Friday, November 6, 2015

With violence, education at crisis, Chicago Urban League to focus on youth


With violence, education at crisis, Chicago Urban League to focus on youth


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With its 2016 centennial just around the corner, the Chicago Urban League is ramping up its focus on youth issues in a city where rampant violence claims young lives daily and public dollars for education continue to dry up.

That's the theme at this year's 54th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner expected to draw 1,500 of the city's movers and shakers to the Hilton Chicago Saturday night, for an event annually scrutinizing the state of black Chicago and League efforts to address challenges.

"We have made it our business, since 1916, to reach, teach, mentor and inspire young people," says Interim President/CEO Shari Runner. "We do this with the knowledge that building on the victories of the past requires that we make a significant investment in our future. Today, that investment is needed now more than ever."

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"We continue to work with law enforcement and community stakeholders to enhance the safety of our neighborhoods and to develop a police force that reflects and respects our communities. We continue to fight for a fair and equitable state funding formula that allows our schools to offer all children access to computers, art, music, and athletics, at a minimum," she says.

"Every day I spend at the Chicago Urban League, I am reminded of something that you don't see enough of in the media: There are thousands of young people who want to succeed. They just lack a pathway to get there. We all have a role to play to create those pathways," adds Runner.

Runner took over from former chief Andrea Zopp, credited with exponentially expanding League programming and collaborations during her tenure. Zopp stepped down in May to run for the U.S. Senate in the March 2016 primary against Tammy Duckworth, and a nationwide search for a new figurehead continues.

Shari Runner. Provided Photo.

Runner says the work of the historic civil rights organization and others like it that advocate for the black community — in the League's case, through education, economic development and social justice programs — remains critical, with racial disparities still rampant in 2015.

"Six decades after Brown v. Board of Education, too many of our schools remain underfunded and unable to provide a quality education to our children. Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, access to the ballot is under attack across the country," she says. "And 52 years after the Civil Rights Act, disturbing videos of law enforcement officers using excessive or deadly force with a person of color have become part of the daily news."

The two Chicagoans receiving this year's coveted Edwin C. "Bill" Berry Civil Rights Award — named for the civil rights activist who steered the league from 1956-1970, and convinced Martin Luther King to come to Chicago in 1966 — are steeped in chronicling history.

Timuel Black a 96-year-old educator, author, political and civil-rights activist and griot of Chicago's black community, worked alongside King in the 60s and was heavily involved in King's Chicago Freedom Movement. As president of the Chicago chapter of A. Phillip Randolph's Negro American Labor Council, Black spearheaded Chicago's participation in the 1963 March on Washington.

Timuel Black. Provided Photo.

Black's grandparents were slaves, his parents sharecroppers who came to Chicago in the Great Migration that Wilkerson's "Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" covers in 545 critically acclaimed pages.

Wilkerson, the first black woman ever to win the Pulitzer in journalism, chronicled the 55-year phenomenon during which some 6 million blacks left the South for the North and West in a book picked up by Hollywood writer/producer Shonda Rhimes for development into a multiple-part TV series.

Isabel Wilkerson. Provided Photo.

"The Chicago Urban League has uplifted and inspired generations of people since 1916. Just as we were there for the children who arrived here from the Jim Crow South in 1916, we will be here for young people who need us in 2016 and beyond," says Runner.

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