A celebration of our work


Featuring a conversation with award-winning writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Erikson Institute’s 2017 Annual Luncheon on October 18 drew more than 500 guests showing their support for our work to improve the lives of young children and their families.

The event, chaired by Erikson trustees Eric Adelstein and Ashley Hemphill Netzky, was an opportunity for members of the Erikson community along with notable leaders in the civic, business, and early childhood sectors, to gather and celebrate the impact of our work in Chicago and beyond.

This year’s luncheon raised nearly $1.1 million to support our academic programs, research, direct services, and leadership and policy initiatives.

“Rigorous, data-driven, evidenced-based methodologies are the Erikson way,” said John L. Hines Jr., chair of Erikson’s Board of Trustees. “Erikson is all about readying children for math and empowering them with language and reading skills—and about high performance. But at Erikson, the human being is always out front—as it needs to be, now, perhaps more than ever.

“Erikson grounds me, inspires me, and reminds me just how bright the future is. It is an honor to partner with you.”

Among the highlights was Coates’ conversation with another acclaimed writer, journalist Alex Kotlowitz, during which Coates shared his thoughts on issues including systematic racism and white supremacy in today’s political climate.

He also reflected his own role in society as a writer and intellectual tackling some of America’s most deep-seated prejudices. When Kotlowitz asked whether Coates has a message of hope, particularly as he gives talks at high schools, Coates questioned whether it is his job to provide hope or to tell the truth.

“I went to a charter school in Washington, D.C., and not a single student asked me for hope,” he said. “The work I do doesn’t always provide hope, but it provides enlightenment.”

Coates’ luncheon audience also included many youths, who attended as part of our Community Engagement Partners program. Thanks to the donor support, a dozen community organizations with youth-focused missions were able to send representatives to the luncheon and hear Coates speak.

In addition to the featured conversation, the luncheon included numerous reflections on the theme of identity and how each person’s is shaped by his or her experiences at a young age. In a video produced by AL Media, a diverse group of children shared their first memories and talked about what identity means to them. Watch the video

With a speech that touched on how her work with Erikson has shaped her own identity and worldview, life trustee and former board chair Susan Wislow accepted the Spirit of Erikson Institute Award for her longtime commitment to serving children. In presenting the award, Wislow’s daughters, Britney Wislow Waugh and Sundee Wislow, talked about their mother’s experiences as a Chicago Public Schools gym teacher and recalled how she once told them that “she grew new rooms in her heart for her love to grow.”

The theme of identity wasn’t just about sharing memories, though—it was also about taking an active role in ensuring children have early experiences that have a positive impact in the long term.

“At Erikson Institute, we are determined to create positive experiences for young children,” said Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, Erikson’s president and chief executive officer. “We have done this every day for over 50 years. In doing so, we influence the identities of thousands of children each year and help shape who they become.

“I want to thank all of you for being here today and for believing in our work.”