This summer, Nedra Fears moved from Atlanta to Chicago’s South Side at a time when affluent blacks are more likely to do the opposite. Sixty-year-old Fears is living at her mom’s house in Chatham and looking for a home to buy in the historic black community, whose fortunes have declined in the past several decades.
The first thing you might notice is the lawns: carefully manicured, they bring to mind a preserved vision of the ideal American suburb of the 1950s. It’s not an accident. Block clubs in Chatham maintain a genial atmosphere and preserve a long-standing community within the neighborhood. It’s a feel that neighborhood citizens work hard to preserve in a time when the families of Chatham have begun greeting newcomers, renters, and unaffiliated buyers who nevertheless want to be a part of what is one of the most tight-knit communities in the South Side.
Soul singer and Chatham native Nola Adé doesn’t like to box herself in. When we sat down to talk, she had just performed a sold-out opening show at Hyde Park’s Promontory. “I grew up just listening to the voice of Ella Fitzgerald,” she told me. “I’ve always loved her voice, but some of my influences go from Lauryn Hill to Asa—she’s a Nigerian artist—to Amy Winehouse—I do so many of her covers—to Mali Music, one of my favorite artists today. And I still have some traditional Afrobeat artists that I really love too.” Continue reading
Lanisha Byron steps out of Target and into the early evening on 86th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue, laden with bags of back-to-school supplies and worry etched into her face. “All I’m saying is that if he doesn’t do his homework on time this year, there’s gonna be consequences,” she laughs. Cottage Grove is busy at this time of day—with places like the strip mall here, Walgreens down the road, and a multitude of local businesses, it’s been one of Chatham’s commercial lifelines since the early 1940s. Even along relatively quiet stretches, Byron passes by people who greet her cheerfully on the sidewalk—the smiling men outside the neighborhood mosque, mechanics taking a break outside the auto shop, and Houston Myers, her neighbor and a resident of Chatham for three years. Continue reading
Trumpeter Marquis Hill, originally from Chatham, returned to the South Side two weeks ago for a show at the House of Bing in South Shore, and also played at WHPK’s annual Black History Month concert last Saturday at the University of Chicago’s International House. Continue reading
Eva St. John glowers at her boyfriend, Kevin. “Shit, women love gay men!” he laughs. “I would lie to a woman in a heartbeat to get in there!” Continue reading
“To be honest, prior to 2009 I used to be a Democrat,” said David Earl Williams III, a candidate for the 9th District in the Illinois House of Representatives. Continue reading
Tucked into a corner on bustling 79th Street in Chatham, Flecks Coffee Company brings in customers of all stripes for a solid breakfast and a cup of coffee with some company. “I wrote a play sitting right there,” says Sati Word, a regular. He points to a wooden table and chair against the far wall. The wall is painted deep red and embossed with the words “Dream Big” in large-font calligraphy. Flecks Coffee is “something different, that the area didn’t have before,” Sati explains (it opened in June). “It brings in a crowd I didn’t know was here, neighborhood folks.”
For Chicago artist Joshua Robinson, After Real Truth—his clothing, toy, and comic book company—is a more than a job. It’s a futuristic spiritual world and a way of life. A Chatham native, Robinson, who also goes by the alias “J. Bot,” started After Real Truth as a hobby in 2005 after graduating from Westwood College with a degree in computer animation. It has since exploded into what Robinson describes as a community-wide “movement” toward spiritual enlightenment. Continue reading