Breaking the Cycle: LIFT-Chicago’s Fifth Annual Summit

By LIFT on March 19, 2015

Categories: First Person Perspective


By: Taylor Johnson, Shriver Program Fellow

As the room began to fill for LIFT-Chicago’s Fifth Annual Regional Summit, I could feel the energy surrounding me, butterflies crowded my stomach. There sat a group of dedicated LIFT volunteers, alumni, and community partners ready to dive deep into the issues of poverty in Chicago and learn about innovative social change leaders and organizations that are creatively tackling problems in the city.

We were fortunate to kick-off the day with Sheldon Smith, Founder and Director of The Dovetail Project. At the age of 21, Sheldon started The Dovetail Project, a nonprofit whose mission is “to teach African-American fathers, ages 17 to 24, the parenting skills, life skills, and felony street law that will empower them to be better fathers to their children.” Stephanie, a LIFT Advocate, said Sheldon’s keynote address, “started off the day on a positive note telling everyone how, with enough commitment and desire, you can make a difference.” Sheldon took the audience through his process of founding The Dovetail Project, demonstrating the power within all of us to create the change we wish to see.

Following Sheldon’s remarks, we hosted workshops whose speakers included Moshe Brownstein of NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness), Sally Hazelgrove of Crushers Club: Redirecting Chicago’s Youth, Brian Hill of Jail Education Solutions, Valerie Dao of A Better Chicago, and Georgy Ann Peluchiwski of Impact 100. The workshops highlighted innovative solutions to a variety of obstacles facing our members including: inaccessibility of mental health support, violence, as well as, recidivism. LIFT Advocate, Ryan, remarked, “Brian’s workshop opened my eyes to the realities of inmate education in our country. His startup, Edovo (Education Over Obstacles), is an elegantly simple example of the huge potential that a small team of dedicated individuals has to open doors for those who seek opportunities to lift themselves up.”

In addition to the workshops discussions, LIFT-Chicago was pleased to host its first housing panel. The panel provided an opportunity for our advocates to better understand the complex history behind why there is so little affordable housing in Chicago. Housing panelist included, Jeremy Bergstrom from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Charles Drennan founder of Chicago Tenants Rights Law, Janet Smith a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago Urban Planning, and Vivien Tsou a community organizer from ONE Northside. LIFT Member Service Fellow, Rachel Huck, said the panel empowered students to get involved in the change they want to see. She said, “It was clear students can play an important role in housing advocacy by getting involved in the neighborhoods where their school is located and encouraging the university to support policies that provide affordable housing to the community surrounding the university.”

LIFT-Chicago’s Regional Summit was a huge success thanks to the speakers, advocates, alumni, and community partners in attendance. This event would not have been made possible without support from the McCormick Foundation and Loyola University Chicago. Throughout the day, I witnessed engaging conversations and unmatched commitment to fight poverty. It is times like this, when we join in this movement together, that keep me and so many others LIFTing.