2020 Honoree Profile: Deborah Bennett

Celebrate the ardent leadership of Deborah Bennett
at FDLA’s Silver Anniversary
2020 First Defender Award Winner Deborah Bennett is Senor Program Officer of the Polk Bros. Foundation. A few years ago as the Black Lives Matter movement crescendo-ed in Chicago after video of Laquan McDonald’s police murder reached the public, a refreshed Strong Communities-Safe Communities grant making program launched under Deborah’s leadership.

The program invests in, for instance, youth leadership development where those impacted by violence and the criminal system analyse safety and justice problems and design solutions, to benefit both youth participant, and local crime rates, long-term.

It was a first for FDLA to see so much of its own asset-based Street Law logic model reflected in that of a foundation. Some, in cynical moments, have said it could never happen because of elite political and financial interests in blaming urban youth.

Deborah’s matter of fact, dependable insertion of equity considerations, respect for marginalized and powerful Chicagoans alike, and behind-the-scenes work on process design for sustainability, has had ripple effects in Chicago philanthropy and has bent the arc of our city’s future towards justice and peace.

A few colleagues, family members and friends share more:

“From as far back as I can remember, my mother has always worked for racial equity and justice.  She instilled that passion in me, which is one of the reasons I chose to become an attorney and to volunteer with FDLA. She’s a great mother, role model, and friend, and absolutely deserving of the FDLA First Defender Award!” –Temi A. Bennett

“My mother is my shero. She has continuously centered racial justice and racial equity in her endeavors, and I find myself consistently, whether intentionally or unintentionally, following in her footsteps. I’ve always known she was a badass, but since I joined the philanthropic sector in 2018, I’ve professionally witnessed how transformative she is in her work. She brings energy, creativity, smarts, and optimism to the field, pushes the envelope, and inspires change so that everyone can live a healthy and dignified life. My mother leverages her philanthropic expertise to create positive, sustainable community impact, which makes her uniquely deserving of the FDLA First Defender Award.” –Temi F. Bennett, Esq. Director of Policy and Communication, Consumer Health Foundation

“Deborah in her role inside and outside of philanthropy has always demonstrated an intellectual rigour and unwavering commitment to advancing accountable and inclusive institutions. When Deborah is at the table I know we are all being fairly and justly represented! Congratulations on an award well deserved.”
–Teresa Prim, Prim Lawrence Group

“Deborah has long understood that Chicago is facing dual, mutually-reinforcing crises of eroding police legitimacy and debilitating gun violence. Throughout the many years we’ve worked together, I’ve admired her ability to direct resources toward efforts that address the systemic issues behind these crises as well as programs that directly interrupt cycles of violence. Congratulations on the well-deserved recognition, my friend, and happy 25th anniversary to the mighty FDLA! Your work has had meaningful impact.”
–Debbie Reznick, Senior Program Officer 

“I’ve had the enormous pleasure and privilege of working closely with Deborah Bennett of the Polk Bros. Foundation these past three years. She is one of two trusted co-chairs of the IL Count Me In 2020 Funders’ Collaborative, a statewide pooled fund facilitated by Forefront’s Democracy Initiative, focused on Census outreach efforts by non-profit organizations across Illinois. Deborah’s strong leadership, emphatic dedication to a fair and accurate Census count in Illinois, and particular emphasis engaging and counting historically undercounted populations, make her an exemplary community leader and a true visionary for a more just and equitable Illinois. She is a thoughtful leader, full of grace and conviction.” 
–Anita Banerji, Forefront’s Director of the Democracy Initiative

“On behalf of the members of Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy we would like to congratulate Deborah Bennett on this well desired honor. Deborah, through the example of her leadership, has been a champion of racial equity, peace and justice in Chicago. Deborah’s commitment to our communities has ushered forth a new conversation about violence prevention that centers the need for peace and investment in solutions that will have lasting impact on our region.”
–Jessyca Dudley, Director 

“Congratulations, Deborah, for this remarkable honor, which recognizes the bold leadership and deeply humble commitment that you bring to your work every day on behalf of Chicagoans most affected by poverty and inequity.  We are so privileged – and proud – to work with you and learn from you. Your work with partners to make systemic change is helping to create more effective and equitable justice systems and build the conditions for long-term peace and safety in Chicago.” 
–Gillian Darlow and Evette Cardona, Polk Bros. Foundation 

THANK YOU Deborah for being on the brave leading edge of funding safe communities for all!