Revitalizing a Chicago community through equitable opportunities
By Charles Smith
June 29, 2022
Malcolm X was a champion of transformation. He advocated for social, economic and individual evolution within the Black community, the Muslim community and his personal life. Through education, he learned that his voice mattered and that our collective voices—guided by vision and determination—can ignite positive change for all.
When Black residents on Chicago’s West Side petitioned to rename the local community college after Malcolm X in 1969, it was a plea for change. The community was enduring the impact of economic disinvestment and initiating new efforts to change the trajectory of the future. The inherent promise of a school named after Malcolm X was to deliver an educational environment that embodies a sense of community, resilience, confidence and achievement. It would mark the beginning of a transformative period for the school and the West Side community.
Malcolm X College (MXC) experienced a big wave of change in 2016. In response to community voices and a deeply felt need for adequate local resources, MXC was restructured to be a hub for accessible career-oriented healthcare education and training. To accompany the overhaul, the City Colleges of Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel commissioned a new state-of-the-art facility to serve as the school’s new campus.
Alongside Moody Nolan, the nation’s largest Black-owned architecture firm and Architect of Record on the project, our planning and design team embarked on a joint effort to create a new facility that empowers underrepresented students and serves as a beacon of opportunity for residents. Now, six years later, the school is living up to its promise—and beyond.
From 2016 to 2020, Malcolm X College led the City Colleges of Chicago network and the state of Illinois in enrollment growth and is now the city’s highest-enrolled community college.
Across all its programs, the facility has enabled the combining of didactic instruction and experiential learning to meet the needs of students. The result is a graduation rate that has more than tripled.
The school’s nursing program—designed in partnership with neighboring Rush University Medical Center and other clinical affiliates—is now fully accredited and provides the training students need to be an asset to an employer of choice on day one. With an increased pass rate from 79 percent to 94 percent since 2015, the program offers a direct route to upwardly mobile careers in healthcare.
With forward-looking classroom designs that support various teaching and learning methodologies, MXC was able to expand its general studies and adult education programs. School leaders recommitted to equitable education by creating more pathways to life-sustaining careers, and beyond that, their efforts since opening have secured more than $15M in grant funding to help address tuition as a barrier.
And there’s more happening outside of the classroom to impact lives.
An onsite food pantry—operated in partnership with the Greater Chicago Food Depository—provides students and their families with fresh produce, quality meat and various non-perishable food items free of charge. The school’s wellness center offers a myriad of services that address students’ holistic well-being in a safe and familiar environment. Extending the school’s reach into the community, a dental hygiene clinic on the building’s ground floor serves as a training facility and community amenity that has served more than 7,000 patients, many with little to no insurance. There is also a multi-room conference center that hosts public gatherings and community activities throughout the year.
Since opening its new facility six years ago, Malcolm X College has upheld its promise to uplift its students and residents of the West Side. With centralized student support services and installations such as the Social Justice Wing, MXC has built a culture that empowers students to not only achieve their academic goals but also to move boldly in the direction of their dreams. In a community that had become all too familiar with neglect, residents now have easy access to resources that can change the trajectory of their lives. The legacy and ideals of Malcolm X have become the fabric of the institution.
For students and the surrounding community, Malcolm X College is delivering the change we hope to see in underserved neighborhoods across the nation.
About the author: Charles Smith is the co-director of CannonDesign's education practice.