Kyla Williams Co-Presents Today at Philanthropy Ohio’s Annual Conference

Today, Leon Wilson, CIO of the Cleveland Foundation, and I will co-present at the Philanthropy Ohio’s annual conference with a theme this year of “Philanthropy Forward” and a concentrated discussion on Digital Civic Engagement & Community-Centered Design. Philanthropy Forward ’17 is set to inform practices, strategies and goals and connect peers in the field of philanthropy. The conference will also focus on the future of philanthropy with insight into the current state of the sector – fueled by recent research – addressing transitions, change and the leadership pipeline. With several networking and roundtable discussions, attendees will discover how to shift failures to successes, effectively fund advocacy and civic engagement and hear from  exceptional leaders across the state and country.

Leon and I also presented in April 2017 at the Council on Foundations Annual Conference “Leading Together” as part of a panel discussion with: Aaron Deacon, Managing Director, Kansas City Digital Drive; Elizabeth Reynoso, Assistant Director of Public Sector Innovation, Living Cities; and Lilly Weinberg, Program Director/Community Foundations, John S. & James L. Knight Foundation on “Supporting Civic Engagement through Technology and Community-Centered Design”. After finishing that presentation we decided more collaborative sharing between cities was necessary and lead to this opportunity at Philanthropy Ohio.

Community building in the digital era requires providing a space for the public sector and local communities to interact. Building solutions with peoplenot just for them – by using community-centered design can have profound social impact. This has been central to Smart Chicago’s work and has lead to the building of processes, products, services, and other lightweight tech solutions that have been helpful.

Our presentation today has the learning objectives:

  • To introduce different models developed in communities to address civic engagement digitally
  • To encourage the consideration of embedding support for digital civic engagement into existing grantmaking & advancement efforts

You can follow the happenings of the conference on Twitter @PhilanthropyOH and @SmartChgoKyla or by using the hashtag #PhilFWD17.


Good News!!! The Smart Chicago team is moving and now will be co-located with the City Digital Team at UI Labs. As such, our individual emails will be changing to:

Kyla Williams 

Sonja Marziano

Denise Linn     

Leslie Durr       

Our new mailing address is 1415 N. Cherry Avenue Chicago, IL 60642 and general phone number is 312.281.6900.

Please check our website at or follow us on twitter @smartchicago for more updates.

We appreciate your patience during this time of transition.

Youth-Led Tech Career Days 2016

This year the Youth-Led Tech program developed targeted Career Days and a Career Development Day. These two programs were designed and integrated into the 6-week technology curriculum to introduce youth to careers both technical and non technical, as well as assist them in beginning to think more strategically and concretely about how to secure employment.

The Youth-Led curriculum is fluid enough to allow for the inclusion of speakers three times during the six-week program and a full day with Dr. Phyllis West, PhD. Students were visited by several local professionals who shared their stories at each site in the community they selected.

Our Roseland Community sites were visited by Jeffrey Beckham the owner of Black Box Creative during the first Career Day held July 7, 2016.

Special guest is here at Dr. Elzie Young Community Center

David Wilkins owner of Rally Cap and Divine Designs visited with our Austin students.

RallyCap at career Day

Jazelle Smith rounded out the first wave of entrepreneurs for the first Career Day.

Jazelle Career Day

The second and third Career Days were held July 21st and July 28th.

Our special guest was Dr. Philips West _D

The second component to the workforce readiness program, “How to Develop a Career Plan 101” with Dr. Phyllis West, PhD focused on “developing a personalized career plan and an overview of strategies of successful people.”  The workshop introduced students to the fundamentals of career planning, helped identify their interests and career goals and learn the trends of the fastest growing careers in America.


Announcing the April 1st Connect Chicago Meetup: Arts & Tech Training with Street-Level, Little Black Pearl, After School Matters

At our next Connect Chicago Meetup, we will discuss arts & tech blended learning programs and best practices. We will hear from Little Black PearlStreet-Level Youth Media, and the After School Matters Arts & Tech Fair. Lunch will be served.

Come join a cross-sector discussion about Chicago’s STEAM programming. Come meet and network with computer trainers, nonprofit professionals, teaching artists, technologists, and fellow residents who care about digital access & skills in Chicago.

Event: Arts & Tech Training with Street-Level, Little Black Pearl, and After School Matters

Where: The Chicago Community Trust

When: Friday, April 1st from 11am to 1pm

RSVP at this link. 

Special guests include:

  • Armand Morris, Little Black Pearl’s Technology Instructor
  • Daniel Marques, Production Manager for Street-Level Youth Media
  • Dan Godston of the April 9th After School Matters Arts and Tech Fair at Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center

Our first featured program is Little Black Pearl (LBP), a nonprofit serving youth in the Kenwood/Oakland, Woodlawn, and Bronzeville neighborhoods. According to Little Black Pearl’s website:

LBP works diligently to counter the challenges urban youth face by providing a safe environment, positive role models, and rigorous program and skill development activities and opportunities. Our 18-year history has successfully proven that it is possible to marry art and entrepreneurship through real life application of talent, interest and skills.

The second featured program is Street-Level Youth Media. Street-Level offers in-school and after-school electives, mentorship, multi-media workshops, and professional development.  Street-Level’s mission is rooted in the intersection of art, technology, and media:

Street-Level’s programs build critical thinking skills in youth who have been historically neglected by policy-makers and mass media. Using video and audio production, digital arts, and the Internet, Street-Level’s young people address community issues, access advanced communication technology, and gain inclusion in our information-based society.

The April 9th After School Matters Arts and Tech Fair at Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center will highlight programs and organizations across the city including Chicago City of Learning, Spoken Word Academy of Chicago, Smart Chicago, and the Level Up Robotics Team. The fair will also feature teen performances. Dan Godston will give the Connect Chicago Community an overview of the event and its mission.

Members of Chicago’s public computing and digital learning community come together every month to learn, share, and collaborate. Join us! Sign up at

Arts + tech



The Case for Expanding Technology Programs in Arts Infusion

suzy connor headshotAt the risk of preaching to the choir, here’s the rationale for expanding the Arts Infusion programs to include technology, especially at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.

Perhaps Van Jones describes it best in this brief video.

The demand for talented tech professionals with skills in coding, web and app development, cyber security, etc. affords unprecedented opportunity for digitally-native teens in a growing field that is also stressing both racial and gender diversity. The Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership has compiled profiles on five areas of job growth in the information technology sector here.

Based on this and other data, the Mayor and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) set a 5-year goal in 2013 to add computer science as a graduation requirement for all high school students. With the overwhelming support of the tech sector, this goal was attained years ahead of schedule when, on Feb. 24th, the School Board voted to institute the computer science requirement with freshmen entering high school this Fall. This makes Chicago the first major District in the nation to take this step, positioning the region as a potential hub for young people of color in tech.

Local tech companies and nonprofits are playing a key role in this movement by providing equipment, labs, boot camps, hackathons, internships, and incubators for enterprising teens with an interest in coding, gaming, website development, apps, and tech start-ups. Examples of these out-of-school offerings include: Youth-Led Tech, Blue 1647, Black Tech Mecca, and Coding While Black.

The Steering Committee of the Arts Infusion Initiative is committed to ensuring that our young people who are ensnared in the criminal justice system are not left out of this promising trend. Arts Infusion has proven the effectiveness of exposing teens at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center (JTDC) to digital music and other arts instruction that connects them to new skills and interests. The 5-year evaluation by the Urban Institute confirms that a common motivation for participants is the desire to translate their newly-acquired knowledge and networks into a career. Examples of successful Career and Technical Education (CTE) projects are gaining recognition, such as the Chicago Math and Science Academy students who recently launched Rogers Park Creators, a student-run web design and multi-media company. Teens are also eager to apply tech skills to problems they face, such as the two Holy Trinity High School students who won a national contest by creating an app designed to reduce teen suicide.

Inroads are also being made with adults at the Cook County Jail through a pilot project undertaken by Edovo which provides specially-designed tablets to inmates to expand digital learning with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust.

More connections to, and resources for, the youth who need it most

Since the shocking murder of Fenger High School student, Derrion Albert in Sept. 2009 (which was not an incident of gun violence), Chicago’s public/philanthropic community has responded by investing more than $100,000,000 in new initiatives aimed at curbing youth violence. One Summer Chicago, Get In Chicago, and Becoming A Man (BAM) are just a few examples.

Yet with all this attention and investment, the statistics remain discouraging more than six years later. Most of the providers of these programs agree that the biggest challenge is attracting and engaging the teens and young adults who are already headed down the deadly path of gang involvement, especially those that have already been arrested.

This is not meant to diminish the value of the public and nonprofit programs that are successfully engaging thousands of teens on the south and west sides of the City in positive/creative youth development programs. Data show that involvement in the arts, sports, and tech activities – particularly when combined with mentoring – will likely help the participating youth avoid violence and make healthier life choices if it is sustained over time. (See “The Crime Lab study finds youth employment program has impact on violent crime arrests“)

The after-school and summer programs are helping concerned parents find safe spaces for their teens and exposing the participants to skills, such as digital media, web design, performing arts, and visual art.

The Urban Institute evaluation of the Arts Infusion Initiative holds some promising insight into engagement strategies that are effective with the more challenging (and more challenged) teens who have already been arrested and are statistically far more likely to be either the perpetrators or the victims of violence.

The “expose, inspire, connect” approach that began with grants to  nonprofits like Storycatchers Theatre, Young Chicago Authors, Kuumba Lynx, Free Write Jail Arts and a digital music lab for residents at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) has reached more than 4,000 incarcerated teens since 2010. (Hear their voices here.) Most report that they are being exposed to the equipment and instruction for the first time.

One explanation for this is the still-limited availability in low-income areas, but the disconnect is also caused by these young men’s (and it is almost all male) loss of connection to school and their inability to travel safely around their neighborhood or to feel welcome at after-school programs that emphasize safe spaces. Those released teens and young adults who connected with the Arts Infusion organizations were just as likely to travel outside of their immediate neighborhood and often sought out instructors who taught at facilities on the North Side, such as Street-Level and Kuumba Lynx.

Offering the information to every teen leaving JTDC in a format that makes the “connect” process easier for them needs to go beyond adding another piece of printed material to the already overwhelming release process. For this reason, Smart Chicago retained Greater Good Studio to develop a USB DRIVE. You can read more about how it worked here.