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Women's History Month: Bulls official wants to use team to create better Chicago

Bulls official uses brand to empower communities in Chicago
Bulls official uses brand to empower communities in Chicago 03:48

CHICAGO (CBS) – Friday was the final day of March, which marks the end of Women's History Month. CBS 2 has spent the last four weeks introducing you to incredible women in the Chicago area working to make history in big, small and personal ways.

We'd also like to introduce you to a woman who's taking one of the biggest brands and using its power to change the communities that surround it.

A basketball team with a legendary legacy - the Bulls are a cultural touchstone that help make Chicago… Chicago. Connecting the franchise with its city is a big job, and it belongs to Erica Bauer, who boils it down to one question.

"How do you maximize the influence of a sport like basketball with a brand like the Bulls to create a better Chicago?" she said.

Answering that is her 9-to-5 as director of community relations for the Chicago Bulls. But getting to this job was a journey, and you may be able to relate.

"I think part of that is I had a church upbringing like so many," said Bauer. "As a result, I was very other-centered, community focused."

Early life as a military brat exposed Bauer to different places and disparities from a young age. She was drawn to studying data about healthcare and education, getting her doctorate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. But it was obvious academia wasn't Bauer's game.

"And it was very clear to everybody that I wanted to be more applied," she said. "I wanted to be a bridge between the things I was reading, and what I was seeing."

Finding the right fit took trial and error. It included a post-doc fellowship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center, then more than seven years with Chicago Public Schools. 

"That was my education in understanding the significant problems and challenges here in Chicago," Bauer said.

So when the job with the Bulls popped up, it felt like another 'zig' in her resume of 'zags', but Bauer was eager to build something new.

"I went from working on the quote-unquote 'problem side' of things to being on the solution-oriented side," she said.

Bauer started in February 2020, right before communities were forced to separate and tensions around race and police boiled. The solution was and continues to be the use of the power of the Bulls to give greater access to others.

With Bauer's guidance, the franchise is investing in more Black-owned businesses and working with minority-lead nonprofits. They're aiming to fight big issues, like gun violence prevention and a lack of mental healthcare, by partnering with more than 50 schools on art projects, field trips, even funding iPads.

"When we get the thank you letters, the change that is happening now for me is enough, because that's enough to change history," she said.

History is a through line that shows up in Bauer's personal side project, too.

"I tell people from preschool to Phd, I was educated as a little white boy, most of us were because of who was designing education and how we continue to do education," she said.

So she's carving out time to write, record and perform "Girl Power Songs," highlighting Black women that changed the world in quick but memorable music for kids.

"My goal is to get it in front of as many children as possible, so that they too will grow up knowing more about Harriet Tubman and Bessie Coleman and Rosa Parks than they do about Yankee Doodle and Mary and her lamb," Bauer said.

We asked how she finds the time, and she doesn't know either. But hours in a day don't matter if you have the drive.

"When you feel seen, and you feel valued, that's what's  shaping history," Bauer said.

That is her life's work, in a big job she never saw coming: to impact Chicago, the way she's always wanted.

"This is a job where I'm able to put all of those things together and yeah, it's a great fit because of that," she said.

To see all of CBS 2's Women's History Month stories, go to

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