As part of the Chicago Community Trust’s #OnThetable2014, Chicago Tonight's Elizabeth Brackett hosted a dinner with nine area residents where they shared their thoughts, concerns, opinions and hopes for the region's future. Read her blog of the event and watch some videos of what participants had to say.
Our table in Hyde Park quickly engaged in lively conversation over the future of the city and the state.
A round of introductions where we each learned a little about one another revealed a diverse group from the city, suburbs and even Indiana.
But it quickly became clear that no matter the neighborhood there were overriding issues that were a concern to everyone. We decided to focus on three main topics, the state and the city’s fiscal crisis, education and violence.
Banker, Rhonda McFarland, captured the group’s frustration with Illinois’ handling of the financial crisis with the comment, “The state bureaucracy is geared toward ineffectiveness.”
The conversation swung back to the basics with the need for voter education, particularly for young people. Twenty-one-year-old Lisa Carmody told the group that many of her friends had never voted because they couldn’t see how their vote would make a difference. Building on the need to give voters a clearer understanding of the issues Mike Rossmeier, would like to see more organizations like the Chicago Community Trust, the Better Government Association, the Civic Federation and the city's special prosecutor get all their information about new legislation and government operations summarized in one place.
Not surprisingly, the group expressed the most frustration with the ongoing pension crisis. Though there was sympathy for state and city workers who have paid into their pension funds regularly, over half the group wanted to “close the front door on the pension system for all new workers and puts caps on current pensioners.”
For Margaret Coleman, the crisis in education begins in the home where, “the structure of the family has disintegrated." The importance of early childhood education starting with pre-school and an emphasis on the basics such as phonics and penmanship would make a critical difference particularly in low income families, Lisa Cockerham suggested. There was strong support for more accountability for teachers and principals as well as the need for more school counselors.
There was also an acknowledgment of the disparities in resources in low income minority neighborhoods and wealthier neighborhoods. That led to a lively debate over the value of selective enrollment schools with the conclusion that no one wanted to get rid of them but all remained concerned about resources being diverted from needy neighborhood schools.
We saved violence for last but it evoked the most passion from everyone in the group. Adolph Peavy felt that much of the violence could be slowed down if the funding for mental health centers could be restored. While Kathy Carmody felt it was hard to separate our last topic, education, from violence prevention.
She and others also pushed for more citizen involvement and earlier intervention. Margaret Coleman blamed negative news coverage for creating a climate of violence and pointed to the difference positive coverage by a small radio station in Englewood had made for the neighborhood. The group wondered what we could learn from other cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Houston on ways to control the homicide rate.
We were talked out by the end of the evening but hopeful that our conversation combined with so many others could make a difference in a region that is so important to all of us.