The University of Chicago announced on January 26 that over the course of this year, the nonprofit South East Chicago Commission (SECC) will gain considerable independence from the university. Much of the SECC’s university funding will be cut, and the university will no longer be able to appoint or approve the organization’s board members. According to both parties, the move reflects the SECC’s need to reevaluate its direction as an organization.
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in 2013 the closing of nearly fifty Chicago public schools, he attempted to address the concerns regarding student safety by calling for the expansion of the Safe Passage program. First launched in 2009, Safe Passage is a combination of programs that harnessed community involvement to ensure the safety of students traveling to and from school. The program enacts stronger punishments for the possession of guns, ammunition, and other dangerous weapons in designated Safe Passage routes and school safety zones. These routes linked closed schools and the “welcoming” schools that students were redirected into in 2013; the school safety zones cover 1,000 feet around any school and public park within the area.
In January, the Weekly published an investigation into the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA)’s failure to redevelop public housing in Bronzeville after demolishing much of it in the early 2000s. The demolition of projects such as Ida B. Wells, Robert Taylor, and Stateway Gardens was part of the now-notorious Plan for Transformation, a federally funded initiative that promised to replace the demolished high-rises with new housing developments that would combine subsidized and market-rate housing units. The Plan also promised that the CHA would rebuild or rehabilitate a total of 25,000 units overall.
The Chicago City Council’s Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics (CCRE) met on December 1, 2015 to appoint two people to the city’s board of ethics. The committee’s chairman, Alderman Michelle Harris, was not present for the vote; neither were any of the three vice chairmen, Aldermen Carrie Austin, Ed Burke, and Marty Quinn. In a room filled with empty seats, seven of the committee’s fifty members confirmed the appointees by voice vote. The other thirty-nine were nowhere to be found.
In the summer and early fall of 2015, all eyes in Chicago’s education community were on the campaign and thirty-four-day hunger strike organized by community organizers, families, and educators, that successfully led to the reopening of Dyett High School in Washington Park as an arts school. Among the activists in the “Save Dyett” campaign were Dyett alumni and students, many of whom mobilized after feeling their communities and schools were being undervalued by city officials.
This school year, Chicago Public Schools saw a shocking enrollment loss of 1,882 students in its preschool programs, nearly six times greater than last year’s enrollment decrease. The drop in preschool enrollment accounted for seventeen percent of all attrition in the district—the largest decline in preschool enrollment since 2008. This dramatic change coincides with the introduction of a universal online application for Chicago public preschool programs, echoing a similar drop in preschool enrollment after a 2013 shift to a universal in-person application system.
On the evening of February 28, about thirty congregants of St. Adalbert Church huddled under a tunnel of scaffolding outside the main doors of the church, seeking refuge from a downpour of rain. Holding posters, candles, and various Catholic paraphernalia, the churchgoers collectively chanted “La iglesia no se vende.” (The church is not for sale). At around 6:30pm, a few of the elderly parishioners, standing on the steps at the entrance of the church, began a prayer vigil.
During the last city council meeting of 2016, as Chicago’s aldermen gathered with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to celebrate the Cubs’ recent World Series victory, the room received word that Willie Cochran, the alderman serving the 20th Ward, had been indicted. On hearing the news, Cochran sat quietly through more than an hour of praise for the Cubs, checking his phone and talking to a few aldermen. He escaped the room during the end-of-meeting applause as the press rushed to head him off. Chicago’s longest-serving alderman, Ed Burke, who has been on the city council since 1969, told the Tribune that he had never seen another alderman indicted during a council meeting.
On February 16, during the 3rd Ward town hall meeting at the KLEO Center just west of Washington Park, Pastor Torrey Barrett and Dr. Carol Adams announced their plan for a new organization representing Woodlawn, Washington Park, and South Shore. The organization will look to ensure that three communities affected by the upcoming construction of the Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park have their concerns heard and interests met. It’s still in the phase of what Adams called “early community engagement,” and hopes to open the application for board seats within the next two or three weeks. “WoWaSo,” as it’s been informally named, wants to consolidate existing scattered neighborhood plans and push for a more comprehensive agenda regarding the Obama Library, but there are doubts and concerns about how fair this consolidation will turn out to be.