When Separate Equals Hungry

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Myetie Hamilton: Leading With Grace and Gratitude

Photo Credit:
Gabriel Montgomery

She has a presence that draws you in and a clarity of purpose that is nothing short of poetic.

Chicago News Weekly caught up with one of Chicago’s most respected and influential women. A wife, mother, proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., executive leader Myetie H. Hamilton has come this far living in faith. “I always say that I am a proud product of Chicago Public Schools,” shared Hamilton.
In an era in which Chicago Public School students are continuously under-resourced in their homes and school communities, Myetie reflects the potential each of us possess.

Like so many other trailblazers holding public office and leading corporations close to home, Hamilton is proof positive that our public school system is filled with talent. After graduating from Hyde Park Career Academy and completing her undergraduate degree at Alabama A&M University in business management she furthered her education at the Illinois Institute of Technology where she received a Master of Public Administration degree.

“There is nothing like an HBCU,” Myetie shares with a wide smile, “I’m the first generation to graduate college in my family and my HBCU experience at Alabama A&M gave me a community that supports me to this day. If there is a press release about me…they are the FIRST to pick it up and share,” she continues proudly.
Myetie has dedicated her career to education and public service working with both public and charter schools shaping culture and informing strategies for the success of Chicago’s youth. Her former roles include CPS Deputy Chief of Schools and Director of public charter high school EPIC Academy among other roles in educational administration spanning 25 years.

Currently serving as the Senior Vice President and Executive Director for City Year Chicago, Myetie is leading the way, building a more equitable future through education. It is the ideal position to capitalize on her talents and passion. City Year is a national organization located in 29 cities across 21 states and Myetie leads the largest site of AmeriCorps members here in Chicago. Transformative and mindful leadership is needed more than ever before, and Hamilton is on the frontline curating support systems for students that allow them to tap into their own potential and become future leaders themselves.

She is lighthearted, approachable, and very much a visionary. Her resume reflects her accomplishments, and her accomplishments mirror her grace and gratitude. Myetie is the epitome of blessed and highly favored. She shares how she became the woman she is today.

Family Matters

A proud Southsider, Myetie was born and raised in the lakefront community of South Shore. Family is her foundation, “my mother was 15, when she had me. We had the support of my incredible grandparents who were very influential in my life, they helped to raise me,” she shared. Her eyes light up when reminiscing on her younger years. Myetie comes from quite a big family, “I’m the oldest of four on my mom’s side. But on my dad’s side, I am the oldest of seven,” she shared.
Her willingness to share is reflective of how she honors her own intuition. Myetie’s mixed ancestry has rarely been a topic of conversation. She pauses and
takes a breath preparing to welcome us into her very personal truth about her mixed ancestry.

“Growing up, I would go into stores, get into taxi cabs even and if there was a Middle Eastern driver, or the person behind the counter was Middle Eastern, they would look at me and they would ask me, where are you from? What is your ethnicity?” Myetie identifies as a Black woman and acknowledged there wasn’t a day, she felt she missed any amount of love and care attributing that to her grandparents and mother. “I wasn’t missing anything. I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t look for my father, my grandfather played that role in my life,” she shared.

While Myetie always knew she was of Middle Eastern ancestry, yet she admittedly had no clue of the exact origin. “I didn’t meet my dad until I was 30, he wasn’t in my life growing up. It wasn’t until later in my life when I met my father, I learned he was Lebanese,” said Myetie. Hamilton’s life is quite serendipitous. As she recounts the pivotal moments you can’t help but recognize she invests her energy into being ready for what is to come.

“I had just gotten married when I was 28 and my husband would ask me if I would be interested in looking for my father and being able to tell our kids about my full self… I told him no,” she said. Even though she was living a life filled with love, life had something more for Myetie.

“I was on my way to Bible study, a Wednesday night and my aunt called me and said she just saw my dad on “World Series of Poker,” and I need to turn on the tv. I thought, “yeah, right. So, I had a couple of photos of him holding me when I was a baby, and as soon as I turned to the channel, and saw him…I saw his eyes. I knew he was my dad,” Myetie whispers as she’s brought to tears. It was predestined for her to know her father and to know herself fully. “Even though I would not have sought it, God knew what I needed. I embrace all of who I am. I unashamedly embrace the journey as well, what a beautiful journey it has been,” she said.

Birth of a Boss

Where there is faith there is fearlessness and Myetie faced the unknown with gratitude as her attitude. Her experience of finding her birth father had an impact on her early years of leadership. Myetie shared, “I became a mom at 33, and I was working for CPS already in a leadership position there, it changed me, just as a person. It was really a blessing that I was at a stage in my life at that time.” Reuniting with her father invited her to understand how the energy of expectations. It was a pivotal lesson in her life. “I never thought meeting my father would happen. But I think because of the sense of self that I have, and because of my personal walk with God I recognize everything happens in life for a reason,” she said.

Her perspective of this experience was less about anxiety of what she didn’t have and more about a new level of self-awareness experience helped her learn to go beyond expectations and work in the present moment. “I feel like in totality, I understand me better. And that is the gift. And that’s what changed,” she shared. In a challenging educational climate, in a city with so many economic and environmental inequities, a grounded visionary like Hamilton is making impacts that last for generations.

Uplifting Others

“My upbringing prepared me to be okay with being the only one in the room, lifting my voice. Oftentimes, I was the only Black woman amongst white male peers doing the work that I was doing on the leadership team,” said Hamilton. Finding her purpose connected her to positions of power and influence that she nurtured with intention but didn’t make it about herself. “I began to understand I wasn’t in spaces to tell my story, but I was in spaces to uplift the voices of others, and to share lived experiences of my people,” said Myetie. Having the right people around can be life changing. Her becoming more aware of how to be part of the solution can be traced back to the many mentors that guided her over the years.

“There are always key people in your life that help to cultivate who you are, even if it’s just a moment where they give a word of encouragement to you. My eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Maxwell, taught me to always look people in the eyes when speaking, and my high school counselor Dr. John West is really responsible for launching my entire career. Dr. West, he believed in me. I will never forget, he looked at me, he said, you are a star now go shine for me.” Myetie reflected openly. She believes in making connections for young people to have access and expo- sure, so that they can walk into their purpose. Myetie’s wish is to help youth build their networks, get apprenticeships and internships to help them get to the next level in life so they too can shine bright.

A Whole New Playground for her Purpose

“So…funny thing, I was not a day camp kid, but I lived in an apartment right across the street from Jack- son Park growing up with my mom and siblings,” said Myetie. Her memories outdoors as a child are what nourishes her passion for parks and green space to this day. “I feel like our green spaces are sacred, they’re safe havens,” Myetie said. With living right across from Lake Michigan she recalls, “when I would come home from college on break my mom and I would just take a walk on the lake and just talk, connect and catch up.” Much like those moments with her mother, the lakefront was her saving grace during Covid-19.

Myetie became aware of access issues to the outdoors, she re- members jumping at the chance to buy new bikes for herself and twin daughters Mia and MIlan, but only after weeks of waiting because they were on backorder. Like many other families she became aware of the few places on the south side of Chicago where one could even buy a bike to enjoy outside. Myetie didn’t know it, but she was in some way being groomed to apply pressure with her purpose for 3 million Chicagoans.

In late 2022 now outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot tapped her to join the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners where she now serves as the Board President. The Chicago Park District is made up of over 600 parks, 27 beaches, two boat dock harbors, two botanic conservatories, a zoo, 11 museums, 78 pools and over 230 field houses.

Her appointment was received with much energy as her history of service, and successful leadership in the educational space made her an ideal board member for one of the largest and oldest park districts in the United States. Hamilton is excited about her role and opportunity to make a change for families and businesses. “There’s so much opportunity with park district programming, I’m invested in increasing those opportunities, especially in Chicago’s most under-resourced areas,” she shared.

Myetie is on a Mission

In 2023 Black Chicago is faced with insurmountable challenges. Hamilton knows firsthand how hard it is for our communities to address intersecting issues like homelessness, which isn’t a new issue to her, 13% of CPS students experience some form of homelessness. Nonetheless Myetie is on an equity mission and unmoved in her purpose. “First and foremost, we have to do everything that we can to address homelessness. The parks are part of the issue and we do have a responsibility to lean in and help bring solutions. I communicate and work with Alderpeople and housing advocates and believe in 100% public access.

For some in our city the parks are fun and for others this is their home,” she gently states. What is also a priority is helping increase opportunities to create a lakefront economy that mirrors that of North Avenue Beach. “I think that the beaches on the south side should look just like those up north with resources, vendors, and restaurants. Yes, we do have that on 31st Street and we are seeing businesses at South Shore and Rainbow Beach now. Bringing equity to the parks applies to everyone,” she said.

As far as programming is concerned, she believes connecting to the needs of the community and preferences of teens is of the utmost importance. She is part of the development of pilot programs in Englewood and Austin realigning programming to match what the people want. Myetie shared, “we want to make sure we’re offering programming that our young people are interested in as well as expand the programs that are popular. Teens are into gaming for ex- ample. Participating at local parks can help kids develop skills, they can join teams and be employed too.” As it goes for sports Myetie is an avid swimmer but has become a fan of women’s basketball. When asked who would be on her dream team, she laughed….” Oh my god, this is so funny. I’ll definitely say Janice Jackson, Liz Thompson, Kim Fox, Myiti Sengstacke-Rice and Mijin Park.

She is on a winning team. She boasts about the phenomenal staff, coaches and employees that work alongside her. “Park district employees are some of the most passionate about what they do and resourceful. Those who take part in our special needs’ programs, or working with seniors I truly appreciate their dedication,” she said.

Tag You’re It

Myetie would love to see every park have representation of a Park Advisory Counciland encourages everyone to join in on making the parks and beaches exactly what they wish to see. “Get involved,” she says, “come to our board meetings, join a ParkAdvisory Council, become informed about the decisions being made at the parks and beaches.” She’s come this far trusting herself and always being ready to shine her light and lead the way, but she’s adamant this didn’t happen because she didit alone. “I would not be able to do the things that I do without my husband Marc. It is the truth,” she said.

One thing is for certain…Commissioner Hamilton is the truth herself.

Photo Credit:

About Author:

Dr. Mila Marshall is an environmental professional and journalist with a passion for advancing sustainability in all sectors. Her passion is directed towards urban food systems in segregated cities.



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