Photo by Neal Anderson

I’m not a resident of Roseland in the traditional sense, but it feels like home each morning I ride in on the Metra to teach sixty-plus high school seniors—sometimes more like home than the many formative places I called home in Atlanta. From the very moment I set eyes on my school building in Roseland, where Teach for America has placed me for my first year of teaching, I knew it was home. I purposely went without a car because I wanted to feel the neighborhood. I wanted to sit next to parents kissing their children goodbye as I held the door open on the bus for us to march into school together. I wanted to see the students running out of the gas station licking their fingers from hot crunchy curls and super donuts. I wanted to learn the name of the cashier at the Dollar Tree and know what park my students were referring to when I read their journal entries for the day. I wanted it to be my home. 

Those first two years were full of love and hope for that neighborhood. I loved the children, the parents, and the little hole in the walls that provided me with sustenance when I forgot my lunch at home. I was reminded of what it could be when students connected texts to their environments or when I watched our eighth graders cross the stage adorned with accolades. But, I was often told I had on rose-colored glasses. Colleagues would encourage me to get a car instead of riding the bus because of my safety. Friends and family from back home would ask me how many bullets I dodged that day. I would even hear students talk about “getting out” and “never coming back.” I felt naive in those moments, like my head was in the clouds. 

But there was a knowing I couldn’t shake. Even when I left to teach in a different neighborhood for a year, I always knew I would return—which I did. In my heart, it felt like home and if home is based on the place you spend most of your time, it actually was my home. During the long dark winters of the school year, I’d spend every hour of daylight in Roseland teaching students. I’d stay after school for games and often run down to the nearby Popeyes to sustain myself through the evening, knowing I wouldn’t see my home in Hyde Park until 8pm or 9pm. I’d come on the weekends to do copying for the upcoming lessons for the week or to cheer on my advisory boys in the football game. I’ve often heard it said that love is spelled t-i-m-e, and I joyfully gave just about every hour of the past six years I’ve taught there. But, I wanted to share that love with my students. I’ve always wanted them to see what I saw. My desire grew stronger when school shut down in March and was confirmed to remain closed for the upcoming semester. I realized just how important Roseland had been to me all these years and to my students.  So for this year’s BoSS for Roseland, you get to see the neighborhood, in its raw and spectacular existence, through the eyes of its youth. Each entry is written by a student who either lives in or goes to school in Roseland. They went through six weeks of learning about journalistic writing and composed a piece for a Best in Roseland. My hope is that you can feel and see the love I’ve always known from the moment I arrived. (Brittanee Rolle)

The youth writers in this section were compensated for their work via a donation from Eve L. Ewing.

Neighborhood Captain Brittanee Rolle is a high school writing teacher on the South Side of Chicago. She believes one day the South Side will be known for having amazing young writers.

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Best Book Club

Burst Into Books

Young people, do you hate reading? Is it hard for you to understand the topics or meaning of the story? Well, there is finally a solution for you. Burst Into Books is a literacy nonprofit that grew out of a book club, and is led by its founder Jurema Gorham, who noticed there weren’t many book clubs that focused on books for Black kids. The program is focused on rebuilding our village—Black communities—through educational and family programming. Some programs offered are virtual storytime, book club, bedtime stories, lit talk (a program for parents to help their children with reading and writing), and tutoring. Due to COVID-19, all of these programs are currently virtual to keep everyone safe. The organization’s mission is to “empower the community through teaching cultural literacy, financial literacy, digital literacy, reading, and writing.” Each age group has a carefully crafted curriculum that is age-appropriate. Each child is empowered to share their voice and reminded that their story matters. This program also seeks to provide support for families as well. This begins by making sure programs are affordable.

Gorham also wants to build kids’ character by teaching them to work together. She wants kids to feel like this program was made for them, and is centered around them and their families. Together, she and the participating families create an environment that makes reading come alive. The kids create paintings that relate to books they read by Black authors and it exposes the kids to all of the ways reading can be fun. This programming lets the kids see all of the different sides of reading.

Burst Into Books plans to open a community center that can host all of these events. Gorham wants to open it up in Roseland because she saw there was nothing here for the neighborhood’s kids. “It matters to me to do work in the neighborhood that most people don’t want to come in,” she said. She wants to be a light for Roseland and show others that it is worthy of investment. “Everyone has a part to make it work,” she said. If everyone did their part and worked together more people would see the greatness in Roseland. (Neal Anderson)

Neal Anderson is a senior at Butler College Prep. He loves writing because it is a way to express himself and his safe place.

Burst Into Books, 11001 S. Michigan Ave. (312) 970-9551.

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Best Public Art

Pullman-Roseland Mural

Part of the Pullman-Roseland Mural. Photo Credit: Kedasia Ward

Pullman, Roseland’s neighbor to the east, is the nation’s first industrial planned community. In 1880 George Mortimer Pullman purchased 4,000 acres to build a town for the workers in his train car factory. In 2015, then-President Barack Obama designated the neighborhood’s historic district as a U.S. National Monument because of its rich history. To represent this legacy, painter Rahmaan Statik created a mural along the border of Pullman and Roseland.    

The mural is the size of a long gallery wall. It’s painted brown to represent Black culture. Orange and yellow, combined like the golden sun, represent the light that is needed, and joy. With the words “President Obama” and “Pullman Porters” printed below the painting, it represents the history of the community: though treated as second-class by the Pullman Company, the Pullman porters, many of the earliest of whom were former slaves, represented an opportunity to reach the middle class for many Black Americans. However, they were not permitted to live in Pullman when it was a company town.

Part of the Pullman-Roseland Mural. Photo Credit: Kedasia Ward

Statik has produced over 400 murals. He has received mural commissions for corporate clients, but also has instructed children in mural paintings for After School Matters since 2004. He continues to contribute to the development of young artists by helping them with their art techniques, which often culminates into a mural like this. 

Statik studied art in middle school and high school, then eventually enrolled at the American Academy of Art. When he really knew art was his career, he started to spray paint on the side of buildings, and was arrested for vandalism multiple times. His vandalism eventually paid off, though, when he was selected to work with 9th Ward Alderman Anthony Beale in the Pullman and Roseland area, and that’s when he began working on the Roseland mural. Statik had thirty to forty students help him color in the mural, all of whom were from high schools in the area; they unveiled the mural on October 30, 2017. Reflecting on the mural, Statik  stated in the interview,  “I believe that being well-informed on the subject of your work and having an organized strategy produces a more intriguing work of art.”  

Statik has a philosophy for not only creating art, but for the purpose behind it. He stated in the interview that, “In my reality I have chosen my own destiny; time and fate have confirmed that producing art is my positive contribution to society.” (Kedasia Ward)

Kedasia Ward is a senior at Butler College Prep. She is interested in journalism because she wants to learn more about the world and to create her own stories about different places.

Pullman-Roseland Mural, E. 111th St. and S. Cottage Grove Ave.

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Best Breakfast

Sammy’s Breakfast

Sammy’s Breakfast in Roseland. Photo Credit: Tashia Hogue

Sammy’s is a family business on a mission to serve  “great quality food.” The glare from the flashing lights in its window is hard to miss, and on the other side of the crystal glass window is a team ready to cater to your hunger with a broad and varied menu. It’s specifically known for what’s said to be the most important meal of the day: its breakfast menu “outsells the lunch menu,” according to manager Jennifer Rubio, and includes all the standards—pancakes, eggs, bacon, grits.  Sammy’s is also a home away from home, even for those who aren’t from Roseland. The homey decor and flower vases along the front desk add comfort to the scenery, as if you’re in a living room. In this space, “’you don’t feel so overwhelmed” Rubio said. 

A satisfied customer wrote, “Good food, clean place, and nice people.” While conducting research, I had to experience this highly recommended establishment. Although some customers may complain about their prices, Rubio reassured them their “reasonable prices” come with “a really good amount of food.” As I opened the steamy styrofoam container, Rubio’s point had been proven. 

Even with the restrictions of COVID-19, Sammy’s hasn’t allowed the transition to interfere with its business. The restaurant has followed required safety precautions like mask upon entry, gloved workers, and daily sanitary cleanings to ensure its customers’ safety. 

In Roseland, Sammy’s has provided more than the eye can see. From its quality homestyle recipes to its involvement in local events. Sammy’s has a history of providing assistance to those in need, even as a small business. Rubio said that Sammy’s most frequent catering is to a nearby church and Catholic school, St. John de la Salle, and a local charter school, CICS Prairie. But it doesn’t stop with local organizations. If unhoused people come into the restaurant, in example, the owner will pay them to perform a small task, like taking out the garbage. Often, the owner will buy them coats in the winter. In hopes of keeping up its quality reputation, Sammy’s is continuing to come up with ways to impact the community positively. (Tashia Hogue) 

Tashia Hogue is a senior at Butler College Prep. She uses her pencil as a sword to fight all of her battles and it helps her speak up when she struggles to use her voice.

Sammy’s Breakfast, 250 E. 103rd St. Monday–Saturday, 7am–7pm; closed Sunday. (773) 264-9100

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Best Writing Conference

Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writers’ Conference

The Cordell Reed Student Union Building on the campus of Chicago State University, the host of the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writers’ Conference. Photo Credit: Marion Purnell

The Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writers’ Conference, the oldest Black writers conference in the country, manifests an enduring love for literature. The conference is an annual event hosted by a collective at Chicago State University to unify people so they can celebrate the fruit that literature has to bear. The conference has allowed students, professors, and celebrities (like Common, Kanye West, and their mothers) to show their appreciation for literature. Whether you’re joining from the comfort of your home or walking into an auditorium, this conference is filled with a wide variety of people who love literature and are gathered in the name of it. Adding a virtual component this year broadened the reach and level of participants across the country, but limited the physical contact within the conference—but like Dr. Kelly Ellis, one of the committee members for the conference, said, “Where one door closes, another one opens.” 

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black person to ever win a Pulitzer Prize. In order to pay proper homage to her, this event can take up to two years to plan. “It was quite a time for loving,” a line from Brooks’ poem “The Old Marrieds” soon became the focus of this year’s conference because, according to Ellis, “In these times we need to think about Black love, love for our community, for ourselves and our culture.” When I joined the conference this year, guest speakers were smiling as they spoke about the memories they had of Brooks. She impacted their work greatly. Brooks’ daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely, was also present. As she spoke of some of her mother’s work, grins followed the good memories for the audience. The panelists broke down pieces of literature and applied it to life. They also spoke of it as a “homecoming of sorts.”

After seeing established writers and lovers of literature discuss Gwendolyn Brooks’s writing, one could only wonder about the work it took to create this. Dr. Kelly Ellis said it best when describing the two years of planning as, “It’s a lot of work,” but the organizers get the job done to ensure that each year the people of Roseland experience an impactful Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writers Conference. (Marion Purnell)

Marion Purnell is a senior at Butler College Prep. He loves writing because he can articulate his thoughts through writing essays, writing song lyrics, or journaling. It makes him feel his voice is heard.

Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writers Conference, held annually at Chicago State University’s Gwendolyn Brooks Library, 9501 S. King Dr., rm. 143. (773) 995-3286.

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Read an In Memoriam for Roseland’s Argus Brewery here

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