Photo by Luz Magdaleno Flores

North Lawndale, located on Chicago’s West Side, is a neighborhood with a rich history. A short walk around the neighborhood reveals several beloved historical landmarks. 

On Douglas Boulevard, the striking facade of Stone Temple Baptist Church, which once served as the First Romanian Synagogue and still features the Star of David in its windows, speaks to the community’s religiosity and to its past as a center of the early Jewish immigrant community. 

On Hamlin Avenue, the Dr. King Legacy Apartment complex commemorates the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. based his Chicago activism in the 1960s out of an apartment in North Lawndale. 

On Central Park Boulevard, the African Heritage Garden—with its large flower bed in the shape of the African continent—reflects the predominantly African-American community of North Lawndale that resulted from the Great Migration and urban renewal projects elsewhere on the South Side. 

There is much more to these landmarks than just historical significance, however—each of these sites serves as a hub of current-day activism and community gathering in North Lawndale, highlighting the deep commitment of the neighborhood’s residents to investing in their community. 

At Stone Temple, volunteers convene every Monday for “Soup for the Soul,” a weekly event where visitors receive free warm meals and fresh produce. The Dr. King Legacy Apartment complex has forty-five low-income units, while the organization that manages it—the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation—is working to advance a new “1,000 homes” campaign to build affordable housing in the neighborhood. Finally, the African Heritage Garden is a central hub for many in the community and is linked to recent efforts by the Greening, Open Space, Water, Soil, and Sustainability (GROWSS) committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council to beautify the neighborhood. In addition, the African Heritage Garden occupies a lot that was once vacant and frequented by gangs. Its transformation showcases the power of creativity and connection to bring people in the neighborhood together.

Ultimately, Lawndale’s residents—both long-term and recent arrivals—are the lifeblood of the community. As you walk around the neighborhood learning about its vibrant histories of activism and community building, you will also come across several small displays with photographs and profiles of residents, which were created for a 2020 exhibit at the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot called “Lawndale: A Living History.” At each of these sites—two of which are located at Stone Temple Church and the African Heritage Garden—visitors can learn about the Lawndale Community through its residents’ own words and stories. 

More than just a storied past, Lawndale has a dynamic present and—thanks to the efforts of residents who continue to invest in building their community—a bright future. 

Alex Price is an active volunteer in North Lawndale.

  • Best Street Market for Entrepreneurs: Black Wall Street on Roosevelt

    In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, a new initiative aimed at fostering entrepreneurship appeared in North Lawndale: the Black Wall Street Market on Roosevelt. The idea came to the market’s founder, Lavern Herron, as a way to encourage residents of North Lawndale to invest in their community and to help small business entrepreneurs succeed. 

    The market takes its name from the Black Wall Street district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was the center of Black cultural and commercial success in the city in the early 20th century. The main boulevard featured banks, cafes, hotels, movie theaters, and more. In 1921, this vibrant community was destroyed during an attack by white mobs. However, it hasn’t ceased to be an inspiration to Black Americans who see in the story of Black Wall Street themes of success, hard work, resilience, and hope. 

    2021 marked the 100 year anniversary of the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, but its legacy lives on through Herron’s initiative in North Lawndale. 

    During the summers of 2021 and 2022, the Black Wall Street market has set up shop on Roosevelt Rd. every Saturday from 12pm to 6pm. Each week, the market brings twenty to thirty vendors out to the lot to sell a wide variety of products, including clothing, jewelry, art, herbal medicine, food, drinks, and more. The market space also hosts various events, such as a recent “State of Women’s Health Townhall” with Congressman Danny K. Davis and several other health experts on August 24 and a “Cocktails and Conversation” networking event on August 22. 

    In addition to the weekly outdoor market, Herron owns a building with eight studios where small, Black-owned businesses are able to grow. Having started out as a small entrepreneur herself, Herron has experience in launching and starting a business that she hopes to be able to share with others to uplift her community. 

    If you’re interested in supporting Black-owned businesses in North Lawndale, come out to visit the market, or encourage a business owner you know to become a vendor! The market will reopen next year in early summer.

    Black Wall Street Market, 3708 S. Roosevelt Rd. Saturdays 12–5pm.

  • Best Nonprofit Coffee Shop Serving Local Honey: Beelove Café

    Beelove Café cultivates a warm, eclectic ambiance, but their work is rooted in the concept of community.

    The nonprofit Café opened in August 2021 and “provides customers with a high-quality, hand-crafted, coffee experience, specialty drinks, salads, and pastries prepared by local entrepreneurs of color.”

    Founder Brenda Palms Barber said Beelove was designed to be a welcoming gathering place that fosters joy and pride and promotes community partnerships. 

    “Our cafe offers access to resources, the opportunity to meet your neighbors, a quiet place to study, or just people-watching while enjoying a Beelove honey-infused glass of lemonade. The Beelove cafe is community wealth-building in action, through coffee and conversation.”

    The Café is the newest social enterprise of the North Lawndale Employment Network. Beelove was made possible due to the success of Sweet Beginnings LLC, a subsidiary of the Network, which offers full-time transitional jobs to formerly incarcerated people. The work includes the production and sales of all-natural skin care products featuring urban honey under the Beelove brand. The company manages apiaries throughout Chicagoland and has trained over 500 people since 2008.

    “We found that there were many people who were looking for jobs but weren’t even given an opportunity to interview for positions,” said Sergio Dukes, Director of Operations. “The demand was there, and we knew we could fill some of that gap.”

    What sets the café apart, however, isn’t just their great coffee, pastries and reasonable prices; it’s the bighearted community partnership. They source their coffee from Metropolis, a Chicago staple, and pastries from Trini’s Tasty Pastries, a local entrepreneur, as just two examples. The Café has hosted many free educational events, live music, art exhibits, and informal meetings centered on themes with community members.

    Some of their partnerships include the Chicago Public Library, Art West, the I AM ABLE Center for Family Development, and Open Books, a nonprofit bookstore with thousands of donated used books for adults and kids. A few of their events have centered on International Women’s Day, “The Stigma of the Black Woman,” “Guitars not Guns,” LGBTQ+ shows, and more.

    “The café serves as a conduit to uplift people,” Sergio said. “This place is for everyone. People who live in our community work there as well, and you’ll keep seeing the same faces.”

    One of those faces is Tyshena Cage, the Café’s Supervisor since December 2021. While she was making me an almond milk vanilla latte with Beelove honey (delicious), she was smiling and chatting with her co-worker and dancing to their chosen music.

    “I love working here because we get to express our individuality—hair, shoes, clothes, personality. Doesn’t matter who you are, we don’t discriminate.”

    Hearing everything they accomplished in just one lightning fast year, I asked them how they not only kept their head above water but excelled and made their own unique footprint in the neighborhood. The Beelove team admits their biggest challenge was starting a new business during the pandemic, but they pushed forward and have been met with encouragement all along the way. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Governor Pritzker and the President of Microsoft have all visited the Café. Donors include the Lincoln Park Zoo, Heartland Alliance, Bank of America, and iHeart Media Chicago, among many others. 

    Sergio said seeing everything come together “almost like magic” was very special.

    “The idea was there for a while before we were able to start the Café. And what the Café is today evolved from need. We see this as a place of service. We are a small, tight-knit group, and we’re all hands on deck. And we want to work with our community partners as much as possible. We’re not in the art business or music business or book business, but we want to provide as much of that magic as possible. The way we do that is to give our partners control over their vision. We want to give them that space.” 

    Beelove’s next big event, on September 29, is a collaboration with Art West called “Spread Love.”

    Beelove Café, 1111 S. Homan Ave. Monday–Friday 7am–4pm, Saturday 8am–2pm. (773) 265-7945.

  • Best Community Museum in Shipping Containers: Lawndale Pop-Up Spot

    On many an evening in North Lawndale, music and laughter can be heard from the Love Blooms Here Plaza, located on the corner of Douglas Boulevard and Central Park Avenue. The plaza is decorated with flowers, pear trees, art installations, and small shipping containers that house one of the neighborhood’s preeminent cultural institutions: the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot. 

    The Pop-Up Spot was founded by Jonathan Kelley and Chelsea Ridley when the two were graduate students in museum studies at UIC. Inspired by community museums that they had experienced in other communities, Kelley and Ridley wanted to create a space in North Lawndale “for neighborhood residents to research and curate the history, art, issue, and science exhibitions and associated programming.” Initially, the community museum was housed in a brick and mortar building on 16th Street. However, due to an accident, the building was demolished in 2018 and the duo had to pivot. 

    “We decided we would try something different, something experimental, that would be a little more cost-effective and nimble,” Kelley explained. The idea they came up with was unique and ambitious: to create the first-known community museum in shipping containers. Thus, the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot was born. 

    In 2021, the Pop-Up Spot “popped” over from its former location at the Spaulding Memorial Garden to its current site at the Love Blooms Here Plaza. The plaza provided new opportunities for programming by providing close access to the Stone Temple Baptist Church (which owns the plot on which the plaza was built) and Douglas Boulevard, a main thoroughfare in the neighborhood. Two of the Pop-Up Spot’s recurring events, “Fridays on the Plaza” and “Sundays on the Boulevard,” reference its iconic location. 

    “Sundays on the Boulevard” is a particularly beloved tradition, in part because it embodies one of the Pop-Up Spot’s chief successes: its wide-spanning collaborations with the community. The event, which takes place every other Sunday during the summer, regularly features dozens of collaborators who bring community members together “to do arts and crafts, do live music, to eat, dance, learn, and have fun.” A recent Sunday on the Boulevard on August 21 was themed as a “Back to School Lit Fest.” It featured free books from Open Books, backpack and school material handouts, live music by two different bands, ice cream, mosaic making, free seeds and plants, arts activities, and much more. 

    “Now, during our Afrofuturism Summer, we’re collaborating with a bunch of different organizations to do art exhibits, a book club with the library…all sorts of things,” Kelley explained. “So to me, it’s really been about how we can use this static box as a vehicle for community connection and participation.” 

    The Pop-Up Spot has a variety of exciting events coming up this fall, including the first ever Chicago Sukkah Design Festival, a collaboration with architecture firms, designers, community organizations, and community residents to build three unique and reusable sukkahs (small booths built for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot) for community-based organizations and to build connections through programs such as an interfaith dinner, movie night, community clean-up, youth learning event, and much more. The final day of the Sukkah Festival—Sunday, October 16—will also coincide with the Open Boulevards Festival, Open House Chicago, and a new exhibit at the Pop-Up Spot in collaboration with the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society.

    Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, corner of Douglas and Central Park Blvds. Fridays 4–7pm, Saturdays 2–5pm, Sundays 2–5pm, in addition to regularly scheduled events and programs.

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