Tuesday, April 23, 2019

My Memo to the Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot - Good Governance Transition Team

I am filled with optimism that my voice was invited to serve on the Good Governance Transition Team for the new Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot. It is not everyday that you witness a historic moment in your city and you are asked to be a part of it to lend your voice...I was ready to provide vital input as it relates to how our city can improve upon being more transparent, demonstrate equity and ensuring the needs of citizens in Chicago especially on the south and west side are met! Of course, Englewood is my ground zero but many of our black communities are in a State of Emergency Economically and there are ways to improve the tools we have designated to assist in these circumstances.

It has been years since I used my blog and I thought it was only appropriate to us this platform to share my memo regarding a long battle with the abuse and injustice of the Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIFs) as a member of this temporary body. 

Disclaimer: Due to the quick turnaround to submit these, I had no time for edits or peer reviews. Excuse the long run on sentences or grammatically incorrect language...I am sure you will get the point without making corrections along the way!

April 15, 2019

TO: Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot

FROM: Asiaha Butler, President | Executive Director, R.A.G.E. & Member of the Good Governance Committee

RE:  Objective – Adaptative Government Responsive to Residents Needs

In order to advance a more adaptive government, that responds to resident needs and interests, the new administration should conduct a thorough examination of the tools, resources and models currently being used in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Chicago. Many Chicago neighborhoods are in an economic crisis and there are tools designed to spark economic development activities such as the Tax Increment Financing Districts which has been abused and ineffectively implemented. One of the initiatives that needs to be executed in the first 100 days, aligns with Mrs. Lightfoot position of bringing transparency and greater community engagement to the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. 

An instantaneous critical assessment of current TIF redevelopment goals and projects from a wholistic approach should be applied to these districts that overlays in the police districts that experience the greatest crime and highest unemployment rates.

This would allow the new administration to view the affiliation between high crime areas and ineffective TIF economic development activities in the communities that have been starved of resources and experiencing trauma due to the abuse of these tools. These TIF districts should be deemed as a priority for bold, transformative change that can have an immediate impact as it relates to job creation and workforce development in the neighborhoods that desperately needs it. The goals and values of this administration is focused on equity, transparency, accountability, diversity and inclusion, and transformation and unfortunately, Chicago is known for a Tale of Two Cities, with policies and initiatives that model inequities and a racially biased approach that have built economic deserts throughout the city’s south and west sides.

The current practices of TIF development projects are clear examples of tools that have not benefited the neighborhoods in which they were designed to served and only built more division in our city based on class, race and zip codes.  TIF reform needs to be a wholistic customized approach for the areas in dire of need of economic engines that creates jobs, support local entrepreneurs, and train our next generation of citizens for the work force.

A newly formed TIF oversight design committee with subject matter experts, active TIF reforms groups, residents, and community leaders of these neighborhoods should be created in the first 100 days to help design the desired outcomes necessary to advance an innovative, community led process on how TIF districts could be realigned to benefit these blighted communities.   As current projects are assessed in these designated neighborhoods, we should be asking the following and reviewing these districts from a race and equity lens –
  • Are the objectives for current projects based on the immediate concerns of the neighborhood?
  • Do community members understand and are they aware of how these goals that positively affect them?
  • Have residents whom contribute to the TIFs in that area involved with the decision making of community development projects?
  • Do the people participating in the community development initiative represent the current population of that district?
Englewood Neighborhood TIF
The long-term plan would be to mandate neighborhood led local TIF Oversight Councils in the communities that are the most traumatized by generational disinvestment, the lack of employment opportunities, and high crime. With this initiative it is imperative that the decision-making process is more democratic, transparent, and responsive to local aspirations so that TIF funds do what they are supposed to -revitalize communities, in a way that is organic to those communities themselves. What is clear, however, is that community education, local agency, and grassroots organizing will be key to whatever solutions are pursued. The Resident Association of Greater Englewood already has an impressive working model for Englewood residents to get directly involved on issues that affect their lives and launched a social media campaign - #TIFThursday - to inform and raise awareness to residents about of the basic of TIF functions and recent development projects that directly or indirectly impact them.

Ultimately, the TIF process should be controlled by the communities each project is commissioned to serve. In an era of increased privatization, gentrification and private development, especially relevant for Chicago neighborhoods, these tasks may seem like an insurmountable challenge. Yet Chicago citizens have proven to be resilient, creative, and persistent in the face of many such obstacles that threaten the existence of their community. There should be efforts or training that will increase knowledge for the local alderman and residents of how the TIF process works. Implement bi-annually “State of the TIF Address” organize by the mayor, city council and local TIF oversight councils to infuse transparency and local participation.

TIFs future use must create direct strategies that will produce long term sustainable change; this can and should happen with residents ensuring accountability, more transparency and demanding that TIF programming maximizes job creation and development as future investment begins. This initiative must lend on the expertise of local community organizing efforts to forge a new model for TIF reform with lasting local and national implications for greater public access and citizen democracy.

Asiaha Butler, Executive Director
R.A.G.E. – Resident Association of Greater Englewood

Friday, December 1, 2017

Here we go again.....Englewood School Actions

I haven't posted on this blog in a year but felt compelled to let my voice be heard regarding the recent school actions in Englewood.

For the last 10 years I have watched the data of the Englewood schools enrollment declined drastically and resources be stripped. I decided to join the LSC as a community rep to help at Robeson, served as the President of the Black Star Project Community PTA to impact the selective enrollment policies and fight for education equity, I was appointed as the Chair of the Englewood Education Task Force in 2009, served as the Co-chair of the Englewood CAC in 2010-2012, created a strategic plan to examine and create solutions for the inequity of resources in our neighborhood schools. Been in meetings to help create strategies to market these neighborhood schools, looked for partners, faith-based leaders, organizations, concern citizens, elected officials, and most importantly parents to join the efforts to increase enrollment, investments, and high school morale at these schools....

No one came to the table, no one was willing to help, no one cared enough that these schools were slowly deteriorating before our eyes...No one protest the influx of charter/options schools in Englewood, no one presented viable solutions to correct this problem.....Was my voice not strong enough? Did our efforts fall on deaf ears or would people just prefer to organize in a reactive way? Well....In 2012, we was faced with this same dilemma when 6 (yes 6) of our elementary schools closed and again it was an emotional and reactionary response like I have seen this past week....

Now fast forward to Dec. 1st, 2017, many of these HS are on the chopping block and now you care? Now you upset, now you want to protest, now you care about the young people who have been left behind in this god forsaken educational system? Give me a break. I just hope one day while I am still living that we as a community would be more strategic in presenting solutions and tactics way in advance before an issue reaches this point. Whose to blame? All of us....Trump? CPS? Rahm? The community? Parents? Elected officials? Faith based leaders? ALL OF US!! Now are we going to be mad or strategized towards a better solutions for our black and brown students especially for the young people in these underserved communities? As a member of the New Englewood HS Steering Committee, I am just as emotional as the next person but I have to ensure these students have the BEST and SAFEST transition because as a resident, a parent, and concern citizen that is my duty and we owe this to them. I want to leave this table, but if I do, who will have input on how we can support these students, who will have input on the curriculum, who will have input on who build and design this school? Again, it is my obligation and it should be yours to ensure that this BS doesn't continue to happen....This is the #TheLifeofMrsEnglewood and I know Englewood will still rise! 

Read all the notes from the steering committee here -http://cps.edu/About_CPS/Policies_and_guidelines/Pages/transitionsandguidelines.aspx

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Yeah it's Personal....The Life of Mrs. Englewood

Greetings All!

When I initially created this blog I used it as a tool to document, capture, highlight and uplift so many great things that happen in the community of which I reside and serve - Englewood.  However, there are times, I used this blog to express my frustrations or even make a public statement….Well this blog entry is more of a personal reflection, a recap of recent activities and somewhat of a public announcement to my readers, supporters, friends, and foes.

I never knew how many people began seeing Englewood from a different lens or even just felt as if they know me personally after reading an entry or two….So if any of my readers are also following me on social media you probably already know it’s been a great year for my family, the community and for me personally….I will start off by saying that my daughter is off at college at Spelman, one of the best historical black colleges in the United States.  And not only is she studying at Spelman, she is a Bonner Scholar meaning her full tuition, room and board is paid for the next four years she attends! 

This scholarship is given to students who have an exemplary track record in community service.  Who would have thought that after dragging her at the tender age of 10 to community meetings, having her volunteer at events, and working closely with me with the Resident Association of Greater Englewood - That this would have paid for 4 years of college and allows her to continue to do service in the community…As my church friends would say…Won’t he do it!! I am still thanking God every day for this 200K blessing and opportunity for my daughter….When I speak to her now, she is much more reflective about her experiences in Englewood and apply many of the principles we taught her to the service work in Atlanta.  I miss her like crazy, but I know she is in fabulous hands at Spelman….Talk about favor!! God is Dope! 

So after, getting my daughter off to college knowing she is financially set, it allowed me to reflect on my next steps professionally. RAGE is soaring and continuing to grow!  Our association completed a six park tour this past summer, continues to work on issues that impact residents and recently started an Englewood Youth Civic Engagement program in partnership with Teamwork Englewood….Below are a few photos of the students! 

Our youth program started back in August with about 12 students from various high schools…Fast forward to today, I have 7 committed students all from Lindblom HS, ironically the same school where my daughter graduated from earlier this year….So in my eyes, I feel like after she left, I inherited seven, smart, dedicated young ladies who have been rocking and rolling on several initiatives and projects in Englewood…So in a sense this was the perfect timing as me and my hubby transitioned to being an “empty nesters”….

As I reflect on all the things our association has accomplished in only 5 years, I knew that RAGE growth was inevitable due to our passion and authenticity to uplift our community....As you know we pride ourselves on being stewards of assets and being able to identify individuals with remarkable talents to contribute to the work in Englewood. Being able to identify ones personal passion and connecting it to resources or people in Englewood, is one of the most rewarding tasks I do as the President of RAGE. The events are cool, changing policy is needed, but my ability to connect purpose with the intention to build Englewood is by far the best feeling in the world!  Now as much I love doing that, the reality is we still need help with our day-to-day operations, future partnerships and other programs we execute...With that being said, I am proud to announce that we are finally in a position to bring on a new staff member (pictured below) on a part-time basis....Now for real, I would have never thought back in 2010 when I co-founded RAGE that we will have a staff person and grow from 13 to over 250 members…I guess it's the same feeling of watching your child grow from a cute little 2nd grader to a worldly scholar of a prestigious school....You can't ever stunt or stop growth! And if you are not growing, you are dying....And RAGE is far from dying! 

Speaking of growth…I often times hear – 
  • Aysha how do you work a full-time job downtown and manage RAGE?
  • Are you the paid Executive Director of RAGE?
  • When are you going to go full-time with this community work and really make an impact?  

Well I am proud to say that after 16 years of working at a real estate association on the Mag Mile, I have made the decision to do what I absolutely love on a full time basis!  My desire has always been to add even more value to the work I do, make an impact and continue to lend my skills and expertise to many of the organizations who are also doing great work here in Englewood.  

I was recently accepted to the Multicultural Leadership Academy, which allows me to truly focus on my own leadership style, build with other leaders and gain knowledge so that I can continue to support rising leaders of Englewood.  

I have only scratched the surface and now I am in a position to ensure there will be collective impact made in Englewood. That way the 1% - who I define as the community activists, leaders, organizations, pastors and residents who actively do work to improve the quality of life can be given the necessary tools to take a deeper dive in comprehensive community development.  If you think there is a shortage of talent in Englewood, then you are sadly mistaken!! I am surrounded by brilliant people with a key interest in the improvement of my community....#ThisIsEnglewood! 

As many of you know, I coined the phrase, TAKE ACTION TO CREATE THE LIFE YOU TRULY DESIRE....Well, I did just that! I created the life I truly desire and even have a new fancy title - "Director of the Englewood Leadership Development Program", I know it's long so bare with me...Of course the program is not completely mapped out yet, but I have secured the resources and time that will allow me to learn, do more research and strengthen existing and future relationships.  This is not to say that I would discontinue my work with RAGE, as I am still serving as the President and working closely with our new staff person to keep our operations afloat....

However, I can now devote all my time to my true passion that includes, real estate, leadership development, arts and activism, building community wealth and continuing to re-brand our community...I know that's a lot, but believe me it is all related to creating a healthy and thriving community! So with that, you may now see more reflective blog posts about this new journey and just catch me simply smiling more due to my newfound freedom and ability to step out on faith and passion....It's risky, but I know when you align yourself with your higher self, the possibilities are endless and I am willing to take the risk! 

As I said before, this post is personal so welcome to the Life of Mrs. Englewood! Until next time, take action to create the life YOU truly desire, as I am a living testimony of that phrase.....Be Peaceful! 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Five Years and Still "Growing" Strong...

Happy 2016!

I know there is a lot happening in Chicago as well as in Englewood that I can blog about for hours, however, I am going to use this blog post to share my "President's Message" from R.A.G.E. recently released five year impact report.  Typically, we post a thorough report of our accomplishments, but this year we decided to provide our supporters, members and even our naysayers an in depth look at our impact in Englewood over the years...You can download the full report here.  Below is my President's Message included in the report...

Happy reading and please remember despite the negative news reports there are many things we are proud of and celebrating in Englewood! You just need to open your eyes and recognize it! Until next time...


  As one of the original co-founders and the current President of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, it brings me great pleasure to share our five year impact report with you.  In November of 2010, a dozen residents from Englewood and West Englewood felt it was time that the individuals who live here unite and become the voice of our community, instead of letting others speak on our behalf as it relates to the issues we face.  With our aldermanic wards dividing us along senseless political boundaries, we felt it was important to align our efforts to work collectively regardless of where we lived in Greater Englewood because ultimately all of our issues are the same. 

Once we were organized, one of our first actions was hosting several political forums to address the candidates running for aldermanic offices of Greater Englewood.  These actions were rooted in civic engagement and served as empowerment tools for other residents in the community.  Needless to say, this was a strong message to our elected officials, residents and other groups who felt that Englewood residents did not have an interest or desire to take ownership of the issues facing us.
With a name like R.A.G.E., based in Englewood and speaking the word of empowerment, we have been faced with many challenges on this journey.  Our biggest challenge is the misconception of what others think about the residents of Englewood.  Most feel we are incapable of addressing and solving our own issues.  Therefore, we have had to be clear and sometimes provocative in our messaging in order to shift this narrative.  While others talk negatively about our community, we have consistently shared the greatness that we observe on a daily basis in order to change this negative perception of our community. 
Our work is essential because we understand that before any transformation can take place, we have to shift the mindset of the individuals who live here and share a sense of pride that will spark hope and value for a community that has endured decades of deprivation.  The heartbeat of our work is based in civic empowerment, owning our narrative, and social connectivity.

As we continue our efforts, our membership continues to grow; year after year, Englewood residents are being activated block by block to join forces with others who want to see Englewood rise. Our only fear of growing at such a rapid rate from 13 co-founders to 223 members today is the capacity to keep members engaged and inspired to take action. We hope this impact report will show R.A.G.E. members and Englewood residents how far we’ve come since 2010, and our efforts that are still underway.
Our hope for the future is to continue to tackle the hard issues our community faces, remain focused on why we were founded and to provide residents of Englewood empowerment tools so that they too are inspired to examine issues and take action. There is much work to be done for a real transformation in Englewood, from Economic Development, Education, Public Safety—the list goes on. However, over the last five years we know that our consistent efforts in tackling some of these issues are contributing to this transformation. As the president of this grassroots, resident-led association I am proud to have met so many individuals who share our same sentiments to see Englewood rise.  Each member has contributed to the success of R.A.G.E. by sharing their gifts and talents to address the problems here in Englewood and this is a model that should be replicated throughout Chicago.  Our work is led by passion and driven by a mission to create a community that we are proud to call home.  Our approach can be summed up in this quote from David Allen….Small things done consistently, in strategic places, create major impact.”  Our deep desire to see positive change is what will keep R.A.G.E. moving and growing for years to come.
Asiaha Butler
Co-Founder and President
Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Til Death Do Us Part....

I wanted to write a more detailed analysis but I am going to shorten this in order to quickly get out my thoughts....Why do you think that something as sorrowful as death brings forth more division than unity? For example, when a family member passes away particularly in the black family, turmoil is the first to follow...Instead of banding together to ensure our loved ones rest in power peacefully, there is usually petty arguments, scavenger relatives who ransack through the deceased belongings and of course the financial woes about how to pay for the funeral or who will get the insurance settlement....Such a sad reality that many of us are familiar with....

Unfortunately, this seems to be a similar situation within our communities....Now, my blog readers know me, I am always smiling and spreading that #GreatinEnglewood news to help shift the negative perception of my neighborhood, but this post is different because we as a community recently lost two elected officials....

In February, Englewood lost the 16th Ward Alderwoman/Committeeman, Joanne Thompson and a week ago many of us were in attendance at the funeral of the 6th District State Rep, Esther Golar....Both of these strong and courageous women played a large role in the political landscape of Englewood...And although one served on the city level and the other served on the state level, they pretty much served the same constituents....The Residents of the Englewood Community....

Now one would think that this would be a time that the community would band together and work in unity to move forward some of the initiatives they had on their plate to ensure that their work was not in vain....But nooooo....Just like many black families, turmoil has been the first to follow....Folks talk all the time about the division in Englewood but with these two untimely deaths of our public officials, the division is more apparent than ever...

On one side we have #TeamJoanne #TeamEsther who wants to ensure that their legacies live on, and on the other side we have folks that feel this is the perfect opportunity to shake some things up in Englewood....Not that any of these approaches are wrong but it just highlights our division and some of the political dysfunction of Englewood....

With the recent lost of our state rep, the lens is back on the 16th Ward again....Why you may ask? Because when there is a vacancy in the house the ward committeeman of that said party is tasked with appointing someone for that seat....And guess who had the most votes in the 6th District....Yep you guessed it...The 16th Ward...And guess who is the current committeeman for the 16th ward?  No one - because unfortunately the democratic committeeman (Joanne Thompson) is no longer with us and no one has been appointed since May...Crazy right? So just like that black family who loses a love one, we as a community are running around like those crazy relatives....

There are about 10 people announcing that they are running for the 6th District Seat about a handful looking to be appointed, and although the 16th Ward plays an important role in this appointment, no one from this ward will be able to have a say in this decision....This is a mess, a complete mess!  Now this is the time for us to put aside all of our agendas, personal gripes in order to unite and figure out the best way to move forward. I would think that with something so drastic as not 1 but 2 deaths that we as a community would pull it together, take some time to reflect, then work to identify the best people to serve in these vacant roles...

But no instead we are already throwing out hashtags of #Teamthis vs. #Teamthat...And frankly in my opinion it's so many teams trying to play in the game that no one is winning and ultimately our community is losing...I would suggest in dire situations like these, that a "family" meeting is called....We look at all the pieces to the puzzle then decide how we should move as one....However, the problem in most black communities is that everyone wants to be "THE ONE" vs. "WORKING AS ONE"....This situation just further confirms that even when faced with a death - our elected officials, community, faith based, and business leaders refuse to get on ONE page for the betterment of our community...Then we wonder why Englewood is in the condition it is in today....Til Death Do Us Part...Yeah right...

I will end this post by simply saying Rest in Power Ald. Joanne Thompson and State Rep, Esther Golar, we know your spirits will continue to watch over the beloved community of Englewood...I pray and will remain hopeful that we will eventually get it right....Til Death Do Us Part....

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We are Stars - Let the Rest of the Chicagoans be the Extras in ChiRaq!

As I sit on my porch here in Englewood, I cannot help but to reflect on the challenges my community faces day in and day out....I am not watching a movie & waiting for a hero to come save us or sitting here fearful of some big bad villain....This is my life, my block, my porch, my neighborhood....As much as I love my "mini" estate here on Union, I can't help but notice that the rest of the block could be coined a mini Detroit, Baltimore or another urban area in America....

Vacant lots, trash, abandoned buildings & semi burnt up homes that are barely standing is in my sneak preview. It's the perfect backdrop for a "Boyz-N-The Hood" type of movie or even a "gangsta" rap video. However, what's not in the backdrop is the reflection of the numerous failed policies of the City of Chicago and America….

Yes, I choose to be "cast" in this film, I mean my life & live alongside peacefully with the forgotten misfits; the bloody soldiers of "Chiraq"; the outcast of society; or whatever label you want to call the people who live in areas of concentrated poverty...But at the end of the day it's still home for me and so many other citizens like myself who work diligently to change this current reality.....
As I watch the trash fly through the block, the young people playing with sticks and dirt as a means to childhood fun, I continue my work with pride in order to sprinkle doses of hope wherever I go! I don't do this to brag or to be some extra in a movie...I do this work because I know Englewood is on the rise and I choose to be a part of the POSITIVE change happening here that so many others wish to ignore. 

Even after hearing that one of my favorite filmmakers, Spike Lee, is making a movie about my community and the title of the film would be...You Guessed It...."ChiRaq" - a name that is supposed to be a combination of Chicago & Iraq - due to the high number of shooting victims in Chicago, makes sense right? All, I can ask myself is - really Spike Lee?  Is this the best you can do? It's funny to me because this blog used to be titled -  Englewood the "Brooklyn of Chicago", because of my admiration of the culture & resilience of the residents in the BK....However, after further reflection a few years ago, I decided to change it because Englewood doesn't need to be the new Brooklyn, Harlem or anything else but - ANEW Englewood....

ANew Englewood that has experienced challenges and still rising from this current slump of systematic depression.....As I looked at the national news focused on Baltimore, I couldn't help but to think about Englewood....We have similar characteristics - 
  • Crime
  • Large population of people living below the poverty level
  • A mass of foreclosures or "vacants" as they say in BMore
  • Double-digit unemployment rates
  • Failing Schools - etc., etc.

But in my opinion, instead of glorifying these stats or just using these communities as a backdrop for a film….Let's make a film about real solutions to the problems in urban areas....Let's make a film about the young people who thrives against the odds....Let's make a film about the working parents who are putting in overtime in order to send their children to college, or how about a film that focuses on the single dads who are raising their children alone....What are their stories?  Who will hear their voices? 

Now I would be interested in that type of film, because the story line of the young black male who decided to live a life of crime and mayhem is getting a bit tired, don't you think? There are countless reality shows, TV series, YouTube clips, documentaries, who tells this story....Honestly, how many times will these people get a starring role?

Anyway, let me step down off my soapbox and end this blog on a lighter note….I am forever grateful that the ones who get a starring role in my film aka life are Englewood residents -(i.e.) people who actually LIVE in this community and are progressively navigating through a failed system that was designed to keep us in a slump....Contrary to the outsiders who have chimed in stating that we are all walking around like zombies in a hopeless cloud and that Chiraq is a GREAT name for a film about Englewood.....There are many of us who are the complete opposite of this stereotype & are working around the clock towards long term strategies to improve Englewood! I guess a movie about these residents would be too boring to watch or wouldn't be a box office hit...I digress...

So let the casting calls begin!! You can sit back & watch the gory details of a small number of people in Englewood, but I refuse to own it, condone it or embrace it!! I have no desire to be an "EXTRA" in anyone's film because I know REAL Englewood Residents are TRUE STARS - shining bright through the clouds of crime, poverty & failed policies and there is no film that will capture that TRUTH!! Since the majority of Chicago and folks who do not sleep in Englewood think we live in a war zone, allow me to put my guns aside, unfasten my bullet proof vest and take my laptop off this porch because according to them, residents like myself are lined up to be the next casualty….Give me a break!

I said it before & will say it again....Englewood is on the RISE, but if the same people are being “typecast” you will only see this one-sided story again & again....

Just wait until the extras clear the set and once the lights and cameras are gone....Then and only then will the TRUE STARS OF ENGLEWOOD be revealed...Until next time...Stay Peaceful! 

Aysha Butler aka Mrs. Englewood