Getting the Conversation Going
Terri Johnson of the Jane Addams Hull House Association works to create a racial equity agenda for Chicago.
What motivates someone to work across lines of color, class and gender is varied, but in the case of Terri Johnson, it is definitely personal.
"I have a responsibility to turn this sensibility about injustice into something powerful."
Terri is a leader at the Jane Addams Hull House Association, a social and human services agency with more than 120 years of experience in and around Chicago. The work of her organization speaks directly to the challenges faced by the communities she serves. At times, those challenges require client-based services such as child care, domestic violence counseling, job training and housing assistance for some 60,000 people. Then there are other challenges, such as what to do when the civic and public institutions charged with creating social and economic opportunity are disproportionately failing low-income and disadvantaged communities of color. When that happens, Terri works with her fellow community leaders to create opportunities for dialogue, action and systemic change. She understands this process involves acknowledging some difficult truths.
"Most of us believe that we got where we got because we did the work to get there… It's hard for people to hear that maybe they started ahead of the game in the first place…we try to get that conversation going."
With support from the Kellogg Foundation, Hull House is now convening Community Accountability Councils featuring policymakers, public agency executives, community leaders and youth leaders who will examine racial disparity data in areas such as income, employment, education, housing and health. Terri and Hull House will then use this analysis to build a racial equity agenda that recommends reforms to related public policies and social practices. It is a forward-looking project that aims to reduce structural barriers in the lives of individuals and their families. Terri wouldn't have it any other way.
"I have a niece and a nephew who are trying to grow up and be full people," said Terri. "I want them to rise and fall on their own capacities, not based on the fact they are children of color."