The impact of the Leadership Council's work generally did not make it into the newspapers, though most reporters who covered housing or regional issues knew of the organization and relied heavily on staff to understand the beats they covered. In part, the anonymity stemmed from the fact that our services were provided to families who wanted nothing more than to be treated fairly. They did not seek headlines, did not want to be known as "pioneers", and certainly did not want (in most cases) for the world to know of them as victims. Many who experience racial discrimination do not claim it as a badge of distinction. Most just want to get on with their lives, when it is all said and done.
The Leadership Council also helped thousands of families buy a home or rent an apartment and avoid becoming a victim in the first place, by understanding their rights and knowing how to confront unfair practices. Leadership Council's affirmative housing counseling started before there was even a Leadership Council, during the Chicago Freedom Movement of the 1960s.
Unlike all other housing agencies, Leadership Council emphasized helping minority families understand how to make the most of their housing choice by finding homes that would appreciate in value and provide access to the kinds of opportunities non-minority families often take for granted. Families served included households relocating from public housing, more than 8100 of them over 27 years, as well as nearly 100,000 families that received counseling through one of the agencies fair housing centers, located in mostly white areas of the suburbs. The work was often criticized as leading minorities to abandon minority neighborhoods ignored by private capital and public policy. To us, we were trying to make the best of a bad situation while we worked to fix the problems. To this day, the Leadership Council has been the only housing counseling group to emphasize fair housing and affirmative moves in its educational programs. Many organizations do not even bother to train their staff in these subjects, let alone pass such information on to their clients. One can only wonder how much less segregated the region would be if this were not the case.
Beyond the individual families, of which there were tens of thousands over 40 years, there were the many more who we taught how not to hate and how not to discriminate. These included tens of thousands of real estate professionals, municipal officials, faith based leaders, and community organizers who came together at events and meetings convened, facilitated, or provoked by the actions of the Leadership Council. At those meetings, seated around an open table, they found a place to talk about the issues they were facing and found staff willing to sit and broker, as best as possible, a practical solution.
In recent years, Leadership Council focused more and more of its attention on policy. In the last several years, a group co-convened by the Leadership Council grew into the leading force for change in housing and community development policy in Illinois. Other coalitions in which Leadership Council staff played leading roles challenged banks' community investment policies, helped curb predatory lending, and assisted immigrants seeking fair treatment.
Organizations like Leadership Council confront structural inequality ingrained in the policies and market decisions of the same people who fund the organizations- namely government agencies, corporations, and foundations. Moreover, nonprofits are asked to operate like for-profit entities, without the benefit of selling stock or raising prices when funds are tight. And our clients, despite their best intentions, simply do not have the wherewithal to fund the organizations that have helped them. Thus nonprofits tasked with addressing society's worst problems such as poverty, illiteracy, family violence, hunger, and racism are provided with less and less with each passing day.
It would be great to say that the Leadership Council is going out of business because it did its job so well that the problem it confronts- racism in housing- has been eliminated. It would be wonderful to look around at the region and see communities with families of all races and ethnicities living side by side, peacefully and without much notice of their diversity, given how widespread and common diverse communities had become. It would be a joy to pop some champagne, celebrate having accomplished at long last what Dr. King set out to do. That is, create an open city and an open region where a person has the right to choose where to live. Instead of celebrating that day, we mourn the passing of an organization, though hopefully not the idea on which it was founded.
Director of Community Relations
2001 - 2005