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Cory Thames inspires change in the Windy City

How a dedicated Chicagoan is transforming communities through government, nonprofits, and public affairs

Cory Thames, a true son of Chicago, has made it his mission to give back to the community that raised him. With roots deeply embedded in the city, Thames’ journey is a testament to the power of dedication, service, and a relentless pursuit of positive change. Born and raised in Chicago, Thames’ professional and personal endeavors have always been driven by a commitment to his community. His career, spanning various roles in government and nonprofit sectors, reflects his unwavering dedication to making a difference.

Championing community and policy

Thames’ career is as diverse as it is impactful. From working in the mayor’s office on government affairs to leading community engagement for the Obama Foundation, his roles have always centered around enhancing the lives of Chicago’s residents. Leading government affairs for the Chicago Department of Aviation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thames showcased his ability to navigate complex challenges and deliver results. Now, as the head of his own public affairs firm, he blends lobbying, community engagement strategy, and political strategy to continue driving positive change.

Beyond his professional roles, Thames’ commitment to service is evident in his board memberships. Appointed by the Governor to the Board of Trustees of Chicago State University, he also chairs the South Shore Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and serves on the boards of Youth Guidance and Emerald South. His involvement in these organizations underscores his dedication to fostering growth and development within Chicago’s communities.

Thames credits his grandparents, who migrated from rural Mississippi to Chicago in the 1950s, for instilling in him the value of service. Their teachings, coupled with his experiences, have shaped his approach to community engagement. Despite the challenges that come with service — often a thankless job requiring immense patience — Thames remains steadfast. He believes in the power of creativity and the need to challenge the status quo to bring about systemic change.

Balancing his professional responsibilities with self-care, Thames emphasizes the importance of maintaining mental and emotional well-being. He advocates for therapy and other self-care practices as essential tools in sustaining one’s ability to serve effectively. His approach is a blend of faith, therapy, and continuous learning, enabling him to stay resilient and impactful in his work.

Making a mark with the Obama Presidential Center

One of Thames notable achievements is his work with the Obama Foundation. Joining the team in 2018, he led community engagement and government affairs during a critical time. The construction of the Obama Presidential Center, a $750 million investment in Chicago’s south side, was met with significant public discourse and concerns about displacement and gentrification. Through inclusive and strategic community engagement, Thames played a pivotal role in developing a community benefits ordinance that addressed these concerns, ensuring that the investment benefits the local communities.

The Obama Presidential Center stands out not just as a museum but as a community hub, featuring public spaces, an athletic center, and a branch of the Chicago Public Library. Its design reflects a commitment to fostering community interaction and support, a testament to Thames’ vision of inclusive development.

A renaissance man with a vision

In addition to his public service, Thames is an author and podcast host. His children’s book, “Every Kid’s a Superhero,” is an affirmational poem aimed at inspiring young readers to dream big and believe in their potential. The book has resonated not only with children but also with adults who find its message uplifting.

Thames’ podcast, initially broadcast through CAN TV and now moving to a new platform, captures the stories of leaders across various sectors in Chicago. By highlighting their journeys, triumphs, and struggles, the podcast provides valuable insights and inspiration for listeners.

Thames’ story is one of relentless service, community commitment, and personal growth. Through his various roles and initiatives, he has made significant contributions to Chicago’s development, demonstrating the profound impact of dedicated public service. For those inspired by his journey, following his work on social media provides a glimpse into the ongoing efforts and initiatives that continue to shape the city. As Thames aptly puts it, life is too short to be bound to one thing — his multifaceted approach to service and creativity is a testament to this belief, inspiring others to pursue their passions with fidelity and purpose.

AI assisted in summarizing this episode of Equity in Focus.

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