CUL Youth Blogs about His Conversation with President and CEO Shari Runner
A Conversation with Shari Runner
I was told that, programs that teach class specific skills (i.e. workforce skills, technology skills) hold a similar result in preparing those who are involved, for a future in any chosen field. Since I was given the chance to research about Mrs. Runner beforehand, I was curious about her prior background in the banking industry, questioning “What skill presets from the banking industry, serve as viable assets to bring to the table as the Chicago Urban League’s CEO?”
Ms. Runner told me that she previously worked in non-traditional and foreign exchange, giving her much experience within the environment of knowing how to run a bank. The third question, although not intended to be a personal question, was a question for youth like me who want to work as a Chicago Urban League employee one day. “What are the essential qualities that each Chicago Urban League mentor should possess?”
Immediately, three answers seemed to come to Ms. Runner’s mind — “A passion for work- because this is a 24/7 job, strength, and compassion.”
For my last question, I wanted it to have more depth, or carry a bit more weight. It also happened to be that I read an interview Mrs. Runner had been in, and something Mrs. Runner was quoted saying that had caught my attention. The interview I’m referring to was done with Shia Kapos of Crain’s, prior to the brief one I was conducting as one half of a tag team interview. In the beginning of the question, I had reminded Ms. Runner of facts, and recent events that have been argued as caused by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The higher rate of incarceration of African Americans during Former Police Chief McCarthy’s and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s terms, the numerous amount of traffic cameras and the controversy behind them, as well as the school openings and closings, done while Barbara Byrd Bennett was the CPS head, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Ms. Runner was asked “What caused you to say Mayor Rahm Emanuel ‘inherited a dysfunctional system’, and in light of recent events do you still believe the Mayor has inherited a dysfunctional system?” Mrs. Runner’s standing on the question was made clear, “I do believe he inherited a dysfunctional system…” which I didn’t agree with, but there was common ground when she followed up with saying “he inherited a dysfunctional system, but hasn’t done anything about the dysfunctional system.” She then commented on how, by not doing anything, the Mayor has essentially made what we see wrong about his decisions, or lack of, a commonplace practice. By not holding the police department accountable, a code of silence has developed, which doesn’t require them to tell the truth. Small acts of justice, including filming police wrongdoings, have pushed people into acting/doing something against injustice and the abuse of power.
After my reporting partner, Ashley Donald, also interviewing Ms. Runner, had tagged in, we had only minutes to practically bombard the Chicago Urban League’s permanent CEO with questions until her next appointment. “Do you prefer banks, or credit unions?” I asked, as more question continued to form. Ms. Runner informed me that, “Banks are more valuable, although they don’t provide as many investment opportunities, they also don’t provide as many risks as a credit unions would.”
“What do you do in your spare time?” I asked.
“I cook, and read,” said Ms. Runner.
I responded by asking what she was currently reading, which was a combination of Letters to my son by Kent Nerburn and The Black Presidency by Michael Eric Dyson.
As a youth, who is very involved in social organizing, I had to ask Mrs. Runner, an individual in a very important leadership position, “Do you prefer traditional top-down leadership?”
Ms. Runner had replied in a manner similar to what I had imagined. “In any organization, someone shows leadership, the visionary skills to not measure the mountain before you would climb it, but to know just what the end destination looks like before climbing. Having the end in sight, the leader must set the tone and pace as an example, a direction for others to follow- but it isn’t all, I command it and you obey. Everyone should collaborate without the fear of voicing their opinion.”
My last two questions were also as important to me as the first, but the answer I received for one of them hadn’t settled right with me, and only caused a desire to inquire more about the subject. I asked Ms. Runner’s opinion of another individual’s solution to keeping the youth off of the streets. The opinion coming from a well-known individual, who is also deeply involved in the community — Father Pfleger.
“Father Pfleger has a powerful platform,” said Ms. Runner, “he encourages youth to work in legal enterprises, which ensures that they have jobs after they get out of school,” she finished.
My own dilemma with that answer was that, many times, the parents of youth in need of jobs are working those same jobs as the youth. Nonetheless, it is one of the many solutions to keeping the youth off of the street, and poverty and violence in general, as there is no one solution to any of the many causes of those things. My last question was, “Panthers or broncos?”
“Panthers,” answered Mrs. Runner, followed by a comment which sparked discussion among everyone in the room, on how unusually the Panthers had played that game (Superbowl), and how nice the halftime performance was.
– Jeremiah Rupeika is a student at Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy and is involved with the Human Capital programs at the Chicago Urban League.