- Best Community Health Leadership: Tommy Talks
- Best “All Things Beauty” Salon: Empress Studio
- Best Natural Oasis: Hegewisch Marsh
Because Hegewisch is the farthest neighborhood on the southeast side of the city, many don’t see it as part of Chicago—but rather Indiana. Or they simply don’t know it exists. It is probably one of the most unknown parts of the city, perhaps in part because it seems that Chicago forgot to add enough public transportation—it isn’t easy to get there via CTA or Metra—and it doesn’t help that Hegewisch is also closed off by railways, manufacturing, and “walls of industry [that] you can’t cross,” as a resident once told me.
Historically, the neighborhood has housed a great deal of the city’s steel mills and manufacturing companies that have hurt the environment. It has since been targeted, according to residents, as the dumping ground for the city of Chicago.
For Best of South Side last year, I wrote about how the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd inspired youth to raise consciousness about racism and environmental injustice in Hegewisch and its neighboring communities. For example, after years of fighting, residents, in particular the area’s youth, got city health officials to reject the final permit by General Iron to operate in Hegewisch. I also wrote about a joyful nutrition shop and community leaders looking for change and recognition in their neighborhood.
In this year’s Best of South Side I explore Hegewisch Marsh: over a hundred acres of native wetlands and over a mile of trails leading to more surprises. I speak to Tommy Don Talley Jr., a Hegewisch resident who last year started his own organization to normalize mental health in his community. He shares what the organization’s events are all about, as well as how anyone can participate. I also meet Celina Miramontes, owner at Empress Studio, who realized her dream of owning a beauty salon and boasts some of the best reviews online.
Through political activism, entrepreneurship, leadership, and nature activities, new dreams bloom in Hegewisch. Over the past several years, through efforts that disrupt and inspire, area residents have been sending a strong message—we are here and have a lot to offer.
Neighborhood captain Alma Campos is the Weekly’s immigration editor. This is her second year editing the Hegewisch section for Best of the South Side. You can find her on Twitter at @alma_campos.