Notable Native: Grace Hou

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Courtesy Pidgeon Pagonis

Grace Hou, president of Woods Fund Chicago, 35 E Wacker Place. 

By Kaci Watt

When Grace Hou started college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she had her heart set on a career in journalism. She said she never expected to one day devote herself to social justice.

Hou is now the president of Woods Fund Chicago, a grant-making foundation whose mission is rooted in the promotion of social, economic and racial justice by community organizing and public policy advocacy.

The Chronicle spoke with Hou on her work with Woods Fund Chicago, the organization’s impact and her career.

THE CHRONICLE: How did you get involved with Woods Fund?

HOU: I started at Woods Fund in 2012. Before that, I worked as the assistant secretary at the Illinois Department of Human Services for almost 10 years. My involvement and role as the president of Woods Fund Chicago is a continuation of the thread that has run through my career that has been about the promotion of social and racial justice.

What are some of the changes you strive for with Woods Fund?

We think it’s most important for those who are most impacted by injustice and  inequitiesto be driving for change in their own communities. Woods Fund is not funding organizations to drive one particular issue or one particular policy change, but rather, the outcome is more engagement for folks who are traditionally marginalized or unheard. The goal is to lift up the voices of those communities. Another outcomeWoods Fund is devoted to is to analyze and understand how race plays into a lot of the inequities we see in our city, state and country. Unless we deliberately unravel and understand how institutional and structural racism plays into the outcomes of people, we don’t think long-term change can actually happen.

Have you had a moment in your career in which you could see the change because of your work?

Recently, we have supported a coalition to end monetary bonds at Cook County. We—with other foundations—have supported this coalition, and they have made significant progress over the past couple of years in winning tangible changes to the way that poor people are bailed out of Cook County Jail. [But] it is important to remember that every change does not happen in the same way and in the same time frame. We have been able to see how things can progress [and]  be more equitable if there is a concerted effort to organize and advocate.

What advice would you give a young college student who wishes to explore a career in a change organization?

Get active politically, because that is how I became introduced [to] the change sector. Working on a political campaign is the hardest thing you can do from my vantage point—physically, mentally [and] emotionally. It’s inspirational, [but] it can be devastating at the same time. It’s a valuable experience to work on political campaigns and understand what it looks like for the inside because it has so much importance in what happens in a democracy like ours.