A Letter from Chicago Learning Exchange’s new Executive Director, Sana Jafri
To those who dare to change the status quo,
10 years ago, I was gearing up to head back into my classroom as a high school teacher. I connected The Great Gatsby to Kanye West. I hung posters of young girls in hijab—the Muslim headscarf that I now wear—who were fighting for their right to an education. I formed partnerships to extend the walls of my classroom. I was a new-ish teacher finding my way, but even then I knew I wanted to change the way youth were learning.
Little did I know that a decade later, I would be writing this letter as the new Executive Director of the Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to racial equity by inspiring and remaking learning for a rapidly-changing world.
I feel humbled and honored to serve as the next Executive Director. I am also grateful to our founding Executive Director, Maria Hibbs, and our Board of Directors for entrusting me to lead at this important point in our trajectory.
Kids from affluent neighborhoods in Chicago have access to a plethora of computer science programs. Yet, too many Chicago youth and families are not connected to opportunities because of their zip code, relationships or social capital, race, income, etc., which determine awareness, access, and ultimately opportunity.
If equity is a core value, we must be better at linking interests to opportunities, cultivating relationships and investing in educators and mentors that work with youth, illuminating pathways, and creating spaces for youth who need it the most to be prepared for a time of rapid technological change.
This is a big task; no one organization alone can transform teaching and learning. Therefore, CLX works with a growing network of over 200 youth-serving organizations, cultural institutions, city agencies, corporations, foundations, technology companies, and universities who share our urgency to advance racial equity in the future of learning and work.
Thanks to early investments by our generous supporters and incredible network members, Chicago is a nationally recognized leader in hands-on, innovative learning for close to 10 years. Through CLX’s collaborative innovation seed funding and educator network, the CLX network has grown from 11 to 200+ youth-organizations, serving hundreds of educators and thousands of youth.
CLX’s network has sparked and sustained innovation both locally, nationally, and even internationally. For example,
- Sweet Water Foundation, Chicago Architecture Center, and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum educators supported teens to use SketchUp and 3D printers to design and build a community park in the Washington Park/Englewood neighborhood;
- Yollocalli Arts Reach, Free Spirit Media, and TrueStar Foundation collaborated to elevate youth and community voice through pop-up youth radio stations and produced a guidebook to share learnings that is a national exemplar;
- FUSE at Northwestern University and numerous CLX partners helped create an interest-driven STEAM program that has scaled nationally and internationally.
CLX’s list of amazing, innovative, learner-centered programs and opportunities, which have utilized an asset-lens and open education practices, could go on...
Now is the time to make lasting commitments to build on that foundation by better leveraging people and places throughout Chicago, our city of learning. We can tell a different story 10 years from now: the future is what we make of it TODAY not tomorrow.
- We must center, support, and recognize the people, the people, the people...especially the educators and administrators who have dedicated their life to serving our youth.
- We must invest in innovation, not for innovation's sake, but because we must always dream of a better world and be open to ideation, iteration, failing, and learning.
- We must champion and celebrate all of Chicago’s assets from its learners to spaces of learning whether they are in barbershops, museums, libraries, schools, or living rooms. Whether they are on the West Side, South Side, North Side, in the alley, or our beloved Lake Michigan. And, at the same time, strive toward a Chicago where a child’s life circumstances do not impact one’s opportunities.
As we chart the next 10 years of our work, I hope to channel Malcolm X's words, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
While we prepare for a more equitable future, my commitment is to ensure CLX’s evolution continues to put our youth, educators, and partners first. I can’t do it alone. CLX can’t do it alone. Please join us to chart the future of learning and work in Chicago by participating in shaping it by becoming a member via https://chicagolx.org/work/#join-clx, staying in touch via our newsletter, or joining the action through our programming.
I look forward to continuing to share my learning journey with you.
At your service,
Sana Jafri, Executive Director
Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX)