Pastor Phil Jackson has been working with young people in North Lawndale for more than thirty years. He currently runs the Firehouse Community Arts Center out of a converted 100-year-old firehouse at 21st and Hamlin, which he and some partners purchased in 2007. The center offers classes in dance, technology, film, music production through DJ classes and audio engineering, culinary arts, spoken word and open mic poetry, and visual arts. Firehouse’s Spark Arts program works with young people aged thirteen to eighteen—mostly young men but some young women—with the goal of violence prevention. Their V.I.P. (“Very Important Process”) program works intensively with youth up to age twenty-five to provide alternatives to violence they may be involved in . And the Firehouse culinary program and catering company offers employment and workforce development skills. Find more at thefcac.org.
Our mission is to interrupt the cycle of violence in the lives of youth and adults in North Lawndale through the power of arts and faith. And so when we say faith is not [about] church, it’s just that we’re an African-American neighborhood where there are 130 churches. So, it is about being aware of the reality that sometimes faith is a part of people’s lives. But it’s not like we have church services or we’re praying with folks every time they come to the door for this and that. But we just [laughs]—we’re a Black neighborhood, so church, praying for food and praying for a situation, having guys on the block will be a part of the culture. This is just a cultural reality.
And so it is with old situations, complicated systemic situations in our community, we’re wanting to use art to create redemption and transformation in the lives of young people. There are lots of young people in the streets, lots of young people who are homeless, lots of young people who were just abandoned in their own world because of [their] family situation, and through the arts—whether it was through music and poetry, through dance, video, DJ classes—they find a space to have their identity and not be defined by those things that have kind of sucked the life out of them.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that residents are tired of all that’s gone on. There comes a point when systemic injustice has just come to a head, such as fifty schools being closed and things like that, that have created, you know, uncomfortable paradigms. Most of the younger guys that are shooting folks are more reckless than the ones in the generation before.
But at the same time I think there is a rise in so many organizations that are a little bit more aggressive, in a good way, to create connections. I mean, schools are trying to be creative, you know, the high schools and some elementary schools, but there’s only so much they can do as well. The thing that I’ve seen change has been that systemic issues are coming to a head and now, like Malcolm said, the roosters are coming home to roost, right? Chickens come home to roost. You know, like COVID showed there’s a great disparity for Latinos and African American communities in healthcare. Like, nobody else knew that! Everyone else covered it up. But Black and Latino folk knew it.
In Lawndale at one point, I think that data was in 2011, it was like there was one program for every 398 kids. It’s like, what? That’s a problem. All the money paid to the Park District, which is like the second largest budget in the city, in North Lawndale there should be more options for that. My whole premise is like Dr. King said, right? Darkness doesn’t shoo away darkness. The quote is basically like light shoos away darkness. Love pushes out hate. And so we just need more light. Like when you can’t find the keys, you’ve got one set of lights on and you turn on all the lights! So when things are just complicated, as they are, we need to turn on all the light, you know. We need to get churches a discount with ComEd so that they may be able to, if they’re not full time, see if we can get them open four days a week, and now that’s more light. And we’ve got the Firehouse: that’s a lamp.
Our vision for North Lawndale would be an example of what safety, prosperity, and holistic shalom would be—that guys and ladies would be like, “What, they used to shoot over here? They used to shoot in this neighborhood? Get out of here.” That would be the ideal. And that the residents would rise up. That the residents would say, “Look, I may be raising my three grandkids, but this ain’t happening anymore.” There’s so many folks taking care of folks, people raising their nephew ‘cause there was a situation that happened in the family. And people are just tired.
But if there’s a way that residents can feel empowered and step up—I’m not talking about only snitching on the guys shooting folks, but I’m saying we’re in the schools and making sure that kids get safely home or making sure kids are listening to the teacher. Cause we got a retired grandmother who could just be in school two days a week and just sit in the math class and make these kids listen. Whatever little things there can be, they’re not letting the city dictate their quality of life plan, they’re not letting anything else but themselves. It would be such a beautiful reality of peace and restorative justice that there’s no real experience for the generation after that to not see that as the norm. And folks are saying every kid can walk to every part of this neighborhood. You don’t have to be concerned with the fact that you are from K-Town. And it’s prosperous, there’s housing and economic development stuff. And I mean, they just came out and put in bike lanes in the streets. And so that [it would be] like, okay, this is not just for white folks living in the neighborhood. This is for everybody who wants to ride a bike.
(As told to Martha Bayne)
Neighborhood captain Martha Bayne is managing editor of the Weekly.
Best Bird-Themed Mini Golf Course
I visited the newly inaugurated Douglass 18 minigolf course on one of August’s steamiest afternoons. Douglass Park was pulsating with a humidity that seemed to slow everything down. Although many park visitors rushed to dive into the cerulean pool that shimmered in front of the Cultural and Community Center, I made my way around back to the freshly inaugurated golf course for an afternoon of putting and play.
Despite the heat, I wasn’t the only one that had opted to tee up. In fact, the father and son that arrived shortly after me were so keen that they quickly overtook me on the green. The course is bird-themed, with each hole named after one of the more than 200 species of bird that migrates through Douglass Park. I could hear the young golfer ahead of me shouting out “American Robin!” and “Goldfinch!” as he deftly tapped the ball past obstacles that reflect the birds’ preferred habitats or notable characteristics.
The course of the Douglass 18 was designed over the last three years by high school students and their adult mentors, including kids from the Firehouse Community Art Center’s Spark Arts program and artist and educator Haman Cross III. It opened to the public on August 7th.
The varied terrain of the course presented a challenge for this pedestrian putter. For a breather, I stopped to read the bird facts posted on placards at every hole. The placards credit the students that penned them, and give insight into the obstacles I had so much trouble getting by along the green. There are cattails for the red-winged blackbirds, colorful oversized fruits, and even an Oscar the Grouch-like garbage can tipped on its side in a nod to the ring-billed gull’s love of trash heaps. A small re-creation of Chicago’s famous skyline commemorates a more somber bird fact: many goldfinches meet their end crashing into windows downtown.
Turns out, the Douglass 18 offered more than enough fun to power me through one of those Chicago afternoons so humid it just makes you say, “Really?!” As I warmed up to the play, a breeze rustled through the tall prairie grass behind the course, and I realized that with my head in the game, the heat just melted away. (Sage Behr)
Douglass 18 Mini-Golf Course, Monday through Friday from 11am to 7pm, and Saturdays from 9amto 5pm. The cost is $5 per round per player, with a two-for-one discount on Tuesdays from 8am to 12pm. To book a private party, reach out to Sheila McNeary at (312) 907-7701.
Best Daughter of the Neighborhood In Bloom
“My passions are both yoga and plants,” said Jordan Carr, walking through the Japanese Garden in Jackson Park with her young son. “I think that passing down the art of yoga and passing down how to care for plants is ultimately passing down peace.”
Carr, the daughter of Pastor Phil Jackson, grew up in North Lawndale and now lives in Greater Grand Crossing, but she’s on a citywide mission to spread that peace around. On Instagram she dispenses wisdom as @photosynthe_sis; you can buy her custom potting mixes and signature Black Planter Party t-shirts on her Etsy store. And at her Peace & Plants yoga classes, which have been popping up in Chicago parks all summer, every participant leaves with a free plant to take home.
When she was little, Carr loved helping her grandmother in Kansas City in her extensive garden. Then when she became pregnant with her son, that same grandmother urged her to put some plants in the future nursery, saying “you can watch the plants grow as your belly grows.” When she died, shortly after Carr’s son was born, and when Carr was herself struggling with postpartum depression, she turned back to houseplants as a way to feel connected to her grandmother.
Since then, her fascination has just kept growing. Her horticultural knowledge is largely self-taught, gleaned from YouTube and trial and error. During the pandemic, she left her full-time job to focus on plants and parenting and has never been happier.
“I have a toddler who’s always running around and doing things,” she said, “but plants are such an awesome hobby because yes, they can take up a lot of your time in certain situations. But for the most part it’s a mist there, a check on them here, something that you could do in the midst of your day.”
She’s almost done with her yoga instructor certification, and she and her husband Brandon—who teaches PE at Sumner Elementary and who currently leads the Peace & Plants classes (and who works with 5th Ave. Smokers as well)—would like to open a brick and mortar store and studio on the South Side.
Asked what her favorite plant is, she lights up. “Right now, a Monstera, but not the deliciosa, the adansonii. They have those holes in the leaves, but it’s just a smaller leaf and it kind of looks like an Afro? I’m actually obsessed with the way that it is growing in. It’s like a perfect round. It was looking kind of weird, and then the past week, it just, all of a sudden it’s filling out really nicely and I’m obsessed and the leaves are nice and soft. They kind of feel velvety, which is like, the little details are what make you fall in love with them.” (Martha Bayne)
Find Jordan Carr online at @photosynthe_sis or etsy.com/shop/MyPhotosynthesisShop. The next Peace & Plants yoga class is at 5:30pm Friday, September 24, in Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park, 2700 S. Halsted St. Tickets are $45 and include a free plant and a mimosa. Register at bit.ly/3ns9Dd5.
Best Pop-up BBQ
5th Ave Smokers
The best things in life can be hard to come by. The BBQ at 5th Ave Smokers falls into that category. The first time I swung by, I was met with disappointment: I hadn’t done my research, and the pop-up only functions on Fridays and Saturdays. Luckily, I am hungry every day, so when Saturday rolled around I arrived bright and early to buy an assortment of slow-roasted meats to feast on in a nearby park.
I purchased pork slices, pork ribs, brisket, chicken, and baked beans to sample. You can order your BBQ “naked” or “sloppy,” smothered in the signature house sauce. I opted for “naked” to keep the sauce on the side. The meats themselves were already so juicy that they soaked the white bread they came served on. Even so, they came treated with a flavorful rub— but the smorgasbord of sauces that came alongside it amped up the sweetness and heat in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed the brisket, and the chicken fell (quite literally) off the bone when I took my first bite.
5th Ave Smokers was launched in June by W.D. Floyd, founder of the West Side community organization 360 Nation, and Sumner Elementary teacher Amon Brooks. Floyd had learned to smoke meat in college and started a BBQ catering company, and Brooks has been a pitmaster at numerous spots.
“We had decided about a year and a half ago that we would start training some young folks in how to do it because it was an actual skill set that we knew that we had benefited from,” said Floyd. “So back in the summer of 2020, we started teaching some of the 360 folks how to actually smoke meat, how to marinate it, and how to prepare a rub.” In recent years 360 had taken over a vacant lot at Lexington and Kildare and turned it into a community herb garden; now 5th Ave Smokers shares the lot. “It’s part of this bigger initiative that is a community-based ecosystem,” said Floyd. “Fifth Ave is just a branch of the tree of 360 Nation, but it’s about really good quality barbecue but still community focused and community centered.”
No wonder the meats are so tender—the connection shines through in their buttery soft texture and infused smoky taste. Now, I find myself antsy for the weekend to roll around again so I can visit 5th Ave Smokers again. But I know it’s worth the wait. After all, what’s the fun in a craving if you don’t get time to obsess over it? (Sage Behr)
5th Ave Smokers, 712 S. Kildare Ave. Open Fri-Sat, 11am-7pm. Instagram @5thavesmokers.