Perry says the skills she is gaining in the EMP program have been vital in her devotion to public service.
Headshot of Chakena Perry
Chakena Perry

Chakena Perry is passionate about bringing community voice to the policy-making process and reimaging how our civic institutions can function using an equity lens. “We need more people like me, from working class backgrounds, who aren’t afraid to be bold and push the needle on what policy can entail and the people it should reach.”

An avid community organizer and environmental steward, Perry keeps up an extensive civic engagement calendar serving as Chairwoman of the Cook County Young Democrats, Board President of Chicago Votes Action Fund, and a Board member for Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. “Regardless of my position, I’m passionate about engaging with constituencies that lie outside of the governmental process—young people, women, people of color—and creating opportunities to bring those voices in and expand who sits at the table.”

A first-generation college student, Perry attended Connecticut College as a Posse Scholar “with every intention of coming back to Chicago to help our neighborhoods thrive again and provide opportunities for more young people to dream big and succeed.” Majoring in history and earning a certificate in public policy and social action, Perry credits her college years for furthering her interests in voting rights advocacy and civic engagement: “College was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It empowered me to identify problems, ask the right questions, and work with the communities impacted by those issues to craft solutions.”

Prior to her current position, Perry served on J.B. Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign and as deputy press secretary in the office of communications at Chicago Public Schools [CPS] – positions that allowed her to engage with different stakeholders from the perspective of a former CPS student and to understand the intricacies of Chicago politics. Perry currently works as commissioner’s aide in the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD), a position that has deepened her knowledge of green infrastructure, flood mitigation, and government contracting.

In addition to her full-time job and busy civic engagement schedule, Perry is an Evening Master’s Program student at Harris. She said her favorite class so far in the program has been data analytics, as it’s allowed her to rethink strategic planning processes at MWRD and feel equipped to ask the right questions at office meetings. “I wanted to find a program where I could balance school, work, and my passion projects. I’ve found that I can apply every single class topic immediately to what I’m doing outside of the classroom.” In addition to her coursework, Perry is involved in Harris’ Energy and Environmental Policy Student Group, where she hopes to center conversation and programming around communities of color.

Despite attending classes virtually, Perry says there have been ample opportunities to get to know her cohort on a deep level. She values that fellow students want to use the program’s coursework to improve the quality of life of people in Chicago and the surrounding areas. Regarding the rigor of the curriculum, Perry remarked that “the coursework will challenge you and push you to think differently. At the same time, it gives you the balance that you need to live in the moment and to think about your post-program plans without feeling overwhelmed.”

As for her professional goals, Perry is currently exploring a run for public office. Harris has been key in her campaign journey, as Perry believes “it’s important that elected officials have a strong grasp of public policy.”