Connecting Communities One Step At A Time

Chicago, IL

Our first views of Chicago were at night after ending a day of running in the western suburb of Oakbrook Terrace. We accidently navigated Rex into the underground tunnels, and while it was fun to pretend we were in the Batmobile, we were happy to get above ground unscathed and head towards Lake Michigan. We spent our first evening walking around the Wrigleyville neighborhood before a comfortable night’s sleep in a friend’s uncle’s home. 

An important, though disappointedly unsurprising, trend during this run has been the difficulty in obtaining meetings with officials in larger cities. We reached out to the offices of the Mayor, City Clerk, City Council, Planning and Development, Police, Publics School CEO and other public school administrators, but were unable to meet with any of the above. This was understandable given our arrival close to the elections, but frustrating nonetheless. 

However, we had much more success and a wonderful discussion at the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, where we met with Shilpa Bavikatte, Shainah Horowitz, and Bill Green. The Chicago branch was started in 1932 and continues to build stronger communities by funding programs focused on improving income, health, education, and safety nets. Like many companies and nonprofits, the United Way was impacted by the 2008 economic recession and ongoing political gridlock that has led to many grants being cut, programs lingering while unfunded, and contracts continuing to be delayed. As the economy begins to pick up, companies and individuals have started to donate more, allowing the United Way to operate and invest in initiatives.

After spending some time at the Harold Washington Library Center, walking from city office to office, and scheduling a meeting for the following morning, we enjoyed a lot of laughs at a taping of NPR’s ‘Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!’. We followed up a previous tweet to host Peter Sagal with a request for him to join us for a run while we were in Chicago. After sharing a beer with Mr. Sagal and some of the show’s panelists and staff, we met with Ashley’s freshman year college roommate at the Green Mill and listened to some great live music.

We were fortunate to meet Xavier Ramey, Senior Assistant Director for Social Innovation and Philanthropy at the University of Chicago. Mr. Ramey grew up in North Lawndale, a Chicago neighborhood historically considered to be undesirable and run down. According to Mr. Ramey, 68% of adults spend a considerable amount of time in the criminal justice system – 90% of whom are male. North Lawndale underwent a transformation when ‘Coach’ Wayne Gordon, who moved to the area in 1975, built the Lawndale Community Church. Through private donations, the Church and the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation funds a health clinic, school, dental care, and a gymnasium. A highly educated and successful professional, Mr. Ramey feels compelled to work on behalf the Lawndale community, in part through acting as a ‘translator’: someone who can effectively communicate between those within the community and those on the outside. It was interesting to listen to Mr. Ramey’s honest thoughts on how communities develop – in a large city like Chicago, meaningful change does not necessarily come from government, but rather from personal interactions within the community. Though we have continually sought examples of successful development initiatives driven by community leaders, our discussion with Mr. Ramey was a timely and critical reminder that effective change must first happen through a change in mindset, not policy. 

Over the weekend, we finished our ‘official’ running into Chicago, met with and were graciously hosted by old friends, watched another Oregon Ducks victory, enjoyed some Chicago deep dish pizza, and ended with a run and dim sum with Mr. Sagal. An experienced runner, Mr. Sagal has competed in many marathons, including ones where he guided blind runners to the finish line.  We enjoyed listening to him share his own history with the sport. Our conversation ranged from how life can intervene and make training difficult to Chicago history (we learned the true origin of the term ‘Windy City’). We were delighted, if not a tad surprised, to end our time in Chicago by indulging Mr. Sagal’s curiosity about the RV with the Grand Rex Tour. We left our new friend with some Oregon microbrews and headed east along the great lake towards the Indiana border.