PRESIDENT AND CEO OF CHICAGO FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN WANTS TO TRANSFORM PEOPLE'S LIVES
“We believe that when you invest in women and girls, you really invest in transformative change in our communities and we try to make sure resources get to those in our communities who need them the most,” she said.
What informs the work Davis Blakley does now with Chicago Foundation for Women is growing up as a Black girl on the South side of Chicago, riding public transportation and going to public schools. She spent 10 years in the Chicago Police Department from 1991 to 2001, with eight of those years as a violent crimes detective, investigating sex-related offenses. She worked with women to try to get them justice and start the healing process.
During her time in City Hall, working with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, she had an opportunity to make a large impact in communities. With her time in higher education administration, she ensured people had educational opportunities and worked on creating equity in higher education.
Davis Blakley remembered her mother, who was a single mother, navigate systems and provide for the basic necessities for the family. She also remembered a lot of Black women in the community who wrapped their arms around her mother. She described it as the true spirit of community.
“My life is different because I can see the footprints of all those people. And, I feel a responsibility, then, to pay that forward and to make sure that … First Lady Michelle Obama said when you walk through the door of opportunity, do you close it behind you or do you reach your hand back and pull somebody else through the door … And, I see my life’s work as a continual pulling other people through the door and creating opportunities,” she said.
In 2017, Chicago Foundation for Women launched the Englewood Women’s Initiative, a place-based strategy that was created because the foundation listened to community voices. It was born out of Englewood’s Quality of Life Plan, which called for economic security and mobility for women and their families. The Chicago Foundation for Women worked with Teamwork Englewood and other organizations to create wraparound holistic approach with services to help women.
In 2021, Chicago Foundation for Women launched SHEcovery, which was born out of the pandemic and the inequities. The goal was to create equitable recovery for women during COVID-19. The four pillars included addressing the eviction crisis, getting women back to work, caring for caregivers and demanding an antiracist healthcare system.
The Chicago Foundation for Women also launched Willie’s Warriors, named after The Reverend Willie T. Barrow. It is a Black women’s leadership program with a focus on social justice, creating space and celebrating Black women. The women in the cohort create their own curriculum based on what they’re interested in learning. The women in the fifth cohort has just launched. There are 21 women in the cohort.
“It is so powerful when these sisters are in the room. Many times I leave the room inspired, and with some tears, because the stories are so powerful. Their leadership is already apparent,” she said, adding that for a lot of the women, in addition to the work they are doing, they do the unofficial work of diversity, equity and inclusion. “We create the space where they can separate those things, feel affirmed and supported and know they are on the right track and that they are excellent leaders, just as they are,” she said.
On March 29th, Chicago Foundation for Women will celebrate its Impact Awards. Eight women, who are nominated by the community, will be honored for the work they do. The Board Boot Camp will take place on April 8th and April 15th. The cost is $200.
For more information about Chicago Foundation for Women, visit cfw.org.
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