By Elizabeth Sayasane
When Darius Ballinger went looking for ways to advance his professional life, he did not have to look far from home to take advantage of the opportunities at the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy. Ballinger is the founder and executive director of Chasing 23 Youth Empowerment Group, an organization working to build unity and introduce life-skills to Chicago’s young people. He knew that in order to go further with his organization, he needed to learn new leadership frameworks and build upon his skills in persuasion, negotiation and goal-setting. Ballinger was accepted into CLA’s fifth cohort and recently graduated from the six month program. Darius’s organization Chasing 23 is also in the University of Chicago's Community Programs Accelerator’s Associates program.
Ballinger said he has always had a burning desire to create real change. “Growing up in the states, growing up in a global city like Chicago, you’re really influenced by social movements and for-profit ventures that could really benefit the community at large,” he said. “I think there’s been moments of obligation along the way that have made me really step into the space that I’m in now.”
These “moments of obligation” were instances where his desire to lead was affirmed, such as when studying his grandparents’ history migrating to Chicago or losing a friend to domestic violence. These moments called him to bring positive change to his community and the world – and Chasing 23 allowed him to pursue this challenge.
The direct service work done within Chasing 23 helps individuals with soft skills and technical skills navigate larger society. One of his goals is to build and create infrastructure within the community that can be sustained organically.
Ballinger’s work seeks to instill value in diversity across gender, race, and sexual orientation. “If we start to look at our lives and our world as a beautiful bed of flowers, that each thing, though it’s different, has beauty, then our society and our communities will thrive,” he said.