CHICAGO: Public investment is a start, but purpose-driven businesses need to invest in disadvantaged neighborhoods like those found in Chicago, said business, community and civic leaders at PRDecoded on Wednesday.
The panel included Samir Mayekar, head of economic development and deputy mayor for the city of Chicago; Pastor Corey Brooks, founder of community group Project Hood, and Latanya Bluitt-Wells, a volunteer counselor at Project Hood. The trio was on the Business, Government and the Neighborhood session at the PRDecoded conference in Chicago on Wednesday.
"Chicago is a tale of two cities: a bustling downtown that’s growing quickly and neighborhoods like Englewood that are challenged," said panel moderator Richard Edelman, global CEO of Edelman and a Chicago native, in a post-panel interview.
"White neighborhoods see five times as much investment as black neighborhoods," Mayekar said, explaining how economic factors drive poverty and violence in Chicago. "We need to bring more investment to these parts of the city. Not surprisingly, when you look at a map of homicides from just last year, it layers on top of a map of poverty in the city. This is not a problem police alone can solve."
Community groups such as Brooks’ Project Hood are driving that investment.
"We decided we were not going to wait around for people to come in to save us," Brooks said. "We decided that waiting for government to fix the problem was a big mistake."
For instance, Brooks said his group worked with owners of an abandoned retail property to start their own business development centers.
"When people are empowered to start their own businesses, it really brings pride," Brooks said. "They hire family and friends. We also realized we had to bring in trades, because not everyone will be an entrepreneur, but the goal is to get to the individuals who have been marginalized, those who have been in gangs, involved and to do so on a continual basis."
Bluitt-Wells is an example of how providing opportunity can make a difference. As a woman who lost her husband to gun violence, she became a volunteer at Project Hood and has worked hard to create a life for her family despite personal tragedy.
"I’m a volunteer counselor for Project Hood," Bluitt-Wells said. "I speak out to women who have lost husbands and fathers to gun violence. I lost a husband and a father to children to gun violence. I am also a full-time student and will graduate in May with a bachelor of science in nursing. I didn’t allow what I went through to stop me from being a leader and the kind of person my kids have left to look up to."