According to Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation [TRHT] racial healing recognizes the need to acknowledge and tell the truth about past wrongs created by individual and systemic racism and address the present consequences. Before transforming systems and structures, we must first transform ourselves. To heal is to restore to wholeness; to repair damage; and to set right.
In fall of 2020, the Office of Equity and Racial Justice launched Together We Heal, a journey toward building racial healing and transformation through policy and culture change. As many recall, that summer Chicago, along with many other cities across the country, was suffering from trauma on a number of fronts including the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx communities and the civil unrest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others.
Many community leaders called for efforts to build healing, even amid the physical COVID-19 restrictions. OERJ responded by leveraging its platform as a convener to spotlight and connect efforts happening across Chicago by creating a virtual healing map. This map allowed community leaders to reflect and share their work and see the work of others across the city. In just 3 months, 200 healing events were recorded on the virtual map demonstrating the participation of nearly 10,000 Chicagoans. We then honored this work with the first TWH Healing Summit (virtual), sharing reflections through art and storytelling and building a vision for future work.
With over 300 people joining us virtually our shared dialogue, workshop, and feedback set the foundation for a vision for two outputs:
- An Equity Statement of Principles: People shared that fundamental to a shared definition of equity should be concepts of fairness and justice. We are proud that in the summer of 2021 we were able to finalize our Equity Statement of Principles which includes our official definition that reads “The City of Chicago defines equity as both an outcome and a process that results in fair and just access to opportunity and resources that provide everyone the ability to thrive.” You can read the full ESOP here:
- A Year of Healing: We heard that people wanted dialogue and connection across lines of difference; public events to celebrate culture and history; and demonstration of the City's commitment to institutional change. So, in we declared 2022 our Year of Healing and moved forward on exploring the practices and policies that are and could be driving toward racial healing and transformation.
OERJ declared 2022 the City of Chicago’s Year of Healing. This meant that we committed to spend the year putting an explicit healing lens on our partnerships, change efforts, and resources. We wanted to better understand the practice of healing and the impact it can have in our work.
We examined culture change efforts which aimed to shift public awareness, beliefs, and behaviors. We also examined policy change efforts aimed at shifting laws, rules, policies, and programs. We developed a healing framework to guide us that focused on three pillars:
- REFLECT on our past. How can we educate and engage about past/present racial injustices and structures of racial inequality?
- RECLAIM our present. How can we identify lessons learned of the past to inform new values and norms that shift power?
- REIMAGINE our future. How can we vision a more inclusive future state and design policies to produce and sustain more equitable outcomes?
Using this framework, we spent the year focused on five key institutional change efforts in government rooted in policy change and culture change, a series of community dialogues and events rooted culture and history, and invested $6 million dollars directly in community to support place-keeping projects rooted in healing. This culminated with a second summit, this time in person, that allowed us to come together to share lessons that we can take on our continued journey toward healing.
Origin: Under the leadership of Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, the City of Chicago established an Office of Equity & Racial Justice (OERJ) in 2019, and hired its first Chief Equity Officer, Candace Moore. Candace and her team are tasked with examining systemic racism that exists in Chicago – particularly within City government operations – and developing policies to help correct those racial disparities.
Mission: The Office of Equity and Racial Justice (OERJ) seeks to achieve equity in the city’s service delivery, decision-making, and resource distribution. We will do this by supporting City departments in normalizing concepts of racial equity, organizing staff to work together for transformational change, and operationalizing new practices, policies and procedures that result in more fair and just outcomes.
Strategy: OERJ oversees the development, coordination, and administration of racial and social equity policies and practices for the City of Chicago. This includes working to change policies and practices in city government through engaging in training and support of city staff, cultivating engagement between city stakeholders and communities of color, and integrating racial equity analysis and accountability into decision-making processes. Below are the major categories:
- Support city departments in developing resources and strategies to infuse racial equity work into departments' workstreams on a permanent basis.
- Integrate racial equity analysis in major policies and initiatives generated from the Mayor’s Office.
- Cultivate civic engagement, participation, and access amongst communities of color and those historically disconnected from City government.
- Build an infrastructure for tracking progress, measuring impact, and developing responsive and meaningful solutions.