Access and equity Civic engagement
Changing the landscape
Chicago's first chief equity officer is searching for ways to level the playing field for all city residents
On many days for the past two years, Candace Moore (BA/BS ’09, JD ’13) has reported to work on the fifth floor of Chicago's City Hall, around the corner from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, her new boss. If Moore gets turned around amidst the spiral staircases and marble columns, she only needs to locate the red door with Lightfoot’s name printed squarely on the glass.
Lightfoot foregrounded Chicago’s legacy of racial and economic inequality during her campaign. After her unexpected victory, she hired Moore to head up Chicago’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice. The cabinet-level position—chief equity officer—is brand-new, designed to advance policies and practices through the lens of equity. Moore’s actual desk is tucked into a corner, past a long line of cubicles. On that desk sits a pink coffee thermos that broadcasts her intentions: “Peace, Love & Inclusion.”
Lightfoot and Moore knew each other only in passing before the former was elected this past May. In the aftermath of that win, campaign staffers reached out to Moore, wondering if she might help guide their education policy planning. She agreed, and in a part-time capacity also chipped in as the inbound administration tried to organize from scratch its Office of Equity and Racial Justice. To that end, Moore led an initial training that attempted to lay out, with some degree of clarity, what equity means in 2020 and how a government should go about operationalizing it. Her loose working definition: Ensuring that all people have what they need to reach common goals. When the position was formally posted, the transition team asked Moore to apply for it herself; the flattering offer came as a modest shock, but she jumped at the chance
A native of Aurora, Illinois, Moore expressed “an orientation toward justice and advocacy” for as long as she can remember. As a child, she was drawn to legal television procedurals, with their clarity and righteousness. Her first adolescent job—as a teacher’s aide for city-wide summer camps—exposed her to the value of a well-constructed government program. (She’d stay on for four additional summers, with increasing responsibilities in the central office.) Moore felt civically connected in Aurora, a working-class city of 200,000. “People in government—the city clerk, the alderman—are your neighbors,” she says. “They are people you went to church with.”
Her progressive inclination was strengthened at Loyola University Chicago, as she dove into student life through the Black Cultural Center (she’d eventually serve as president) and, later, through the Black Law Student Association. On campus, she sharpened her ability to organize meetings and motivate her peers. JD in hand, she landed on the staff of the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, building out their Education Equity Project, which provides direct legal services to students at risk of losing access to education because of racial discrimination, harsh discipline, re-enrollment barriers, or involvement in the criminal justice system. In December 2018, she earned an unprecedented injunction in the Circuit Court of Cook County that halted the closure of the National Teachers Academy, a top-ranked elementary school serving mostly African Americans on the city’s near South Side. Moore considered herself both an advocate and occasional agitator, obsessed with “systems and institutions and how they work.”