Photo of Joanna Trotter

Joanna Trotter, Senior Director of Community Impact at The Chicago Community Trust

Photo of Manuel Flores

Manuel Flores, Treasurer to United Way’s Board of Directors and CEO and President of SomerCor

In Heather McGhee’s “The Sum of Us,” she studies the American economy to understand that, in all equations, racism is the common denominator stifling our economy and our country at large.

We spoke with two United Way of Metro Chicago partners to look at the economic impact of institutional racism in Chicago and how philanthropic organizations can help our neighbors close the wealth gap.

“Financial equity to me means that your debt is commensurate with your income, that you have savings, that you are able to progress in your career regardless of race,” said Joanna Trotter, the Senior Director of Community Impact at The Chicago Community Trust. Joanna leads the Trust’s Growing Household Wealth strategy designed to bolster resident income and assets and curb practices that strip wealth from families and communities of color.

The Chicago Community Trust (the Trust) partners with donors and philanthropic organizations to help build household wealth in Black and Latinx communities. Their goal is to close the region’s racial and ethnic wealth gap and its root causes, thus creating opportunities for long term impact.

Chicago’s history of discriminatory housing and business practices have lowered the quality of life for Black and Latinx residents. It’s harder for these families to buy and own homes, take the risk to start and sustain businesses, and seed generational wealth.

“Wealth is not about becoming rich. Wealth is being able to live your dreams, to live comfortably and to send your kids to college without being saddled with debt. Everyone should have the ability to achieve this regardless of race or ethnicity,” Joanna stated.

Manuel Flores, Treasurer to United Way’s Board of Directors and CEO and President of SomerCor, works to provide affordable financing and education to small businesses that face barriers when buying property. SomerCor has made it their priority to assist businesses owned by people of color to build equity through their loan program.

Their loan program is tied to public policy initiatives that advocate for job creation and local investment to transform the business sector into a more inclusive environment for Black and Latinx owned businesses to succeed in serving their communities.

“When you look at the profiles of these business owners, these are family owned businesses, a lot of the time,” Manuel explained. “What they’re making is the money that they’re taking home for raising their families. This is the transformation that we’re fighting for.”

We believe building a more equitable Chicago will take all of us working together, and we have witnessed partnerships expand our capacity to offer comprehensive services, with specific attention to each neighborhood we serve. Through our Neighborhood Network place-based initiative, we take the lead from community organizations who are working at the local level.

For example, United Way and the Trust created the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund and awarded more than 400 nonprofit organizations with grants to sustain their communities, thanks to 6,000 donors. By sitting with our partners in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, we were able to determine how we can best support those who were most impacted by COVID-19.

The collaboration goes on.

“Our greatness is found in the ability and purposeful effort to work with others and bring people together to do something special. When we talk about community investment, we are talking about investing in people — community building is people building,” said Manuel.

He continued, “We need to learn from our history of discrimination, but it requires the sum of all of the members to make a more perfect whole.”

When you give to you United Way, you support the many partnerships and work that is helping to build a stronger, more equitable Chicago region. Make a gift today. 


By: Courtney Morrison and Jessica Jones