“How should we approach healing?” This was the first question we asked when OERJ embarked on the Year of Healing effort. On the one hand, we wanted to begin with culture change efforts, investing in interventions that shifted public awareness, beliefs, and behaviors. On the other hand, we wanted to begin with policy change, working with policymakers and advocates to shift laws and programs. In the end, we determined that both are essential. Culture change leads to policy change, and policy change leads to culture change. They are separate yet interconnected and reinforcing strategies that lead to healing and transformation in our communities.

Community Activations

Year of Healing Summit 

On September 22, 2022, the Office of Equity and Racial Justice (OERJ) hosted a full-day Year of Healing Summit entitled “Let’s Talk Healing Chicago” at the Harold Washington Library Center. The Summit was a lively and reflective exploration of the City of Chicago’s healing work. It showcased active healing work taking place in both government and in the community, offered us a space to share lessons learned, and provided a way to facilitate conversations to build a roadmap for our continued work.

The morning included a report out from the City of Chicago— including presentations from Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore, highlights of policy initiatives that have used the Together We Heal framework and announcements by Mayor Lightfoot and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Commissioner Erin Harkey of the grantees from our $5M Creative Place Program. The afternoon featured community-led healing workshops from different modalities, from sound healing to circle-keeping to data & research and more.

Juneteenth Dialogues 

In 2021, the Office of Equity and Racial Justice (OERJ) partnered with the Chicago Juneteenth Planning Coalition (CJPC) to host the City of Chicago’s first official Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony, where Mayor Lightfoot announced that the City of Chicago would move to recognize Juneteenth as a City holiday. 2022 marked the first official city observation and one of the biggest citywide celebrations of the holiday. Leading up to Juneteenth, OERJ and numerous partner organizations engaged in a series of events and conversations to ensure that the commemoration of the day was not just commercialized but remained a day of healing and reflection. Click ovals below for more information.

Summer Conversations

Throughout the summer, as part of the Year of Healing, the Office of Equity and Racial Justice (OERJ) was intentional about engaging in dialogue with partners to explore the value of the healing framework to community conversations. Click ovals below for more information.

A primary goal of the Year of Healing was to explore the practice of healing through culture change work and policy change work. Throughout the community engagements, policy development, resource investments, and other work we’ve experienced throughout the Year of Healing, some key learnings and lessons surfaced.
Reflect on our Past

Acknowledge civic trauma. What is civic trauma? It is when you go out into neighborhoods to door-knock or co-design policy and people say they don’t want to engage. It stems from residents having tried to engage before but felt like they weren’t listened to, or an engagement backfired, and ultimately people decided it was better to not spend their time working with government than to feel the pain of what it feels like to try. Civic trauma is intergenerational and deeply rooted in our neighborhoods, and it is not going to take one person, one department, or one initiative to change it. It takes consistent efforts over time. – Adapted from comments by Niketa Brar, Executive Director of Chicago United for Equity (CUE)

Education and awareness are essential. Too often, disparities in who has access to information both past and present sits at the foundation of our engagements. Democratizing information, history, and data is essential. Particularly in complex policy areas, it’s important to ensure partners have the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to be fully active participants. For example, many community members in the Digital Equity focus groups had no idea there was a federal program that could give them access to free monthly internet. If we had not built in that education while we had community conversations, they would have missed out on a significant opportunity to improve their immediate lives.

Community is the expert in their own experience. One of the core components of the City of Chicago’s definition of equity focuses on how important process is alongside pursuing more equitable outcomes. Equity in our process requires us to engage “those most impacted by the problems we seek to address as experts in their own experiences, strategists in co-creating solutions, and evaluators of success.” Community members are living the experience the problem is creating. Too often the experience of people most marginalized by systems is not fully represented in official reports or data sets. Our communities carry a deep understanding of the history and context. The insight they can bring to the issue at hand is invaluable.

RECLAIM the Present

Convening and connection can be a source of power. Throughout the year, we had a series of convenings, from large events like the 300-person Summit to small ones like a 10-person healing conversation. While convenings have a lot of benefits, one of the biggest things they do is provide us with energy! They bring leaders and visionaries together to be inspired by one another, share tools and resources, highlight success stories, and they make you feel connected to a bigger struggle, a wider community, and remind you that you’re not the only one. Philanthropy, large nonprofits, and local government are uniquely positioned to bring folks together across lines of difference. Use your power! 

Don’t shy away from the inevitable “ouch” moment. At some point along the way, you will make a mistake. You will say or do something, unknowingly, that offends an individual or a group of people. That is because we are all learning and don’t always have the right language and skills to navigate this work. While moving with good intentions is most critical, the inevitable “ouch” moment will happen. The lesson learned here is that you can’t allow the fear of this moment to prevent you from doing the work. Here is a personal example from OERJ that was important for us to embrace: After using the term “Black and Brown,” we were lovingly called-in (not called-out) by members of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and made aware that the term did not feel inclusive of them. Instead of shying away from this, we used the moment to deepen existing relationships and make new ones with AAPI leaders in Chicago. While we didn’t leave with a definitive answer, we left more awareness and conviction on how we can be more critical in our work and practice difficult conversations. Chapter 510, an Oakland community-based organization, sums this lesson up well with their slogan, “Care over Careful.”

Center community voices in the design and implementation. We should be mindful that our job is not to be the only ones to come up with new, brilliant ideas. More times than not, our job is to set the table, facilitate a space that allows for diverse community voices to contribute, listen, and then most importantly, go get it done – removing all the barriers that are both known and unknown to community. We must remind ourselves that those closest to the problem know the solutions.  Ensuring community voices are part of each step of the process is essential for success.

Another important aspect to remember is that community involvement and co-design are valuable and should be resourced! Much of our community partnership work was able to happen due to philanthropic partnerships. Some of these resources are significant, such as a dedicated project manager to organize and communicate with external guides. Others, such as having food at community conversations, parking, and color copies of resource guides, are also key to making residents feel valued for their time and contributions.

Reimagine The Future

There is no perfect moment to start healing. Can you begin a healing process when the harm is still happening? That is a question we were confronted with throughout this process. This has particular relevance for institutions and government bodies that do not ever have the luxury of fully stopping the work. To those entities, our advice is that there is never going to be a perfect moment to start a healing journey. Instead, we have to just start somewhere. That could be working within and trying to build the language and dialogue around healing. It could be organizing your institution for a change process which can include creating teams, allocating resources, and building partnerships. It could be working with community members to build a plan that you can execute together. Healing is a nonlinear process. We need to build momentum. 

We need to lead with courage. We all play different roles in this work, and any progress or advancement relies on a diverse ecosystem of leaders at different levels, sectors, knowledge, and expertise. Some people need to play the inside game, working with organizations and systems to institutionalize policies and practices that will produce different results. Some people need to play the outside game and create the conditions for change by changing the narrative, creating the public pressure, and cultivating movements. We also need to find moments when these two sides can see value in each other and, when appropriate, work together for the greater impact. This won’t happen if people who get into leadership become fixated on maintaining their positions and as a result protect or uphold the status quo. Instead, we need leaders who are brave enough to put their power and position on the table and are willing to take risks to dismantle a status quo of systemic inequality. We want to acknowledge that throughout this healing journey, we have seen these leaders move quietly and loudly and they inspire us!

Progress moves at the speed of trust. This work taught us that building trust must be an intentional focus, no matter how urgent the issue is. Community members often start off skeptical of government and institutional leaders and move with caution when engaging with us. This is because there is a history of government and institutions failing to deliver on promises and extracting insights and strategies from community without crediting them or investing in their work. We can’t ignore this lack of trust. A lack of trust can drag the work down and/or cause a withholding of ideas and resources critical to building the solution we are working toward. It can also be the source of conflict. However, this healing journey has taught us when conflict arises it is often a test to see how the values of our partnership will show up. If you can successfully navigate conflict with shared values, a deeper sense of trust is often on the other side of the resolution. Part of the healing work is showing up authentically and continuously through the hard times. It is about making commitments big or small and delivering on them. It’s also about being transparent about your constraints, learning from your mistakes, and trusting that the process and relationships are strong enough to carry you to a win. 

Reflect, Reclaim, Reimagine:
A guide for implementing the healing framework into your work.

Audience: Leaders of organizations, directors of departments or programs, program coordinators, policymakers, community engagement organizers, community organizers, facilitators, educators, etc.

Summary: Reflect, Reclaim, Reimagine signature framework was developed as a tool to help intentionally center healing in our practices and policymaking. This guide is meant to support you in integrating healing into your day-to-day work.

Reflect on Our Past

Acknowledge history by educating and engaging about past/present racial injustices and structures of racial inequality.

Guiding Questions
  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen? What is the root cause/origin?
  • Who is responsible/accountable?
  • Who has benefitted and how?
  • Who was burdened and how?
  • What history has been erased?
What can you do in your work to “Reflect on our Past”?
  • Set up a community table to build and share knowledge of historical issues impacting the work (e.g., advisory councils, focus groups, community forums, story circles, walking tours, book clubs, etc.).
  • Use data and narratives to examine how systemic and structural racism has shaped historical and current outcomes/events.
  • Create a statement that acknowledges the role your institution has played in creating harm.
  • Create learning opportunities in the office for staff to develop a common understanding of the history of issues they work on and the communities/neighborhoods they serve. 
  • Empower your network, staff, or community to share stories in ways that others can engage and learn from. 

What other ways can you “Reflect on our Past” in your work?

Reclaim our Present

Shift power by identifying lessons learned of the past to inform new values and norms that shift power.

Guiding Questions

What values and principles do we need to focus on?

  • What did we learn in the past that we do not want to recreate?
  • Can we create new principles of engagement that are intentional about the values we want to move forward?

How can we share power and decision-making authority to build equity?

  • What does it mean to build a shared agreement about how we want to move forward?
  • How do you build capacity?
  • What new tools need to be created?
  • How are you going to build consensus with community?

What knowledge and skills do we need to build up to ensure that we are able to effectively lead new strategies aimed at advancing equity?

  • How can train and provide resources to government and community stakeholders?
What can you do in your work to “Reclaim our Present”?
  • Co-create new values and commitments that embrace equity with populations who have been impacted and/or harmed.
  • Create opportunities for knowledge-building, skill-building, & community-building.
  • Empower community tables to be partners in creating and driving solutions to past harms.
  • Support the growth and development of emerging leadership, including by creating new leadership opportunities.
  • Leverage, highlight, and celebrate existing community assets.
  • Provide resources and training where needed to support community and department staff.

What other ways can you “Reclaim our Present” in your work?

Reimagine our Future

Embrace accountability by visioning a more inclusive future state and designing policies to produce and sustain more equitable outcomes.

Guiding Questions

What values and principles do we need to focus on?

  • What policies, programs, or practices need to be created? What needs to be dismantled and replaced?
  • What are some bold, imaginative ideas for creating a new way of doing business?
  • What structures of accountability need to be in place to sustain the change?
  • How will we measure success?
  • How can we build a continuous feedback loop? Are we prepared to iterate along the way?
What can you do in your work to “Reimagine our Future”?
  • Create visioning opportunities to identify desired outcomes with communities most impacted.
  • Design policies, programs, and practices that aim to rectify past harms and prevent reoccurrence.
  • Be clear about what success would look like. Ensure that you understand the community’s perspective vs. your departments.
  • Publish data and/or engage with the community to encourage accountability measures.
  • Set up reoccurring check-ins with communities most impacted to evaluate success and determine if changes/alterations are needed.

What other ways can you “Reimagine our Future” in your work?

With Appreciation

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot

  • Candace Moore, Chief Equity Officer, Office of Equity & Racial Justice 
  • Lauren Burdette, Deputy Chief Equity Officer, Office of Equity & Racial Justice
  • Nneka Onwuzurike, Chicago Recovery Plan Program Manager, Office of Equity & Racial Justice
  • Lyric Griffin, Equity Project Manager, Office of Equity & Racial Justice
  • Janell Nelson, JNJ Creative
  • Eric Halloran, Edesign Chicago

  • Dee Atkins, Thresholds
  • Laurence Bolotin, Loyola University
  • Niketa Brar, Chicago United for Equity
  • Arianna Cisneros, W.K Kellogg Foundation
  • Victor Dickson, Safer Foundation
  • Glenance Green, Black Researchers Collaborative
  • Kim Jay, Sinai Urban Health Institute
  • Bela Mote, Carole Robertson Center for Learning
  • Esther Nieves, Independent Consultant

  • Grace Pai, Asian Americans Advancing Justice 

  • José Rico, Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation/ United Way Metro

  • James Rudyk, Northwest Side Housing Center

  • Shehara Waas, Northwestern University’s Alliance on Research

  • Sharif Walker, Bethel New Life