AV Benford

Best of Bronzeville 2019

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Grace Asiegbu is a master’s student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communications. She specializes in social justice and investigative reporting. In her spare time, she loves to sing, ask questions, and stan Beyoncé. Her twitter is @_uzunma.

One of the most historically significant neighborhoods in Chicago, Bronzeville sits at the intersection of the faith that the dark past taught us and the hope that the present has brought us. During the Great Northern Migration, Bronzeville’s population grew dramatically between 1890 and 1950, with new arrivals establishing a community where Black residents could explore new frontiers in music, art, literature, business, and political life. Bronzeville, also known as the Black Belt, flourished as a site of collaboration and innovation, boasting of thriving businesses and a distinct culture—still very much present today.

As a former (and soon to be returning) resident of this neighborhood, the vitality of Bronzeville was not lost on me, even as a child. Riding down 47th and King Drive, I somehow understood—more so I felt—the spirit of determination. The ambition and dreams of those who came before me manifested in these beautiful brownstones, the powerful activists, the galleries, and the community centers. Bronzeville represents the tenacity and fortitude that fueled the Great Migrators on their hundred-mile journeys away from all that they knew in search of this so-called “American Dream”—in this pursuit of safety, security, hope, and, ultimately, happiness. From the socioeconomic boom to the infamous Robert Taylor Homes, she stands at the forefront as Chicago’s most seminal neighborhood. Filled with history, courage, bravery, and resilience, Bronzeville is indeed a true testament to the spirit of the Great Migrators and their descendants.

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Best Bronzeville Gospel

Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church

AV Benford

Throughout its 117-year history, the historic Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, at 45th and Vincennes, has only had ten pastors. The third, the Rev. James Howard Lorenzo Smith, is credited with changing the sound of the church’s music, a change that would reverberate through the world of Black sacred music. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Smith joined the staff of the church in March of 1931. By the end of that year, he spoke to his congregation about the vision he had for the music of the church. Drawing on the spirits and sounds of Black Americans in the South, Smith created Chicago’s first gospel chorus.

The music of the Black sacred tradition is rooted in spirituals, anthems, work songs, chants, calls and responses, and, of course, gospels. These genres serve as the basis for most (if not all) contemporary secular music, including jazz, blues, hip-hop, R&B, rock, and even country. After a month of rehearsals, the Ebenezer Gospel Chorus made its debut to a church filled to the brim with congregants who joined them in making joyful noise. 

By 1935, Ebenezer had a large music program comprising several choirs. Music was at the forefront of the church’s ministry over the next eighty-eight years, shaping the sound of gospel heard not just in the Midwest, but across the nation. Chicago gospel has its own unique sound and style, a fusion of the traditional southern sound and some progressive and new elements that characterize northern gospel. We can thank Rev. James Howard Lorenzo Smith and the Ebenezer Baptist choirs for their influence and contributions to the sound of gospelyet another testament to the creativity and influence found in Bronzeville. (Grace Asiegbu)

Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, 4501 S. Vincennes Ave. Tuesday–Thursday, 9am–3pm; Wednesday, 6:30pm–8:30pm; Sunday, 9am–2pm. (773) 373-6144. ebenezerbronzeville.org

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Best Afrocentric Coffee Shop

Sip & Savor

Need some coffee with local culture? Sip & Savor on 43rd blends right into Bronzeville’s cultural scene. From the outside, the coffee shop is hard to spot at first, but the inside gives a warm welcome. As I walked in, I was instantly captivated by art on display throughout the space. This spot may serve as a hidden gem for art collectors: when I visited, the walls featured an array of exquisite portraits of Black women, a vibrant Prince painting, and other works by local artists.

The gentleman who served me was supportive and mellow, tolerating my indecision while I attempted to choose from their incredible menu. After darting my eyes through the choices of smoothies, sip mochas, blended drinks, pastries, sip lattes, and traditional coffee, I decided on the Coco Berry Breeze drink. Next, you have an equally large variety of seating choices, including a plush fudge couch and two vintage sand chairs with metal bead trim, complete with a coffee table to feel at home. What caught my gaze, however, were the diner booths right below an electrifying glass wall work that gave the place a retro vibe. This wall work, combined with the Afrocentric art and R&B on the speakers, created the Sip & Savor aesthetic. The most charming feature of the shop, however, wasn’t the artwork—it was the “Community Speaks” board, which featured a multitude of community events, initiatives, and local programs.

There were decorative surprises in every corner, but as a college student a more delightful surprise was the free WiFi. The moment of truth came once I received what I ordered. The Coco Berry Breeze was served in a chic cup made from “recyclable material”, as expected for a shop that uses fair-trade coffee. The drink’s mix had such a vibrant cotton-pink color that I couldn’t believe it was made with real fruits right in front of me. On that unseasonably warm ninety-degree day, this ICEE twin of a drink left me satisfied. 

The vibe of Sip & Savor gives you the option of going there for a date, a casual meeting, computer work, homework, a group hangout, or simply as a place to wind down. They also offer reservation space for larger events, and have a rewards program to keep you coming back. The founder and CEO, Trez V. Pugh III, has definitely developed a scene where, as their mantra says, “coffee & community meet.” (Asha Edwards)

Sip & Savor, 528 E. 43rd St. Monday–Friday, 7am–6pm; Saturday–Sunday, 8am–5pm. (773) 855-2125. sipandsavorchicago.com

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Best Historical Monument

Monument to the Great Northern Migration

AV Benford

Artist Alison Saar constructed her 1994 work, “Monument to the Great Northern Migration,” in remembrance of the six million Black Americans who made the exodus from the southern United States northbound between 1915 and 1970 in search of the opportunities and liberty they were denied in the South. The statue is bronze, perhaps to symbolize (like the name “Bronzeville”) the brown skin of Black Americans, and depicts a man dressed in the clothing of that time with a suitcase in his hand.

 His clothes, and the mound he is standing on, appear to be created from the soles of worn shoes, symbolizing the long and difficult journey the migrants endured. He is facing north, in the direction of the migration. The man is waving, greeting his new home, but also making a gesture which can be read today as a hello to guests and visitors to this historic neighborhood. Like many of the neighborhood’s buildings, monuments, and other cultural hubs, this statue is a reminder of the powerful history that continues to shape Bronzeville. (Grace Asiegbu) 

Monument to the Great Northern Migration, 345 E. Eastgate Pl.

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Best Smoothie & Music Combo
Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar

AV Benford

Located just off the corner of 43rd Street and Cottage Grove, Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar is a combination cocktail bar, smoothie bar, and music venue.

Some Like It Black hosts a seemingly endless stream of music events. Flip back through previous issues of the Weekly and you’ll find the space appearing again and again in our music and arts calendars. At Some Like It Black, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Christian JaLon, Kopano, Brittney Carter, and Henri Mayhem, among others. Beautifully painted portraits line the walls of the stage area, and the small space and colorful lighting always make for an intimate experience.

You don’t have to go thirsty while you enjoy music and art at Some Like It Black. In addition to a range of alcoholic cocktails, the venue offers seven different smoothies in a variety of colors. My personal favorite is the Almond Joy, which mixes banana, almond butter, cacao, coconut flakes, and coconut milk. If none of the premade combinations quite satisfy your palate, you can build your own smoothie with three fruits of your choosing (and just seventy-five cents for each additional fruit after that). If you’re feeling hungry you can also order paninis or tacos, each of which have vegetarian options.

Watch our calendars for upcoming events, or go straight to their website for a full list, and plan a night of smoothies, tunes, and community at Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar. (Joshua Falk)

Some Like It Black Creative Arts Bar, 810 E. 43rd St. Tuesday–Thursday, 3pm–11pm; Friday, noon–4pm and 6pm–midnight; closed Saturday (except for special events). (773) 891-4866. somelikeitblack.com

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