How to disrupt the cycle of poverty and crime

Chicago remains among the most segregated cities in the nation, and the levels of income inequality among black, Latino and white people is worse in Chicago than in the nation overall, according to a recently released study by the University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Research on Race & Public Policy.

Over 30 percent of black families and about 25 percent of Latino families live below the poverty line, while the poverty rate is less than 10 percent for white families.

"Not only do Chicagoans of color face higher levels of unemployment and poverty as well as have less income and wealth than their white peers, but they are geographically removed from the city's job centers and have fewer transit options," the report describes.

If statistics aren't enough to illustrate what many communities in Chicago face, take this case study.

I volunteered last Thanksgiving Day at the food pantry at St. Columbanus Parish in the Park Manor community on the South Side of Chicago. Shootings happen practically outside the rectory doors, but that's not what I saw when I visited. I saw a vibrant community that much of Chicago, including me, has ignored.

There is very little news about this food pantry despite it being one of the largest in Chicago, feeding about 500 families weekly. It fed about 14,000 children in 2016 alone. The work they do inspired me to create a GoFundMe campaign to help them help more people.

As I continue volunteering at St. Columbanus, I see many of their daily challenges up close.

For example, the school there recently received a grant for Chromebooks. Great news, right? Well they learned that the school isn't wired to handle that much technology, so now they need to raise money to rewire the building. Just when they think they get ahead, they face a roadblock.

Tools like Chromebooks help these students get an education that is more on par with their counterparts in richer, often whiter, communities. These other communities face no struggle to supply technology to their students and no fear that the entire electrical grid will shut down when a few Chromebooks get plugged in simultaneously.

When we talk about crime, violence and poverty in Chicago, it's not just about taking the guns away or hiring more police. It's about segments of society venturing into these communities armed with money, education and job opportunities. It's about donating suits for job interviews or old computers so people can create strong resumes. It's about giving money and time to local charities helping these communities. It's about making sure that schools in these areas have the technology and electrical infrastructure necessary to prepare their students for the future.

Business consultant Robert Greenleaf coined the term "servant leadership" in 1970 and said: "Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for its people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them."

Many business leaders will at some point discuss the diversity pipeline. They will ask why they can't find more qualified female and ethnically diverse job candidates or why they cannot retain them once they're hired. They will discuss ways to help the pipeline through recruitment and diversity programs. Those programs are so important, but we've got to also start even earlier and help children with the basics like food in their stomachs and warm clothes on their backs.

It's a heck of a lot easier to learn when you aren't cold or hungry. As servant leaders, we need to help their parents with job training and education assistance. Those efforts will do even more for the pipeline than many ideas floated around the office.

And, companies must empower their employees to be servant leaders in their own communities because improving the pipeline is a problem we all must face - not just the company executives.

I firmly believe that we can positively affect the cycle and fight violence, poverty and crime in Chicago by giving of our time, money and expertise to those communities cut off from the rest of the city. This is a better approach than just counting them out as a scary statistic.

While this philosophy and these ideas are not new, my hope is that you read this and then look more critically at the crime stories. I want you to ask yourself how we can realistically help those facing hunger, guns and empty wallets.

We must use our networks, skills and resources to be leaders not only in the office but throughout the city if we want to disrupt the cycle hurting our neighbors.

Olivia Clarke,, of Chicago, is a communications professional, former journalist and active volunteer.

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