Light the Spark mural by Kayla Mahaffey. Photo by Rovetta McKinney


“I moved to Chicago because I had to get out of Alabama,” said Mrs. Beatta Petty, who moved to Avalon Park in December 1975.

“I loved the East Side of Chicago, and I loved this particular area because of all the Black-owned businesses…. The Nation of Islam, Mosque Maryam, was right down at Stony Island. The Shabazz Restaurant on Cottage Grove, where the senior citizens building is right now. Down at 87th Street, 79th Street, over east, Black-owned stores and restaurants. So that’s where I wanted to be, because in the South, I had been a part of the Civil Rights Movement. We were integrating schools, and I went to University of Alabama, and it was a nightmare,” said Petty.

When picking a neighborhood to live in, Petty had specific criteria: she wanted to live in an area that was not going through white flight. “I was looking for a neighborhood that was stable—basically Black, middle class, upper class, because you know, we all lived together.” During the 1970s, Chicago was aggressively segregated, and it was often in the best interest of newly minted Black transplants to seek residence within existing Black neighborhoods for safety reasons. “It didn’t matter if you were a doctor, custodian, we all lived together. That’s how it was in the South. A lot of the neighbors, the people I met were from the South also and had similar values,” Petty said.

Petty also chose Avalon Park because she didn’t want to be around any liquor stores or taverns; the neighborhood was dry from 79th to 87th Street. This was important to her because she didn’t drink. Additionally, it was her experience that taverns and liquor stores could attract people who caused trouble. 

Interestingly, this was supposed to be her starter home. However, she decided to stay because life changed. 

“I had the coolest neighbors,” said Petty. The women in the center of the block were working women, were older women, and they called her “baby” (which she loved). In the evenings, they would gather on a neighbor’s stoop and tell her stories “about back in the day.” “I learned a lot, and it reminded me of being home in Alabama around my aunts and my grandmother. So because of the neighbors, I got attached, and then of course we had kids, and St. Felicitas [parish and school] was right down the street. There used to be a lot of kids, a lot of boys on this block,” said Petty.

Many of Petty’s original neighbors have since passed. The neighborhood is a bit quieter since many of the residents’ children have grown up and moved out on their own. Despite the changes, Petty, now 72, is still dedicated to preserving her community. She serves as block club president, somewhat of a resident griot, and often a bridge between her neighbors who reside on the block. (As told to Rovetta McKinney by Mrs. Beatta Petty)

Neighborhood captain Rovetta McKinney is a freelance writer who is a lover of culture and travel and enjoys all things creative.

  • Best Fifties-Inspired Suburb in City: Marynook

    Marynook: an architectural preservationist’s dream. Upon entering this community, one is immediately aware of how unique it is. Unlike the grid layout typical of most Chicago neighborhoods, Marynook is a labyrinth of curved, winding streets and cul-de-sacs, discreetly located within the Avalon Park neighborhood. The suburban-style subdivision consists of 423 well-manicured mid-century modern single-family houses, with a large park, Avalon Park (created after the neighborhood took that name), adjacent to the community. On a walk through Marynook, you will see many raised ranches and split-level homes with asymmetrical exteriors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and spacious backyards, and quite likely a few with artistically shaped geometric bushes.

    Marynook was developed in 1955 by J.E. Merrion and Company in an effort to stymie suburban white flight during years after World War II. The integration of this community made nationwide news largely because the shift from a predominantly White neighborhood to Black initially happened slower than other communities and the subdivision was featured on CBS Reports (which can be found on YouTube) in the early 1960s due to its initial success.

    Over time, however, white flight eventually occurred, despite there being no noticeable negative change in the quality of life, because of fear of the increasing number of Black people moving into the subdivision and surrounding areas. Marynook became inhabited predominantly by Black homeowners.

    The community still flourished. Paul Flowers, a former Marynook resident who grew up in the area in the eighties, fondly recounts childhood memories of biking and playing in the subdivision with other similarly aged children.

    Marynook has a homeowners association that takes pride in making this community feel like a community.  The HOA generates quarterly newsletters that keep residents abreast of current neighborhood news, and it institutes guidelines in an effort to maintain property values and a good quality of life. Current resident Marcia Thomas described new neighbors being greeted with welcome wagons and annual best yard contests. 

    Today, a large percentage of those who still dwell in Marynook are more mature in age, and fewer children are in the neighborhood. Since COVID, the subdivision is a bit less social, but still a nice place to live, Thomas says.

    If you have an interest in mid-century architecture within the boundaries of Chicago, I would invite you to visit Marynook.

  • Best at Bringing the Community Together One Block at a Time: Lisa Davis

    Heroes rarely choose to assume leadership positions; rather, it is circumstance that forces them into these roles. Oftentimes, it is something unfortunate—something happens, and they feel a calling to demand justice, some sort of righting of a wrong.

    When Lisa Davis’ home was burglarized in 2012 and 2013, this unfortunate experience stoked a fire in her to become more active. Today, Davis is a community activist based in Avalon Park. She is involved in organizing her immediate neighborhood’s block club, and she volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Pullman and Rebuilding Together in the Englewood and Austin communities. She also works to improve the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the Avalon Park community.

    Davis grew up in Avalon Park, where her parents purchased a building in the 1970s. She left to pursue career opportunities as an engineer, shifting into software, which morphed into IT. Davis returned to Avalon Park after her father died, to care for her mother and her parents’ building. She was set to move to the South Loop. However, she was challenged by her mother, who told her, “Why pay for something else, when this building is yours?” She stayed.

    Davis was having a quiet life until she suffered two burglaries in six months. She sought help from the police and was told to attend the beat meeting in her area. There the talk was to form block clubs to increase neighborhood activity and decrease criminal activity. Davis observed block clubs that operated near her and became involved in the block association. Finally, she and her neighbors formed a club on her block. They recently held a block party that was well attended—Davis said it attracted more children from the neighborhood than they knew were there.

    Her efforts are having a positive effect in the immediate area, encouraging neighbors to look out for each other, as illustrated by times like when she found a neighbor watering her garden for her.

    Lisa Davis is an example of what the late Bronzeville community organizer, Johnnie Owens, said about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.


  • Best at Helping Develop Generations of Happy Feet: Mayfair Arts Center

    Timing is everything.

    In 2020, Peggy Sutton was ready to retire and move to Arizona. She had held the role of Director of the Mayfair Academy of Fine Arts since 1978, but the pandemic had taken a toll, and enrollment was very low. 

    Mayfair had been a staple of the South Side since 1957. The academy was founded by acclaimed tap dancer Tommy Sutton, Peggy’s father. He learned the art of tap dance from Bill “Bojangles” Robinson; performed with the greats such as Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole and had a stint on Broadway with the hit, The Hot Mikado. Sutton started the dance school because while he was able to teach dance in Chicago, there was nowhere for his children or the children of his community to learn dance because of segregation. There proved to be demand for the school: enrollment skyrocketed from ninety kids to eight hundred over time. Well-known alumni of the Mayfair Academy of Fine Arts include former First Lady Michelle Obama, rapper-turned-actor Common, and actress Tempestt Bledsoe of The Cosby Show fame.

    Around the same time that Peggy Sutton was considering retirement, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) was contemplating relocation from its studios in the Fine Arts Building in the Loop due to costs. According to an interview Sutton gave to New City Stage, she called CHRP’s founding director, Lane Alexander, to say, “Hi, goodbye.” Alexander inquired about the fate of the Mayfair Academy building and in January of this year, CHRP moved its education center and arts incubator—the American Rhythm Center—to the Mayfair Academy and relaunched the building as the Mayfair Arts Center (MAC).

    In late July, I spoke with Alexander, who is also a tap dancer, choreographer, and teacher, as well as his team: program manager and former cast member of the Chicago Lion King production Kelli David-Low and  Chicago Human Rhythm Project artistic director and acclaimed tap dancer, Jumaane Taylor.

    I learned that the Chicago Human Rhythm Project is essentially a massive, collaborative art’s  organization, with five core programs. The MAC serves as a public dance space and arts incubator, and keeps true to its Mayfair Academy roots by offering dance classes. Additionally, according to their website, they provide business development services and subsidized space for classes, rehearsals, informal performances and special events for small to medium-sized nonprofit arts organizations and independent artists. 

    Rhythm World is one of CHRP’s oldest brands and is a summer tap dance festival.

    CHRP also hosts Stomping Grounds, a two-month, city-wide festival showcasing percussive arts, such as African dance, flamenco, Mexican folklore, Irish dance, Indian Bharatanatyam, Kathak—all the people who strum with their feet. We All Got Rhythm is another core program, an arts education project that teaches students artistic skills, enhances social and emotional learning, and helps foster a “lifelong engagement with the arts.” Finally, Stone Soup Rhythm is a collective of emerging and established tap dancers. According to the site, the name Stone Soup Rhythms refers to a European fable in which a wayfaring stranger brings a small village together to create a communal feast by enticing each member to add a unique ingredient. 

    Northside Southside Oneside, a dance programming series hosted by CHRP at the MAC, which is what got it on my radar: I received marketing materials at my home and wanted to check it out.

    This six-month series of free classes and performances has the goal of reintroducing the community to the MAC. The hope is that this program will continue for a second and third year, depending on grant funding. The final class of the year is October 16th. Come out to watch the performances or even join in on the fun.

    Mayfair Arts Center, 8701 S. Bennett Ave. Monday–Thursday, 9am–8pm; Saturday, 9am–5pm; closed Sundays and Fridays. (312) 922-1272

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