Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot to Open the 2022 Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference

August 18, 2022

Chicago skyline.


Dr. Kendi and Mayor Lightfoot join Tonika Lewis Johnson and national philanthropic leaders as keynotes at national community development conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. – August 18, 2022 – The Center for Community Progress (Community Progress) is honored to announce Dr. Ibram X. Kendi as the opening plenary speaker at the biennial Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference (RVP), held this year in Chicago, Illinois from September 7-9. Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot will open the conference with welcome remarks.

Dr. Kendi is a leading scholar and historian on antiracist practice and the realities of racism in America. He is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. Dr. Kendi is also a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor and the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest ever winner of that award.

“We could not be more excited to welcome Dr. Kendi to Chicago for our conference and hear his insights on disinvestment in communities of color, and what can be done,” said Dr. Akilah Watkins, CEO and president of Community Progress.

Mayor Lightfoot said, “Dr. Kendi is an incredible scholar who will set the stage for a galvanizing, critically relevant conference that showcases cutting-edge policies and practices for a future that centers equitable development and community resiliency.”

In addition to Dr. Kendi, RVP will include a plenary session featuring artist and activist Tonika Lewis Johnson of the Folded Map Project™, moderated by Cook County Land Bank Executive Director Eleanor Gorski, discussing segregation that persists in Chicago and urban environments today. Johnson is a visual artist and lifelong resident of the South Side neighborhood of Englewood. Her Folded Map™ Project brings Chicagoans together by connecting “map twins”—residents who live at corresponding addresses on opposite sides of Chicago (e.g., 123 South Main Street and 123 North Main Street). The initial photographic study has since evolved into a multimedia exploration that invites audiences to open a dialogue and question the impact of social, racial, and institutional conditions. 

“Tonika’s work holds up a mirror to Chicago’s legacy of racial segregation,” said Bridget Gainer, Cook County Commissioner and Chair of the Cook County Land Bank. “To build a vibrant future, we must focus on the neighborhoods that missed out on investment and development, many in Chicago’s Black community. Art helps us see even what’s right in front of us, and the Folded Map Project helps us see what Chicago could be.”

The closing plenary will be a moderated discussion of foundation leaders including Don Chen from the Surdna Foundation, Dr. Richard Besser from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Susan Thomas from the Melville Charitable Trust, speaking on the role of philanthropy in equitable revitalization.

About the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference

The Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference (RVP) is the only national conference dedicated to exploring how to strengthen communities and combat widespread property vacancy, abandonment, and deterioration. The three-day conference explores the latest strategies to tackle problem properties, creating a forum in which new ideas can arise. Approximately 1,000 participants are anticipated at RVP. Session topics include land banks; reuse of buildings; local, state, and federal policy and programs; and partnerships across sectors. Mobile workshops, led by revitalization leaders, will bring participants into the neighborhoods of Chicago and other nearby cities to experience revitalization work on the ground.

Registration fees for RVP are waived for members of the media. More information about the 2022 Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, including a complete conference program, is available online at reclaimingvacantproperties.org. Pre-registration ends August 31, 2022. Register today.

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About the Center for Community Progress

Founded in 2010, the Center for Community Progress is the national leader for building strong, equitable communities where vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties are transformed into assets for neighbors and neighborhoods. Today, Community Progress has affected change in more than forty-eight states and seven countries through leadership education and collaborative systems, policy, and practice reforms. Simply, we work to transform “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”  For more information, visit communityprogress.org.

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