My family was the third African-American family that moved into the community. I did experience the change, I did experience some of the racism that I endured as I was brought up in Englewood. I graduated from Henderson School in 1979, and I went to Gage Park High School, and you’ve probably heard about the racism, the riots there. Then I had my kids, then I went to Chicago State, where I obtained my Bachelor’s. So I’ve been working in Englewood a long time.
I work with all the representatives, the state senator, the alderman…I interact with my elected officials, host various events in the community. We [Voices of West Englewood] work alongside Residents Association of Greater Englewood—Aisha Butler, Sonya Harper, those of us in the community doing the work, in the trenches, doing the foot work in the community—and we talk about social issues, the economic issues that we’re facing in Englewood. I also work with Teamwork Englewood, it’s the same thing, I let them know when we’ve got something going on with Voices, they let us know when they’ve got something going on.
The biggest thing in Englewood now is healthy eating, so I work with Grow Greater Englewood, and we educate the community on healthy food. I am on the committee for the Whole Foods that’s moving into the neighborhood now, and my biggest thing is to focus on their policies, so they allow people, if they go and apply for a job at Whole Foods and they have a criminal background—which, a lot of people in Englewood have criminal backgrounds—that doesn’t hold them back from getting a job. Growing Homes on 58th and Wood, too, they have a program for ex-offenders. They give them job readiness training, but they also educate them on how to plant, how to grow your own vegetables, just giving them an education on how to grow your own food. In the process of them growing the food, they have an event where the community comes in and purchases the products that the individuals grow. A lot of individuals come to the Grow Greater Englewood meetings too, because they have land they’d like to start farming on.
What I miss most from growing up in the neighborhood is that a lot of residents that move in now are renters, not owners. Maybe because they rent, they don’t know the bond of “I’m your neighbor: you go to work, I see your son out there getting out of control, I’m able to discipline your child. Same if I’m at work and you see my child out there.” It was the closeness of the community, how we looked out for each other. Now a lot of residents, their parents died off—I’ll be truthful here—left their home to the kids, kids refinanced their homes, lost it. Now you see an abundance of abandoned homes. On top of that, when they allowed predatory lending into the community, even more vacancies. Personally, I believe they should let the community, and these are still homes—brick homes—purchase the buildings. Some of these houses, they got twenty units, they could end homelessness if they choose to. They choose not to. We still have block clubs, though. The Southwest Block Club Federation runs block clubs in West Englewood, they keep residents on a block informed and connected, and then the CAPS officer knows that this is a block where people know each other, there might be vacancies, vacant lots, but people know each other, and they’re going to look out for each other.
If an incident happens in Englewood, someone gets shot, the media’s gonna blow it out. There’s so much good stuff that goes on in Englewood that’s not highlighted. The media just wants to focus on the negative. And, this is me, not talking about anyone else, if they pump up the fear factor of “you can’t move to Englewood,” why would anyone bring their business here? I can walk in Englewood and not feel bad about it. Maybe that’s cause I grew up here, but truth be told, I feel safer here than anywhere else, because I know my community. We just did something last Tuesday, we celebrated the two oldest residents in Englewood. Mr. Henry Jenkins was 106, and Mrs. Rosa Atkinson was 104. We did a big celebration in Hermitage Park, and it was awesome. We had the Englewood forty-year reunion, people were flying back from all over the country for it, because they remembered growing up here. That’s what’s missing now, now that the situation with the renting is different, but the community is still there. Good things happen in Englewood every day, and we find the good, and we highlight the good.
Gloria Williams has lived in Englewood since 1970. She is an advocate with Voices of West Englewood, a community organization that works to keep Englewood residents informed.
Reese’s Gourmet Mana
The “1/2” in this tiny sweet shop’s address is probably the best indicator of just how small it is. Sandwiched between two other units and advertised only by a sign on the far side of the building, the door leading into the home of the “original” dessert known as “mana” (a smooth, creamy mix between yogurt and ice cream) is easy to mistake for, well, just a door. Inside, though, is the best (and perhaps the only) damn mana you’re likely to find in city limits. Every flavor comes with wafers and a garnish of crumble or caramel, but the undisputed champ (ask anyone) is the banana mana, with chunks of banana at the bottom of the cup that almost outdo the sweetness of the ice cream on top.
Reese’s Gourmet Mana, 1022 1/2 W. 63rd Street. Monday–Saturday, 11am–7pm. (773) 418-0790. cupsofmana.com (Jake Bittle)
Best Guilt-Free Eggrolls
Dream Cafe and Grille
The Weekly first wrote about Russell Moore’s Dream Cafe when it opened this past March in a plaza just off Englewood’s central intersection of 63rd and Halsted, but now it’s settled in for good. In its five months of operation, the restaurant has become a favorite neighborhood eatery for those who want typical comfort food, but without the bodily discomfort that typically follows. The ingredients are still locally sourced and as fresh as can be, making even the unbelievable peach cobbler feel like it might be good for you. While the egg roll sampler still has the same three flavors it did in March (jerk-applesauce, collard-greens-Sriracha, and mac-and-cheese-ranch), those flavors haven’t gotten any less bizarre or any less delicious. The jury is also still out on which is the best (though this humble reviewer maintains that nothing beats the jerk), so go try them all.
Dream Cafe and Grille, 748 W. 61st Street. Monday–Saturday, 11am–8pm. Closed Sunday. (773) 891-5334. dreamcafeandgrille.com (Jake Bittle)
Culture Connection 360
If you really want to impress a first date or a houseguest, the smells of roses or lavender just won’t cut it. You need to smell presidential. Luckily, the Culture Connection 360 outlet on 71st has you covered: among dozens of other scented lotions and potions, this Afrocentric boutique carries a perfume that (allegedly) smells like First Lady Michelle Obama and an incense that (again, not confirmed) smells like Barack himself. Those with more retro tastes are will be delighted to find soaps like “Flower Child” or even “Egyptian Musk.” Even if you think you smell just fine the way you are, at least stop by to pick up a bean pie, a framed poster of Ernie Barnes’s “Sugar Shack”, an “I <3 HOUSE MUSIC” t-shirt, or just sit for a while in the low-lit front room and chat with the owners, who are usually around to swap stories and offer scent advice.
Culture Connection 360, 400 W. 71st Street. Open daily, 10am–7pm. (773) 527-6015. cultureconnection360.com (Jake Bittle)
Best Veggie Boxes
Robert “Bob” Scaman Jr., president of Goodness Greeness, jokes that the building is no food museum. The office is unassuming; most of the space is for keeping organic produce fresh before shipment. Goodness Greeness distributes to 300+ locations in Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago, so chances are if you buy organic, you’re buying produce that has sat in the Englewood warehouse for no longer than thirty-six hours. In an effort to support organic farmers, especially those with small- to medium-sized local farms, Goodness Greeness handles the logistics so that organic produce remains beautifully fresh from field to fork. Items are stored in different parts of the warehouse based on metrics such as weight and temperature needs. Seasonality and weather are the biggest drivers of operations: if a summer night is unusually cold, buyers in the office will be speaking on the phone with farmers the next morning about how the zucchini is doing. Goodness Greeness also makes an impact via community outreach programs and strategic partnerships. One current project is to revamp the “recession buster,” boxes of fresh, affordable organic produce that they first sold in 2007. They’ve also partnered with Artizone, an online grocery delivery service, to sell a variety of boxes to Internet-based consumers around the city.
Goodness Greeness, 5959 S. Lowe Ave. Monday–Friday, 6am–3pm; Saturday–Sunday, 6am–1pm. (773) 224-4411. goodnessgreeness.com (Jennifer Hwang)
The way a church feels on the inside, at the height of a Sunday sermon, is not the kind of thing one can understand just by dropping by. Even if it were that easy, there are simply way, way too many churches—over three hundred in Englewood alone, by DNAInfo’s count—to visit. The “best church” blurb, then, is not coming any time soon. But there’s no denying that some church buildings are more interesting, more historical, or just plain prettier than others. The most notable of these is the Chicago Embassy Church at 5848 S. Princeton, whose enormous spire is visible from across the neighborhood. Three lesser-known but equally eye-catching churches are Antioch Baptist at 6953 S. Stewart, a low- lying, red-brick building with maroon-trimmed windows and a cobblestone facade; Lebanon Baptist on 1501 W. Marquette, a wood building whose orange- and-white paint job almost makes it resemble a farmhouse; and New Friendship Baptist at 848 W. 71st, an enormous classical building with a beautiful window facade and two huge towers rising in the rear. Whether the preaching on the inside matches up isn’t for us to judge, but at the very least these buildings are worth a second (and third) glance. (Jake Bittle)