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Featured Philanthropist: Irika Sargent

Irika Sargent is a familiar face on CBS 2 Chicago news, and she’s an integral part of ChicagoCAC events like the Luminary Award Dinner – Sargent will be the emcee at this year’s event in April. This month, Irika talks with us about her role as a history-maker and how being on our Board since last year has given her a new understanding of the issues surrounding child sexual abuse.

How did you first connect with ChicagoCAC? What keeps you engaged here?

I was first introduced to ChicagoCAC in Spring 2018, when our then General Manager/President at CBS Chicago, Marty Wilke, asked me to emcee the Luminary Award Dinner. I quickly learned about the great impact ChicagoCAC has on children and their families in Chicago. That night and to this day, I am so inspired to contribute to their mission of healing and protecting children from abuse. I continue to stay engaged because ChicagoCAC, through their dedicated team, truly helps thousands of children. So I want to support them in any way I can.

Your background and your current job are fascinating – you have been a practicing labor and employment lawyer and of course, you currently are a very visible journalist and news anchor. What inspired you to choose those paths? And how did you evolve to where you are now? 

I wanted to be a journalist to objectively investigate injustices, report the stories impacting communities and share the lives of inspiring people. I felt that having a legal background could help me in researching stories and navigating the legal issues that often arise when getting interviews and writing stories. I also wanted to provide legal analysis on significant court cases I cover.

What’s the most inspiring thing your connection with ChicagoCAC has produced?

It’s hard to choose just one!  I’m thankful to be able to amplify the message of ChicagoCAC and raise money to continue the work by serving as emcee each year at the Luminary Award Dinner and recently A Night of Heroes. 

During the first few months of the pandemic I was able to help share the importance of ChicagoCAC and how they were working, sometimes remotely, to help children.  Since so many kids were no longer in classrooms, signs of abuse that may have been flagged by teachers and other school staff were likely going unnoticed. This is something I hadn’t considered as a potential impact of the pandemic until Char Rivette, ChicagoCAC’s Executive Director, told me about it.  I then shared this challenge with my CBS Chicago colleagues so we could report on it and ChicagoCAC’s efforts to heal children during the pandemic. 

Just last month, I learned of a family who said their developmentally disabled son was sexually assaulted in a Chicago Public School bathroom by another student. The family sued CPS alleging they covered up the crime and blamed their child.  I interviewed the family without revealing their identities and more than 400,000 people across the country saw the reports.  After the story aired, the family was able to obtain a settlement from CPS with the help of their lawyer.

While I’ve covered stories like this in the past, my involvement with ChicagoCAC has made me consider even more how sexual abuse affects people’s lives.  I want to bring greater visibility to the issue of child sexual abuse and its impact, and I appreciate that this family felt like they could trust me to tell their story. 

Often when we ask this question, we’re asking it of business and corporate leaders, but CBS obviously has a role in shaping and creating Chicago’s community and conversations around it. What do you and CBS consider when you think about supporting causes and community? 

At CBS Chicago, we are dedicated to what we call the Three C’s: Content, Culture and Community. In all of that, we want to make a difference by featuring the diverse aspects of our city in our newscasts and partnering with nonprofit organizations to promote their work. That has included running PSAs for ChicagoCAC. I also seek out organizations that I independently commit to with my time as an emcee and board member, like ChicagoCAC.

Tell us what you like to do in your free time. We know you have an adorable daughter. 

Right now with a 15 month old, my free time is pretty much all spent with her and the rest of my family, and I love it! We enjoy getting outside, walking around the neighborhood and heading to the Lakefront.

This piece will run during Women’s History Month, so what’s your sense of yourself as a role model or as a history-maker? 

It’s hard to see myself as a history-maker! But I do understand the significance of seeing someone like me in a public position and a leadership role. So I try to offer myself as a role model to others in my industries. I make time to respond to emails and calls from students and those trying to move up, and provide advice and opportunities to shadow me. I know how important that was for me and want to do the same for others.

What would you say to someone who’s considering ChicagoCAC as a cause to support? 

Once you learn about the work ChicagoCAC does, don’t hesitate to lend your support. Your help is so needed and goes a long way toward helping children in Chicago.

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