I will be attending the 40th Anniversary Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council’s Business Opportunity Fair on Friday this week, where I will be signing my books and talking to anyone and everyone about Tuck MBE Programs. I have finalized my fourth book in the And Finally series, but that will not be available until October, so I will only be signing my first three books in the series. So, if you are attending the CBOF please stop by, even if you do not want to purchase a book.
Chicago is one of my favorite cities in the world. It has gorgeous architecture, friendly citizens, the Lakeshore, the museums, the broad boulevards, the shopping, the pizza and the popcorn, Buddy Guy’s Blues Club, and now the world champion Cubs. But Chicago has also been in the news for the plague of urban violence. Epidemiologists are correctly describing what is going on in Chicago as something similar to a biological pandemic.
In 2015, the rate of homicide per 100,000 in the United States was 4.5. In Chicago, it was 18. At the peak of the Iraq War, 917 American soldiers were killed. In 2016, there were 762 murders in Chicago. Last year represented a record number of homicides. Is it any wonder that while this is only one chapter in the story of Chicago, but for those affected, it must feel like being in a war-zone and hence the moniker no chamber of commerce would ever want, “Chi-raq.” (I encourage you to rent the Spike Lee movie Chi-Raq. Alert - It is a tear jerker.)
It is too easy, and also fundamentally flawed to equate the wars in Iraq and elsewhere to the “carnage” in Chicago. I have a theory about American society and culture that I believe is relevant here for those who do not think what is going on in Chicago does or can impact their lives, now or in the future. My theory is simply that what happens in low-income black communities will ultimately manifest themselves in other American communities. The violence in Chicago can happen and will happen anywhere similar conditions arise, regardless of race, ethnicity and even wealth. What is the evidence supporting this theory? One need look no further than the similarities between the crack epidemic in the 1980s and the current opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2015, opioids killed over 33,000 Americans. The overwhelming majority of opioid deaths in the country are White. Crack cocaine had a devastating effect on Black communities, primarily because it was treated as criminal as opposed to the growing consensus that the opioid epidemic is primarily a health problem with a healthcare solution not a mass incarceration solution. All of the evidence tells me that the treatment of these two similar epidemics in so different a fashion has everything to do with race.
Another example of my theory is with the housing crisis that led to the Great Recession. The origin of the housing crisis was not with low income Black borrowers, but it certainly involved them. Lenders, mortgage brokers, Wall Street firms and speculators were generating outsized returns prior to the Great Recession from an environment of rising home prices, low interest rates and easy credit. It was the age of the NINJA loan – no income no job. It did not seem to matter, and put on top of this many first time Black and Latino borrowers were steered toward the wrong types of mortgages, you had a recipe for disaster. The earliest effects of the housing crisis were seen in low-income urban communities. But it did not stay contained in the “hood.” Bankruptcies, foreclosures, and destruction of wealth occurred throughout all American communities.
If my theory is correct - that what happens in Black communities ultimately spreads to White communities, everyone should have a personal interest in solving the problems in Black communities even if it is for less than philanthropic reasons.
The current epidemic of violence in Chicago is a case in point. This is a problem with a solution that is staring us in the face. The violence in Chicago and in other urban communities is fundamentally an economic problem. It is too easy to say it is just about jobs. It is about jobs, but is more about where those jobs are and who is creating those jobs. If we are committed to a democratic capitalist society, we must have strong democratic capitalist institutions in Black and urban communities as well as strong democratic and capitalist institutions in the mainstream. Chicago needs a Marshal Plan.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, we have spent $2.4 trillion on the Iraq War to date. I encourage you to take out a pen and paper and write out $2.4 trillion. If one tenth of one percent of what we spent on the Iraq War were spent on inner city economic and business development in Chicago, we would not have a murder problem in Chicago. What would an infusion of $2.4 billion in new capital do for inner city development in Chicago? I suspect a lot. We can turn Chicago around, but it will take resources and more importantly, a change in priorities. We have the resources, we lack the will. And until we find the will, even if it is to protect our own self-interest, Chicago for some will continue to be Chi-Raq.
I am looking forward to my trip to Chicago. I hope to see you there.
In your service,