Monthly Archives

April 2020

What Are Chicago Leaders Facing?

By Field News

Organizer Monica Cosby taking part in a Solidarity Caravan Tuesday, April 7, 2020, advocating for #MassReleaseNow of people incarcerated in Cook County Jail, as well as state and federal facilities. // Photo by Sarah-Ji.


As the Leadership Investment Program Officer at the Field Foundation, I am dedicated to working with Chicago’s aspiring and recognized leaders and their organizations, with one of my main roles managing the Leaders for a New Chicago Award. This unique award, created and presented in deep partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, seeks to build a more inclusive Chicago by tapping into power inside of communities with a no-strings-attached $50,000 award ($25,000 for the individual and, if eligible, $25,000 for their affiliated not-for-profit corporation). It is an honor to award and work in partnership with incredible leaders from art, justice, and media and storytelling areas across the city of Chicago.

In 2019, we were extremely proud to announce 14 Leaders as our inaugural awardees. Collectively these 14 individuals represent Chicago, from every corner of the city, many South and West Side communities, and each of the Foundation’s four program areas. You can read more about them here.

This starts as an award but quickly becomes a community. After the money arrives, the power of the cohort materializes organically. The awardees determine what is needed and we as a foundation work to make it happen. They lead, they design, we try to keep up. The main metric of success of this program is asking the question “Have we as a foundation built trust?”  Trust to be told the truth of how they spent the no-strings-attached award. They do not at all have to let us know, but if we do our job right, they will. Have we built trust to know what they are seeing, learning, struggling with daily? If we do our job right, they will know we are here not to evaluate but to listen and learn, grieve, and celebrate alongside them.

In this moment of a global pandemic, Chicagoans are being deeply affected and often experiencing complete erasures of income and resources, especially in communities of color. The deep fissures caused by systemic racism are becoming wider.

One of the 2019 Leaders for a New Chicago awardees, Heather Miller, executive director of American Indian Center, reached out to me with the following note:

There’s so much hysteria and chaos going on that people are making snap decisions without quality information and rational thought or conversation. I am sure that I am not the only leader dealing with community responses to all this chaos. Would/could we do an update or response to the current crisis as an update on where the leaders are now? Especially as we think about this next round of leaders? I’m so tired of the chaos and trying to manage through all of it but also thinking of the positive outcomes of everything.

We at Field decided to dedicate this newsletter to the Leaders and turn the mic over to them. Here some of the most visionary leaders in our city have stepped up to share where they are at and what’s happening in their communities and organizations, to name fears and uncertainties, and to share dreams of how we might and should be mobilized to come out of this in a radically different and let us hope…better place.

This isn’t watered down. They responded with stories of frustration, anger, disbelief, and stories of mobilization, organizing, and creating joy in the face of uncertainty. Sarah Ross in her work with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project described the devastating effects of COVID-19 in prison, “Hell is the only word I can think of,” and we see Monica Cosby from Westside Justice Center in the photo above participating in an action to bring light to this crisis. In the Media & Storytelling program area, Aymar Jean Christian of OTV shared their movement to “bring people joy, entertainment, and useful information” to the Chicago community. City Bureau’s Darryl Holliday talks about the Chicago COVID Resource Finder, a data bank of over 1,300 neighborhood, city, county, and state resources that can be filtered so people can easily find what they need. Imelda Salazar of Southwest Organizing Project and Analía Rodríguez of Latino Union shared moments of hope and inspiration amidst their grassroots justice-based organizing work. From Imelda, “Flowers are blooming but I see our leaders blooming in their leadership like taking on leading sessions, leading trainings. I’m proud of the families that we work with and proud of the team.” And I leave you with this vision of surviving from Analía, “This community needs so much from us, and it’s also strong, and inspiring, and will survive this and much more because this community has survived many other battles. We are strong because we have each other and as long as we have each other we will get through this.”

Here are some of the 2019 Leaders for a New Chicago.

In their own words.

In this moment.



Co-director of Art and Exhibitions,
Prison + Neighborhoods Arts Project

It’s been said again and again that this crisis is exposing the inequities we see across the United States. What is on my mind daily is what is happening in U.S. prisons, specifically Stateville where I teach. The stories from people incarcerated there, relayed from their friends and family, are horrific. We are hearing that there is not enough soap, people only get single squirts of hand sanitizer, and that more and more people—both incarcerated people and staff—are getting sick. Some men have said they are stuck in a cell with another sick person, others say that they constantly hear people yelling for medics. When the second person died two weeks ago, men were yelling from their cells to come and remove the deceased person but that it took more than 30 minutes to do so. Hell is the only word that I can think of.

The conditions of healthcare in jails, prisons and detention centers across the country are already abhorrent, with the spread of COVID-19, these places are not Petri dishes, as [Cook County Board President] Toni Preckwinkle mentioned, they are death traps.

I’ve been working with the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison who was able to contract with a distillery to make hand sanitizer to send to all 25 adult state prisons. We spent some 47K acquiring the sanitizer (the first shipment went to IDOC’s distribution center this week and we hope the sanitizer will get out to incarcerated people in prisons very soon. Credit for the heavy lifting on this effort goes to the Education Justice Project). Why are we, a grassroots group of educators, able to raise money, coordinate with local distributors, and more when jails, prisons, and detention centers have paid workers and budgets? I feel so enraged at this moment and also afraid that the students I left in March will not be there when I return. For quite some time, national and state think tanks, have modeled out what it would take to dramatically reduce the prison population overnight. This can be done, it must be done. We need to release elderly people, people who are over 50 years old, and people who have served a significant time of their sentence. People with previous health conditions need to be released. We can do this and be safe. As a caring society we have to demand that the governor releases people, and now.


Co-founder, OTV | Open Television

The OTV team has pulled together in this time of crisis to deliver information and entertainment to our community. We’re supporting and caring for each other (remotely) and everyone’s doing their best work.

We are planning to move the first half of our season online/live-streaming and are excited about the possibility of creating content for social media that brings people joy, entertainment, & useful information—not just the bad/triggering news that’s flooding our feeds. We’ve done live online information sessions about emergency resources, exercise classes, and meditation/ritual practice sessions weekly on Instagram (all paid opportunities to local artists!), with plans to interview artists and community leaders/activists before premiering new series through Facebook and Vimeo in May. Some of the shows have had to cancel production but many shows have already shot so we’ll definitely be able to premiere new works. People have been great and we are always welcoming more support.

We’re excited that in a time of social distancing being a small-scale online TV platform is exactly the kind of work that can maintain local/global community bonds through art & entertainment.


Co-founder and News Lab Director, City Bureau

Our first priority during the coronavirus was the safety and well-being of our staff. In the first weeks of the pandemic, we transitioned all of our work online, including all of our regular community events. After taking many deep breaths, we began reaching out to our direct-service partners for some deep listening around local information needs. Based on what we heard, we launched two new projects.

This week, City Bureau introduced the Chicago COVID Resource Finder, a data bank of over 1,300 neighborhood, city, county, and state resources that can be filtered so people can easily find what they need. Resources can be sorted by who is eligible (immigrants, families, business owners), what is offered (food, money, legal help), languages spoken, and location. You can access it via SMS and by the end of the week, the Resource Finder will be translated into 10 languages. In conjunction with the COVID Resource Finder, we’re also introducing our Information Aid Network, a phone tree for information access that will continue beyond the pandemic. Starting this week, City Bureau’s Documenters community will make calls to people with limited digital access in partnership with local organizations and Free Press’ News Voices to fact-check rumors, answer questions and connect people with local journalists. If you represent a direct-service organization in or near Chicago, we want to work with you to meet your community’s information needs—fill out this form to start the conversation.


Executive Director, Latino Union

Day laborers and household workers are low wage workers, mostly immigrants who cannot benefit from many of the resources out there due to immigration status and not having one regular employer. Latino Union is supporting these workers with resources and also by continuing to build community amongst our members in these unprecedented times. We had a membership call with 40+ members participating. We heard hard stories on how folks are struggling financially, the effects on them and their families, and one member dealing with her son who has been infected by COVID-19. We heard all this and we also heard members coming together saying: “I will cook a meal for you” “We are here for you” “I have some water, diapers, I can give to someone in need” “I don’t have much, but what I can spare I can offer to others.” These are inspiring words! These are just some things that the day laborer and household worker community at Latino Union are offering to each other. This community needs so much from us, and it’s also strong, and inspiring, and will survive this and much more because this community has survived many other battles. We are strong because we have each other and as long as we have each other we will get through this.


Organizer, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP)

The first week that the shelter in place started, the week of the 15th, we had canvassing scheduled for the census. People were calling me and asking, “So what are we going to do? How are we doing this?” and then I said we can switch it to phone calls instead of knocking on doors so it’s comfortable and safe. Everybody—colleagues, staff, leaders, other people that were not even working on census before this—said, “Yes let’s do it!” I created an Excel sheet for the call information. We asked each person to call 10 people in their networks and provided names and phone numbers per institution they belong (school, church, etc). From March 16th through March 30th, we did 3,200 calls. I was really encouraging them to ask people how they are doing with the current virus, what’s important to them right now and then from those calls, we created networks of support for seniors and we identified who wanted to help to get the medicine or groceries and then we identified that first week, March 16th to the 23rd, who needed groceries and stuff. We talked to churches, I talked to some therapists that I trust in the neighborhood, and there is a social worker that used to work for us and I asked if he was willing to lead a listening session with people. He was so successful because people wanted to talk and he really had good conversations. We had ten of those in groups averaging 16 people, in both English and in Spanish.

People are losing their jobs, they don’t know their future because there is no testing, so we have all that going on but I think the organizing around the census helped. People just want to vent and when they do that they discover new ways of doing things. I’m really proud of everybody, moms are becoming teachers now and learning how to use their technology and it’s been really energizing for me as a leader. Flowers are blooming but I see our leaders blooming in their leadership like taking on leading sessions, leading trainings. I’m proud of the families that we work with and proud of the team. SWOP organizers and staff are supporting the community in so many ways.


Executive Director, American Indian Center

First off, we are feeling unseen. The Indian community was on everyone’s radar before in regard to funding and land acknowledgments but now we are feeling unseen. We have been fighting erasure for so long and then it feels like we’ve been erased again.

Second, I laid off all my staff. It’s been two weeks. I think we’re going on week number three. And I knew that it was going to be a really hard decision, but I knew this had to be and was my decision. We don’t know when any grants are going to come because everything pretty much got delayed and pushed back and we don’t know what youth programming is going to look like for the summer since the community can’t come into the office and we can’t bring people together. We don’t have a reserve or rainy-day funds, so you know as soon as something bad happens we don’t really have any way to react to it. I wanted to make sure they were eligible for unemployment right away. Of course, they’re pretty much coming to the Center every day while keeping their distance of course. That’s who they are. I told them and they know this is not permanent. We continue to need support for the work American Indian Center, CAIIC, and other native organizations are doing.

I was able to bring the staff back this week. We put in for the payroll protection program. I need them. We need them. I tell the staff that they make me essential. And they have enjoyed reminding me of that one time that I fired them. So yeah, our Indian humor hasn’t died.


With humor and grace and struggle and love, these leaders have given us a window into how Chicago’s communities and organizations are responding and re-envisioning in the wake of this global pandemic. We are lucky to support and work alongside such fierce people and we find inspiration in each one of their stories. We hope you do too.

Hilesh Patel 
Program Officer,
Leadership Investment

For Journalists of Color, Tracking by Race During COVID is About EQUITY

By Field News

Alex Garcia, Three Story Media


By Lolly Bowean
Program Officer, Media & Storytelling

Many residents were just starting to feel the fatigue of mandatory quarantines and self-distancing to prevent the rapid spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus when Charles Blow of the New York Times, Michael Harriot of The Root, Elliot Ramos and Maria Ines Zamudio of WBEZ took to social media to demand data correlated based on race.

It wasn’t an attempt to divide, Harriot explained in a Twitter thread last week. But rather it was an effort to call attention to the most vulnerable communities that have less access to health care while suffering from many underlying conditions. Harriot pointed out that African Americans are often dismissed by health care professionals and are most likely to be on the front line working in low-wage positions at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and other places deemed essential.

“People keep wondering why we want to inject race into a global pandemic,” Harriot explained. “Seriously, Coronavirus is racist. Not only does it seem to target black areas, but the CDC’s list of factors that may exacerbate COVID-19 all disproportionately affect blacks.”

These journalists were simply doing their jobs—asking the tough questions and publicly shaming institutions for not responding to information requests. Yet, buried in their push for statistics was the validation that African American, Latinx, Asian, Arab, Native American (ALAANA) journalists and journalism organizations are needed now more than ever.

Throughout the region, small ALAANA owned and focused news organizations are filling the information gaps and using their limited resources to spread the news to their communities.

Here in Chicago, The Crusader began chronicling the death toll and publishing obituaries for African American residents who died because of the virus.

In their emailed newsletters, The Chicago Defender and Bronzecomm have been publishing lists of resources: where lower-income residents can access free food, how they can sign up for rental assistance and where they can find protective face masks and gloves.

On top of their full-time reporting jobs, Maria Ines Zamudio of WBEZ and Laura N. Rodriguez Presa of the Chicago Tribune started a Spanish-language podcast to translate the message for non-English speaking audiences. That effort, Zamudio said, came in part because she had to call her mother every morning and translate the COVID related news for her.

“This is for your mom, your tia and la vecina chismosa,” she wrote on her Twitter feed, which means your uncle or aunt and gossipy neighbor.

On the national stage, it has been ALAANA journalists using their platforms to call even more attention to the disparities and call out the inequities and racism attached to the response.

Take the columnist Charles Blow, who has criticized the federal government for politicizing the crisis by first racializing it as a “Chinese virus,” and later failing to acknowledge how it impacts the black community.

“I’m particularly frustrated by the lack of data,” he said in a recent Twitter Live conversation that he hosted to discuss the virus’ impact on minority communities. “I do not understand the lack of race-specific data being made available. It should be there.

“Tell people who is most affected and it saves lives,” he said.

The work of these ALAANA journalists means that organizers can advocate for resources and community servants can focus on the people most in need.

As one of the only black journalists in the White House press corps in the 1950s, Ethel Payne said doing her job often meant asking the questions no one else would, and putting race and disparity at the center of the conversation. Payne, who wrote for the Defender, would use her questions to force even the mainstream media to pay attention to issues that plagued black America, she said.

“The white press was so busy asking questions on other issues that the blacks and their problems were completely ignored,” Payne said, according to Eye on the Struggle, a best-selling biography that chronicles her life. “I would think carefully about what kinds of questions I would ask …”

By asking questions about race relative to COVID, today’s journalists of color are doing just what Payne did decades ago—putting the focus right where it belongs. And making a conversation that was isolated to one community a national priority.




Lolly Bowean is the Media & Storytelling Program Officer. The goals of the Field Foundation’s Media & Storytelling program, a partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Democracy Fund, are to: create more just and inclusive narratives about Chicago that foster policy change; amplify the voices and impact of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American journalists, media makers and storytellers in the local media landscape; and support more reporting and storytelling by traditional and alternative journalism platforms about the root causes of the city’s inequities. Learn more about our program here.

Our next deadline for submission is May 15.

The Field Foundation is proud to partner with the McCormick Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Driehaus, Polk Bros. and the Chicago Community Trust to support ALAANA journalists and small media organizations working to gather information related to the COVID-19 crisis. Apply for emergency funds here.

BE READY: Census 2020 Count Me In IL

By Field News

A few years ago, I invited a former student of mine to talk with a group about preparing for the world of work after graduation. Her presentation was smart, thoughtful and funny. Someone in the class then asked her what was the best advice she had ever received. Her answer was, “be ready to be ready.” Her father, an immigrant from China, had repeated these words over and over to his daughter when she was young, and it stuck.

Years later—this mantra, “be ready to be ready” sticks with me. It’s something I say (and think) all the time. It can be when my kids have a test coming up or a pop quiz feels eminent or when I learn of new issues from our grantees and think of all the ways we at Field can help. When ideas flow in our program meetings and my hand starts to sketch out the solutions in bright graphic designs. Even now, as every day brings a new challenge and we must rebalance our lives in new ways, we all live in a constant state of being ready to be ready.

Being ready today involves a mix of tending to the firehose of what is considered immediate needs and making sure to not sleep on what is critical long-term equity work and strategy. Getting our national infrastructure ready for the next decade falls into this latter category and why so many of us are urging folks to complete the U.S. 2020 Census.

Consider this: the U.S. 2020 Census affects funding for schools, roads and hospitals, firefighters, and resources for people who need it most. It helps elect community leaders on school boards and city councils.

We receive more than $20 billion of the $675 billion in federal funding through U.S. Census data annually. This funding is critical—especially for marginalized communities—be they urban or rural.

At Field, we are proud of our involvement in the IL Count Me In 2020 initiative at Forefront where dozens of foundations came together over the past year to generate more than $1.75 million in needed resources to nonprofit partners throughout the state—especially those working with hard to count communities to help get every person in Illinois counted.

We are also proud of so many in the nonprofit sector, many of our grantees, all of the community-based organizations who have spent the past year readying to get a sound count out despite rhetoric and mixed messaging. In this moment, competition for our attention is at an all-time high as the newsfeeds, tweets, emails and opinions crowd us all. There are so many questions to consider in this moment: Should you wear a mask? Do you wear gloves? Can I see my friends or co-workers? And, how can all the planning to execute a sound Census work in this quarantined world?

The moment calls for us to react quickly while preparing for an incredible new day on the horizon.

Illinois stands to lose out on tremendous resources and state representation in Washington. The Census isn’t just a document declaring who we are, it demands we are heard and given the power and resources we deserve. We must be ready to be ready, right now—from our homes—by going online, by calling the Census Bureau, or by filling out your paper form when it arrives in the mail.

If history has provided any insight for us, it is this—we will come through this and when we do, we can be better for it.

To learn more, please visit

To complete the 2020 Census,


Mark Murray
Vice President, Programs and Administration, Field Foundation
Co-Chair, IL Count Me In 2020

Welcome Our New Media & Storytelling Program Officer, Lolly Bowean!

By Field News

We are so excited to share with you that beginning April 1, 2020, award-winning journalist, Lolly Bowean, will become the Field Foundation’s new Media & Storytelling Program Officer.

Lolly Bowean was a general assignment reporter at the Chicago Tribune for more than 15 years with a focus on urban affairs, youth culture, housing, Chicago communities and government relations. She wrote primarily about Chicago’s unique African American community and the development of the Obama Presidential Center.

During her tenure, she covered the death of Nelson Mandela, violence in troubled neighborhoods, and the 2008 election and inauguration of President Barack Obama. Most recently, she wrote about the election of Chicago’s first African American woman mayor, Lori Lightfoot. In addition, she’s covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the last gathering of the original Tuskegee Airmen.

Before joining the Chicago Tribune, Bowean covered suburban crime, government and environmental issues for the Times-Picayune in NewOrleans.

She has been published in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Lenny Letter and Longreads. She has served as a contributing instructor for the Poynter Institute and lectured at the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and is the former program officer for the Chicago Headline Club. She was a 2017 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and is a Studs Terkel Award winner. In 2019 she became the first African American awarded the Gene Burd Urban Journalism Award. She is a Pulitzer prize-nominated writer who lives on the South Side of Chicago.




The goals of the Field Foundation’s Media & Storytelling program are to create more just and inclusive narratives about Chicago that foster policy change; amplify the voices and impact of African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American journalists, media makers and storytellers in the local media landscape; and support more reporting and storytelling by traditional and alternative journalism platforms about the root causes of the city’s inequities.

To learn more about this program area, visit