Announcing Our New Senior Director of Programs: Robert White

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By Hannah Kucharzak

Read Time 4 minutes
September 21, 2023

Illinois Humanities is renowned for its excellent programs, from grantmaking to educational opportunities and public programming that engage our communities in deeply impactful ways. Ahead of our organization’s 50th anniversary, Robert “Bobby” White is joining our team as Senior Director of Programs, where he’ll bolster our robust programs and broaden our efforts throughout Illinois.

Bobby comes to us most recently from the Cara Collective, where he designed and implemented strategies that fueled sustainable and impactful growth as Chief Program Officer. We were eager to sit down and chat with Bobby about his perspective on what it means to be a steward in the ecosystem of the humanities.

Q: What drew you to Illinois Humanities' programs?

I was drawn to Illinois Humanities’ work because I firmly believe in the power of the humanities for both individuals and communities to connect, inspire, empower, and evolve perspectives about what’s possible. The more I learned about Illinois Humanities, the more it became clear to me that building bridges through cultivating supportive, relationship-based discourse is an incredible way to harness that power.

Q: What does the term “the humanities” mean to you?

For me, the definition of “the humanities” has always been centered more in its applied realm than its philosophical one. The dynamic and ever-evolving collective conversation to understand the human experience through reflection and expression calls us to tackle society’s challenges together. When we elevate and celebrate the humanities there’s an inherent implication to combat alienation, isolation, and exclusion. In this regard, the humanities, public humanities in particular, are vital to dismantling oppressive systems and realizing equity.

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Q: I love that your passion for the humanities blossomed when you studied literature and creative writing at the University of Michigan. Throughout the years since, how have the humanities shown up in your life?

Since studying the humanities at the University of Michigan, I’ve consistently relied on this background as a basis for promoting emotional well-being and collaborative problem-solving. Through engaging with the humanities, we as people are more equipped to tackle big ideas together because we understand ourselves and others better and we’re tapping into our best, open, and creative selves in the process. In my experience organizing others around difficult objectives, tapping into the humanities has proven to be a healthy gateway into spaces where there’s unity in plurality, and individuals’ differences are alchemized into the strength of diversity.

Q: What are you most excited about, looking ahead?

I’m excited to work with such a clearly talented and passionate team as we continue to build clarity and alignment for a vision for Illinois Humanities’ future that is grounded in the soul and wisdom of all that we’ve already been so successful with across the state. I love the approach we’ve been embracing of “growing through deepening” and it inspires me to dive right into the work of collaboratively fortifying our structures and approach so that our day-to-day priorities are aligned toward a clear shared north star.

Learn more about Bobby White

Robert White (Bobby/Bob) (he/him/his) is a dynamic and strategic leader with a deep commitment to community, equity, and inclusion. He has over 15 years of experience in workforce development and social enterprise, most recently as Chief Program Officer at Cara Collective, where he designed and implemented strategies that fueled sustainable and impactful growth. In 2016, he built an affiliate platform that launched Cara’s national expansion beyond Chicagoland. He developed and codified the program’s approach and theory of change, focusing on lasting employment success through reflection, iteration, and self-actualization.

Bobby grew up in the Philippines and Michigan but is proud to be an Illinoisan since 2004. His passion for the humanities began in Ann Arbor at The University of Michigan, where he majored in creative writing and literature. His time there laid the foundation for his enduring affinity for the humanities as a driver for connection and public discourse.

He was honored to be a fellow in the inaugural cohort of The University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy where he broadened his perspectives through the depth of connections in diverse contexts, including a global practicum in South Africa.

Beyond the professional realm, he finds solace and inspiration through every genre of music, the world of baseball, and the great outdoors. He lives in Bridgeport with his two truest teachers: his children, aged 12 and 9.