Citizen Leadership

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About Nomkhubulwane and using art to spark civic imagination about sustainability

Citizen Leaders

1996-2000 in Chicago | 2002-3 in Ghana | 2007-8 in Montana

Citizen Leaders provided committed grass-roots citizens, with leadership potential, training in developing plans, writing proposals, and organizing and implementing innovative community projects. $500 seed grants supported projects of their own design, involving at least six other volunteers, that met the needs of their communities as they perceived them. 

In 1996, with funding from the David K. Hardin Generativity Trust, the program graduated 37 citizen leaders. Chicago neighborhoods and communities involved included Austin, Uptown, Chatham, Pilsen, Humboldt Park, Roseland and Englewood. Religious and cultural communities included Catholic, Baptist, and Buddhist, Laotian, Korean, Filipino, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and African American. 

In 1997, with support from the Surdna Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, community-based Citizen Leaders programs were held in West Garfield Park in partnership with Bethel New Life and in Englewood with Mt. Carmel AME Church. Imagine Englewood if…and Every Block is A Village were second-generation Citizen Leaders programs developed by these local communities in Englewood and Austin, which have been locally sustained and expanded significantly. In 2000-1, Citizen Leaders was also run in the North of Howard street neighborhood with support from the Seabury Foundation, and a Parent Citizen Leaders  program in the Chicago Public Schools was developed with support from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Citizen Leaders was subsequently run in rural Ghana in partnership with a local development organization there.  In 2007, it was run in Montana in partnership with Hopa Mountain

Now what? How to move an idea into making a visible difference. Example from Citizen Leaders

Englewood Intergenerational Community Organizing Pilot (1994)

Imagine Chicago worked with the African American Leadership Partnership in Englewood to train and organize 80 young people in a summer city jobs program. The young people learned community assessment and organizing skills, including appreciative interviewing techniques. They wanted to help Englewood become a safer, more secure place where youth could thrive and develop the skills necessary to influence and shape Chicago's future in a positive way.

Imagine Chicago helped link their concerns to an emerging citywide initiative called YouthNet which provided community planning grants to design youth centers connecting services for positive youth development. The young people developed a presentation for community leaders, to share their own vision and action plan and solicit support for the YouthNet. They designed and conducted appreciative interviews across their community to gain further support from residents. Under the leadership of a local pastor and his wife, the youth recruited community organizations and individuals to form the youth collaborative, and achieved their organizing goal.


Making Civic Connections (1996)

More than 580 people participated in this year-long series of intergenerational conversations and dramatic presentations designed and organized by Imagine Chicago and underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois Humanities Council as part of the NEH’s National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity.  

The conversations linked the perspectives of diverse individuals and newcomer communities to documents of “American” self-understanding and to opportunities for civic participation in Chicago.  Twenty highly diverse ethnic and religious groups (fourteen different faith traditions) participated as partners in conversations also open to the public.  Collaborators included the Metropolitan Chicago Interreligious Initiative, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Historical Society, Loyola University, and Pegasus Players. For a detailed program description, click here.  


Nomkhubulwane (2009-2010)

Imagine Chicago partnered with South African sculptor Andries Botha to take a life-sized elephant, made from the offcuts of recycled truck tires, throughout Mexico and the U.S., to catalyze public conversation about creativity and ecology. Originally made for the 9th World Wilderness Congress in the Yucatan , Nomkhulbuwane was taken on tour throughout Mexico, and to El Paso, TX, Fayetteville, AK, Chicago, IL, Bozeman, MT and Detroit, MI. Imagine Chicago sponsored a variety of public programs in conjunction with the US tour.