The fearless leader of Get In Chicago is determined to create a safer city for all.
“I am 100 percent a Chicagoan,” says Dr. Toni Irving, who moved to the city from her native Philadelphia 14 years ago to be an assistant professor of English at the University of Notre Dame before being named deputy chief of staff for Governor Pat Quinn. On a Wednesday morning at Yolk, in her Streeterville neighborhood, Irving’s plate is filled with a hearty breakfast—and the weight of her newest role as executive director of Get In Chicago, where she’s charged with bringing safety to the communities hit hardest by violence. “It’s like a rallying cry,” Irving says of this public/private partnership backed by First Lady Michelle Obama, which targets key neighborhoods and analyzes risk factors in order to prevent violence. “As Chicagoans, we can’t have a divided city—North Side, South Side, safe areas, and unsafe areas. This city is all of ours, and we all need to invest in it.”
Proudest achievement: When I came to the state, we had 1,337 youth in the juvenile justice system reporting to adult parole officers, [and under my leadership] all kids in Cook County were given social workers to track them, so it became a more supporting, therapeutic model of care. The last day I was at the state, there were 850 [kids in the system], and they were doing so much better.
Definition of success: I always felt I was supposed to make a difference in the world, and I also think it’s really about making a difference in the lives of people closest to me: my family, my close friends.
What keeps me centered: I was at the theater on Monday, and the week before that, and the week before that…. Steppenwolf’s my favorite.
Biggest hero: Since I’ve come to Chicago, it’s [Loop Capital chairman and CEO ] James Reynolds Jr. He’s the most grounded, kind, centered person.
Advice I’d give my 15-year-old self: Take a lot of pauses and reflect. You can get on a track where you’re just going and going.… It’s like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: If you walk by the color purple and don’t acknowledge it, that makes God angry.
How I hope to make my mark: As much as we want to change individual lives, I’m more interested in changing the conditions of those lives, so there aren’t multiple tiers of citizenship where you’re born in one neighborhood and your life outcomes are always predicted.
Link to original Michigan Avenue Magazine article: https://michiganavemag.com/chicago-women-of-influence