Gun violence in Chicago is nothing new, but the levels it has climbed to in the last few years has gotten every citizen and politicians’ attention. With murder rates peaking at 770 in 2016, the good news is the rate seems to be slowing in 2018, with 330 murders through July.
Still, just over 275 people were shot and killed in the city this year, with more than 1,700 shot. Based on these statistics, the days of Al Capone don’t look so remote.
A couple of years ago, Rick Meyers, managing director at Bernstein Wealth Management in Chicago, was talking to a colleague about what was happening in the city, and said, “Why don’t we do something to make this our issue?” They assembled people from the firm and discussed “what to do.”
“What to do” turned into setting up meetings and roundtable events to introduce community leaders to private citizens and/or clients who also had the desire to eradicate gun violence, and “Creating a Safer Chicago: The Ripple Effect” was born.
“If you live in Chicago and look around, you know there is an issue,” Meyers explains. “Our clients care about this city, they care about the people, but [gun violence] is such a large issue that people don’t necessarily know how to [help].”
He points out that there are many organizations that are doing good work, but many are siloed in what they do.
“But all of them are impacted in one way, shape or form by the issue of gun violence,” he says. “You can’t think about poverty and not think about gun violence. You can’t think about early intervention and not think about gun violence. You can’t think about unemployment and not think about gun violence. You can’t think about how kids get to school every day and not think about gun violence. We don’t harbor under the illusion that we can wave a magic wand and gun violence will go away.
“But if we connect organizations with each other and connect people who care with organizations, then it is like the proverbial pebble in the water, which creates a ripple effect. And that really is the idea behind what we wanted to do, because you can’t be involved in this city, or with people who care about this issue, and not try to figure out a way to do something about it,” he adds.
Meyers, with his colleagues, worked to set up a yearly conference for clients and others who were interested, as well as set up smaller workshops and introductions. Some of the organizations who spoke at these meetings included the Heartland Alliance, which helps fight poverty, the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, the employment agency Leave No Veteran Behind and BLUE|1647, a tech incubator that operates in challenged communities.
Although Meyers’ team connected clients with these organizations, the groups started working together, for example, Leave No Veteran Behind worked with the Boys and Girls Club to help with safe passage and working with at-risk youth. Clients pitched in, and in fact joined some organization boards.
“I want to be clear that we are not advising clients specifically to get involved in one organization or another,” Meyers says. “Further, we’re not advising clients that gun violence is an issue they should care about. But we are providing a forum because we think it’s an important issue for those clients who care about this issue and want to connect.”
Meyers has been with Bernstein since 2001, and says the job is a perfect mesh with his psychology major from Hamilton College and MBA from Kellogg. “Little did I know that was going to be such an important factor in my ultimate career path,” he says.
“Being on the personal side [of the business] just clicked … Money is a vehicle to accomplish different things and whether the individual cares most about having money to finance their life or they [want to have] money to endow people or causes that they care about, and understanding how that all winds together and how people make decisions about their life — that’s fascinating to me,” Meyers explains.
Another subject of which he’s a strong advocate is socially responsible investing. “It’s hard to deny that there is a massive sea change underway in our industry — any firm or individual advisor ignores it at their own peril.”
Meyers points out that one in every four dollars managed today is under some type of socially responsible mandate — a 33% compounded annual growth rate since 2014. “And it is projected to accelerate,” he says, adding that a recent study found that 67% ofinvestors under age 49 care about the issue, and a TIAA study showed that 76% of investors under 35 care about socially responsible investing.
“One notion that people have to be disabused of is that you need to make a tradeoff between profits and purpose, but if you look at recent performance of purpose-driven portfolios, certainly ours, they’ve actually done quite well,” he said, adding that people don’t just want “ethereal psychic gratification” of thinking they’re doing good but they want to know how their money is doing.
“At the end of the day we believe that responsible investing is smart investing.”
Meyers’ outside interests run deep in Americana and history, being a fan of Elvis Presley (yes, he’s been to Graceland), as well as a Civil War buff. “Elvis is fascinating, right?” he says. “He clearly represents a time or watershed event in American history or at least American pop culture. He was a tragically flawed individual with immense talent, a sort of modern-day Greek tragedy.”
Meyers also believes the Civil War “was the defining event in the history of our country. … We said the Union is not dissolvable and millions upon millions of people’s lives were impacted one way or another.” One of his favorite books is “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and he found “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance “eye opening.”
Getting back to his quest to reduce gun violence, Meyers is glad that 2018 has seen a reduction in gun crime, but he is realistic. “There’s been a relatively modest but important directional change in terms of violence in the city,” he says.
“But there’s not one answer: There’s policing response and a service response, but we’ve got more work to do,” he explains. “One way to measure this is just in violence statistics, but I wouldn’t have so much hubris to suggest that we played anything more than a small role here.”
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