Over the past year, community, philanthropic, and corporate leaders have partnered with We Rise Together: For an Equitable & Just Recovery to support locally driven economic development in Black and Latinx communities for a stronger Chicago. On Thursday, December 8, 2022, partners gathered for a half-day event to celebrate the work that’s been done, accomplishments, and lessons learned.
Throughout 2022, community, corporate, and philanthropic partners worked together through We Rise Together to support new real estate developments in Black and Latinx communities in Chicago. These investments faced financing, development, and construction hurdles that could have stopped them in their tracks. Instead, new community centers, health clinics, business incubators, co-working spaces, restaurants, yoga studios and more are opening their doors in neighborhoods like Greater Chatham, Lawndale, South Shore—and many more—in 2023.
We Rise Together made its first grants in September 2021. In January 2022, the initiative kicked off three Working Groups in Greater Chatham, Lawndale, and South Shore. The focus was on bringing resources not typically available to community-led projects to We Rise Together investments. The groups were organized by neighborhood with the intention of supporting not only specific real estate developments in each place, but also community development surrounding the projects.
Multisector partners from corporate, civic, community, and government helped project leads problem solve, overcome developments barriers, and keep projects on track. The members of all three groups also were surveyed to identify common challenges to equitable development in Chicago. We Rise Together worked with the Metropolitan Planning Council to design and run the groups, as MPC has a long history of fostering multisector collaboration for community development.
At the December event, partners reflected on what—and who—it takes to get projects done. Having partners at the ready who could lend additional development expertise, financial savvy, and funding to projects at critical moments proved to be a game-changer. They agreed that while it wasn’t easy work, it was worth it—and they’re eager to bring more partners to the effort in the coming year.
“We learned so much in the past year about the challenges Black and Latinx community developers face as they work to bring new developments to their neighborhoods,” said Gloria Castillo, director, We Rise Together. “Getting these projects done is important not only to local residents, but to all Chicagoans, because when we have strong local economies in all of our neighborhoods, we will have a much stronger Chicago.”
“Many real estate projects in Black and Latinx communities are led by community organizations whose primary business is something other than development,” said Kendra Freeman, vice president, Metropolitan Planning Council. “What we learned is that these projects can benefit greatly from consistent support from a multisector group of partners who can bring knowledge and resources to overcome development challenges. These same project leaders also benefitted from getting to know one another and sharing ideas.”
These lessons will inform the next phase of work for We Rise Together. As part of developing a wraparound support plan for all We Rise Together investments, in 2023 We Rise Together will work with projects that are in the construction phase of development. This phase often presents unforeseen challenges for leaders and provides opportunities for corporate and civic partners to bring additional resources that will keep projects on track. We Rise Together will strategically engage partners from the business and civic sectors to provide this support. The initiative also will explore new ways to support shared learning among grant recipients.
“Not only has We Rise Together’s grantmaking provided flexible capital to help unlock new real estate investment in Black and Latinx communities in Chicago, but it is also encouraging even more projects to become ready for development and construction. We need to take advantage of this momentum,” said Eric Smith, vice chair, BMO Harris Bank, and a We Rise Together donor.
Watch a video about We Rise Together’s work to build thriving neighborhoods for a stronger Chicago.
Learn about We Rise Together’s impact by reading the November 2022 Progress Report.