Emeline Posner


Before the Obama Presidential Library (OPL), there was the Olympics. Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games showcased Washington Park as the future home of the Olympic Stadium, where an iconic opening ceremony might feature Kanye West and Michael Jordan. Now that the focus has shifted from Washington Park to Woodlawn, where the OPL will finally settle, a representative from the former has one thing to say: “We had been there before.” That’s Cecilia Butler, longtime resident of Washington Park and president of both the Washington Park Advisory Council (WPAC) and the Washington Park Resident’s Advocacy Council (WPRAC). Butler served as the community representative on the Chicago Olympic committee, and called it “an exciting experience.” Her position on the committee stemmed from a Community Benefits Agreement drafted by a conglomeration of Washington Park residents. For Butler, CBAs only work when the community itself, rather than a small contingent of individuals, create them. “Three or four people can sit down and put anything on paper, but if you have a group of people in an open meeting say these are the things we want, that’s what we did,” Butler said of the Olympic bid process.

Butler became president of the WPAC in 1992 and has retained that position ever since. She chalks up the success of the council to a November 1982 lawsuit served to the City of Chicago by the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ sued the city for racial discrimination in the allocation of parks resources. A consent decree negotiated in 1983 by the DOJ and the City of Chicago mandated several new provisions to combat this pattern of discrimination, including $10 million in expenditures over the following six years, sixty-five percent of which was to be spent in black and brown neighborhoods. In addition, Chicago parks began forming advisory councils to increase citizen participation, including in Washington Park. Butler credits the decree “for making [the Parks District] a better institution.”

Before, during, and after the debates surrounding the 2016 Olympic bid, Butler’s WPAC has been working on another project: a rehabilitation of the closed entrance to the Garfield Green Line stop. Ideally, the stop would be transformed into a Washington Park Historical Society, to be modeled off of the Hyde Park Historical society at 55th Street and Lake Park Avenue. “If they can do it, we can do it. Because I’ve collected everything”—Butler laughed—“I have lots of stuff.” But some form of historical collecting has already begun, albeit in a way that Butler thinks doesn’t allow Washington Park residents to preserve their own history. In March 2013, the opening of the Arts Incubator included a call for artifacts from Washington Park residents. “You don’t come into a community and ask people to give you their history. You might ask to see it, but you don’t take it,” Butler said.

A DNAinfo analysis found that between 2008 and 2014, the University spent $18 million to buy twenty-six properties in Washington Park, two of which became the Arts Incubator and the Currency Exchange Café. The WPRAC, founded in the  winter of 2013, came about as a reaction to this rash of spending. “We had to represent the residents. Because to us, we felt that the most important [part of] this is the people that live here.” Since then, the WPRAC has spearheaded two efforts in the neighborhood. One, a food co-op, helps combat the lack of grocery store options in the neighborhood. The co-op, which had its organizational kickoff this past May, will provide a central location for South Side urban farmers to gather and sell their goods. Although multiple locations have been targeted by the WPRAC, no one place has been chosen.

The second effort is the OPL. In 2013, the WPRAC created a twenty-seven-point community benefits agreement to submit to the University of Chicago pending the final OPL decision. However, in early August of this year, the Obama Foundation announced that Woodlawn’s Jackson Park, not Washington Park’s 161-acre namesake, would serve as the library’s future home. For Joel Hamernick, executive director of Woodlawn’s Sunshine Gospel Ministries, the library will spell both opportunity and uncertainty for the community’s home and business owners. “The library is absolutely going where it should be—that’s on the South Side of Chicago,” Hamernick said. “Yet it’s simultaneously gonna create this struggle to see how it can be done in a just way.” (Olivia Adams)

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Best Wall

Woodlawn Gateway Mural

Two lotus flowers anchor the first segment of a new bricolage installation in Woodlawn, underneath the Metra tracks that run over Marquette Road at Dorchester Avenue. The theme for the Woodlawn Gateway Mural was developed by the community, with scenes from Woodlawn’s history of jazz performances, as well as flowers that evoke the neighborhood’s year-old Dorchester Botanical Garden.

The choice of the lotus, a symbol of purity and triumph over adversity, is an excellent one. The sidewalk in front of the mural is cracked and the ceiling, which holds up the Metra train tracks, is already leaking onto the mural even though the project hasn’t even been officially unveiled, but there’s no denying the beauty and significance of the art, conceived and designed by the community from the sidewalk up. Green Star Movement organized the project, with 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran acting as a partner and fundraiser. Hundreds of neighborhood volunteers, community organizations, and corporate groups contributed to the installation process. It is a marvelous piece of art. (Lara Kattan)

Woodlawn Gateway Mural, Marquette Rd. and Dorchester Ave. greenstarmovement.org

Emeline Posner
Emeline Posner

Best Ever-Expanding Ministry

Sunshine Gospel Ministries (and Enterprises)

Since 1905, Sunshine Gospel Ministries has served myriad roles in Chicago, spending time on both the North and South Sides as a ministry for unwed mothers at its inception, and later as a music ministry in the mid-twentieth century. The organization moved from Cabrini-Green to Woodlawn in 2001 with Joel Hamernick as executive director of all the ministry’s projects. According to Hamernick, the organization’s youth focus solidified during the transition from Cabrini-Green to Woodlawn. Sunshine Gospel originally offered youth programming to elementary school students only, but has expanded to middle and high school students by the early 2010s. This focus developed alongside a new, related concentration on entrepreneurship. “The thing for us was the correlation between the absence of work and the presence of violence,” says Hamernick. While entrepreneurial programming for high school students was successful, it didn’t lead to the creation of new businesses, only jobs. “Around 2011 or 2012, we really started rethinking our approach to see work return to the community.” As a result, Sunshine Gospel Enterprises, a new, non-faith venture, was born. Presently, the organization operates in Evanston’s west side, Woodlawn, and Greater Auburn Gresham; plans to expand to Lawndale this fall are also in the works. (Olivia Adams)

Sunshine Gospel Ministries, 500 E. 61st St. (773) 904-9800. sunshinegospel.org

Best Resurrection

Shrine of Christ the King

Since the Weekly wrote about it in June, the Shrine of Christ the King has undergone significant changes. The building was threatened with demolition by Chicago’s Archdiocese last December due to a devastating fire two months prior, but a vigorous community effort to save it from closure won out. Anonymous donations amounting to at least $450,000, as well as an ongoing community fundraising campaign, enabled Christ the King to remain open pending extensive renovations. Thus far, $1 million of phase one’s $2.5 million goal has been raised. The renovations in question have since begun, with engineering firms Wiss, Janney, Elstener Associates, Inc. and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger completing extensive surveys and drafts this summer. The severely damaged roof has seen progress as well. With the demolition of damaged sections completed, Raffin Construction can begin the rebuilding process; on August 29, the City of Chicago granted a work permit to “install a new roof structure matching original landmark building structure.” (Olivia Adams)

Shrine of Christ the King, 6415 S. Woodlawn Ave. (773) 363-7409. shrinelandmark.org 

Best Parade, Period

Bud Biliken Parade

The Bud Billiken parade, named after a recurring character in the columns of Chicago Defender, founded by Robert Abbot, was established in 1929 as a kickoff to the start of the school year and a celebration of South Side students and their accomplishments. The parade’s festivities now also include an annual scholarship program that began in 2003, and has awarded over $1.5 million to more than 300 college-bound students. This year’s $2,500 award went to DeJah Jones, a 2016 graduate of Lindblom Math and Science Academy. The parade featured 175 performance groups this year—nearly half of the usual three hundred—in order to shorten both the six-hour runtime and costs. Groups were also strictly capped at one hundred members, causing several to drop out, including the South Shore Drill Team, whose participation in the parade dates back thirty-five years. Another absentee, the Chicago Alliance, calls their “barring” from this year’s parade a “politically motivated attack on the entire #BlackLivesMatter movement,” according to an August 6 tweet. Last year, the organization led an anti-police brutality charge at the parade. This year’s theme, “Uniting the Community Through Education for 87 Years,” drew thousands, but the expected one million spectators appeared to fall short, perhaps due to the changes. (Olivia Adams)

Bud Billiken Parade. Runs on King Drive and through Washington Park, 39th to 55th Sts. Second Saturday in August, annually. (773) 536-3710. budbillikenparade.org

Best Coffee Lounge for Everyone

Robust Coffee Lounge

Come as you are to Robust Coffee Lounge, and bring a book or a friend, because you’ll want to stay awhile. On a recent Sunday morning the following people passed through: a Lycra-clad group of middle-aged men who sat eating sandwiches by the window, watching their fancy bicycles; a University of Chicago law professor; a pastor; a dad with a kid in a stroller and another tugging at his shirt; an older couple who sipped their lattes and shared the Sunday paper in a finely choreographed routine. Two teenage girls giggled and whispered. I devoured two smoothies, even though just one would have sufficed, because they are delicious.

This unpretentious (not code for sloppy or plain) cafe opened in 2010, and now fills a void on this particular stretch of 63rd Street, between Woodlawn, where the cafe sits, and the blocks just west. Due east are rows of townhomes that appear new and occupied. Hopefully people continue to find and frequent this little treasure of Woodlawn and, by their patronage and foot traffic, help impel the very real revitalization that Woodlawn deserves. (Lara Kattan)

Robust Coffee Lounge, 6300 S. Woodlawn Ave. Monday–Friday, 6am–8pm; Saturday–Sunday, 6am–7pm. (773) 891-4240. robustcoffeelounge.com

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1 Comment

  1. I like to stop in and grab a cup of coffee and a bagel. I love the book exchange and have found a couple of good books. I have also donated some to the collection. I come to the area because I work at the YWCA on Cottage grove. I always enjoy my trips here.

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