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Lawrence Benito: The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award

For his work fighting for the dignity, respect and recognition of immigrants and refugees, which in turn affects the quality of life in neighborhoods across the city, Lawrence Benito of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) is the 2014 winner of The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award.

As an immigrant worker in California in the early 1930s, Lawrence Benito’s grandfather was regularly greeted with signs saying “no Filipinos allowed.” Benito’s parents, who arrived in Chicago from the Philippines nearly three decades later, took their own share of risks to establish a better life in America. Their experiences and struggles weren’t lost on young Lawrence as he grew up in the Ravenswood neighborhood, earning an economics degree from Marquette University and a master’s in social work from Chicago’s Loyola University.

Indeed, they shaped his worldview to the degree that 12?years ago he joined the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant?and Refugee Rights – an umbrella for a coalition of 135 organizations that reflect the diversity of the local immigrant community – and in 2012 became its CEO.

Founded in the wake of the 1986 program to grant undocumented workers legal status, ICIRR strives to improve the quality of life for immigrants through organizing, policy work and citizenship services. With 32 staff members, it’s a powerful force in the national fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

In the last decade, ICIRR has engaged in effective organizing and voter registration drives, resulting in significant immigrant clout in electoral politics. It has organized major marches and demonstrations and has been a strong and persistent advocate of immigrant rights. “Immigrants don’t want to wait for other people to fight for them,” said Benito. “They want to fight for themselves.”

Moved by the immigrant and refugee voices that are finally being heard and bolstered by the recent victory in the statehouse granting undocumented immigrants the right to obtain drivers licenses, Benito knows that ICIRR’s work will go beyond the day that comprehensive immigration reform is won.

The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award was created to honor legendary banker Norm Bobins and to inspire others to emulate his commitment to community and civic life. The award recognizes an emerging leader at a non-profit community development organization who has enhanced his or her own organization and demonstrated the potential to become an innovative and influential leader in the field of community development.