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Op-ed: Toni Preckwinkle: We can create a more equitable Cook County if we imagine it — and then act

Monday, September 13, 2021
Chicago Tribune
by Toni Preckwinkle

Imagine. Intersect. Act.

What do these words mean to you?


We have chosen these words as the theme this year for Cook County’s annual Racial Equity Week, which is happening Sept. 13 to 17. This is the third year that we have observed a special week to draw attention to the importance and the urgency of our work to advance racial equity through policy and practice.

To me, these three words are powerful when we put them together in this order.

First, we must imagine what an equitable world looks like. Think about that for a moment. For many of us, that can be difficult to imagine, because we know this work takes time — this future might not happen in the next 10 years. Or 20.

That’s why I turn to history to imagine an equitable future. In the Iroquois founding documents that date to at least 1500 A.D., the “seventh generation” principle first appeared in writing.

This principle guides us to think about the impact our decisions will have on the seven generations that follow. Beyond environmental sustainability, I think it is a lens that can be used everywhere.

What would the world look like for the seven generations ahead of you? What world would you like to shape for the children of your great-great-great-grandchildren? How can we shape policies that help us not just in the year to come, but also in the next decade to come?

As a grandmother, I can’t help but think about the world we are leaving to our grandchildren.

When I imagine an equitable Cook County, I envision thriving neighborhoods where everyone has access to affordable housing, good schools, healthy food, convenient public transit, quality health care and green space. I imagine a Cook County where families want to live, where entrepreneurs want to open businesses and where a person can move to any city, town or village and find a welcoming community.

I believe that what I imagine will become reality. Whether we are fighting climate change or racial injustice, we have to imagine the world we want to create.

Once we have imagined that world, we must think “intersectionally” to create it.

What does that mean? We have to think about who is affected by the work that we do.

We can’t settle for expanding access to public transit if that access is only improved for able-bodied residents. We can’t provide rental assistance if we provide it only for people with immigration papers. We can’t improve maternal and infant mortality rates without addressing the fact that Black women are at least three times more likely than white women to die as a result of pregnancy.

When we imagine the future we want to see and think intersectionally about how our work will achieve it — then we act.

This week, Cook County acts by putting our first-ever racial equity policy into effect.

We act by publishing our first-ever Racial Equity Action Plan.

This policy and this plan will build on the work that we have done for years to shift the culture at Cook County through our existing strategic plan, the Policy Roadmap. We have encouraged our staff to use a racial equity lens with every policy and program, including our COVID-19 recovery initiatives.

Using that lens has already had an impact on the residents we served throughout the pandemic, as you can see from our 2020 Impact Report — the majority of our business assistance went to women and people of color. The majority of rental and cash assistance went to women and people of color. This was intentional. We provided resources where they were needed most, with an equity lens.

These documents outline our plans to provide racial equity training to all staff in my administration. We have implemented a language access policy to ensure that the more than 20% of county residents who speak other languages can access our services. We have committed to strategies and measurable outcomes that hold us accountable to the public.

We put these policies into place today because for centuries, racist government policies have ensured that huge swaths of our population did not have such access. These policies deliberately created a world that was not equal.

In America, the playing field has never been level.

If you are a woman, if you are Black, if you are Latinx, if you have a disability, if you speak another language, if you were born in another country — in other words, if you are most of the population of Cook County — the playing field has never been level.

And it may not happen overnight, but I am committed to leveling that playing field.

It’s not enough just to talk about equity — we must act. Otherwise, we will never know a world that is truly just, compassionate, inclusive and sustainable.

Toni Preckwinkle is president of the Cook County Board.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email

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