With the 2019 municipal elections fast approaching, The Maroon sat down with 20th Ward aldermanic candidate Jennifer Maddox. Once honored as a 2017 CNN Hero of the Year, Maddox is a police officer and the founder of the Future Ties tutoring center in Woodlawn. Her platform primarily addresses public safety, education, unemployment, and housing.
Three out of the last four aldermen were indicted for having accepted bribes and stolen funds. With Willie Cochran, the incumbent alderman indicted on bribery, out of the race, this coming election could reshape the ward.
Maddox, 45, grew up in South Side Chicago, and has worked in the 20th Ward for nearly 21 years as a police officer. She currently works for the Office of Community Affairs within the police department, where she advocates for restorative justice practices. Restorative justice helps young offenders make amends with victims and communities as an alternative to punitive measures like imprisonment.
In 2011, Maddox founded Future Ties to provide students with an after-school tutoring center. It now provides free tutoring to 40 children from ages five to 12.
She said her experience patrolling the ward and working with the apartment residents has given her insight into its needs.
Maddox emphasizes the importance of building trust between the police and the community, especially due to recent cases of police brutality. She thinks police need to empathize more with community members, so that they can understand what led to the violence.
“The police need to remember that people turn to them when they are in crisis mode. They need to show empathy,” she said. “Picture a couple fighting over money. Neither one knows where to find a job, or how to build a resume. They don’t know where to turn, so they resort to violence.”
Maddox believes that violence arises from the lack of resources, so it is important for the police to understand the challenges the community faces. In her work as a community engagement instructor, she helps lead cohorts to facilitate conversation between the police and civilians. The goal is to allow civilians to explain why they might distrust the police.
If elected, her plan is to expand this project ward-wide. Currently, she is working to organize more cohorts with new officers, community members, and young people who will commit to the meetings.
From her experience at Future Ties, Maddox said she’s identified various problems with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that she plans to address, specifically regarding special education.
“Sometimes, parents don’t even know or understand the services that their children are supposed to get,” she said. “Our classrooms are overcrowded, they are lacking teachers and teacher aides, and our special education department is suffering.”
Although CPS uses the Individualized Program Planning (IPP) curriculum for special education, where children are taken out of the classroom to receive specialized services, Maddox found that her students in IPP are still lagging behind their peers.
“CPS offers IPP, but when these kids come to us, they can’t read or write at the level they should, and don’t have homework for practice. Low-income residents cannot afford after-school resources,” she said.
Maddox believes that low-income students deserve an equal opportunity to succeed. She plans on hiring more teachers, so that students can receive the necessary attention.
Throughout the years, Maddox has built relationships with a range of Chicago organizations, including the Chicago Urban League, Catholic Charities, and UCAN, as well as social service organizations such as the Metropolitan Family Services and the Department of Family and Support Services. She plans to use these connections to give unemployed civilians access to trade schools, resume workshops, or GED test preparation courses.
“If there’s nothing one organization can do for them, we should be able to find one that can. Or else, they’re going to be back in the same situation.”
Maddox also plans on bringing more jobs to the ward by meeting with local business owners to discuss strategies for increasing clientele.
“If we want to keep our dollars in our ward,” she said, “We need to enforce sanitary codes and ensure that licenses are up to date. When you lose businesses, you lose employment opportunities.”
In collaboration with the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing, Maddox plans to set up workshops where residents of the 20th Ward can learn about different programs, such as the senior-citizen tax freezes and those for first-time home buyers.
“People think that because they don’t make a lot of money they can never own a home, and that’s not true. There are programs available that will help you,” she said.
When asked about the Obama Presidential Center possibly displacing residents, she said that if taxes rise, seniors would be protected by the senior tax freezes. However, whether she is in favor of the building remains unclear. She says she will “continuously work to keep residents in their homes.”
To Maddox, being alderman is not a “one-day, one-stop shop.” She says that serving the needs of the community is an everyday event, and carries this concept throughout her platform.