I don’t remember the first day that I met Bob Wordlaw in the late ‘80s. I forgot to ask him the other night if he does. I was CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO). He was with Shorebank’s non-profit affiliate, The Neighborhood Institute.
I quickly recruited Bob to become a CANDO board director. He in turn recruited me to become a board director of his in the late ‘90s when he became executive director of the Chicago Jobs Council (CJC). This past Monday, colleagues and former CJC staff assembled to honor him and his service with toasts, roasts and fond memories.
The Chicago Jobs Council has worked with its members for over 30 years to ensure access to employment and career advancement opportunities for people living in poverty. The official announcement of Bob’s retirement stated, “Bob has made a remarkable contribution to disadvantaged people in the Chicago region throughout his career, and will leave a record of sustained growth and accomplishment during his 19 years with CJC.”
Founded in 1981 with 18 members, CJC was originally established to track economic development funds earmarked for low-income Chicago residents. The young coalition monitored the city’s public brick-and-mortar funding and developed advocacy efforts to build into skills training to broaden access to jobs.
With Bob’s leadership, CJC has grown to 100 community-based organizations, civic groups, businesses and individuals committed to helping disadvantaged Chicagoans move out of poverty and into the workforce. It has become a major player in the passage and implementation of local, state and national legislation. It acts on the principle that effective public policy is the result of broad community participation and ongoing dialogue with a diverse array of organizations.
I had the personal privilege to work with Bob back in the day on the creation of Illinois’ Job Training & Economic Development [JTED] grant program. Hopefully, it will again survive this year’s round of state budget cuts. I joked that I didn’t lobby to have the program named after me. When we met with then IL State Senator Barack Obama, Bob could have pushed to rename it Community Bridging & Organizational Building [CBOB].
Spruiell White, a previous CJC Executive Director and MacArthur Foundation program officer, shared that it is Bob’s “consistency to principles and values that will be missed from today’s dialogue.” But Bob, as all good organizers, is not retiring from the field of battle. He is already networking on policy issues and continuing his role as a respected voice on anti-poverty issues.
Bob has inspired many, including me, to believe that one day this all will change.
I forgot to ask Bob for a favorite song of his. I heard this one recently performed by Harmony, Hope & Healing, which provides creative, therapeutic, and educational music programs for homeless and under-served women, children and men in the Chicago area. It’s a good addition to the U2Cando playlist with a dedication to Bob for his long-serving dedication.
One day this all will change
Treat people the same
Stop with the violence
Down with the hate
One day we’ll all be free
And proud to be
Under the same sun
Singing songs of freedom like
All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
performed by MATISYAHU
written by Philip Lawrence/ Aliaune Thiam / Matthew Miller / Ari Levine / Bruno Mars