In 2015, Hannah and Quilen Blackwell bought and renovated a house on 6439 S. Peoria Street, in Englewood. They are now running community sustainability programs from this house—they call it the Eco House.
Tonika Johnson’s photos document everyday life as it is lived in Englewood among families and friends, young folks and old; they take place in front of stores and on sidewalks, in parks and on trains—all the places we find ourselves every day, but sometimes forget to think of as beautiful. “My passion for Englewood and community work, plus my belief in the power of contemporary art [as] a conduit for social awareness, motivated me to use my art to challenge public perception of Englewood,” she said of her photos last year in a Weekly article about the first annual Englewood Art Fair in Hamilton Park. Some of these photos have been shown in galleries or published in other outlets before; others appear here for the first time. Her next exhibition, Everyday Rituals, will open at Rootwork Gallery in February, and will feature photography as well as an experimental film short.
Though Whole Foods opened in Englewood in September, dozens of interviews with local residents reveal that perceptions of the high-end grocery store remain a barrier to accessing fresh produce.
Abuilding’s design tells you a lot about who it’s for. The new faux-Parisian townhomes in Lincoln Park appeal to people who want to imitate the prestige and sophistication of a European capital. The large, bright windows of a traditional commercial storefront ask everyone in the neighborhood to come in and check out the merchandise.
The stately Hamilton Park Cultural Center is home to an overwhelming variety of community programming. In a given month, the auditorium’s stage might be the backdrop for a yoga class, a film screening, or a footwork showcase by dance crew The Era. On Saturday, October 15, it served as the site of the first annual Englewood Art Fair, which drew over a hundred attendees. Teenage girls circled booths selling jewelry, drawings, t-shirts, bags, and aromatherapy oils, snacking on complimentary tea sandwiches and brie. An African art pop-up store took up a side room by the entrance, displaying dozens of West African carved statues and paintings for sale at unbelievably reasonable prices. In the auditorium, toddlers climbed up the stairs to the stage, where featured artist Tonika Johnson’s photos were displayed.
What do bicycle and nature trails have to do with gentrification?
My family was the third African-American family that moved into the community. I did experience the change, I did experience some of the racism that I endured as I was brought up in Englewood. I graduated from Henderson School in 1979, and I went to Gage Park High School, and you’ve probably heard about the racism, the riots there. Then I had my kids, then I went to Chicago State, where I obtained my Bachelor’s. So I’ve been working in Englewood a long time.
“Because right now it seems like ‘Oh, there’s just so much land, we have to get this into the private market or figure out what to do with it.’ But soon there will be none left, and whatever is left will be super expensive.”
As with many of the kids there, contact with the police in a friendly context was a new experience.