billboard image Rising Above: Chicago's Journey to a Just Recovery

We Rise Together: For a Just & Equitable Recovery invests in Black and Latinx communities in Chicago with organizations like Latinos Progresando to accelerate economic recovery that addresses disparities.


Investments Spur Economic Recovery in Chicago’s Black and Latinx Neighborhoods

About 10 years ago, Luis Gutierrez, a nonprofit leader in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, stood in front of a boarded-up public library he dreamed of turning into a community center.

A group of young people stopped to ask what he was doing. He shared his vision for the space.

“They were like, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able to do that,’” Gutierrez said.

It was a sentiment grounded in reality. The 2007-2009 financial crisis hit historically disenfranchised neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides especially hard, in part because housing constituted a larger portion of residents’ wealth in those areas than in wealthier communities.

A decade after his encounter with the young people, Gutierrez is about to cut the ribbon on a stunning conversion of the 10,000-square-foot building in the heart of one of the country’s largest Mexican neighborhoods. Vacant for years, it is now a brick-and-glass structure that will house Latinos Progresando, the nonprofit Gutierrez started in 1998 to offer affordable immigration legal services, community programming, and support for small businesses.

The project is among efforts receiving financial support from a philanthropic initiative known as We Rise Together: For a Just & Equitable Recovery. Launched in 2020, We Rise Together accelerates equitable economic recovery by addressing deep inequities–amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic–in Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities. Other efforts that have received support from the initiative include:

  • Dardur Medical Group, a Black woman-owned and -operated healthcare startup in a south suburban area known as a “medical desert” for its lack of healthcare options, leading to racial disparities in health outcomes.
  • North Austin Center, a campus for sports, education, and wellness on 10 acres on Chicago’s West Side.
  • North Lawndale Employment Network, which supports under-employed and unemployed community residents working to gain skills to move toward economic prosperity.

A collaborative of corporate and philanthropic funders, We Rise Together has awarded more than $34 million in grants to support development projects bringing healthcare, community services, youth programs, restaurants, business incubators, and jobs.

It is a crucial mission. The Pew Research Center found that, during the post-recession recovery, the wealth of White households grew to 13 times the median wealth of Black households and 10 times that of Hispanic households by 2013. The pandemic is expected to widen that gap over the long term because of lasting changes in work patterns benefiting higher income groups, according to research by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


The new Latinos Progresando Community Center will offer immigration legal services, along with support services for small businesses, and a broad spectrum of programming for community residents and organizations.


‘A Sense of Hope’

A key focus of We Rise Together is restoring vacant properties to use, as Latinos Progresando has done with the help of a $1 million grant.

The new community center will give Latinos Progresando more visibility and space to provide services.

“We asked ourselves what it would look like to affect a more equitable recovery,” We Rise Together Program Director Christen Wiggins said, “and part of that is making sure folks know that real investment is happening in their community. We felt like starting with real estate investments was a very tangible way to show that. It creates a sense of hope.”

The new community center will give Latinos Progresando more visibility and space to provide services, including room for after-school programs run by the Lincoln Park Zoo and behavioral health offices operated by Esperanza Health Centers. The two anchor tenants add to the project’s financial sustainability.


We Rise Together: For an Equitable & Just Recovery is a collaborative working with community members to respond to the urgent economic needs of Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities.


The center also is helping revitalize Little Village and neighboring communities, known for vibrant restaurants, family-run businesses, and colorful murals by Mexican artists such as Hector Duarte.

The recession and pandemic left storefronts vacant and streets empty in communities. Beyond those challenges, the area is also gentrifying, exerting more economic pressure on long-time residents. Gutierrez recalled that a developer wanted to buy the library and turn it into condos, prompting the nonprofit leader to advocate that city officials keep it available for public use.

For Gutierrez, who once had to move into his parents’ basement and take a second job to afford to keep the nonprofit’s original office, the new community center is the capstone of a wild dream. He started Latinos Progresando with just $200—the bank statement is framed in his office—and so little room that clients had to line up in the hallway stairs.


Serving People From 24 States

Today, families from 24 states travel to the office seeking help. The nonprofit serves the children and grandchildren of some of its first clients. Some of those children have grown up to become leaders in the community, including Maria Zavala, a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

“It is really cool to see it come full circle, from all the ways that I've benefited personally to now being able to serve as a member of the board.”

She participated in after-school programs at Latinos Progresando that included a step-dancing team and college-bound youth group. As a college student, Zavala volunteered and interned at the nonprofit, helping with development and marketing work. Now she is a successful manager for media marketing strategy at McDonald’s Corporation.

“It was so influential,” Zavala said of growing up with Latinos Progresando. “It is really cool to see it come full circle, from all the ways that I've benefited personally to now being able to serve as a member of the board.”

Gutierrez is having his own full-circle moment, thinking back to those young people he met on the street who doubted his dream all those years ago.

“My hope is that young people and families today will see this and say, ‘Man, if you're able to do that, why can't I do that?’” he said. “This will be, hopefully, an example for people to say, ‘We can do anything we put our minds to.’”


In 2020 and 2023, MacArthur supported the Chicago Community Trust with a total of $4 million toward We Rise Together: For an Equitable & Just Recovery. In addition, Latinos Progresando was awarded more than $1.6 million between 2008 and 2021 through the Chicago Commitment and Migration programs and the Equitable Recovery Initiative.

Banner photo courtesy of Canopy / architecture + design, LLC