Photo by Jason Schumer

Growing up in Roseland in the 70s was a wonderful experience. Walking to the neighborhood school past beautiful single-family homes along tree-lined blocks, or to the Pullman library for books, or to Gately Park, marked my days as a child. JCPenney, Gately’s Peoples Store, the Roseland Theater, and Kresge’s Drug Store were all on South Michigan Ave from 107th to 115th Streets, the Magnificent Mile of the South Side. If you look closely, shadows of historical architecture can be seen in some of the older buildings still standing on these streets.

Roseland was named by Dutch immigrants who settled the area, and research has turned up that several of the original settlers sheltered enslaved people in their homes as part of the Underground Railroad. It is only fitting that the growing African-American middle class began buying homes there in the late 60s and still populates the area. 

As businesses began to leave Roseland in the late 80s and early 90s, the community fell into disinvestment and hard times. However, Roseland is still filled with well-kept homes and residents who care for their community. With the recent announcement by the city of new housing, shopping and potentially a new CTA train station coming to the long neglected Michigan Avenue,  there seems to be a vision that Roseland’s Magnificent Mile will rise again and jump-start the renaissance and renewal of this community. 

Bordering Roseland, the community of Pullman is historically significant as one of the first planned community for workers in the United States. Built in the 1880s, Pullman is an architecturally beautiful community that was designated a National Monument in 2015. It has seen lots of investment and development in recent years, including the Pullman Community Center, a new Visitor Center for the National Monument, restaurants and manufacturing, and a plan for a hundred-room hotel on land formerly occupied by the closed Ryerson Steel plant.  

The hope is that new investment and interest in Roseland and Pullman will keep these communities viable for future generations of South Siders.

Vanessa Johnson is a teacher and longtime resident of Roseland. Her favorite Chicago film is Cooley High.

  • Best Public Four-Year University: Chicago State

    In 1987, before the start of my senior year of high school, the CPS teachers went on strike. Many parents were trying to find a safe place for their children. I recall Chicago State University (CSU) opening their doors for all high school students. We could sign up for workshops, resume writing, employment strategies, and financial aid for college. Throughout the four weeks of the strike, I enjoyed my time at the university and appreciated CSU for helping the teens in the city during that time.

    Chicago State is the only public four-year university on the South Side, and for the last half century, a cornerstone of higher education for many Black Chicagoans, including myself and many family members. Founded in 1867 as the Cook County Normal School, a teacher’s college, the school was originally in Englewood and has changed names, locations, and purpose more than once since then. It became Chicago State University in 1971 and moved to its current location in Roseland the following year. As the student population became majority Black, the school added an African-American Studies program, and its first African-American president, Benjamin Alexander, pushed for the university to promote multiculturalism. In 1990, CSU opened the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing in honor of Brooks, who taught at CSU for over a decade. 

    CSU is an important institution in my family. My godmother graduated from Chicago State back when it was named Chicago Teachers College and went on to teach home economics for CPS for over thirty years. My sister Veronica graduated from Chicago State in 1993, and had this to say about it: “CSU was a godsend for me. After five years of floundering between [colleges and universities], I discovered Chicago State. It was a school close to my home and I could continue to work while I attended school…With a forty-hour workweek, grants and student loans, the school was very affordable. CSU gave me support in classes that were a challenge for me, math and statistics. I even found a part-time job on campus as a tutor to students who struggled in English and writing.”

    She went on to say, “I enjoyed the atmosphere being on a mostly African-American campus. My classes had students of various ages. We all seemed to have the same goal in mind and that was to graduate. And to obtain a job in their chosen field. CSU was a great experience for me.”

    For my niece Geneva, who was trying to finish her education, CSU was the only school that was affordable, close by, and offered a degree program that would benefit her academically and line up with her schedule. She enrolled in the Individual Curriculum adult education program which is a nontraditional degree program and graduated in May 2021. “The professors are great and knowledgeable about their subjects. And they are willing to give you extra help if necessary. Many instructors had an open door policy about office hours. You can come and ask questions and get the answers you need.”

    In addition to the many traditional offerings of a university, CSU has a wide variety of programs to meet your needs. Take the Options program: it offers continuing education courses for adults and children, from business to exercise. The Rise Academy is a new program they have for college freshmen. Once a student applies and is accepted, each student will receive free tuition, fees, and textbooks. In addition, a free laptop will be provided for them as well, and each student will have an advisor to assist them academically. 

    Chicago State University is a community institution that is committed to assisting students to succeed academically and in life.

    Chicago State University, 9501 S. King Dr. Visit or call (773) 995-2000 for more information.

  • Best Futuristic Source of Local Fresh Greens: Gotham Greens

    If you’re in the produce aisle of Jewel-Osco, Pete’s Fresh Market, or another local grocery store, Gotham Greens is a familiar brand. Gotham Greens’ Arugula, Baby Butterhead, Greenhouse Crunch, and the Grateful Dead-inspired Grateful Greens medley of butterhead, green, and red leaf lettuce often line the shelves. They come in clear plastic containers that showcase the leafy goodness in all its earthy glory.

    The salad greens are crisp, fresh, longer-lasting than average, and often on sale if you buy a few. They’re eco-friendly and sustainable as they do not travel far. The produce is grown in a pair of state-of-the-art renewable energy-powered urban greenhouses in Pullman. Not far from the planned worker community, bastion of organized labor, and historic railroad car factory that’s now a National Monument, it’s hardly a traditional farm out in the countryside. 

    Gotham Greens first came to Pullman in 2015, opening a 75,000-square-foot climate-controlled greenhouse on the roof of the LEED-Platinum certified William McDonough + Partners-designed Method Products plant that makes soap with the help of a wind turbine and solar trees. Gotham Greens’ rooftop hydroponic greenhouse produces millions of heads of lettuce and herbs for supermarkets and restaurants across Chicago and beyond, growing thirty times more crops per acre than farm fields in modern greenhouses that operate year-round and are impervious to drought, pests, and other occupational hazards most farmers face.

    The national Brooklyn-based company that seeks to reinvent agriculture to make it more sustainable sought to expand on its initial two-acre footprint in the historic Pullman neighborhood by building a second 100,000-square-foot facility on the former Ryerson Steel site in 2019. The expansion created “Chicago’s largest urban agriculture campus” and expanded the company’s distribution reach across the Midwest.

    A salad made with Gotham Greens was never trucked halfway across the country. It’s never out of season. It’s never been doused in pesticides. It’s always locally sourced and fresh to the bite.

    Gotham Greens, 720 E. 111th St. (718) 935-0600.

  • Best Athletic Center Inspired by a Chicago Activist: Dr. Conrad Worrill Track and Field Center

    The Dr. Conrad Worrill Track and Field Center opened in 2021 after three years of construction. Located within Pullman’s Gately Park, the center seats 3,500 people and is equipped for track meets, volleyball and basketball games, and various fitness needs. It also has multipurpose meeting rooms for  non-sporting events , such as the Words of Wonder Literary Fest this past July. In addition, the center includes programming from the teen employment program After School Matters.

    The center is named after Dr. Conrad Worrill, a longtime Chicago resident and activist who pushed for its creation. Worrill led a rich, long life full of many pursuits, from being a civil rights activist to a talk show host on WVON. He was drafted into the army and stationed in Japan, during which he read widely about African-American history and culture, and talked to Black soldiers from back home. When he returned home he enrolled in college and became an active member of the anti-war Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He earned a doctorate in education and taught at George Williams College and Northeastern Illinois University, where, as he put it, he helped young people understand the relationship between “power and institutions.” 

    Worrill played a role in the election of Harold Washington and in the National Black United Front, a radical organization with roots in the Pan-African movement and which now has chapters all over the country. He was instrumental in organizing the Million Man March with Louis Farrakhan in 1995. Worrill would always say he was influenced by his father who was active with the NAACP and YMCA.

    In an interview with WTTW, Worrill’s daughter Femi Skanes said, “He despised the fact that our children did not have an adequate facility to help them hone their track and field skills.” Worrill passed in 2020, shortly before the center’s completion. Skane said her father would talk about the building fondly. “He would burst with pride when he talked about the new track and field stadium.”

    Dr. Conrad Worrill Track and Field Center, 10201 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 7am–10pm. 773-941-8232.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *