During conversations with older Black leaders, Chicago political strategist Alex Sims learned that many of them want to pass on knowledge and career advice to younger generations, but wasn’t sure how to go about doing so. 

The Black Bench is Alex Sims’ way of bridging that generational gap.

Together with program co-director Ronnie Mosley, Sims launched a new program last week called The Black Bench, an initiative designed to cultivate new Black leaders by imbuing them with skills in various areas of public affairs including governance and community organizing. The six-month fellowship features workshops based on themes such as “organizing vs. The Machine,” the legislative process and more. 

A coalition of Black politicians, community organizers and leaders in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds comprise the advisory board, including Jonathan T. Swain, an election commissioner with the city’s Board of Election Commissioners, and Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union. 

Sims, 33, envisions The Black Bench as a way for older Black generations to cultivate and train up Black millennials, who will impact the future, whether that be in public office, as activists, as business people or whatever their preferred area of impact may be. The application deadline for The Black Bench is Jan. 31. Apply here

“Ronnie and I kind of bring different backgrounds, but we’re both organizers, who really care about the black community,” Sims says. 

Although she’s a Detroit native, Sims graduated from Northwestern University and went on to work on Obama’s 2012 campaign in St. Louis as the Missouri State Coordinator, labor organizing in Chicago last year for SEIU Healthcare and with former city Treasurer Kurt Summers as the campaign manager for his 2014 election campaign.

In 2018, Sims started her own consulting firm, called APS and Associates, which boasts clients such as The Obama Foundation and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. She’s also worked on both the 2016 and 2020 election campaigns and handles PR for State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

On Jan. 25, The TRiiBE spoke to Sims about how the idea for The Black Bench came to be, what they are looking for in potential applicants, and how their programming will deliver on their stated goals.

Q: What triggered the thought that something like The Black Bench was necessary, and how did that thought develop into what you have now?

A: I was having conversations with Ronnie Mosley— who’s a co-program director on The Black Bench— about how we know there’s a lot of people in our generation who want to run for office, who want to fill these gaps in the public affairs sector, like working in government, or even working for a corporation doing legislative affairs.  [They] don’t always have all the skills that we need in order to make those things happen. 

Ronnie and I were also having conversations with folks of a generation above us, and a generation above them, who say that they want to pass on those skills that they’ve learned but they don’t know how. So we decided to bring together this advisory board to teach this next generation, our generation, some of the skills that they’ve learned over time. It’s really exciting, because I think that there’s been other mechanisms for other generations in the past, but there doesn’t seem to be a strong one in place for us.

Q: What does the program entail, and who will applicants be learning from?

A: They’ll be learning from everyone on the advisory board. That includes people like Jonathan Swain (Chicago Board of Elections), Xavier Ramey (Justice Informed), Anton Seals (Grow Greater Englewood), and Stacy Davis Gates (CTU). I think that it’s important to acknowledge that the advisory board is made up of Black folks all across the political spectrum. Some of them don’t even get along, but they all came together to train this next generation. It’s a six-month program that goes all over the public affairs sector. It’s training in skill sets like how to analyze voter data, how to manage a city budget, how to collect petitions and how to deal with special interest in the labor sector. 

Q: What are you looking for in terms of applicants? Are there any specific requirements?

A: We’re targeting millennials ages 25-45. We’re also looking for people who are successful in their discipline. That can look like a lot of different things. It can be that you’re an activist and you’re very successful in that area. Or maybe a lawyer who’s very successful in that area. 

This program is for Black people who want to make an impact in public affairs and have found some success in their particular discipline. The advisory board is going to select the cohort. Right now we’re looking for 15 to 20 people, but because we’ve had such great responses, we may need to make it a bigger cohort. Depending upon how everything goes, we may need to do this next year and the following year as well.

Q: How do these elements contribute to the objective stated online of "create, communicate, and carry out solutions to social justice and other challenges in Chicago's Black Community"?

A: The advisory board is going to be meeting to make sure that the training helps serve the applicants best, but at the end of the day, we’re hoping that the applicants use their final module session to talk about their next steps, and how they can support each other, and our community moving forward. Not exactly a capstone, but a plan and commitment that they will undertake. 

It’s also a task in itself, when you connect these communities of people. These people don’t all know each other or work together, even the Advisory Council. I think it’s important for our community to know, representation matters, and even if sometimes we don’t share the same views on how to get to the result, we’re all committed to the result of Black empowerment.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.