Mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed Chicago Friday evening to mark the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic arriving in the city.
The mayor looked back over the past year at how the city handled the pandemic, the resilience of Chicagoans and the steps moving forward, as well as acknowledging the lives lost to the coronavirus.
Read her full address below.
Good evening, Chicago.
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One year ago today I stood before you as we began one of the most difficult
chapters in our city’s history.
With a terrifying virus raging across the country, elected leaders in cities big and small were forced to take drastic action to save lives and prevent disaster. While at that time there was still a lot that we did not know about this virus, we did know
that it was spreading quickly and was deadly.
That’s why at the outset, my team and I had to make difficult choices to keep
people safe. I knew it would not be easy. But I knew then, and know now, that we
are tough and we would get through this if we united together.
If last year taught us anything, it was that the unexpected can become reality very
quickly. Almost overnight, schools and businesses, bars and restaurants, parks and houses of worship were closed. Flights were grounded. Chicagoans were asked to shelter in place and ended up losing their lives, their livelihoods, their well-being, their mental and emotional health, their families and bonds, their safety, and in some cases their faith in our mutual, community bonds.
And as this horrific virus swept through our neighborhoods, our City, oddly, eerily,
fell silent. Silent enough that we could all hear the sirens wailing as ambulances
raced from homes to hospitals carrying our neighbors who had fallen ill.
You know this, you lived this, but I think it’s important to acknowledge it
We had far too many dark days and long nights.
Over the past year, 5,000 Chicagoans have died from COVID. I pray that the good
Lord welcomes these souls home, and watches over their families and loved ones
left behind. I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to honor their lives and
what we as a city have lost.
On behalf of all of us, I want to offer my sincerest condolences to their families.
I also want to acknowledge the losses of a different kind: The loss of a job. The
loss of a business. The loss of health. The loss of control. The loss of normalcy.
Some of my hardest moments as Mayor have been making decisions that I knew
would harm a business or cause someone to lose their job.
Or seeing firsthand the tremendous burdens that people are carrying without any
relief. Around Easter last year, a friend of ours, who is a nurse at a local hospital,
sent around a video in which she expressed her rawest emotions about what it was like to care for the severely sick and dying day after day. Amy and I watched that video, and when it was over, we both just wept.
This has been a year of loss. A year of pain.
But through that shroud of pain and grief, Chicago has continued to be the resilient city that we have always been.
Tested, to be sure, but made stronger and never broken.
And tougher than ever before.
And now, my friends, it’s time to rise again.
Because we kept our distance from family and friends, no matter how much we
Because we put off weddings, graduations, family reunions, vacations, concerts,
and sporting events.
Because we put on masks -- making the decision every time we do so -- to
sacrifice comfort and convenience to protect others and ourselves.
Because we innovated -- turned learning remote, telecommuted, picked up
curbside and so many individual innovations.
Because we did these things, we can now see light through the darkness of this
This commitment to each other, to each other’s well-being – where we fed the
hungry, housed the homeless, gave comfort to our seniors, worked with organized
labor to make sure that workers were protected, and so many other ways in which
we manifested a collective good through personal sacrifice and concern for each
other – what we have accomplished is a real, tangible thing and I’m proud to be
your mayor and to be able to see that and feel that across the whole of this great
When I was growing up, my parents didn’t have a lot but they had their dignity and
their dreams and they had their faith, a faith in the truth, a faith in each other, and a faith in the power of community.
The greatest gift they gave me was that faith in the future and I have seen it in our
city, over and over, even on the darkest days.
We are a full of generous, resilient, courageous people:
Health care workers pulling shift after shift, working around the clock to save
lives; Teachers stepping up to keep kids from falling behind; Moms and dads doing their best to balance a job, raise a kid and keep a community
Our first responders who were second to none.
Workers in government and the nonprofit sector who have gone above and beyond to serve our City.
Senior care workers to truck drivers to grocery store staff -- our everyday heroes. In a year where we’ve all needed a shoulder to lean on, Chicago has once again
proven itself to be the City of Big Shoulders.
And one shoulder that I have leaned on, again and again, is Dr. Allison Arwady,
our commissioner of public health.
Let me also take a moment to thank Dr. Arwady and her courageous, heroic team
at the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Allison, you held our hands, you gave it to us straight, but always with humility
and humanity that calmed our deepest fears.
Thank you ever so much for what you have done, what you are doing and what you will continue to do to keep us safe.
But while this crisis has shown how great and generous individual Chicagoans can be, it has also shown the depth of the racial and gender inequities that have plagued our city well before one year ago today.
This pandemic has not only laid these inequities bare for all to see. It has widened
them in ways that threaten our future, our economic and social health as a city.
Make no mistake. Systemic racism, deep, intergenerational poverty, gender
inequity, and city-wide income inequality is a threat to us all. Because while every
Chicagoan has lost something, we have very stark evidence that Black and Latinx
Chicagoans have experienced higher rates of job loss, higher rates of infection, and higher rates of death during this crisis.
In our city and across the US, millions of American women have been pushed out
of the workforce.
And working families have been forced to the brink of economic ruin.
Words alone — whether of sympathy for the grieving or of gratitude for our heroes
— will not address these inequities or improve the quality of life for Chicagoans.
“Hopes and Prayers” are simply not enough.
We learned quickly that the way to honor the sacrifices of this past year and to
right the wrongs of many years, we needed to act with more than words alone. We
needed real, concrete actions.
Over the course of this brutal last year, as a city government, we did not stand idly
by and watch this virus wreak havoc on our residents.
Our response to this virus has been bold, and comprehensive to meet the needs that we saw and heard from you.
We led with equity to make sure that our health care systems did not buckle, our
health care workers and first responders were supported and we immediately
worked to provide extra supports for our most vulnerable residents including our
seniors, our homeless and our children.
We created the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team to first to address the horrific
number of Black folks dying from COVID and expanded our sights to address the
disproportionate impacts of the virus in the Latinx communities. We came to
tables already set by community leaders with a humble heart, a listening ear, and a determination to make lasting change in shameful health care and life expectancy gaps that left Black and brown folks and the poor more susceptible to sickness and death.
And we continued our support of our youth.
With the help of the Crown family and others, we created Chicago Connected to
ensure that our CPS kids and their families had access to free Wifi and broadband
so that remote learning was possible.
And unlike other cities who had no summer jobs program, we persevered and still
employed thousands of young people.
This employment included the creation of the first ever Chicago Youth Services
Corp which offered young people opportunities to serve their communities in this
time of need.
We worked tirelessly, often through very long hours, seven days a week, back to
back to back to make sure that our residents felt the touch of a warm hand, a caring voice on the phone and the knock on the door of a neighbor just checking to make sure that all was well. Whatever it took, we were fearless in our determination to meet the challenges of this moment.
We also worked tirelessly to mitigate the damage done to our economy from
COVID-19 related shutdowns.
Despite calls to retreat, we maintained our commitment to working families
through an increase in the minimum wage to $14 per hour, and our unwavering
support for the fair work week ordinance.
We also passed an anti-retaliation ordinance to make sure that workers who
followed the public health guidance, stayed home when they were sick, would not
be punished by employers or lose their jobs.
We highlighted the plight of care workers through our campaign that “Your home
is someone’s workplace.”
Despite the pandemic, we still forged ahead on our signature economic
development program, Invest South/West, by making $70 million in investments,
which brought in another $300 million in private and philanthropic investments.
The proof on these investments can be seen rising in:
• Historic Bronzville at the Grove Development which is a $9 million
affordable housing development anchored by Black owned retailers; or
• The Ogden Commons development in North Lawndale on the west side
which is a $7 million city investment in a larger lan to bring jobs, retail, and
new residential units to life; or
• A $ 4 million city investment in Englewood in partnership with the VOA
Veterans Village which has created 36 units of affordable housing for
And much more to come.
And while we could not save every business, or every job, we still worked our tails
off to build an infrastructure to save over 8,800 Chicago jobs and saved 6,100
We provided $116M total in small business supports through a mix of loans and
grants. We specifically focused on the businesses that would not benefit from the
federal government assistance – the small, microbusinesses or the unbanked.
In this work we created the largest city-run small business resiliency fund in the
Tripled the small business lending in one year.
And these funds again were distributed with an intentional focus on equity:
• 63% to low-moderate income areas
• 44% Black and Latinx owned
• 47% women owned businesses
And we provided hundreds of hours of training and technical assistance to
businesses to help them adapt to the challenges that COVID-19 posed to them and their employees.
We closed off streets, alleys and parking lots for outdoor dining and challenged
ourselves to envision what winter dining would look like, even when the
temperatures dipped, and the winds off Lake Michigan normally drove us inside.
We also continued our work on fines and fee reforms by giving a pathway to
eliminate millions in debt from water and sewer bills through reasonable payment
We got agreements from ComEd and People’s Gas that no Chicago resident would be cut off from service this winter, at a time when those vital utilities were needed most.
We continued to chip away at our affordable housing crisis by financing the
development of nearly $300 million in new and preserved affordable housing,
creating 861 new units.
We used CARES Act funding to provide supports for renters and landlords, and
even provided funds to provide legal assistance to those in need in housing courts.
And in the middle of all of this, after decades of futility, we finally won the right to
build a Chicago casino -- which will employ thousands of Chicagoans during the
construction and operation, all while shoring up our police and fire pensions.
We paved almost 150 miles of streets and alleys, filled 320,000 potholes, added
250 blocks of new street lights and planted over 1600 new trees.
We kept the engine of city government running so that we could deliver for you, in
spite of and because of this once in a lifetime pandemic -- enacting real change that will improve people’s lives today and tomorrow. We were determined to continue the day one mission of this Administration: shake off the status quo, and create instead a more equitable future for everyone in our city.
We never wavered. Our north star from the beginning and throughout our
response to this pandemic has been clear, and it will continue to guide our
In the coming months, my administration is committed to even more bold actions
to help individuals and families in Chicago recover from this crisis:
• We will make sure that Chicagoans truly benefit from the relief in the
American Rescue Plan, including accessing more essential housing, food
and utility assistance in the coming months.
• Starting this spring, as part of our long-term capital plan, we will be putting
Chicagoans back to work by hiring construction workers for good paying
union jobs to rebuild our aging infrastructure.
• We have already announced new supports for minority and women owned
businesses to create fair contracting opportunities, improve prompt payments
and provide access to working capital.
• I will take action to provide much-needed additional relief to small
businesses in the city to reduce red tape and accelerate their recovery. At the
same time, I’ll unveil a new suite of protections for workers, particularly
low-wage workers who have been hardest during this pandemic.
• We will invest in our young people, many of whom have been out of work
and have foregone college enrollment this year, by connecting them to
career pathways and social and emotional supports.
• We will continue to expand community-level resources for mental health
and wellness. This crisis has been devastating for mental and emotional
wellbeing of people at all life stages- from children to our seniors who have
felt isolated and alone this year.
• We will invest in the success of industries with a high potential for growth,
from community health and life sciences to manufacturing, tech,
transportation and logistics, hospitality and tourism and yes, the arts and
culture. Our mission is to ensure that Chicagoans from every neighborhood
have access to good jobs in these and other growing industries and beyond.
• We will build on our administration’s commitment to equitable economic
development through new projects and partnerships in our 10 Invest South
• We will chart a path to recovery hand-in-hand with leaders in our corporate
and philanthropic sectors, many of whom already made a bold commitment
to Chicago’s equitable recovery by investing in the Chicago Community
Trust’s Together We Rise Fund.
• And we will continue to work arm and arm with our brothers and sisters in
organized labor because a strong recovery requires us to keep strengthening
workers and their families.
• And, together, we will plan for a better future for Chicago through virtual
and in-person events throughout this year to inform a bold, forward-looking
Citywide Plan for a more equitable and resilient Chicago for generations to
Our inequities as a city are rooted in race, class and gender, and thus our recovery
must face this reality, and make investments to address and not shy away from
And Chicagoans of all races, men and women, are now in greater poverty, greater
economic hardship than a year ago. Our recovery must support them. If we do not
face these brutal truths, we will not succeed.
As Mayor, I made a pledge to you which I am determined to fulfill that no longer
will ZIP code determine destiny.
The success of our recovery will not just be measured by the size of busy
downtown crowds or our GDP, but how quickly residents who have been hit the
hardest are able to get back on their feet and move forward with confidence.
How many small businesses can thrive again in our neighborhoods;
and whether or not every child in every neighborhood gets quality career and
educational opportunities – the essential building blocks of a successful life.
These and other signs must be our measuring sticks.
Simply put, we must keep asking whether we have made progress in unleashing
the talent and potential of our people so that all of us can live a healthy life full of
meaning and purpose, free from fear of today or tomorrow.
A crisis of this scale and magnitude has changed Chicago and our country in
profound ways. It has reminded us that we have the courage to change, the will to
work together and the power is in our hands to take control of our own destiny.
A Great Fire forced us to change the way we build. And from the ashes, we built a
great modern mecca. But it took years for laborers to gain a living wage, and safe
working conditions, and for immigrant communities and people of color to share in the city’s splendor.
A Great Depression forced us to change the way our economy works, and we built
a social safety net and the greatest middle class the world ever knew. But decades later we are still fighting for all of our people to receive a decent share of the
prosperity and the full rights of citizenship.
This Great Pandemic has forced a reckoning with the inequalities and inadequacies of our time. We have not blinked or shrank from the challenges that the moment demanded. And like generations before, we must continue to bring others along with us on the journey toward the next chapter in our shared destiny. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind.
You know that I’m a sports fan, so let me leave you with this quote from the
greatest, Muhammad Ali, who once said, “you don’t lose if you get knocked down.
You only lose if you stay down.”
So, let’s stand up together, Chicago. It’s time for us to rise together and build a
better, more equitable and more inclusive city.
Keep following the public health guidance, stay masked up, and get vaxxed.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the city of Chicago.