These are the 2021 Leaders for a New Chicago.
Some are organizers, artists, producers, activists and some are part of collective or shared leadership models. Some are executive directors, some are co-founders.
Like our 2019 and 2020 cohorts, these 10 individuals include a diversity of age and expertise, ethnicity, gender identity, different geographies and income levels. ALL of them are redefining leadership in Chicago. As we think about dialogues around relief, recovery and reimagining in the city, leadership is an essential element.
This award recognizes past accomplishments in the fields of Justice, Art, or Media & Storytelling and promotes and advances a range of leaders whose influence will inform decision making across the city of Chicago. Each leader will receive a $25,000 cash award in recognition of past accomplishments, and their affiliated non-profit organizations will each receive an additional $25,000 general operating grant.
This program is unique because leaders select leaders. In the face of everything going on, a group of them found time to select the 2021 cohort of leaders. For this year’s selection committee, we again invited last year’s awardees to lead the process and the committee was composed of five of the Leaders from the 2020 cohort. They navigated the process of identifying the 2021 awardees and also voiced and grappled with a multiplicity of questions, narrowing down the volume of nominations to these 10 awardees.
Please learn more about each of them below.
LaSaia is not only amplifying the voices of transgender people of color in Chicago, but she is also building their capacity and decision making at individual, community and city-wide policy levels. She has established Brave Space Alliance as a dedicated space accountable to the community, from sourcing programming ideas to food access to representation. Her voice is crucial to the community and the next generation of transgender leaders and she has created a unique space in Chicago that reimagines how organizations can support and grow the communities they serve.
Aislinn’s relationships and collaborations with movement leaders around the country continues to connect Chicago Torture Justice Center’s work to broader dialogues around reparations and transformative justice. She approaches mental health support that is connected to political organizing for systemic change, free and broadly accessible, and affirming. She holds criticisms of Chicago in constant tension with a deep love for this city, and a clear commitment to her communities.
Monica encourages engagement in discovery and innovation as key elements of education. She has created a space in Bronzeville that functions outside the traditional school model, encouraging art-centric curriculum. She has utilized the Little Black Pearl platform to demonstrate the power of art as a social justice tool privileging observation, imagination and the critical role the courage to transform plays in meeting the needs of the community.
As an experienced community organizer with a demonstrated history of working to advance racial, economic, social, and environmental justice, Grace has built strong relationships with local institutions and elected officials to build coalitions and pass legislation and trained numerous leaders across the city and state. Grace’s commitment to community in Chicago combines legislative advocacy, coalition building, grassroots organizing, issue-based campaigns, and organizational management.
Brandon is recognized as one of the strongest voices in Chicago for dance and is committed to using footwork as a connector and teaching tool to bring communities across the city together while simultaneously bringing attention to the South and West Sides of Chicago. His ability to be in relationship with others as a teacher and a student at the same time is a distinctive part of why he is considered a leader. Brandon is trying to connect footwork to the larger arts ecosystem in Chicago and to organizing efforts within South Side communities around justice-related issues.
Maira works at the center of an intricate constellation of relationships, facilitating conversations between investigative journalists, organizers, civil rights attorneys, philanthropy, data scientists and researchers, and those most affected by state-sanctioned violence. Performing this role with a combination of rigor and grace, she makes an invaluable ongoing contribution to the work of police abolition. She is centering the voices of those affected by police violence, police torture while enhancing the capacity of citizens to hold public institutions accountable.
The life changing experience of Ferguson transformed Damon into an organizer, pushing him to lead and participate in dozens of direct actions in response to anti-Black violence. In the subsequent years, he has taken on greater responsibility, established himself as a leader who shapes the messaging for movement and cultural events and as a force in coalition work. Yet his work building coalitions aims to decenter the notion of “leader” as a construct, in the name of collective power and personal autonomy.
Malik is uniquely positioned as a Muslim, Queer, Person of Color, and as an immigrant in a position of leadership. His presence in the performing arts sector is vital to a field that struggles to decenter whiteness within storytelling and performance. Through Silk Road Rising, Malik has long challenged the misperceptions and inequities reinforced in traditional theater practices and institutional theater models. He weaves management, negotiating, fundraising, community organizing, and alliance-building into keeping the organization a stable and growing entity.
Tony is a multi-issue community organizer who prioritizes anti-oppression and harm reduction frameworks in their personal and professional life. In the nine years they have been with the Chicago Freedom School, they have been recognized as a critical voice in Chicago, bringing a deep political analysis and organizing framework to issues that affected youth. While shepherding an organization dedicated to youth capacity building, they prioritize intergenerational collaboration and teach a diverse group of activists and community members to utilize their unique experiences to engage city-wide infrastructure. They lead collectively, bringing youth into decision making and using every opportunity to build the capacity of those around them and have a commitment to racial justice and restorative practice.
As an artist, educator, researcher, administrator, collaborator, producer, and facilitator, Meida actively convenes artists and communities as potential change agents and as strategic solution makers to urgent social issues through the field of cultural production. Her practice of leadership is rooted in listening, guiding, and facilitating as she helps surface and documents historical narratives. At the backbone of her work are core values of imagination, self-actualization, consensus-building, and collective action.