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How Did Imagine Chicago Begin?


In the words of Bliss Browne, Imagine Chicago's founder:


“In 1991, I was a corporate banker at First Chicago, an Episcopal priest in an African American parish, the mother of three young children and active on many civic boards. These worlds shared little common vocabulary and often functioned as parallel universes. I began to notice many ways our city of Chicago was divided—in discourse, in well institutionalized patterns of social and economic segregation.. Many young adults were anxious about their future, doubtful if they could find a way to make their lives count, with many young lives lost to violence and drugs. Ronald Marstin, a philosopher, once said,”Justice is fundamentally a matter of who is included and whom we can tolerate neglecting.” I began to talk with my friends about what it would take for many people to think about our city as a whole in a way which valued all of its citizens.


Wanting companions for my questions, I organized a conference on faith, imagination and public life. On the second night, people were asked to venture to describe “God's dreams” for our city, images of Chicago's future and economy worthy of the commitment of our lives. The image that came to me that night was of the recycling symbol as an image of the Trinity. I envisaged those three simple arrows in a circle not just as an image of ecology but as a representation of an economy in which nothing and no one is wasted, in which everyone's participation counts. I began to imagine a city...

  • where everyone is valued
  • where every citizen, young and old, applies their talents to create a positive future for themselves and their community.
  • where hope comes alive in the flourishing and connecting of human lives
  • where young people and others whose visions have been discounted develop and contribute their ideas and energy.

Within three days of that conference, I set aside a sixteen-year corporate career to begin the work of discovering ways to bring such a vision to life. That's been Imagine Chicago's work ever since. In recent years, it's catalyzed a self-organizing global Imagine movement, the heart of which has been a profound belief, shared by many, in the possibility of working constructively across difference on inspired and inspiring actions.


IMAGINE CHICAGO has worked to create meaningful opportunities for people often left out to discover a place to belong and a way to contribute that links their considerable gifts to the communities in which they live. We've done so by encouraging and challenging people and institutions to understand, imagine and create the future they value, to move from understanding and dreaming community to building it. This is “mothering” work in the way Sara Ruddick describes it in her wonderful book Maternal Thinking where she suggests that motherhood is a sustained response to the promise embedded in the creation of new life. That for me is the challenge: How do we bring worthy collective dreams to birth and honor the new life they represent by creating the structures to sustain life's promise on a long-term basis?”


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