ʻA Cornerstone of Hopeʼ
By Linsey Maughan

Public service—and Chicago—run in Myetie Hamilton’s blood. At 48, Hamilton (M.P.P.A. ’03) serves as vice president and executive director of City Year Chicago and as board president of the Chicago Park District. Rewind to her childhood, and you’ll find the first-born daughter of a teenage mother growing up in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of South Shore.

Hamilton was a child who found inspiration in her family: in her young mother’s resilience and determination; in her grandmother, who she says embodied “elegance, grace, and strength”; and in her grandfather, whose steps Hamilton would ultimately follow.

“I was fortunate to have my first mentor in my home, and that was my grandfather,” she says. “My grandfather was a service man, a man of the people. He was a courageous advocate. When I was a young girl, I experienced my grandfather as a fierce and compassionate leader in his role as the vice president of a labor union for health care workers. My grandfather had an impeccable work ethic. It wasn’t as much what he said, but what he modeled. He was one of the most brilliant people I knew.”

Among his accomplishments, Hamilton’s grandfather, James W. Mykes, founded Provident Foundation, a nonprofit that “helps under-resourced youth of color achieve their dreams of becoming medical practitioners,” Hamilton says. After he passed away in 2012, Hamilton became a board member and board chair of the organization, a position she still holds.

The oldest of four children, Hamilton attended college at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, where she majored in business, in part, because she first perceived her grandfather as a businessman. Eventually, she recognized that his work was truly in service to others, and she sought to emulate his commitment to excellence as well.

“I was taught that what matters is what you do when no one’s looking,” Hamilton says. “I think of it as how I show up; I think it’s representative of who I am. No matter what I’m doing I try to give it my all, my 150 percent.”

After college, Hamilton moved back to Chicago, where a former high school guidance counselor helped her land a finance internship at Chicago Public Schools.

“My entire career at Chicago Public Schools launched from that internship. I was a business manager intern for a year, and by the end of that year I had three job offers,” Hamilton says. “I ended up taking a full-time role as a business manager at a school on the South Side.”

“She’s one of those people who you can’t say no to because she’s very competent, she’s very respectful of people, but she also has high ideals of how the world could be,”
—Bill Gerstein

Hamilton’s career with CPS would span close to two decades. She rose through the ranks, starting in 1999 as manager of school business support services and by 2009 holding the title of chief officer for CPS’s Business Services Center. The office provided business consultation and operational support services to principals and administrative staff in schools across the district and was the first-ever shared services model to be launched at CPS.

“That was one of the greatest achievements in my career, and it was centered around supporting principals so they could focus more on classroom instruction, so they could make sure that teachers and children were successful,” Hamilton says.

Among those school principals was Bill Gerstein, who first worked with Hamilton when he was principal of Austin Polytechnical Academy High School, now known as Austin College and Career Academy High School. Gerstein now serves as a board member at City Year, and Hamilton describes him as a champion mentor to her, stemming from those years at CPS.

“She’s one of those people who you can’t say no to because she’s very competent, she’s very respectful of people, but she also has high ideals of how the world could be,” Gerstein says. “Not everybody is like that, and some people who say that don’t really [follow through]. But Myetie is really able to make it happen.”

Eventually, Hamilton became chief officer of the School Support Center at CPS, then chief of staff, and finally deputy chief of schools, a role she held from 2014 through 2017.

During Hamilton’s stint as deputy chief, she hired Kendall Straughter to serve as a program coordinator of attendance, culture, and climate.

“I met her when I hadn’t completed my undergrad degree,” Straughter says. “As my mentor and also my supervisor, she engaged a space where she was able to really get to know me personally and identified that I could use some mentorship. She encouraged me to go back to undergrad and finish my degree. I wasn’t very confident, and she challenged me to think bigger. It’s not only the ability to transform the workplace—she has this ability to really love on you and help you think differently. For me she has been a cornerstone of hope to really push forward.”

With Hamilton’s encouragement, Straughter completed his undergraduate degree and is now pursuing his master’s degree in social work at the University of Chicago. He now serves as dean of students of the Lower School at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and has adopted two sons.

“The same investment that Myetie provides to me, I provide to them,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to have her in my space, but she also makes me feel like she is fortunate to have me.”

Having recently left CPS for other opportunities, Hamilton wasn’t planning to make a career move in 2019. But when an opening at City Year Chicago arose, it was too enticing to pass up. City Year is a national nonprofit that places AmeriCorps members in schools to provide near-peer mentoring, tutoring, and social-emotional support to students to help keep them on track to graduate. All AmeriCorps members working with City Year Chicago provide support to CPS schools.

“Service is really tied to my heartbeat, and [City Year Chicago offers] a dual reward of really [honing] the next generation of civic change agents and supporting young people in 27 schools across the city,” Hamilton says. “This was a perfect tie-in and fit for me to still have that incredible impact on students but also to invest in our future leaders.”

What she couldn’t have anticipated, as she was joining City Year Chicago, was the forthcoming pandemic and its impact on education.

“In leading [City Year] through the pandemic, nothing fell to the wayside from the standpoint of our financial stability and value proposition,” Hamilton says. “We were able to rebound from the first year. We were identified as an essential partner organization with CPS, so our services never stopped. We were able to support teachers and students in the virtual space, and then we were working along with teachers and principals when CPS transferred back into in-person learning.”

Emerging from the pandemic, City Year Chicago has been recruiting its AmeriCorps workforce at a faster pace than any other branch of the national organization, starting the school year with 143 AmeriCorps members supporting CPS students.

“None of this would have been possible without the grace and favor of God and the hard work and commitment of my incredible staff, corps members, and the executive board at City Year Chicago,” Hamilton says. “I’m really proud of not only what we’ve been able to accomplish during a time of challenge that I think no one could ever imagine, but of being a part of a powerful service-minded and socially conscious community where we all share a common understanding and belief in equity and the power of service—supporting others and uplifting young people.”

Hamilton continues to meet her desire to serve in other capacities. In September 2021 Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed her as a commissioner of the park district. In February 2022 Hamilton became board president.

“This is an opportunity to establish a stronger, more accountable park district and governance structure,” Hamilton says. “We’re the third-largest parks facility and park district in the nation. This is so closely related to expanding opportunities for young people, providing more options around activities and curbing violence.”

For now, Hamilton, who lives in Bronzeville with her husband and twin daughters, says she remains committed to the city of Chicago, and to public service and philanthropy.

“Myetie, I don’t think, has much of a ceiling. Whatever she wants to do,“ Gerstein says, “she’ll be really good at it.”