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Chicago Urban League Encourages “Fearless” Action to Strengthen African American Workforce

Eliminating the skills and employment gap in the African American workforce through bold public, private and non-profit partnerships was the focus of the 2014 Chicago Urban League SUMMIT Luncheon. In addition to issuing a call to action to event attendees, the Urban League acknowledged cross-sector collaborations that are creating jobs and encouraged support for more innovative efforts that will lead to more African Americans securing jobs in STEM and STEM-related fields. Held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the SUMMIT Luncheon, themed Fearless Collaboration: Where Preparation Meets Opportunity, convened more than 600 of Chicago’s civic, business, community and elected leaders.

“Two of the greatest issues that impact Chicago’s African American community are access to a quality education that prepares one for a career and access to job opportunities and career options,” said Joseph A. Gregoire, chairman of the Chicago Urban League board of directors. “In partnership with a broad community of supporters and allies, the Chicago Urban League works hard to ensure that the individuals and families we serve are prepared to seize and successfully execute every opportunity available to them.”
Andrea L. Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, shared that persistent double-digit unemployment rates in the African American community, combined with countless STEM and STEM-related jobs in Cook County going unfilled by African Americans will have troubling consequences for the region. “The skills and opportunity gap is so significant that, if it continues, it will have a devastating impact on the African American workforce and the economic stability of metropolitan Chicago,” said Zopp.  “We must find ways to work together, across boundaries, to build programs that help individuals overcome barriers to gainful employment.”
In the keynote address, Ilene S. Gordon, Ingredion Incorporated chairman, president and CEO, related her experiences forging a career in the manufacturing industry. “In business a STEM education is a promising road to success,” Gordon said.  “But it’s also essential to continually learn new skills, embrace change, be proactive and takes risks,” she added.
In addition to discussing solutions to the crisis of the African American skills gap, the Chicago Urban League also highlighted six local innovators who are blazing new trails in their chosen career paths.
Receiving special recognition for their outstanding achievements were: Joy Bivins, curator at the Chicago History Museum, who is behind diverse exhibits including Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America and Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair; Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger Academy High School, who helped develop an instructional strategy and framework to change failing schools and Dr. Melissa Gilliam, professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Gilliam’s Game Changer Chicago Design Lab at the University of Chicago helps youth hone their critical thinking skills and adopt a value system around health and social justice issues to guide them as they transition into adulthood.
The Chicago Urban League also recognized: Emile Cambry, Jr. who,in 2012, founded BLUE1647, a business incubator that supports all forms of entrepreneurship from filmmakers and artist to engineers; Jimmy Odom, founder and CEO of WeDeliver who leveraged a logistics-driven career, customer-service training and culinary skills to create an online-based delivery service that uses crowdsourcing to provide same-day delivery to high-end retailers and Torrey Barrett, director of the K.L.E.O. movement which is dedicated to strengthening families and providing youth a safe haven.
Lead sponsors for the event include: Boeing, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment Chicago, Grosvenor Capital Management, L.P., ITW, and Southwest Airlines.