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Fierce Conversations - Be Intentional About Developing Poor Communities

Wed, 2016-06-08 15:27

Chicagoans weekly brace for news reports with the latest shooting death tally, public school funding crisis or failings on the part of elected officials. But they're not sitting idly waiting for answers.

As common is the expectation of bad news, Chicago residents are keen to author their own solutions. The venerable Chicago Community Trust is one such organization that provided a platform to help residents do just that in a series of On the Table civic discussions. The location and composition of people who attend the talks, however, were emblematic of Chicago's problem: They're segregated and siloed with communities unable to get an airing of their issues and solutions with neighbors across town.

I attended several and sensed resident skepticism about any value added outside of networking and the free food. I and many people I spoke with didn't feel they walked away with anything substantive. I understand why. As a result of crises facing schools, public finances, police, criminal justice and City Hall, black communities are experiencing its version of the Arab Spring. Though much of Chicago expresses righteous indignation, so, too, their faith in government has all but disappeared. Is anybody listening?

In Fierce Conversations, author Susan Scott says life's most important conversations must be "robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager and unbridled." The most consequential heart-to-hearts demand the courage to interrogate reality and provide an impetus to change behavior. Fierce conversations require broaching subject matter other people can't say, won't say, haven't said or don't know.

"When the conversation is real, the change occurs before the conversation is over," Scott writes.

A sense of fierceness was lacking at many of the On the Table discussions. Participants coming from business, not-for-profits, and neighborhoods are often nice and politically correct when engaging in the topic at hand. "Fierce" attempts at forthrightness are often met with backhand compliments meant to thwart discussion: "We really appreciate your passion, but ... " Candor should be the litmus test for accomplishment. Instead the standard is whether attendees leave the table comfortable. This type of exercise will never accomplish anything because fierce conversations require discomfort and anxiety.

So in true "fierce" form, let's interrogate reality and be real about where we've gone wrong in Chicago civic life, economic development and social support for all it residents.

Chicago has failed its poor, and since they are predominantly black and brown, we act like we don't care. Poor communities are managed, not developed. Development in poor communities is an afterthought, rarely intentional. Racial segregation has and continues to be a dead-end management strategy. Symptoms of bad management show up in chronic unemployment, decrepit schools and broken families. Too many times government manages poverty by breaking the law, and poor people break the law to manage their poverty.

Cynicism and inaction are destructive when it becomes an impediment to what is possible. For example, while Mayor Rahm Emanuel's unveiled law enforcement strategy, public safety changes and recent appointment of Andrea Zopp as deputy mayor may ease tensions, it won't be enough. Being intentional about developing poor communities requires collaboration between the private sector and government. To be successful, they must work in concert with and not on behalf of the poor.

A case in point: To avoid a missed opportunity that would benefit underserved communities, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art development plan should be salvaged -- not scrapped --with compromises, to spur development.

To be sure, Chicago has more important priorities (education, violence, civic engagement) than helping "Star Wars" billionaire couple, George Lucas and Mellody Hobson build a $1.17 billion tribute to his legacy along the lakefront. And Friends of the Parks certainly has a point in opposing lakefront development that honors the Burnham Plan to keep that public treasure forever open and free, but we have options, including the following:

• Relocate the project to the vacant U.S. Steel site along the South Shore's lakefront. The museum could be the economic stimulus to spur development in a part of the city desperate for it.

• Create a Lucas violence prevention match fund, in collaboration with area foundations and employers, focused on year-around job training, placement and mentorship for high school youth residing in designated communities.

• Fund a civic literacy and advocacy curriculum initiative for CPS students between grades 6-12, culminating with automatic voter registration at 18 years of age.

We are all connected, and the negative activity and symptoms of poverty in certain parts of the city manifests itself in other parts, ultimately affecting us all.

Scott expresses it best: "I apologize to all those with whom I learned a thousand and one ways not to have a fierce conversation. Thank you for all you taught me."

Our challenge is to master the same fierce lesson.

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Summertime in Chicago Bucket List

Wed, 2016-06-08 07:39

There is literally something to do every day in the summertime in Chicago. And I don't mean literally in the way most people use it. I mean every day, without fail, there is something going on. So instead of listing the endless events, I wanted to share with you my top 10 things I am looking forward to most this summer in Chicago as a follow up to my Springtime in Chicago Bucket List.

1. Architecture River Cruise
I have not been on a architecture river cruise since I was a kid. I really enjoyed it back then but something tells me I will enjoy it even more as an adult - not to mention I no longer have to wind my camera to take photos. I've been keeping my eye on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady. I'll be sure to post again with updates and photos after I take the tour!

2. A Picnic and an Outdoor Movie
I have been loving the feeling of the sun on my skin during the late afternoon and then the cool evening breezes once the sun has set. One of my favorite ways to take in both during the summer is to pack a picnic for dinner and head to a local park during a movie night. The timing usually is perfect to enjoy some sun, see the sunset, and then take in a movie. You can see a full list of movies and locations this summer here.

3. Watch Fireworks Over the Lake
Lake Michigan is such a beautiful setting for the city and fireworks are always a fun summer tradition. Independence day is a given, but in Chicago, fireworks are shot off every Wednesday and Saturday for the entire summer. More information can be found here.

4. Lit Fest
This is one of the first festivals of the summer every year and it is one of my all time favorites. The festival has more than 200 booksellers from across the country displaying new, used and antiquarian books and features more than 200 authors participating in panels, discussions and a variety of other programs. More information can be found here.

5. Chicago Blues Festival
Chicago is known for amazing Blues music. I will admit I don't spend all year long listening to Blues, but I do really enjoy listening now and again. Plus, I cannot pass up hearing some of the best musicians there is for free in the middle of my favorite place in the world. For more information, click here.

6. Eat Italian Ice
I have been having some serious cravings for Italian Ice recently so this bucket list item is likely going to be checked off as early as this weekend. But I'm sure I will hunt some down more than once this summer. And I for sure want to visit the best in the city, Mario's.

7. Chicago Pride Parade
This is the first item on my bucket list that I haven't ever been to in previous years. I've always wanted to attend and show my support but the timing never worked out. Luckily this year the parade is a bit later in the month and I should have no problem making it! From what I hear, the event is a blast and of course, a great way to celebrate how far we've come in the recent years. For more information on the pride parade, visit here.

8. Randolph Street Market
The Randolph Street Market is an indoor and outdoor market featuring 300+ venders which include vintage, antique, indie designer, global goods, and food. The market takes place the last full weekend of every month. While this is a year round event, the summer is the best time to visit. Check here for more information.

9. Adler After Dark
I have yet to visit our planetarium for one of their 21+ night time events, but this year is going to be the year. Adler After Dark offers you open access, unlimited shows, and unique entertainment every third Thursday of the month from 6:00-10:00 pm. More information can be found here.

10. Sketch
There is nothing like finding a seat in a park with a great view and a sketch book. This summer I'm hoping to find enough time to fill an entire sketchbook with doodles and drawings from my adventures wandering the city.

I admittedly still have a few items to check off of my Springtime in Chicago Bucket List as well, but I'm hoping to have both lists complete by the end of the summer. And if you're looking to spend some time inside to get away from the heat, check out my list of Free Chicago Museum Days for 2016.

Do you have an item on your summer bucket list you cannot wait to check off?


Alexandra is a Chicago area blogger at Her writing includes life advice, random musings, her journey with PCOS, and details about moving into urban life in Chicago to start a family. Check out her popular post How to Survive Feeling Like You're Stuck.

She can also be found on the following social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Bloglovin.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.