Meet the 2024 Chicago Peace Fellows

The Goldin Institute invites you to learn about each of our 2024 Chicago Peace Fellows representing 14 community areas across the city.  Founded in 2019 in collaboration with the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the Chicago Peace Fellows program is the only leadership development program that is built by and for grassroots community leaders on the South and West sides of Chicago.

A group of people, including Chicago Peace Fellows and Goldin Institute staff, posing as a group for a picture.
The 2024 Chicago Peace Fellows meet at the program launch event at the Chicago Cultural Center. Photo courtesy of Cecil McDonald, Jr.


Peace Fellows participate in GATHER, an online asset-based community engagement course, as well as in-person training, collaborative action projects, and networking experiences with civic leaders, academic researchers, and policy makers. The Chicago Peace Fellows reduce violence by building relationships, engaging youth, collaborative peace building projects over the summer and by creating new networks among residents, families, schools, and nonprofit organizations.

The Fellows are learning together through GATHER, which is both a mobile platform for shared learning and a curriculum for people who want to build on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their communities to make real and lasting change. Gather Fellows learn and work together through an innovative curriculum that comes pre-loaded on a tablet device with all the connectivity, materials, videos, practices and tools necessary to provide a mobile classroom and toolkit for community leadership.

The Chicago Peace Fellows project connects and equips cohorts of past grantees of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities to reduce violence and promote peace. The 2024 Chicago Peace Fellows is the sixth all-Chicago cohort to utilize the GATHER platform, an online learning hub built by the Goldin Institute to empower grassroots leaders.

The Chicago Peace Fellows will engage in a 30-week course of intensive shared learning as well as group projects, culminating in a graduation event in November, 2024. The curriculum has been designed in collaboration with the grantees themselves, based on their practical knowledge and hard earned wisdom, with input from a wide range of civic leaders. Fellows will reflect on their past summer work, identify successes and lessons learned, and improve their abilities by sharing strengths and learning new skills.

The Goldin Institute and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities have aligned missions that value authentic community leadership. The Chicago Fund is uniquely effective at finding motivated problem-solvers and community-builders. By connecting Chicago leaders through GATHER, their efforts to nurture safer and more peaceful communities will be more effective, interconnected and lasting.


A special thanks to the Chicago Community Trust, the Conant Family Foundation, the Frankel Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Racial Justice Pooled Fund, the Seabury Family Foundation, and the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities for making this program possible.

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Peace Fellows Advisors Review Progress

With the first cohort of the Chicago Peace Fellows finishing their summer projects and nearing the end of their curriculum, the Goldin Institute convened a dinner meeting of prominent advisers on Thursday, September 12, to discuss strategies for sharing the Fellows’ accomplishments and wisdom during their upcoming graduation.

Advisors Dinner 3

Held at the Erie Café in the city’s River North neighborhood, this was the third advisors dinner, and was attended by Goldin Institute Founder and Board Chair Diane Goldin, GATHER alumnus Raymond Richard, founder of Brothers Standing Together, a Chicago-based non-profit organization; Leslie Ramyk, Executive Director, Conant Family Foundation; Teresa Zeigler and John Zeigler, director of DePaul University’s Egan Office of Urban Education and Community Partnerships; Mimi Frankel, a member of the Frankel Family Foundation’s Board of Directors and the Goldin Institute’s Board of Advisors; Lisa Dush, a DePaul University professor who is conducting an academic evaluation of GATHER; Justice Stamps, who runs the Marion Nzinga Stamps Youth Center mentoring program on the Near North Side; José Rico, a Director of  Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation for Greater Chicago; Rob Rejman, vice president, Ascent; as well as Goldin Institute staff led by Executive Director Travis Rejman, along with Oz Ozburn, Jimmie Briggs and Burrell Poe.

The Goldin Institute team began with an update on the many workshops and events that the Peace Fellows have participated in, including the strategy session with the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago, the exploration of the role of urban planning and design in building safe communities with Studio Gang and the Rebuild Foundation and the meeting with Alderman Burnett on how grassroots leaders can more effectively collaborate with city-wide initaitives.

All the participants framed the Peace Fellows’ work in the context of the continuing unacceptable levels of violence in some Chicago neighborhoods. Jose Rico spoke about the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformational Initiative as well as about regular meetings in the office of Chicago’s newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and how the Fellows’ work could inform their discussions.

The Conant Foundation’s Leslie Ramyk said Chicago’s philanthropic leaders were mobilizing beyond their daily duties to respond to the crisis, including collaborating to publish a recent Op Ed, Enough With Hate, in Crain’s Chicago Business. Many family foundations are responding to the violence, moreover, by seeking out and listening to community leaders, using their leverage, power and privilege to try and make the social standard more equitable.

[quote]“This is outside of our job descriptions. We do it because of the necessity of this crisis.” -- Leslie Ramyk, Conant Family Foundation[/quote]

Mimi Frankel of the Frankel Family Foundation observed, “We are dealing with a totally different environment than we have had before.”

Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman talked about the importance of building a movement of connected peace-makers and quoted the maxim, "Great leaders don't inspire movements, movements inspire great leaders."

Senior Adviser Jimmie Briggs suggested building interest from journalists in the Peace Fellows’ efforts through various efforts, including a panel discussion. As a New York-based writer with roots in the Midwest, Jimmie was enthusiastic about the potential for the Fellows’ stories to reach a broad audience.

[quote]“Visiting this city can feel like you're in different countries as you go from neighborhood to neighborhood. Some areas are safe and some aren't and you can live in this city and have fully different experiences.” -- Jimmie Briggs[/quote]

He added that a narrative encompassing all the Peace Fellows’ diverse experiences would be inspirational. "If there is no narrative out there, it didn't happen," Jimmie cautioned.

Program Coordinator Burrell Poe said that when he was interviewing Fellows, one of their most common requests was to meet others doing similar work. Now that the program is up and running, he was proud to have facilitated the Fellows’ early contacts and that they are now working closely together.

“They are really loving it,” Burrell said of the Fellows’ collaborations.

DePaul University’s Lisa Dush, who is conducting an evaluation of the fellowship, said her challenge was to adapt available metrics to accurately measure results. While data is available to indicate the Fellows’ progress through the curriculum, she wants to make sure she documents the true picture of their experience.

John Zeigler discussed changing the prevailing narrative of the city’s communities, and change the focus of philanthropies, who tend to make grants to programs which generate quick results, rather than long-term investments.

John asked, “How do you challenge or disrupt that narrative?”

[quote]“Chicago is a city of neighborhoods but it is also a city priding themselves on growing organizers.” -- John Ziegler, DePaul University[/quote]

In that vein, John was pleased the curriculum had fostered meaningful and productive connections among the Peace Fellows.

“The Chicago Peace Fellows build trust and social capital with each other,” he said. “Social capital is a process, and the Chicago Peace Fellows invests in the process.”

Raymond Richard of Brothers Standing Together spoke about the responsibilities of community leaders, including non-profit executives, to work in concert and demonstrate dignity to younger generations. Philanthropies will have to be involved through determined strategies, he continued.

“These kids are fighting the same fight and they don't even know it,” Brother Ray said.

[quote]“If we're going to break down a barrier, we have to lead by example. We don't want the children to know how much we know. We want them to know how much we care." -- Raymond Richard, Brothers Standing Together[/quote]

Passport to Peace Draws Together 200 Neighbors

On Saturday, September 7, the Chicago Peace Fellows gathered in Cooper Park in the West Pullman community on the Far South Side to spread peace. Hosted by Pastor Robert Biekman, this event was the second of the Passport 2 Peace series, one of the Chicago Peace Fellows’ summer projects. Each event in the series is being held in a different community but all include peace building activities such as intergenerational peace circles, yoga, mediation and entertainment. The final event will be held Saturday, September 28.

Chicago Peace Fellow Robert Biekman (right) poses with volunteers at the Pathways to Peace event.


The Cooper Park event was attended by over 200 community residents who participated in activities such as Tai Chi, reflexology and meditation. Each guest received a “passport” with the task of visiting booths and participating in the activities, which would earn them a stamp. One Peace Fellow, Robin Cline, came very close to visiting each activity, and many at the event went from station to station learning more about what peace feels like.

Chicago Peace Fellow Velvian Boswell shows off the first stamp on her Peace Passport.

Fellow Gloria Smith, executive director of the Black Star Project, commented, “I loved every minute of it, including the tai chi exercises and the intergenerational peace circles. I also really enjoyed the camaraderie among the people in attendance.” Gloria was part of the planning team for the event, and worked closely with Robert to put the event together.

Chicago Peace Fellow Robin Cline (second from left) meets with volunteers at the Pathways to Peace event.

Robert noted that several years ago, the Cooper Park playground had been the location of a horrific incident in which two young men were shot. Because of that incident, the park was saddled with a reputation as a violent place and many neighborhood residents refused to utilize it. Robert envisioned hosting Passport 2 Peace in the park, therefore, to challenge that narrative and have people actively think about peace in that park.

“Passport 2 Peace exceeded our expectations!” Pastor Biekman reflected.

Peace Fellows Tour University of Chicago Crime Lab

On Friday, August 30, the Chicago Peace Fellows toured the University of Chicago Urban Labs to learn more about the work of the Crime Lab, hosted by Kimberly Smith, associate director of criminal justice initiatives.


Kim talked about how the Crime Lab started with the idea to leverage the intellectual capital of the University of Chicago to address violence in Chicago. In 2007, the University was reeling from the shooting death on their campus of an international student during an attempted robbery. Their solution was to ask what the University’s faculty members were good at and how could they use their talents to serve their surrounding community.

[quote]The University of Chicago is the home of more Nobel Prize winners than any other institution in the world, and the school is a hub for research of many kinds, scientific to historical. Could they use those techniques to encourage research on the causes and solutions to violence in the communities that surround the university?[/quote]

They began to work with community organizations to add value by providing research and evaluation support. They identified one organization that was producing tremendous results and helped them grow their programming, and they are working with several other groups across the city that are tackling issues of violence in the city to identify effective strategies.


Much of the meeting was spent fielding questions from the Chicago Peace Fellows about how the Crime Lab does its work. They asked about the Crime Lab’s work with the Chicago Police Department, particularly how the Crime Lab is working to support officers and their relationship to the community. Robert Biekman wanted to know about the Crime Lab’s analysis of the federal consent decree that is designed to change the policies and procedures of the Chicago Police Department.

Dr. Sokoni Karanja asked about accessing data on community policing programs, which began a conversation about data sharing and how the Crime Lab provides data to grassroots organizations to measure impact. Many of the Chicago Peace Fellows have been doing tremendous work in their respective communities for years and were open to utilizing the support of the University's researchers to document their efforts and learn more about what’s most effective.

The meeting was a great demonstration of how communities can work with institutions to solidify best practices and identify promising solutions to the myriad of issues that communities across Chicago face.

Peace Fellows Explore Decolonizing Philanthropy with Edgar Villanueva

In his book, “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance,” Edgar Villanueva makes a strong and needed critique of traditional philanthropy. In many ways, his analysis is similar to that made by my late brother, Phillip Jackson, who was the founding director of the Black Star Project.

CPFDecolonizing Wealth 01

Phillip was an important inspiration to Edgar, and Phillip’s influence is powerfully reflected in the book. In 2016, my brother led a major local and national campaign taking the foundation world to task for policies that have exacerbated the extraordinary poverty of communities of color in the richest nation in the world.

As one example, Phillip decried as “modern-day redlining” the tiny percentage of grants to Black organizations from the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He believed that funders ought not to pat themselves on the back if they are unwilling to acknowledge and provide direct support to the Black and Brown communities that continue to suffer in the margins of the great wealth in this city and country. This wealth, after all, was made possible by public policies that disenfranchised people of color and kept our neighborhoods poor and vulnerable.

[quote]Edgar read about my brother’s work as he was writing his book and interviewed Phillip as part of his research. Unfortunately, Phillip passed away November 4, 2018, before the two men could meet in person.[/quote]

But from his family home in North Carolina, I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Edgar during a video roundtable that included the current cohort of Chicago Peace Fellows (of which I am a member), the international alumni of GATHER, and several staff of the Goldin Institute. Since my brother’s passing, I have continued his work as the executive director of the Black Star Project and I am certain that Phillip would be delighted and proud of Edgar’s vision for a new approach to more fairly and humanely distribute the tremendous wealth of foundations in this country.


Part one of “Decolonizing Wealth” addresses how philanthropy mirrors colonialism, sometimes doing more harm than good, and the importance of hearing the stories of colonized people with a respectful and open heart. Within the chapters of part two, Edgar outlines seven critical steps—Grieve, Apologize, Listen, Relate, Represent, Invest and Repair—to healing centuries-old trauma. He asks: 1) What if money could be medicine instead of what divides us? and 2) What if, rather than using wealth to cause further harm, we followed these “Seven Steps to Healing?”

During our roundtable discussion on August 23rd, Edgar talked about how indigenous wisdom has shaped his life and perspective on philanthropy. Chicago Peace Fellows Robert Biekman asked about the role of spirituality in philanthropy, and Dr. Sokoni Karanja, who attended a peace walk with Edgar many years ago, asked if social workers today should take a more activist/organizing roles in philanthropy. International GATHER alumnus Yusuph Masanja received advice on managing a fundraising issue.

Edgar acknowledged the good work of all of the Fellows and offered some recommendations for the use of restorative justice and methods of truth and reconciliation in their efforts. He also encouraged Fellows to build personal relationships with funders as they move forward together.

Edgar Villanueva understands decolonizing as a lifelong journey, and is thankful to his Native elders and to those who came before him, like Phillip, who shaped his early thinking on what philanthropy should and can do to right historical wrongs.

It was my great joy to meet him and to learn from his thoughtful and stimulating new book!