Get IN Chicago Executive Director Toni Irving participated in the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform’s 2nd Annual Summit for Action and Civic Reform.  Speaking on the Strategic Solutions for Social Justice panel, she joined an esteemed group that included Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, Emily Williams of the UIC Social Justice Initiative, and Paula Wolff, Director of the Illinois Justice Project and was moderated by Shelley Stern Grach, Director of Civic Engagement for Microsoft.


Each participant lended different perspectives from their varied careers in social justice, but overall, the panel agreed on key factors of successful initiatives.  Disruption and discomfort came up again and again as positive forces.

Dr. Irving cited Get IN Chicago’s Community Collaboration and Resident Empowerment initiative as an example of positive disruption.  Unlike traditional funding models, which typically use a top-down approach, CCRE uses community planning grants to ensure that resident identified-needs, input, and ideas are the starting point for funding.

“Intrinsic in our communities is a drive to collaborate and connect,” said Irving.  “Community planning grants give residents the opportunity to set the agenda for funders and government.  They also provide local organizations a way to work together without the sense of competition that often colors grant opportunities.”


(Photo courtesy of IL Campaign for Political Reform)

The panel urged grassroots groups to continue applying pressure through protests and speaking out, acknowledging that what happens on the street indelibly affects what happens in government offices.  They also emphasized the need for leaders to encourage and facilitate unexpected partnerships and stand up to the status quo, particularly on racial issues.

Paula Wolff, who also serves on Get IN Chicago’s Board of Directors, shifted the conversation to Chicago violence and her area of focus, juvenile justice.  She echoed the call for innovative collaboration but cautioned against quick fixes.

“We all want the same thing: to stop the cycle of violence, but too many people want quick solutions.  It’s clear that one of the fastest solutions – locking people up – does not work,” she said.  “We need to come up with measured, thoughtful, and nuanced plans if we want to make progress.”


Get IN Chicago is working to address and study the underlying, systemic issues that lead to youth violence.  Speaking to the audience about the organization’s most critical insights to date, Irving pushed for systems change.

“If you take one piece of information from me today, I hope it is this: we need to do more to reach the kids most at-risk of violence,” she implored.  “Kids who are truant, involved in the justice system, at SOAR centers – we need to find them and match them to services and resources if we want to have an impact.”