flags fly outside City Hall with the Chicago Board of Trade building in view on July 18, 2018.
A new program hopes to recruit and train the next generation of Black political leaders in Chicago.
Sun-Times file

Black politicians and others connected to politics in Chicago are joining forces for a six-month training program for the next generation of Black leaders.

The program, called the Black Bench, will launch on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and is co-chaired by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Jacky Grimshaw, a political advisor for the late Mayor Harold Washington and the current vice president of government affairs for the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Members of the program’s advisory board include Michael Strautmanis, chief engagement officer of the Obama Foundation; Andy Zopp, managing partner for Cleveland Avenue; Kurt Summers, former Chicago city treasurer; Greg Kelly, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Jonathan T. Swain, an election commissioner with the city’s Board of Election Commissioners.

SEIU Healthcare is an investor in Sun-Times Media.

Alex Sims, co-organizer of the Black Bench, founded her own PR firm, APS and Associates; it represents the Obama Foundation and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, among others.

Sims said it’s important to start the effort now to “train my generation,” with a little more time before the next election. The situation also has added urgency, given the impact of COVID-19 on people of color, as well as the loss of Black population in Chicago.

“We’re finding that there are a lot of gaps that need to be filled with leadership, but we don’t always have the skill set needed,” Sims said. “I think it’s really important to make sure that this group of leaders passes on the information that they have to my generation.”

Political experience isn’t needed, but it is encouraged. The program is looking for people who want to make an impact in public affairs by, for example, running for office or working in government, nonprofits or media, Sims said.

The program is open to African Americans age 25 to 45; applications will be accepted Monday through Jan. 31.