Upswell Accelerator

Driving Change in the Community


The Upswell Accelerator is a group of dynamic, high-impact Chicagoland changemakers who are committed to amplifying the social change issues in their communities. With the Upswell design team, they’re working to integrate local innovation, culture, and opportunity to create an eye-opening, authentic Chicago experience for you.

The Accelerator is developing a unique and ambitious Racial Equity Framework that will be led and owned by Chicago’s diverse communities.

Racial Equity Framework


When national changemakers come together for Upswell, we want them to feel deeply connected with their host city – and we want that sense of connection to last long after the main summit has ended. But what does it mean to engage authentically with a place? How can a national event like Upswell catalyze important work already taking place in a community – without hijacking the agenda or imposing a frame that’s inauthentic or ill-fitting?

Independent Sector has been wrestling with those questions ever since the lights went down on Upswell LA. Coming into Chicago, our very earliest meetings were designed to bring together a cross section of community leaders to identify and advance one positive change that they most wanted to see.

It’s taken months of soul-searching and deep thinking, but an answer has finally emerged: With its local partners, Upswell will work to advance a racial equity framework for Chicago.

What does that mean? What will it look like? Who gets a say? And most importantly, what difference will it make?

Those are the questions we will wrestle with – in real time – as we report the ongoing work of the Upswell Accelerator.

Broadening, Narrowing, and Going Deep

July 26, 2019

In earlier meetings, the Upswell Accelerator grappled with defining the most impactful way to partner with a national event seeking to promote lasting, local change. Through an inductive, collaborative process, they coalesced behind the idea of a racial equity framework. Starting today, the task is to make that framework real.

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Racial equity in Chicago: the South Side gets a say
August 7, 2019

“We only have a few minutes,” Mike Simmons says for at least the tenth time. As the facilitator of a neighborhood focus group designed to test the idea of a racial equity framework in Chicago, he is discovering that a well-crafted agenda is no match for the enthusiasm of 18 community stakeholders who’ve spent too long feeling that no one is listening to them.

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Chicago’s returning citizens bridge the gap between race and justice
August 16, 2019

With the charge of ensuring that the right voices are contributing to the racial equity framework, the Upswell community organizers approached this audience in a dignified way. “Returning citizens” isn’t a term you often hear in the media or in legal briefs – or even in casual conversation. But that frame sheds the negative connotations of its alternatives and replaces them with agency and purpose.

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What Does a “Slash” Have to Do with Racial Equity?

September 9, 2019

Have you ever seen race and ethnicity show up on the same line of a demographic information on a registration form? The combo may seem innocuous, but it’s a clear source of consternation for the Pilsen residents who were part of this focus group conversation at the end of August. The conversation highlighted how the slash in “race/ethnicity” is an example of the lack of nuance in language for racial equity, and why the Latinx community is often excluded from the conversation.

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Beyond Binary: Lessons Learned from Latinx Communities

September 10, 2019

We asked Emilia Chico and Steven Rosado – the two facilitators who led the most recent set of Upswell Accelerator focus groups – to reflect on the key insights and takeaways from the conversations in two of Chicago’s predominantly Latinx communities. Check out what they had to say in thix Q&A.

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Moving from Discussion to Deliverable

October 3, 2019

After months of meetings, thousands of Post-It notes, and countless emails, you might think the Upswell Accelerator would be feeling a little … spent. Instead, as members gather for the next-to-last time on a late summer afternoon, there’s a surprising energy in the room. The agenda includes report-outs from five community focus groups, as well as a group exercise designed to “land the deliverable.”

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Meet the Accelerators

Helene Gayle
Upswell Co-Chair

The Chicago Community Trust

Sandra Abrevaya
President/Chief Impact Officer
Thrive Chicago

Daniel Ash
Chief Marketing Officer
The Chicago Community Trust

Rob Bisceglie
Action for Healthy Kids

Sarah Borgeson
Board Co-Chair
Chicago Women in Philanthropy

Dan Cardinali
Independent Sector

Jack Darin
Chapter President
Sierra Club Illinois Chapter

Ed Davies
Children’s Home and Aid

Evan Hochberg
Upswell Co-Chair

Crown Family Philanthropies

Liz Dozier
Chicago Beyond

Brian Fabes
Civic Consulting Alliance

Chantal E. Forster
Executive Director
Technology Affinity Group

Sean Garrett
President, CEO
United Way of Metropolitan Chicago

Chindaly Griffith
Chapter Co-Chair
Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy Chicago

Caronina Grimble
Board Co-Chair
Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy

Luis Gutierrez
Latinos Progresando

Danielle Harbison
Executive Director
Black Chicago Tomorrow

Hope Harriman
Project Manager
Justice Informed

Jessica Jecmen
Executive Director
Accenture Foundation

Yvonne Judice
Upswell Community Organizer

Stephen Katsouros
Dean/Executive Director
Arrupe College, Loyola University Chicago

Jonathan Lever
Executive Vice President and COO
The Fetzer Institute

Kate Lorenz
Executive Director
Hyde Park Arts Center

Dorri McWhorter
YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago

Rami Nashashibi
Executive Director

Lauren Pacheco
Upswell Community Organizer

Julian Posada
Chief Operating and Enterprise Officer
The Resurrection Project

Angelique Power
Field Foundation

Jessica Rabie
Project Lead, Strategy
Crown Family Philanthropies

Xavier Ramey
CEO/Lead Strategist
Justice Informed

Diana Rauner
Ounce of Prevention

Victor Reinoso
Independent Sector

Silvia Rivera
Managing Director
WBEZ – Vocalo

Paul Sznewajs
Executive Director

Hilda Vega
Manager, U.S. Programs
Hispanics in Philanthropy

Eric Weinheimer