- Best Place to Keep An Eye on Your Neighborhood: Your Front Porch
- Best Event at Ogden Park: Fun Day
- Best Monday Nights: Linda’s Place
- Best Use of Seven Cents: Grocery Bags on Your Gate
Englewood residents see and know what is going on in their community, and it ain’t all bad. The media just has a habit of highlighting the not so good. I met with the mayor of Racine Avenue between 63rd and Marquette. His name is Robert Ashley and he is sitting on his front porch with his three aldermen, Roy, Eric, and Nate. All four have been living in Englewood for decades, so they have seen the good and the bad. Now they are ready to see a change in their community and have taken matters into their own hands. “Englewood is too big to worry about the whole community. We have to worry about our block. I know everyone on my block,” Robert said. “We can’t wait for other people. Nonprofits only show up when they need community input, and our aldermen in the past only showed up when it was election time. We can’t wait for them to save us.” I see his point. I moved to Englewood four months ago as a neighborhood planner and I have yet to figure out how this historic community works. I love his block approach.
Most days the mayor and his aldermen sit on their porch and watch the kids go to and fro from school. They look after the houses and the cars on the block. They also keep the streets clean. The porch that they sit on overlooks Ogden Park. “Look at that lady across the street throwing trash out of her car window. We can’t have that,” Roy cried. “We put shopping bags on our gates, so people can throw away their trash. She is not from here.”
They also monitor Ogden Park. If they see something going wrong at the park, they will march over to the park and solve the matter. “We welcome the police but we can take matters into our own hands,” said Eric. He’s a father of eight who is often at work, but he puts his hours in protecting his block. Robert countered, “Englewood is mostly Black and the police officers are mostly white. We know our kids.” Nate was the quiet one. He simply nodded his head. “Just this year, August, we had our first Fun Day at the park for the kids and their families. Everyone was invited, and we had a great time. We want to do it every year,” Robert said.
Even though the social and economic changes in Englewood are slow, the group acknowledged that strides have been made. “In the nineties, you could not buy fresh fruits and veggies in the community. Now you can,” Roy said. “We like that.” Robert said, “The gang problem is still going on here, but it was a lot worse. I wish we didn’t start the gangs in the seventies. We should have pushed education.” Eric said, “It is a new day in Englewood. Taxis wouldn’t come here. Now we have Uber and Lyft. Now people can get around.” It seems that the mayor of Racine and his aldermen are happy with the positive changes on their block. And positive changes will continue with or without outside support.
Jeff Whitelow was raised on the East Coast, schooled on the West Coast, and spent the last six years in Detroit trying to piece together a broken system that found Black communities left out of the economic mix. It became too taxing, so he moved to Chicago for fun, food, and better funding for his cause. He’s in a good place now.
Best Place To Keep An Eye On Your Neighborhood
Your Front Porch
In many cultures in America, sitting on the stoop on your block is a great way to see the comings and goings of the neighborhood, meet the residents, and protect the kids. Early morning to late afternoon on Racine Avenue, the block mayor and his aldermen keep a watchful eye on the neighborhood from their front porches. During that time there is always lively conversation about daily life. In this tight-knit block, word travels fast from one porch to another. For example, when one of the older residents recently died, the porch crews were figuring out how to honor him and help his family. That’s why this block is one of the tightest blocks in Englewood. (Jeff Whitelow)
Racine between 63rd and Marquette and other Englewood blocks. All day.
Best Event At Ogden Park
This year, during the second week of August, residents of Racine Avenue got together and celebrated the youth in the area with an event at Ogden Park. This was their first event and they had no outside funding, so resources were limited. But the organizers put their money together and there was plenty of food and encouragement for the young people. The group that planned this event have high hopes for next year—they would like to have games, give out school supplies, and get a bounce house. (Jeff Whitelow)
Ogden Park, 6500 S. Racine Ave. Every summer. If you can help with next year’s event, get in touch with Robert Ashley, Mayor of Racine between 63rd and Marquette.
Best Monday Nights
This blues club is technically located in Back of the Yards, but it is only four blocks from Englewood, and its owners consider it an Englewood establishment—so I hope caring is sharing because we definitely want a part of this bluesy goodness on 51st Street.
There is something about this place, which has been around since 1988, that is different from the bougie blues clubs in the Loop and on the North Side—could be because Chicago blues’ roots are on the South and West Sides. On Monday nights, this place serves up funky blues with maybe a side of collards and one of their (generally stiff) mixed drinks. Linda’s Place is a family affair: L’Roy, the leader of house band L’Roy and the Bullet Proof Band, is the eponymous Linda’s partner, and Linda’s daughter is now taking over running the club. L’Roy and the band kick off Monday night music, and later in the evening other local musicians play. Anyone can sing at the open mic.
Linda’s Place is not touristy. If you are walking too fast, you might walk past it. If you are driving, Google that baby because you will miss it. But one thing that we will guarantee is that once you get inside and experience all of its goodness, you’ll be like a lost lover: you will always find your way back. (Jeff Whitelow and J. Michael Eugenio)
Linda’s Place (or Linda’s Lounge), 1044 W. 51st St. Monday–Sunday, 11am–2am. Live music, Mondays from 9pm on. (773) 373-2351.
Best Use of Seven Cents
Grocery Bags On Your Gate
I have seen many ways to keep your block clean, but seeing grocery bags on residents’ gates being used as mini trash bags is a first. “We don’t have trash cans on our block, and we don’t know when the next community clean-up is,” said Roy from Racine Ave. The bags are hung mostly at vacant homes, but residents on this block dispose of them when they fill up. The bags are not a cure-all when it comes to littering, but it sure helps to lessen the problem. (Jeff Whitelow)
Racine between 63rd and Marquette.