Setting an Equity Agenda: A City Hall Perspective (video and transcript)
Disability Justice and Racial Equity Forum
Video and CART transcript
>> EMILY: Let’s get started. Welcome and thank you for joining us for setting an equity agenda: A City hall perspective. The third of four events in our forum. This is Emily Blum speaking. I’m the executive director of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. My pronouns are she and her. And the image description of me for those who are blind or low vision is that I am a white woman with brown wavy hair and waring tortoiseshell glasses and a black sweater. I’m in my home office in front of an abstract blue, yellow and green piece of artwork. We sent out a guide on accessing key accessibility features in Zoom and we have both CART and ASL interpreters. We have also Spanish live interpretation available. If you have any challenges accessing these features, please connect with us via the chat box. My colleagues will be monitoring and responding so please keep that chat box clear except for technical issues. Thank you everyone for joining us this afternoon, including so many Advancing Leadership members and those who donated to support the accessibility of this program and series. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership, we are a network of positive disruptors, all people with disabilities, including myself, who are using our power to create an equitable and inclusive society. And we believe our experiences, ideas and leadership as people with disabilities are vital to achieving justice. Today’s event and our forum, which is a four part series centering in-depth and action oriented conversations on the intersections of racial equity and disability justice, is presented with generous support from the disabilities fund at the Chicago Community Trust, MacArthur Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, Polk Brothers Foundation, CDW and Crossroads Fund. Thank you to all our sponsors and all who donated to support this forum. I want to remind those who signed up for the post presentation breakout session they will need to leave this Zoom meeting when we conclude at 4:55 p.m. central and rejoin for the breakouts, using the additional link in the “Know Before You Zoom” email right at 5:00 p.m. following the presentation, our partner in this forum, Andraéa LaVant, will come on with directions for joining the breakout group. We will have CART, ASL, and Spanish interpretation available for the breakout groups. Engage with us on social media, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn throughout the forum using the hashtags #DisabilityPowerInfluence, and #DisabilityJusticeForum. Okay, so, on to today’s event. I’m thrilled to be joined by and in conversation with two senior officials in the Lightfoot administration. With me today is commissioner Rachel Arfa, who leads the mayor’s office for people with disabilities, and Candace Moore, chief equity officer who leads the office of equity and racial justice. Our conversation today will explore how government should and can connect disability and race in its policy making, and we are going to get into some tough issues facing our cities. While Rachel and Candace will be reflecting on their experiences at Chicago City hall, their insights are applicable to municipalities and communities in Illinois and around the country. But before we begin our conversation, I’m pleased to introduce a video by mayor Lori Lightfoot to kick us off.
>> LORI LIGHTFOOT: Hello, everyone, I’m Mayor Lori Lightfoot. My vision for Chicago is one that’s racially and economically equitable. Where the neighborhood you live in, the color of your skin or your status as a person with a disability, does not determine your outcome or access to opportunity. This is an issue that’s personal for me. My father became deaf after a bout of meningitis. He was a brilliant man who had dreams of becoming a lawyer. But between his hearing loss and the fact that he was also African American with only a high school education, opportunities for him simply didn’t exist. So instead of practicing law like he had hoped, he worked cleaning the factories around my community in Ohio. Though my dad’s long since passed, his story and his experience are still very much alive in me today. It’s an experience that informs my own commitment to equity, in all its forms, as mayor. Chicago’s disability community is one of our city’s largest and most diverse. Our mission is simple: We want to make Chicago the most inclusive and accessible city in the nation, period, no exceptions. A city that knows everyone has something to offer and a city that supports everyone’s god-given gifts, whatever they may be. This means taking on our most intractable challenges, facing our city head on, in a comprehensive and holistic way. Issues like poverty, income inequality, COVID-19, and police reform, all of which disproportionately impact communities of color and especially individuals within those communities who experience disability. That’s why I’m so pleased you’ll be hearing from Candace Moore, the City of Chicago’s first-ever Chief Equity Officer, as well as Rachel Arfa, the Commissioner of the the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities. Both these women are working together to ensure our city and city government works for all its residents. Though our work is far from over, we are on the path to changing the very definition of what disability means, and what it means for the lives of countless Chicagoans in every community, from pity to respect from a person needing to be cured to us as a city needing to address the inaccessibility discrimination and other barriers facing our residents. And we will not stop working until our city is one that is truly a place of opportunity, accessibility, and inclusion for every resident. Thank you, and please continue to be safe.
>> EMILY: This is Emily Blum speaking again. Thank you Mayor Lightfoot, that’s great context as we get started and welcome Candace and Rachel. Hi, guys. Thank you so much for being here this afternoon. Before we really begin, can we do a real quick intro and can each of you introduce yourself? Rachel, let’s start with you.
>> RACHEL: Thank you so much Emily, and thank you for the invitation to be here today. So I’m Commissioner Rachel Arfa of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. My pronouns are she/her. And I’m going to do a visual description. I have brown hair that is shoulder length and I have hazel eyes, and I am wearing silver hoop earrings, and a navy blue dress with a high collar. I’m in my City Hall office and behind me you can see bookshelves— two sets of book shelves with books and various objects. And I’m profoundly deaf and talk and I speak for myself. And I read lips and I’m also fluent in American Sign Language. So today the interpreters are interpreting into ASL, and we also have captioning available. And I would also—yeah, go on.
>> EMILY: Great. Candace?
>> CANDACE: Hi, everyone. My name is Candace Moore. I am the Chief Equity Officer in the office of mayor Lori Lightfoot. My pronouns are she/her/hers. A visual description of myself is, I am a Black woman with a dark black, kind of brown at the end, braids. Brown eyes. I have on a black dress and multi colored earrings for a pop of color. I am in my City Hall office as well. I’ve tried to make it a bit homey, so I have some pictures of historical Black images on the wall and on my credenza in the back there are some books, a globe, and randomly, a hard hat that someone gave me. I was sharing sort of the dreams of doing some economic development work. So I’m pleased to be with everyone today.
>> EMILY: Thank you. Thank you both. And before we begin, and really dive into policy and policy making, I want to start with identity. Because for you both identity is central to your jobs. And for the rest of us, the ability to see ourselves in today’s leaders helps reflect our interests, our culture and values and really the things that matter most to all of us. So can each of you talk about your identity, the power you get from that identity, and why it matters to your work. Candace, let’s start with you this time.
>> CANDACE: Sure. So when I think about my identity, you know, it’s funny even to be asked this question because I realized what—you know, what do I—what does that really mean? So immediately a Black woman comes to mind. And those—those two words together really define so much of myself and so much of my experience. But when I break them out, a Black person, also a woman, there are realities to my experiences that flow from each. And then also think relationally in terms of who I am in my family, a sister, a—you know, who I am as a friend. And then in my career I’ve been an advocate and even in—as I sit in government now, I really sort of hold on to that identity as an advocate. I think all of those things kind of boil up into what I think about as my essential why. Why am I in this seat, why am I doing this work. And it’s because as a person who has experienced a life when you sort of look on the outside and you look at the demographics, you could predict and books have and research has, predicted outcomes for my life. And yet they don’t match up with my experience. I’ve seen things that predict what the life of a person who grew up in poverty should be, and I remember what my life was, both the highs and the lows of that reality, but that and but how they also have built me to have the strength that I have today for me to empathize in the way that I do today, for me to believe that there is an opportunity for a reality that isn’t as—that isn’t defined in that way. That that—we don’t have to be limited by these particular metric metrics and measures of who we are. And that I feel like I want to help try to do that. And so I tap into what I believe are my strengths, the strengths of connecting people, a strength of believing that people have the capacity to get this work, to grow in this wor k, and to contribute to building a future and to building a world that reflects their values. And you know, I bring all of that to who I am and how I do it. So whether I’m a lawyer, in my career right before coming to City Hall, representing students and families around education, civil rights issues, to now being a chief equity officer and really trying to work inside of a system and make critical systemic changes that I think begin to allow us to build in the way that many of us believe is possible, all of that comes to the table. And I bring—I try to bring my whole self every day to that work.
>> EMILY: And Candace, can you just give folks who are listening like a one to two sentence description of what does a chief equity officer do for a city like Chicago?
>> CANDACE: Yeah. So the—the—I guess the most colorful way I’ll describe it is sometimes I say I am the personal coach for equity in the city. And the reason why I use that analogy is because my job is to help us grow, help us to get stronger, help us to build this muscle for equity. Because I don’t believe equity is just a destination, I believe it’s also a process. And so a part of the—how I think about my job is how can I work with departments across the enterprise to build their capacity, to move toward more equitable policies and practices that drive up a more equitable results.
>> EMILY: Great. Rachel, can you talk about your identity and the power you get from that and why it matters to your work?
>> RACHEL: Yes. Influence—so first before I get into my identity, I would tell you that I do identify as a member of the ADA 25 Advancing Leadership network. And I’ve been—I’m very honored to be a member and I’ve been fortunate to nominate many of our applicants in the past who are now fellows. And I want to say that some people—that I nominated for the program—were reluctant to apply. Maybe in disbelief that they were fit for this program. And they would—this was surprising, they would question their leadership qualities, qualification. And so I went—want to say that you’re here in the right place. I see you, and this is the place that can help grow disability leadership. And you will be on to question ourselves, in spaces that are not familiar. Should I be here? Why am I here? And not someone else? And well we say, I’m not smart enough. These people are so much more—much more smart than am. They deserve to be here. I don’t mean—I shouldn’t be here. I—I encourage you to remember that you—that may mean signal that you are in a space that’s not comfortable. And it’s easier to stay in a comfort zone, which maybe for many of us is sitting on the couch with Netflix, right? But sometimes you have get that courage to be uncomfortable. And it’s—so if you’re not comfortable, think about how you can use that to drive you to be able to represent in new spaces and grow. So I really believe the ADA 25 is a great way to grow out a comfort zone and to grow as leaders. And I know you have a tough process ahead of you. Because the application process has closed, or is about to close?
>> EMILY: Has closed, yeah.
>> RACHEL: So I’m going to talk about my identity. So my identity is central to who I am. And I have grown into my identity, just like anybody else. We go through that experience of always learning and growing who we are. And challenging ourselves to grow more. So I’m a deaf woman, I’m a Jewish woman, I’m a lawyer, and my experiences as an attorney, both as a self advocate but also advocating for other people has really shaped my understanding of the world. I started my experience as a legal aid attorney representing low income clients in housing and consumer protection matters. And in a legal system that was not designed for any of us to be there. And then I also worked as a disability rights attorney, and I know that many of my former colleagues are on today’s—so in this role I have had this role since July. So about three and a half months. And I really—I love to have the opportunity to serve on the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. So I’m going to take some time to share what MOPD is. So this office was started in 1990, shortly after the Americans with Disabilities Act. Just like the ADA, MOPD is 30 years old. And there have been four commissioners, so I stepped into this role as the fourth. And all of the commissioners had disabilities. And I am the first deaf commissioner, which makes me the first deaf person to step into some of these leadership spaces. Spaces with other leaders. And I am the highest ranking deaf person in city government Nationwide. It is something I think about a lot. What it means to be in a space where someone like me, who’s deaf and who requires communication access has to navigate. And I’m constantly navigating through that space, both in person and in our virtual world. So about MOPD, so we have two office locations. Right here in City Hall on the first floor and a second location at the west side of Chicago, at 2102 west Ogden, which is right across from the Jesse Brown building, next to the Illinois medical district. So MOPD provides services. We have a disability resource unit which provides information on the phone. We have a home modification program where we help make people’s homes more accessible. For people with disabilities, including—it is usually the front entrance and the bathroom. And we want people to be—with disabilities to be able to learn—live independently. And then we have employment services. That are supportive. On the Social Security Administration and we provide assistance to beneficiaries and SSI, and SSDI, who want to work and need assistance navigating the world of work, requiring benefits. And we have a program that provides outreach and training to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community about drug and alcohol education. We have an accessibility compliance unit that reviews accessibility plans, and works to help us make the City accessible. We have a policy team. And so I’m really honored to work with so many talented people on my team. And moving forward, what it means to make a city accessible. And I will say then before I took this role, I always looked at people in leadership roles, people who I admire, and I always wanted to—wondered how do they know how to make difficult decisions? And I’ve been through a couple of leadership programs, and I’ve learned that it is—I have to make a number of decisions and I come to realize how my previous experiences, my leadership experiences, and my life experience as a person with a disability. And my exposure to many people and hearing other people’s stories have really informed the way that we make decisions. And who you are at the core absolutely matters in how you lead this world. And how to lead humanity, and make the right decisions. For people. And so it’s—yeah.
>> EMILY: Yeah, it’s good to learn a little bit more about you both. And you reflecting on who you are as leaders and people in these positions is really helpful. So Rachel, you mentioned that you are three and a half months in to your position. Candace, you too are also relatively new to your position. And in your case your position is new to the city. So in fact very few cities have either a commissioner for the Mayor’s people—Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, or a chief equity officer, let alone both. So Chicago is really unique in that way. In your very short time as colleagues, how have you discussed working together and what is your vision for a strong collaboration? Candace, let’s start with you.
>> CANDACE: Yeah, so we have gotten a little bit of a chance to talk. I think you know, early, there’s—I always joke that there’s a BC, before COVID, and then after. (Chuckling)
>> CANDACE: So we got a chance to talk B.C. about a lot of the ideas that we were planning and wanting to move ahead. And I think one of the things that I reflect on is the way I think about equity work is really orienting myself to systemic change. How do think about our policies, how do we think about our practices, and how we think about building the capacity of our leaders to do the work. Because I think that’s what lives on beyond our individual efforts. And I remember when Rachel and I were talking, we were talking about how important it is in our work to actually think about that—in the intersections of race and disability and them separately and think about how do we build those in systemic work. Because whereas I might be working on issues around hiring, there’s an opportunity to open up that conversation to make sure we’re talking about race, we’re talking about disability, we’re talking about gender, we’re talking about—so the systems that we’re creating are sort of working in service of creating more inclusion fundamentally. And really challenging the barriers that produce exclusion. And that’s sort of being mission critical and sort of the legacy of the work that we can leave behind. Because systems continue after us. And so I think it’s always necessary that we think about our work beyond ourselves, beyond a particular program or initiative. But also how do we lay the foundation and lay the tracks that continue to roll and drive towards this fundamental idea of inclusion, even beyond our particular sort of tenure in a current, in a position.
>> EMILY: Yeah, I’m glad you guys are having those conversations. Rachel, do you want to add to that, how are you thinking of approaching this work together?
>> RACHEL: Yeah. So, that’s right, the thing is bigger than me, it’s bigger than you, it’s bigger than any one of us. And I think that a nice signal that you—when you’re able to successfully communicate, the importance of both race and disability is when other people care about it also. And they are starting to run with it, too. And I had a phone call actually just before this one where the people that I was talking to were just as enthusiastic if not more enthusiastic about making sure that disability inclusion is part of their process. And recognizing that it was not orginally part of that process. And I found that so exciting. Because that is not just me having to drive that conversation, it’s all of us working together. And I want to make sure that as we move forward with disability outreach that we include everyone with a disability and that includes reaching out to—and making sure that we include every single community, including Black and brown communities with disabilities. We do not have—we may or may not have a connection to our government, but we are here to serve every single community. And I want to make sure that we do the best job that we can. As we move forward.
>> EMILY: Where are you seeing this work done well? Are there other examples of cities or municipalities where you’ve seen strong collaboration among departments, specifically focusing on racial equity and disability? So I’m—Rachel, I’d love to keep with you. Where are you learning from recognizing that we learn from both good examples and bad examples.
>> RACHEL: So I’m going to—so one of the things that I get to do is I’m learning about what other different departments are doing, and there’s a lot of really incredible planning that’s happening. And if I wasn’t here working for the government, I would have no idea what’s happening. And there are plans for public engagement. And I think there is such a thoughtful effort to make sure that everyone gets to participate. I’m also on a national phone call with other commissioners of Mayor’s Offices for People with Disabilities, and I brought up this question. And I see that there’s no perfect road map. We’re all trying to figure out what the path is. And I think that we can all learn from each other, but it’s not because we all recognize wherever we are, whether it’s a government, the not for profit sector, the private sector, the advocacy community, we all just have to recognize the importance in that these are part of our values at the City. And who we want to be serving. Regardless of what sector you’re working in or what your role is.
>> EMILY: Rachel, I’m sure there’s—there’s no perfect road map, but let’s ask Candace if she’s found one. Have you found a perfect road map ? (Chuckling)
>> CANDACE: I haven’t found a perfect road map. I feel similar to Rachel that I have gotten into really deep and great networks with other cities who are doing and—who are doing equity work and building out equity offices. And I think, you know there are some good examples of what does building a real inclusive processes look like. So I’m a part of this network that Policy Link brought together, Chief Equity Officers. And in it is Asheville, North Carolina, Austin, Texas. Minneapolis, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Tacoma. And so this is kind of a big city, small city. You know, midwest, East Coast, West Coast. And so what’s interesting is how unifying our challenges are in many ways. But also some big differences. The differences in the way our governments look, the way, quite frankly, politics works in certain areas. And so what I’m always looking at are how are people building systems within some of those constraints. Like what does that—like, how did you get to the answer or the strategy. One example that kind of pops up into my head is in San Antonio, they did this thing called Dream Week. And what I loved about Dream Week is that it was grounded in sort of racial equity and—actually started from celebrating Dr. King. And—and they started with like a dream day. But multiple organizations could contribute to what that—to different events. And then it exploded into a week-long set of activities. Which then exploded into about two weeks. So that it’s really like a dream, you know, season in some ways. But from there all sorts of ideas and relationships amongst the communities are really generated with people positioning issues around equity, issues around race, issues around identity. And really bringing some of those intersections together as they—as they show up in the community. And it becomes a place of civic engagement, civic imagination that I think really does strengthen overall how people show up to city government. Which I think is just fundamental in this work. And that’s the other piece that I would say is really essential is that, as we think about this work, strengthening civic engagement, strengthening civic space, has been something that I sort of really walk away with in my work from a lot of what the other cities have done. Is—is—it’s essential. You can’t do equity work, you know—people—I’m not the sort of expert of equity, I kind of resist that in a lot of ways, but I do think I am a person who tries to create space. I do think I’m a person who’s constantly trying to learn. And I am, I do think I’m a person who wants to help other people learn and create that same space. And I think those are the lessons that I draw out of, what other people are doing, that I think give us a better shot at building the kind of work that we want to see in the city.
>> EMILY: Well, let’s get into what’s happening in the city. Definitely want to talk about the intersections of your departments. But it’s hard to do that without really thinking about some of the current issues facing our city. So earlier this week the mayor announced that we are in the second wave of the pandemic and beginning this summer and continues on. You know, our city witnessed some protests against police violence. Both of these issues impact residents of colors, residents with disabilities, and residents of color with disabilities. So you know, how has 2020’s most urgent pressing issues helped shape your under standing of what government is capable of as it pertains to urgent and quick advances for those needing disability rights, racial equity, or both? Rachel, let’s stafrt with you start with you.
>> RACHEL: So I have to think about this. How—we look at in our history books, how is history going to look back at this moment? I think that this is a movement where we’re shifting, not just citywide, but nationally and globally. And this is really a movement where we need to respond and rise to the occasion. So for example the way that we work has shifted. Many people in the disability community know that people with disabilities who may need a reasonable accommodation may have asked for a accommodation to work from home or to don’t work. And executives say no, you have to come in the office. You need to be here, basically. And overnight the whole world is working remotely. We’re not working—now working at our kitchen tables. And we’re doing it now for seven months. So I think that we have proven that that is possible. And now everybody’s using Zoom and different virtual technologies. And with the exception for telework is people who are working on the frontline, such as the medical professionals, and then support staff working in the hospitals and such as support staff and janitorial staff. And people working in food service and retail and essential services. And who are putting themselves on the front lines every day. But I think then—you know, in this pandemic, I started after the pandemic started, so I was able to see from an outside perspective what the response was. And now I’m working in government, and I’m able to see how much work really goes on behind the scenes to provide solutions. And to keep to keep people safe. And to provide people the support to be able to survive this moment, and get food, maintain shelter, and I always thought that government was a place for creative solution. And I really see how much creatively there is here. And now both Candace and I are able fo use that creativity to really impact people with disabilities and advance racial equity. So I think it is—there’s so much in the works that is happening. And ongoing.
>> EMILY: Candace, how about you? How has 2020 shaped your view? (Chuckling)
>> CANDACE: Yeah.
>> CANDACE: A lot. And—so I think what’s—what has been striking to me with—especially around the pandemic is the power of like a unifying goal or like a unifying sort of situation. I mean, all—to Rachel’s point, overnight we saw things shift when the answers typically are no, well, we’ll see, we’ll have to get that in the work stream. You know, all sorts of things. But when things become kind of life and death in the way that the pandemic has shown us, what everyone—and is really sort of—and I don’t mean to sort of be flip in saying this, but everyone is up for grabs in terms of the impact that this can have. Then I think what is the spotlight that is shown is who is vulnerable, right? Who—and I think COVID really sort of just—just shown a spotlight on the vulnerabilities that exist in our—in our—in our society. And it—and called out inequity, it’s in a much more powerful way that people could not ignore. And to that end, it becomes, in our tasks of trying to save lives, and our tasks of trying to protect people, that we do have to call to question the fundamental questions of equity. Is what do people need? In order to stay safe. What—where are they at right now? What are some of the constraints that may exist for them? And how can we solve for that? These are basic questions that we think about when we think about equity and—there’s this—you know, there’s this massive use case. And so for me as a person who is coming into this work thinking about how am I going to build that muscle, COVID has created an ability for me to say this is—this is the equity moment. These are the questions—they make more sense now—if you didn’t think they made sense before, if they were confusing in some way, the evidence is in front of us. And your ability to create, to envision, to think past the barriers because we must, we don’t have the same tools at our disposal, in the same ways. We can’t move the way we are comfortable moving. And so the pushing into that uncomfort is also a space in which we can build and innovate and move past barriers in such a powerful way. And I’ve sort of been floored by I think the powerful response of government in many, many different ways. Now, this doesn’t mean things were perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But I saw us do things that, you know, literally months before, you know, we thought about how hard a lift it was. Things like direct payment to individuals. Because they needed it. Right? Like because they needed money. We were able to do that. To stand up. Food access, and really fill and plug in those gaps. We were able to do that. Certainly through lots of partnership, but we were able to do that as a society. And so I think this moment has—has shown—and I think about it as sort of evidence that we can do a lot more, we can push much further, we can recognize that this is urgent and that lives depend on our ability to get better at this, to get stronger at this, and to build the things that are not only protective, but the things that sort of mitigate the negative impacts that we have seen in our systems. And then I’ll also just add that this racial reckoning that we are going through as a country, overdue. Right? We needed to have this conversation. We have been lulled into a sense of complacency, oh, maybe it’s not that bad. Like I literally remember at my time at the Chicago Lawyers Committee, there was this moment where we were talking about our work, and you know, the—the phrase “civil rights”, how do we still make it relevant to people? I laugh at that right now. But that was real. That was very, very real for advocates doing that work, is that people were saying the civil rights frame is outdated and it’s not really not civil rights, and don’t we live in a post racial America? There were real conversations around that. And this moment for all of the pain and the—and the—that is happening in this moment, it is an opportunity for us to have a very frank conversation about what needs to be done to—to do the critical work that we often hide from because it makes us uncomfortable. But we are already here. We are uncomfortable. Right? This is—you know, this is our moment. And so what are we going to make of it, is something I think a lot about. Is how are we going to come together? Even when we disagree, right? We have an incredible opportunity in front of us, and we ought not let it pass us by. And so we have to work harder, build more bridges, push—push in lots of different ways to try to get—to take advantage of this moment, because it won’t always be here. And so how do we work in—in—with that sense and that sense of urgency?
>> EMILY: Yeah, because I think, you know, what should also make us uncomfortable is lack of affordable housing, accessible and equitable transportation, our schools and the education system creating clean and healthy environments that are accessible and available to everyone. Those are just a few issues. The list is really endless of where race and disability intersect. So you know, part of the solution I would imagine is that impacted communities are at decision- making tables. How do you and your departments influence who gets to be there? And how can you help ensure that those impacted communities are—their voices are heard? And Rachel, Illinois—I’ll start with you.
>> RACHEL: So one thing that I’m doing is I’m looking at my own department first. I’m looking at the communities and task forces that we have, to make sure we have disability representation, but that we also have racial representation too. That is a basic benchmark that we need to make sure to meet before we proceed to make sure that we have different voices and life experiences. And that committee—I say table, but we don’t have to worry about the table—so the virtual room. And then we want to—I want to expand that further. But I think that that’s important for us to really look at our representation. And think about how do we—how do we move forward at that? But I can at the very least do that. I think in the beginning, in my own department with our many relationships with other departments, and to raise that awareness too. That disability does not only impact white people, it also impacts people who are Black and brown. And we need different other identities to make sure that those perspectives are represented and that that intersectionality does matter. The way that a white person with a disability may interact is going to be different than a Black person with a disability, or a Black woman with a disability, for example. And we need to be—to bring that perspective into how we decide and approach things here at the City.
>> EMILY: Candace? Oh.
>> CANDACE: For me I think about sort of what kind of—for lack of better words, like powers I have. I have—I think I have the power to create tables. And an example of that for me is the work we’ve done around the racial equity rapid response team. We created a table to really address some of the disproportionate impacts that we were seeing coming out of COVID. And really zone in on communities that were most impacted. We brought together community leaders, government, healthcare providers, to—to the table to solve a problem. And I think it’s really important to note that we did not have a solution. I didn’t have a sort of a secret plan that I was just trying to like get pushed through that table. I—we all were wrestling with the same fundamental problem, but we believed that the answer was—existed in all of us. So we needed to have people who were closest to the work, closest to the institutions to come together and—and—and work through and try to understand and push out solutions. And I’ve been really, really proud of that table that we’ve created. So that just reminds me that—and so what I try to think about is what—what worked about this? Right? This produced not only great interventions and strategies, but this actually produced a transformative kind of relationship between government and community. What does it take to keep doing this? What does it take to create tables? I also think about I do have the power and the ability to help people access tables, that have already been set. So the mayor makes lots of appointments. How are we thinking about the diversity that we need in all of these different—whether they’re councils or committees, or et cetera. How are we thinking—even if my committee focuses on gender, how am I making sure that their, the intersectionality of gender is still represented in that committee? If we’re focusing on economic development, right, how do we think about it through the spectrum of experiences, and really create processes that allow—for us to capture more people. Because so often these things are just so networked to “Who do you know?”” How do we create opportunities? I know with the mayor’s advisory councils that was something that was really important to us. So we created an application process. Now was it perfect? No. But it was a different way of trying to do something that typically those things have worked by you know, you know, just—people kind of self nominating. And so how do you kind of open it up to create more space. And then the last thing I think about is bridging tables, right? How do, how do I recognize that at the same time, tables have been set, especially in communities, tables have been set. And people are building power there. But there is some bridging work that needs to happen. How does that table get connected to a table that may be set in City Hall and that the two together can work towards a common solution. Or how do I help people identify in government or in other spaces that I have access to? Who are the right people to help you address what you are trying to achieve or what, what pieces are the solutions? So I think the power of tables are really, really important. And I think we can think about these in many different ways. To serve at—and our ultimate goals.
>> EMILY: Thank you. I’d like to invite my colleague, Alex to come on. I know we have—it looks like we have a bunch of questions from our audience in the Q and A. So Alex, if you want to ask your first question—or the audience’s first question.
>> ALEX: Hi. This is Alex speaking. My—The first question from the audience is getting right into it, is how are you using this budget process to advance equity and relief for people with disabilities, right now especially Black and brown communities ?
>> CANDACE: Yeah, so when I think about this budget process, and where we’re at as a city, I think we’ve had the—the challenge in front of us of trying to balance a really difficult situation. Right? So we are in a state in which we don’t have the revenues that we’ve had before. But I don’t think that’s a time to abandon your principles around equity. So how do we think about the critical services that we need to maintain? How do we think about the places where we can make some investments, still try to make those investments because they matter, because they’re critical and life-saving. And how do we even think about the decisions where we have to cut, we have to roll back? And the impacts of that and thinking about how do you do that in a way? I’m not going to pre—I’m not going to pretend that I think there’s a perfect way to do this; I think you try to ground yourself in the experiences of people. You try to empathize with the things that you have learned and the things that people have told you. You look at the challenges and the constraints that you have in front of you. And then you—you try to put forward solutions that you think drive at and—and—drive at the problems of today, but also invest in this, the hope that we need for tomorrow. And so I know, you know, from my perspective, the team has tried to put a lot of thought into that, thinking about how we try to balance a massive deficit. 1. 2 billion dollars. And to do that in a way that still gives people so many critical services that are needed more—you know, now more than ever. And at the same time still try to build towards some of the work that—that we’ve been trying to lay the tracks for. And—and recognize that, you know, this is a step. This is a step in the process, we have to continue. We’re not done. And I think that’s just how you try to approach it. Or at least that’s how I sort of see it.
>> EMILY: Rachel, anything to add? Otherwise maybe Alex—because I know we have a lot of questions today, but maybe we can move to the next one and m aybe make it for Rachel.
>> RACHEL: I’m sorry, so I think Candace said it all beautifully, but I think our values are in this budget and we really, we are committed to being able to provide services. And so every one of our neighborhoods, even though we’ve had so many hurdles with the pandemic, and this deficit. And we’re still able to move forward with making the city more better and a more accessible city.
>> ALEX: Great. This is Alex again. And the next question builds off that, and actually touches on the issue of immigration rights, which we haven’t touched on as much in this forum. So I wanted to make sure that I got a couple questions about that. So Chicago is home to a diverse immigrant community that includes immigrants, refugees, asylees, some of which have disabilities. And the question is what is the City’s commitment to protecting all of its residents, regardless of immigration status? For example providing linguistic or culturally appropriate and accessible services. I was trying to fuse a few questions together. Kandz can Rachel, I can say a little bit about that. But I don’t know if you want to start. Or if you have anything.
>> RACHEL: If you want to go ahead and I can put that—
>> CANDACE: Yeah. One, a lot of our work has been flowing out of our office of the New Americans. And one of the things that has been a core pillar of this administration is to make sure that all city services are—are accessible to our immigrant population. And so the mayor has done an executive order for all departments, whatever barriers there are that—that don’t need to be there, and that you know, in terms of really thinking about, you know, what do our forms look like, all of that. She’s putting an executive order out for all departments that extended to COVID relief. Now, I won’t lie, there’s a rub there and there’s a tension because we also—we have a conflicting values at the federal level that—that prevent fuller access. But the mayor has been pretty clear and pretty dedicated to pushing from whatever leverage we have as a City to make sure that the resources that we are putting out are not sort of—are not cutting people off. I will say one of the things that I’ve also observed that has been challenging, though, is fear. I think about testing, which is so critical right now. Trying to convince communities and—in this environment when there has been so much narrative that—against immigrants and against undocumented people, that it’s safe to go to testing, you know, yes, this is coming from the government, but you can still get it, you know. That perception is so—you know, such a reality. And so we—we—you know, we try to do as much as we can in terms of the policies and practices, but we can’t forget that we also have sort of a challenging narrative in front of us that we have to overcome some of the things that we think—that we do a lot of work to try to do is to allow and support trusting relationships, and actually work with—through those relationships to get people the resources that we—that they need. And so we’ve had great partners in the resurrection project, and the legal navigators. We’ve done a lot of work to pivot and think about how the legal navigators who were set up to do one thing can work in services, something else during COVID. So that we can try to continue to move that work. But it continues to be a real challenge.
>> RACHEL: And I think the part of that challenge is that during this pandemic, the—our ability to have proximity to different communities has been completely changed. Because instead of being able to go physically to different communities, we need to find ways to connect virtually in other ways. But we also want to make sure that we do that safely—and be mindful of the digital barriers, and access to the digital divide is real. But also not—recognizing that there is fear out there, as Candace mentioned. So I think that’s something that we’re learning how to respond and how we can do that outreach. And that’s not going to be the answer that comes overnight.
>> EMILY: Well, Candace, Rachel, thank you so much. I’m going to invite our friend and colleague, Andraéa Lavant, on. I would say that, please join us for the breakout conversation. There’s a lot more questions that we weren’t abl to answer but we hope to get some of those, that conversation in the breakout. Candace and Rachel have agreed to join us. So look for them there. Andraéa, I’ll turn it over to you.
>> ANDRAEA: Yes, thank you both, Candace, Emily, for that really substantive conversation. And I’ll say even though I don’t live in Chicago, it’s just—it—what’s really enjoyable or—or—just enlightening is really thinking about even for those of us that are not local, what this looks like in our cities. So thank you so much for that. Hello to everyone for those who are joining for the first time time. I’m Andraéa LaVant, president of Andraéa LaVant consulting incorporated, business strategy and communications firm. Today I am sitting in my living room with my bright teal couch and some pillows back there. I’m wearing a brightly colored dress with shades of yellow, orange, purple and pink flowers. And some green leafs. And I have on my teal and Black cat eyeglasses and shoulder length curly hair. I am again thrilled to be here to partner with ADA 25 Advancing Leadership for these really powerful conversations around disability, justice, and racial equity. So we will now be moving to the breakout groups where each group will be moderated by Advancing Leadership members. There will be CART and ASL. In some of the rooms. If you find yourself in a room without the accommodation you need, please return to the main session and we will correct it. If you registered for the breakout group, please join using the link from the email sent to you yesterday, or in the chat. And we hope to see you for our final session, which is next week. And just a reminder that each session registration is separate and required, separate registration is required. So make sure that you are registered. We look forward to seeing you in the breakout groups.