The same day that City Council voted to approve the new $95 million police academy plan in West Garfield Park, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot spoke at the University of Chicago about the need to build an even more expensive and expansive police academy. Lightfoot clarified that she does not support the current proposal “as is,” but that “we absolutely need a new training facility,” and “to do it right it would cost far more than” $95 million. She cited the New York Police Department’s new $750 million training center as an example. To Lightfoot, a police training center done right should involve more community engagement and “academic development.” Notably, she said the city should consider turning some of the thirty-eight remaining vacant schools of the fifty closed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel into police training facilities.
I met Susan Garza, 10th Ward alderwoman, in her office on 106th and Ewing, an expansive space where staff answered emails and calls and walked in and out of a strategy meeting in a large improvised conference room in the back. Garza stood proudly over it all in the front, and every resident who walked by waved through the windows. Her comfort in this new office (she was elected only months ago) comes from having known the Far Southeast Side—loosely bounded by Indiana on the east and the Calumet River on the west and north, but described as nearly all of the 10th Ward by Garza—since birth. She left only for college, returning to raise her kids and carry on her father’s union striking tradition as a part of the Chicago Teacher’s Union. Her father’s campaign poster, “Ed Sadlowski: Steel Workers Strike Back,” hangs proudly at the entrance to her office, which she pointed out before telling me about the community she lives and works in.
This was a true blue collar community, and the steel mills just drove everything. We used to have nine steel mills just in this area, just in the 10th Ward, and with those mills came restaurants and stores, and there was a tavern on every corner that ran continually. It was constant, it was vibrant, it was exploding with life, and when the mills started to close, the community just lost hope.
“This isn’t okay, how we normalize trauma and we normalize violence.”
The children’s book landscape sorely lacks representation of Chicago experiences south of Roosevelt, making the details of kid-friendly fun oin the South Side warmly welcome.
A walk on the main boulevard of Bronzeville, Martin Luther King Drive, brings sights of grand stone homes that are slightly chipped around the edges, tree-lined parking lanes, and detailed murals—both fading and fresh, on the same block—of poetry and religion. From Ida B. Wells’s former home to the Sunset Cafe where Louis Armstrong frequently played to the grandiose Cultural Center and carefully landscaped street dividers, Bronzeville has an air of historical grandeur. Continue reading
Nate Marshall met me in the middle of Hyde Park wearing a t-shirt bearing the names “Emmett, Amadou, Sean, Oscar, Trayvon, Jordan,” followed by a “&…”. The slam poetry star from the far South Side doesn’t soften the tone of his statements on race and violence when he’s offstage. Marshall achieved city-wide and even national fame in the critically-acclaimed 2010 documentary Louder Than a Bomb (LTAB), about a slam poetry competition of the same name, as a bookish high school senior from the “100s block” who focused his after-school hours and stresses on poetry. Continue reading
The Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), founded in 1995, works in a modest office building on the corner of 63rd and California. Though Muslim-led, the organization works with groups across the Southwest Side to effect social change through a variety of anti-violence and youth-outreach programs, including the annual Takin’ It to the Streets festival. At IMAN’s office, I’m welcomed by a woman wearing a hijab. The man sitting at the front desk asks me to sign in on top of a stack of Arabic newspapers. I sit down with Shamar Hemphill, youth director of IMAN, and three members of the youth council: Raynele Allen Dees, Joshua “Zeus” McClain, and Darren Harun McGraw, who’s also on the organization’s board. We discussed how IMAN approaches youth organizing to prevent violence on the Southwest Side. Continue reading
A maze of thin twine ropes, covered in clothespins and 5×7 inch photos, hung from the Experimental Station’s lofty ceiling against a backdrop of twinkle lights and brick walls. The crisscrossing lines of photos, which the college student audience carefully ducked and bent underneath, free bubble teas in hand, were part of the opening night of “South Side in Focus,” an art and community engagement event planned by University of Chicago students and funded by the school’s Uncommon Fund. Continue reading