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Best Great-Great-Great Grandma

This past August, Rose Atchison celebrated her 105th birthday with a massive block party on the 6100 block of Marshfield Avenue in Englewood, where she and her family, the Davenport family, have lived since 1971. Rose, or “Big Mama,” as they call her, can claim over one hundred living descendants. She is in the first of six living generations of her family. 

When I arrive at the house on Marshfield on a Friday afternoon, all six generations are represented: children run up and down the block. Twenty-somethings chat with their aunts, uncles, and cousins. Parents and grandparents prepare food and tend to Rose, who has been blind for the last fifteen years. Big Mama sleeps peacefully in an easy chair in the living room, waking up only once to eat a popsicle offered her by her daughter, and say, “I love the Lord. I sure do love the Lord.”

I sit at the kitchen table with Alberta, Rose’s daughter, as well as Andrew Atchison and Jackie Davenport, Rose’s grandchildren. Andrew calls another grandchild, Rose Davenport, and puts her on speakerphone. 

You’ve lived here since 1971.

ALBERTA: [We came to Chicago] in 1936, [from] Mississippi. When we came here, we were living down on Giles [Avenue]. She came, [and] she had me and my brother, Monty.

ROSE (granddaughter): Whatever year they came here, they migrated to the Mecca [Flats] building, then they stayed in the Mecca building for so many years and…I always like to remind people of how, when they lived in the Mecca building, that was the place that inspired Gwendolyn Brooks’s writing about the conditions of the Mecca building [In the Mecca, 1968]…they decided that they wanted to tear the Mecca building down so that they [could] build Illinois Institue of Technology…that’s when they opened up what they called Bronzeville to black people because there was no place to place them. We lived on 31st and Giles and I went to Douglas for elementary school, and Big Mama was still working for the railroads. She worked for [Penn Central Railroad] for many years.

When we moved from Giles after our uncle [Rose’s husband] died, Andrew Atchison—when he died, we moved—that’s when we had a plan to move into Robert Taylor, and Grandma moved there with us to and we stayed in Robert Taylor from, late—

ANDREW: Oh, I forgot about Robert Taylor.

ROSE: I don’t remember the exact year. 1969, or something. When we moved from Giles, we moved in to Robert Taylor…See, that was more for middle class families at that time. We could afford it…because of  Big Mama’s job first and then Mama’s job working at the post office…we were one of the first five or ten families to move in. It was brand new. [But] she decided it was getting too bad over there, so she started looking for another place for us, and that’s when she found the house in Englewood.

JACKIE: Okay, so we moved over here, my mother and my grandmother and my aunt, first moved here. It was…we weren’t harassed or anything, but—

ANDREW: A little bit!

JACKIE: But not really, not really.

ANDREW: Remember the guy named Buckets, wouldn’t let us go that way?

JACKIE: I mean, it wasn’t—It wasn’t bad. I mean, he [Buckets] protected us. He pretty much protected the people that lived on the block. He lived down here. I think Martin Luther King had just did the march right here, and so we had a lot of hostility, and then more and more families started moving in and then the neighborhood changed. Buckets, he was more of the town bully.

ANDREW: That’s what I’m talking about! That’s the part I remember! He was big. Big white guy!

JACKIE: But he protected everybody he knew. Okay, so. Pretty much we moved in, my mom’s family was upstairs, my auntie’s was down here. My grandmother moved upstairs.

How many people live here now?

JACKIE: Everybody…this is still like a family building, so people come and go. So it’s not so much how many people are here, it’s that family come and go.

[Back then, it was] my mother, my grandmother, my brother…Downstairs it used to be rooms and whoever wanted to come could come. But…I was saying, my grandmother really, really wanted us to have a place that we could have our own. She was so proud of this place. I mean, she did more cleaning than we did when we were kids. Really, I’m not kidding. And I remember a time when she was going down to pay her mortgage down here on 63rd, and…she walked too far past [the bank]. And when she walked past that, she walked home huffing and puffing and when we asked what happened, she said some [white] boys had chased her from Western all the way here, all the way to Wood. She was almost sixty, they chased her because she was walking [there].

JACKIE: Another thing about my grandmother—my grandmother, she attended Greater Salem Baptist Church. That’s where Mahalia Jackson originated from…She was in [the] choir. She loved the song “Love the Lord, He Heard My Prayer”…She’s the last [living] member of that choir. Never smoked nor [drank], but she danced!

ANDREW: That’s Big Mama! Everybody knows it. They [all] got stories…People feel lots of things. People have stories about grandma…like Ray [a friend] just told me a story the other day, about back in the day when they was talking loud and cussing and all kinds of stuff, and Grandma drove up, rode up in her Riviera, and just looked at ‘em.

ALBERTA: My brother had just got that Riviera… Policemen used to stop her every other day. It was so sporty, they wanted to know, “How you getting this car,” and they was constantly stopping.

ANDREW: So you wanted to know how the neighborhood [thinks of her]…I’ll tell you, people come up to us and we don’t even know [them], and we’ll say, “How do you know my grandmother? How do you know her?” Because people are still talking about her in the neighborhood, they know us, we’ve been here for years, so everybody who comes around is like, “Oh, you know the Davenport family.” Everybody knows her. Everybody respects her. They would never let anything happen to her. (Jake Bittle)

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Best Community-Based Healthcare

ACCESS Center for Discovery and Learning

Luke White
Luke White

Over the last twenty-five years, ACCESS has become a national model for community-based health care. It currently serves more than 180,000 Chicagoland residents through thirty-six health centers located in the city and surrounding suburbs. Last year, ACCESS expanded its Ashland Health and Wellness Campus with the addition of the NIH-funded ACCESS Center for Discovery and Learning. The Englewood-based campus also includes the Ashland Family Health Center and Center for Healthy Living. The Center for Discovery and Learning is committed to understanding community health problems with a focus on the social determinants of health and the reduction of racial and ethnic health disparities. Recently, the Center hosted a lead-awareness forum called “Lead in Our Community: Get Practical Advice on What You Can Do,” which provided free lead testing kits and information to residents.

“ACCESS is committed to engaging community residents and partners through ongoing education about health topics,” said director of research Dani Lazar. “Our goal is to join health care leaders both locally and nationally to combat critical health problems and gain community input on viable outcomes.” (Elaine Hegwood Bowen)

ACCESS Center for Discovery and Learning, 5139 S. Ashland Ave.

Best Tradition

Englewood Jazz Festival

The seventeenth annual Englewood Jazz Festival took place last Saturday, September 17, in Hamilton Park. As in prior years, it showcased both accomplished jazz musicians and budding young talent.

After a year of rehearsing with the festival’s artistic director Ernest Dawkins, the Live the Spirit Residency Big Band released their first-ever compilation the night before the festival. The next morning, they joined artists like Rajiv Halim, Donald Harrison, Jr., and journalist-turned-singer Julia Huff for a day of nearly nonstop performances. Dawkins told WTTW last year that the festival has always focused on original compositions by young people, both as a celebration of what new jazz artists are capable of and as a way to give younger artists a chance to build their repertoire. (Jake Bittle)

Englewood Jazz Festival, Hamilton Park, 513 W. 72nd St. Yearly, third Saturday in September, morning to late afternoon.

Best LGBTQ-Focused Healthcare

Howard Brown Health 63rd Street

On August 31, Howard Brown Health, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ healthcare organizations, hosted the inaugural open house for its new clinic on 63rd Street, thus marking the reinstatement of healthcare services at the site of a former Chicago Department of Public Health clinic. Though Howard Brown’s sliding fee scale, primary care, and STI/HIV screening and prevention services are well known to LBGTQ communities in neighborhoods like Rogers Park, Boystown, and Lakeview, this clinic is Howard Brown’s first foray into Chicago’s South Side. The clinic will be headed by medical director Maya Green, who indicated in an interview released by Howard Brown that she has plans to collaborate with Teamwork Englewood and the Mile Square Health Center to provide care specific to Englewood residents. Regarding the mission of this new clinic, Green said, “I want people to know that Howard Brown has a commitment to serving people in need of care regardless of ability to pay, sexual orientation, or gender identity…When you walk into Howard Brown, you are walking into an affirming space.” (Kylie Zane)

Howard Brown Health 63rd Street, 641 W. 63rd St. Monday, 9am–5pm; Tuesday, 11am–5pm; Wednesday and Thursday, 9am–5pm, Friday, 9am–3pm. (773) 388-1600.

Best Activist-About-Town

Asiaha Butler, Englewood community activist

When you talk about Englewood, activism, and concern for community, you can’t ignore the name Asiaha Butler. Butler is the co-founder and president of R.A.G.E., the Resident Association of Greater Englewood. Now at age forty, Butler was being groomed even before she was born for her mission of helping Englewood become the strong working-class neighborhood of days gone by: her grandmother, Rebecca “Becky” Lias, was one of the founders of Operation Breadbasket/Operation PUSH. “Every Saturday when we visited her, we had to volunteer and help out at Operation PUSH. As my family says, activism is in my blood, and I know the spirit of my grandmother is one of the driving forces in this journey,” Butler said.

This journey most recently includes the launch of the Englewood Youth Civic Engagement Program. In addition, Butler’s Englewood Votes! Campaign combines voters’ education and registration events, as well as deputy registrar training.  If that weren’t enough, Butler has been actively involved in the planning of the new Whole Foods, which will be at 63rd and Halsted.

“Our association has been engaged with Whole Foods since their announcement. We worked to make sure that Englewood residents from every spectrum are first in line for jobs in all capacities,” said Butler in an email. “We also provided feedback as to how Whole Foods can support existing efforts in Englewood.  One of our members was hired as the community specialist, and she constantly shares our feedback to Whole Foods staff to ensure that community is always at the forefront of any decisions made by this corporation.”

Butler and R.A.G.E. also work to dispel dominant discourses about violence in the neighborhood. “Our association works toward creating peace in our community, versus trying to combat violence. We understand that there are deeper systemic issues that need to be addressed,” she said. “However, we create peaceful experiences throughout the neighborhood, promote community ownership, and focus on our assets as a strategy to build our community. Violence is an obstacle we are facing in Englewood and in Chicago in general, but I feel the biggest obstacle is the mindset of our people…Other issues to be addressed [are] the trauma our community deals with daily, the lack of opportunities and the self-hatred we have for our own people.  Violence is just a byproduct of these issues.”

She refuses to be bullied by outsiders, insiders, or media, and is committed to sharing positive Englewood stories. “The biggest thing in our way is our inability to see beyond the vacant lots, homes, schools and constant reports of violence.  If this is the only thing we focus on, then that’s all we will continue to see. In the midst of these issues, there are beautiful homes, peaceful blocks, and a spirit of resilience that lives in the boundaries of Englewood.  You just have to be open to this beauty that is often overshadowed by the negativity. Yes, we have problems, like any other area that is concentrated in poverty, but there is also beauty, and that’s what keeps me standing up for my community and sharing that narrative as well.” (Elaine Hegwood Bowen)

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