June 12, 2019; Chicago Tribune

Yesterday, Chicago’s Field Foundation, in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation, awarded $700,000 in $50,000 increments to 14 “leaders for a new Chicago.” The project, which is to be repeated annually, is meant to illustrate a new vision of leadership in the Windy City. Each of the awardees was either self-nominated or nominated by others. The award is meant to be spent in equal amounts on the work the leader is involved with, and on themselves.

Angelique Power, president of the foundation, says, “The way that social impact organizes itself these days isn’t always in a nonprofit structure. Often, it’s individuals who are doing amazing work—organizers…it’s journalists, storytellers…it’s artists, it’s collectives, and it’s business. With this list of 14, we’re actually funneling resources to powerful visionaries that are making incredible change in our communities across Chicago.”

“I really love that Field is willing to invest in organizations and people leading social change work in our city,” Viveka Ray-Mazumder, one of the awardees, said. “For me, I really hope this sends a message that social change work is really important and it’s something to put money behind, but also folks also doing that work should also be invested in.”

Some of the leaders will use the personal part of the award to pay down their debt— something too many community workers across the country have a lot of—and pay bills. The other half is the most precious kind of grant money—discretionary and without restrictions.

Power said the awardees are already helping to remake the city’s future and that the money is a recognition of that. “We aren’t finding these leaders, they’re already leaders. We’re just giving them capital and handing the megaphone over so that they can continue to shape the city that we all want to see tomorrow,” she said.

The recipients are:

  • Monica Cosby, leader of participatory defense work at Westside Justice Center, advocate for incarcerated women and post-incarceration rights.
  • Luis Gutiérrez, founder of Latinos Progresando, which helps Latinx immigrants navigate the US immigration system.
  • Darryl Holliday, co-founder and News Lab director at City Bureau, a civic newsroom on the South Side.
  • Tonika Lewis Johnson, visual artist and photographer whose work explores urban segregation.
  • Page May, co-founder of Assata’s Daughters, where black youth learn political education from black women and gender non-conforming people.
  • Emmanuel Pratt, co-founder and executive director of  Sweet Water Foundation, which transforms vacant spaces and abandoned buildings in Englewood and Washington Park into farms, gardens and workshops.
  • Analia Rodriguez, executive director of Latino Union of Chicago and advocate for immigrant, labor and women’s rights.
  • Sarah Ross, founder and co-director of Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, which collaborates with incarcerated artists and writers.
  • Imelda Salazar, leader and organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project.
  • Carlos Tortolero, founder and president of the National Museum of Mexican Art, which drives conversations through art exhibitions.
  • J. Gibran Villalobos, partnership and engagement liaison with the Museum of Contemporary Art, focused on developing relationships with community-based organizations and artists.
  • Aymar Jean Christian, OTV founder and assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern University.
  • Viveka Ray-Mazumder, manager of youth advocacy and civics education program KINETIC at Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
  • Heather Miller, executive director of the American Indian Center, which highlights the Native American experience in Chicago.

While one $50,000 grant may be gone very quickly, the grants also highlight the leaders and their organizations as important asset creators in their own right. Chicago as a city needs and deserves to see the wide-ranging effects of its tradition of civic activism illuminated and celebrated. Let’s hope these grants are followed by additional riches to be used to build on the energy of that city’s vibrant neighborhoods. This is the first time that the Field Foundation has granted money to individuals, and it is the first time it has been granted money from another institution.—Ruth McCambridge