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Spring 2023: Letter from the President & CEO

  ·  Sylvia Puente

Friends and neighbors,

Happy Spring! May the season of new beginnings revive and reinvigorate you.

We at the Forum are revitalized this April as we celebrate 15 years, our quincinera, of building the Latino community's power, influence, and leadership. My continued heartfelt thanks to the generous support of our friends, donors, and the many foundations that see the Forum as a wise investment. Thank you to the organizations, communities and individuals with whom we have been privileged to work with to strengthen the mosaic of Latino families and neighborhoods. 

Speaking of new starts, in a few weeks, Chicago Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson will take office. We, at the Forum, look forward to working with him to nurture the Black and Brown partnerships we have facilitated as we continue championing equity, justice, and economic prosperity for the Latino community.

The Illinois Latino Agenda (ILA), a coalition of some of the largest Latino-serving nonprofits that work to advance the economic, political, and social prosperity of the Latino community in Illinois, sent a letter to Mr. Johnson calling on him to prioritize community development, equitable representation, youth violence prevention, and Chicago’s Sanctuary City status to ensure a better quality of life for Latinos in Chicago. The Forum signed on to this letter in partnership with the many organizations serving tens of thousands of the city’s most vulnerable residents in all aspects of vital social service. 

With Latinos making up nearly 30% of Chicago’s population and accounting for over half of the population growth in the US this last decade, we look forward to working with the Johnson administration to include equitable Latino representation in the mayor’s office and in leadership roles throughout the city, and that we are considered in all policy priorities. 

We encourage Johnson to keep City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado, Chicago Park District CEO Rosa Escareño and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez, who have done exemplary work.

ILA also sent Johnson’s transition team a list of nearly 100 potential appointees who want a better, safer, secure Chicago. The list is only a fraction of those who have expertise to lend to the city

The letters call for a real commitment from Mayor-elect Johnson to address the disparities in Chicago’s Latino communities, which too often go ignored. The co-signers pledge to be a resource to Mayor-elect Johnson to help ensure his commitment to improving the well-being of Latinos throughout the City. 

It will be important for the next mayor of Chicago to demonstrate outreach, commitment, and investment in the Latino community. Northwestern University’s Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy (CSDD) and a coalition of Black and Latino nonprofits, including the Forum, released the results of two nonpartisan polls.

In the poll results, I was pleased to see that respondents reaffirmed their commitment, over 80%, to ‘create a humane and orderly way to allow immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to live and contribute to Chicago’ and that over 70% responded that Blacks and Latinos in Chicago would be better off if they ‘worked closely in partnership.’ I invite you to review the findings of both surveys:

New Poll Shows Dead Heat Between Chicago Mayoral Candidates

New Poll Reveals Common Ground On Key Issues Among Black & Latino Voters In Chicago Mayora Race

The Forum convened 17 Black and Latino organizations to host Conversations With The Mayoral Candidates at the Chicago History Museum. The questions focused on a variety of subjects including education policy, immigrants, public safety, affordable housing, and ensuring Black and Latino representation in city leadership roles. 

Despite all our collective efforts, I am disappointed at the Latino voter turnout. While we make up an estimated 29% of Chicago's population, we only represent about 8% of registered voters in the city. There are an estimated 130,000 Latinos out of the 1,582,277 total registered voters in the city. Participating in the electoral process is critical for Latinos in order to expand the community’s political power. 

Education means more than getting knowledge. It empowers people to become politically active. I am thrilled that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has awarded more than $5 million in grants to support the bilingual educator pipeline. The Forum brought this idea to ISBE  and worked with them to develop grants that will reduce the shortage of bilingual teachers. 

Grants will support up to an estimated 780 teachers in 219 school districts across the state in getting trained and licensed to teach the state’s growing number of ELs. Illinois schools serve more than 275,000 ELs, who speak 220 different languages. English learners make up nearly 14% of the Illinois student population.

The Multicultural Leadership Academy (MLA) proudly announced the participants of the 2023 MLA Academy. The six-month program aims to provide a diverse group of civic leaders with the leadership skills needed to facilitate collaboration between Latinos and African Americans through intercultural collaboration and social action. I am inspired by and grateful for all the instructors and cohorts - Buena Suerte!

I want to express my gratitude for the many recognitions that have been bestowed on me: Career Achievement Award, iHeartMedia Chicago's Women Who WIN 2023, and an honorary doctorate from Governors State University. 

Finally, my condolences to Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García whose daughter Rosa, recently passed away.

Wishing all of you peace and wellness.