MPC’s 2020 Annual Event: how we can #BuildBackBetter from these transformative times? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC’s 2020 Annual Event: how we can #BuildBackBetter from these transformative times?

John Rogers, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, in conversation with Melody Spann Cooper, Chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation

Like so many other unexpected changes this year, MPC took its 2020 Annual Event virtual, hosting over 500 guests to a digital conversation on September 15, 2020—including one surprise cameo by a very famous Illinoisan.

Like so many other unexpected changes this year, MPC took its Annual Event virtual, hosting over 500 guests to a digital conversation on September 15, 2020—including one surprise cameo by a very famous Illinoisan.

John Rogers, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, one of America’s largest minority-owned investment firms, was joined in conversation by Melody Spann Cooper, Chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, following introductions by MarySue Barrett, MPC President, and Scott Swanson, President of PNC Bank, Illinois. 

MPC awarded John with the 2020 MPC Champion Fighter Award, as each year we recognize that rare individual who exemplifies extraordinary leadership, civic commitment, and philanthropy. MPC chose to honor John as the 2020 Champion Fighter Award recipient for his deep commitment to racial and economic equity. John fights both at the boardroom level and the community level to close the racial wealth gap—improving systems, investing in individuals, and modeling progress through his own leadership.  

John’s passion for investing began at age 12 when his father began buying him stocks as Christmas and birthday gifts. In 1983, John founded Ariel Investments to focus on patient, value investing within small- and medium-sized companies. 

John is a member of the board of directors of McDonald’s, NIKE, and The New York Times Company. He also serves as vice-chair of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago. John has been an inspiration for MPC's Cost of Segregation research and a guide for our Roadmap to Our Equitable Future

MPC established the Champion Fighter Award in 1959, as a special honor for individuals who have exemplified responsible leadership on behalf of the public interest. Past honorees include Mayor Richard J. Daley, Ferd Kramer, Lester Crown, and Miles White.

A surprise video from colleagues, friends, and family of John’s captured well wishes from Patrick G. Ryan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ryan Specialty Group; Dr. Helene D. Gayle, President & Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Community Trust; Mellody Hobson, Co-CEO & President, Ariel Investments; Andrew J. McKenna, Chairman, Bunzl Retail Services; Victoria Rogers, John Rogers’ Daughter; Arne Duncan, Managing Partner, Emerson Collective, Former U.S. Secretary of Education, 2009-2015; and special visitor, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. 

Here are highlights from John’s conversation with Melody Spann Cooper. 

On the importance of this unique moment: 

“This is a transformative time in our country’s history…. There’s an understanding that—even though we got the right to vote, and we can live in most communities in this country, and there’s more opportunities than before—economic justice is not there. The wealth gap in this country has gotten larger over the past 40 years, and people see it now.”

On America's growing racial wealth gap:

“From 1992 to 2016, the Federal Reserve of St. Louis has data that shows that… college-educated African-Americans saw their wealth decline 10 percent, while college-educated whites saw their wealth increase by 96 percent over a roughly 25-year-period. We need to make sure that people understand that we’re much worse off. Because people are not going to be motivated to make change and give us a fair opportunity if they don’t realize how far behind we are and how we’re getting further behind every day.”

On one impact of George Floyd's murder:

“This situation with George Floyd shines a light on the economic injustice in this country. As Dr. King always used to say, progressive white Americans deplore prejudice but accept or ignore economic injustice. I think that’s something we have to continue to remind people.”

On how a strong economy undergirds other change:

“I’m going to keep coming back to what Daniel Burnham talked about: if you don’t have a strong economy, you’re not going to have all the great things you need in the city. Everything starts with having strong business leadership and strong business success. We want to have people fighting to get African-Americans to have a chance to fully participate in economic opportunity in the city, and then everything else will flow from there.” 

If you’d like to relive the big day, or if you weren’t able to join us, check out our recording of MPC’s 2020 Annual Event on YouTube here. Thank you, as always, for your support of the Metropolitan Planning Council.


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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