When Martha Jones was growing up in the community of Englewood, Chicago was segregated and the blacks couldn’t go where the white people lived. The only time that black people could go where the whites lived was to buy supplies from their stores, Jones says. “Our money was good enough to spend at their stores but we weren’t good enough to visit.”
Jones remembers a circus coming to Englewood and performing in the white people’s area of the community. She would sit in a window in her house and listen to the music coming from the carnival and watch the lights because that was all she could do. Some kids in her community would try to sneak over but always ended up beaten or getting chased back to their area of Englewood.
In 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. came to Chicago to march against housing segregation. Jones remembers everyone in her community being very happy and in awe that King had come to Chicago. She remembers her mom and other adults in the community saying they must continue to pray for his safety. Thinking back, Jones realized the people of her community where very afraid for his life. Once during one of his marches, King was struck in the head with a rock, but he had intentionally put himself in harms way. He later explained why he did it: “I have to do this–to expose myself–to bring this hate into the open.”
When King was assassinated the blacks in Chicago began to riot just like others all over the country. Stores were destroyed, property vandalized and people were screaming and crying. Jones and her family stayed in their house, on the floor, during the rioting. Her brothers wanted to go out and do something but their mother told them “that’s not who we are.” They were not allowed to go out.
For a few days she and her family stayed in the house. The stores in Englewood never went back into business after being destroyed, except for a tavern, which Jones says is ironic. She recalls the night the rioting occurred was the saddest night of her life.
“Back when I was a little boy, we were able to sit our televisions on the porch without a care in the world,” said Ben Polk, 56, reminiscing on the front porch about growing up in Englewood.
During our interview, we both witnessed dozens of children gathering for a huge brawl.
“See,” he said, referring to the crowd gathering. “We never had to fight. We were so busy enjoying ourselves that we had no time for the foolery!”
He recalled that “it was a family-oriented block.” Polk also stated that each block was full with “big mamas, and hardworking parents.”
To perceive Englewood with the eye, you would never imagine the community to be a place where people once felt safe, but it was, and it can still be.
“The aroma of the blocks was collard greens, corn bread, and fried chicken 7 days a week,” Polk said and we both laughed.
“The violence is getting out of hand. Just the other night, a man came knocking at the door screaming ‘They just robbed me,’ while dripping with blood,” Polk said. “This neighborhood has become filled with danger. It is scary!”
My last question to Polk, who has lived in Englewood for more than 50 years: “ Is there hope?” He simply replied, “It’s praying time.”
As Governor Pat Quinn entered the auditorium of Benito Juarez Community Academy for the signing of the Illinois Dream Act, on August 1, everyone stood up and the room filled with cheer. When the governor introduced the speakers and supporters of the Dream Act, their powerful words and stories created energy of hope.
They told stories of how the broken immigration system has brought abandonment in their lives, and how their path to education has been blocked due to the lack of knowledge and financial necessities in order to apply and pay for school. Their stories have influenced the creation of the Dream Act. Because of them, the Dream Act is now building hope in immigrant students and families, and helping their dreams come true. Their words and the signing of the Dream Act will affect thousands of peoples’ lives for the better.
They will have hope that they will be able to receive private aid for school and would not have to worry about their immigration status and financial problems to continue their education. Now students will be given the opportunity to work for their goals of becoming a teacher, a doctor, a veterinarian, or any other profession they dreamed about all their lives.
All this hope that a pen and paper can bring. And how these carefully selected words will affect thousands of students. And as Governor Quinn signed the bill, not less than a couple feet away, feelings of hope overcame those of despair, and this historic moment will begin to shape dreamers’ futures, like mine, and will create a path towards accomplishment and happiness.
Seven years ago, Carolina Rivera was a volunteer in her children’s school when the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), a community organization, created a program called Parent as Mentors. “SWOP has a huge impact in my life,” says Rivera. When she started, SWOP pushed her to learn English.
Rivera is a community leader with SWOP, which provides services in housing, immigration, education, and anti-violence. She works on different issues with SWOP.
Rivera has lived in Chicago for twenty years and says it has changed a lot. When she moved there, Rivera wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood of Chicago Lawn, but she wasn’t afraid of walking to the store. Now that has changed because violence has increased but Rivera thinks that many things can be done to solve this issue. “I’m starting in my home by teaching my children what’s right and wrong,” says Rivera.
Despite the violence issues, Rivera likes that Chicago Lawn is more racially diverse. She also likes that when there is a problem in her community, neighbors work together to find a solution.
Rivera is also a Parent Mentor Coordinator at Talman Elementary School.
The objective of the Parent as Mentors Program is to help students below grade level. Parents as mentors attend school two hours per day from Monday through Thursday and on Fridays they have a mandatory training. However, some parents volunteer for more hours. The requirements are to have a child registered in the school where you are applying, to pass a background check, and to have a TB test.
This program not only benefits students but also parents because they gain confidence in themselves.
Jamesetta Harris didn’t like what she saw in her community, Englewood. She wanted change in her community, but nobody was stepping up to do so. Finally, Harris wrote a letter to the police department in her district.
“I poured my heart out in my letter,” she says. “I talked about everything that bothered me from the gangs to even how the environment looked. I told them I wanted to live the American dream with nice big homes, flowers, nice well-kept grass, and tall white fences. I explained how nobody would even come and assist people in the neighborhood because of all the crime.”
About a week after sending the letter to the police department, Harris noticed change. There were more police in the area, sod was laid in the lawns, and the area was just beautiful, she says. Police arrested a lot of the gang and drug members, which allowed people to live more comfortably. “Every once in a while you would hear gun shots versus 24/7,” Harris says.
Harris eventually joined Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program of the Chicago Police Department. She works as a liaison between the police and the community of Englewood.
Harris, who has lived in Englewood for 19 years, didn’t originally want to move to the area. “I remember Englewood being the worst neighborhood in the Chicago land area,” Harris says. She moved to the Englewood community because her home was one of many on the West Side being torn down by the City of Chicago to commercialize the area.
As Harris reminisces about Englewood, she recalls many negative images. Harris lived in a house filled with rodents. Her property, as well as others, had no grass and no flowers. Litter filled the streets, which the guys lingered on wearing sagging pants. Nobody in the area was friendly. She remembers speaking to neighbors passing by and nobody spoke back. Harris says: “I did not know a soul.”
She is now being recognized for her work in the community as she went from not knowing a soul to knowing thousands through her work with CAPS. “Everybody knows Ms. Harris,” she says, “and respects me. The guys that used to stand on the corner calling me names, are now the ones that offer me help carrying my bags.”
Rebecca Shi, or Becca, believes people have the ability and power to make changes. That was one of the reasons why she started working with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). She is currently one of the organizers at SWOP, a community organization located in Chicago Lawn.
SWOP started in 1996 and represents more than 30,000 families, providing services in housing, immigration, education, and anti-violence. Becca started working with SWOP about a year ago because she liked what SWOP was doing in the community. She is the Tech Organizer.
Becca is in charge of teaching computer classes to parents. This program has a big impact in Chicago Lawn because many adults don’t know how to use a computer. Not only does the program help parents to help their kids with homework assignments, but it also helps the adults gain job skills.
Becca came to the United States from Beijing, China, when she was 11 years old. She lived in Boston for a few years then moved to New Jersey. After high school she moved to Chicago where she attended college.
Becca was studying banking during her junior year in college when she decided to change her major because she realized she was able to attend school thanks to the sacrifices of people who came before her. She felt like it was a debt that she needed to repay. She started interning in the Asian American Institute, collecting immigration stories in Chinatown. She wanted to be part of a work that recognizes and respects people.
Becca lives in the Northwest side ofChicago in Logan Square. On Sundays she likes going to the farmers market were farmers from Illinois and Indiana go to her community to sell their fresh produce. Becca likes her community because it’s peaceful, there are a lot of things to do, and because there are a lot of parks. But Becca said that Chicago Lawn is more diverse than her community. There is more diversity in terms of race and faith.
Lots of immigrant students in Chicago are striving for a college education. Without papers, it is nearly impossible for that to happen. Students shed tears this past December when the Dream Act, the national legislation to provide a path to citizenship, was not passed. It was heartbreaking and dream-wrecking. But Illinois finally passed its own Dream Act.
The Illinois Dream Act Fund provides private scholarships for students who have an immigrant parent, attended an Illinois school for three years, and graduated from high school or recieved a GED in Illinois. All the money for the fund is provided privately, no public dollars are given to the fund.
The Illinois Dream Act was signed by Governor Pat Quinn. The signing took place at Benito Juarez Community Academy, with an estimated 300 people attending.
The auditorium was filled with mostly high scho0l students from all over Chicago. They began the ceremony with a drum show, followed by Gov. Quinn walking on to the stage. He invited Arianna Salgado, the voice and representative of all Dreamers in Illinois, to speak about how the Dream Act impacts the students’ lives and her own experience dealing with the Dream Act.
Before signing the act, the governor stated: ” We want everybody in and nobody out.”
James taught at Hubbard High School for three years, until 2008. Today he works at Morgan Park High School. “I love working with kids, it’s something I always wanted to do,” says James.
James wants a safe neighborhood for kids to play around, a neighborhood where adults and children could be outside at night and just talk without any worries.
He grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Due to ministry, he and his family moved to Michigan, then Toronto, an then to Chicago. In the year 2000, they moved into the neighborhood of Chicago Lawn.
“We drove around,” says James. “We ended up around Marquette Park, drove around the neighborhood, there was a school near by. So from what we saw, we liked that area,” he says.
James has seen violence increase over his eleven years in Chicago. As a teacher, he believes that if he showed that he cared about his students, he can make an impact.
James still lives in Chicago Lawn with his wife and four kids, trying to make an impact on students’ lives. “I think I can make a difference.”
On a super sunny day on June 22, around 4:00 p.m., my dad was outside fixing the car, when he heard two shots. Then I heard the sound of police sirens and an ambulance.
I went outside and I saw a lot of people. I went to the corner of 62nd and Sacramento and saw two kids on the ground, one of them was my friend from elementary school. He was okay, but the other guy died. His name was Richard; he was 13 years old.
People say that all of this happens because of the gangs. And what I think is that we need some cameras on the corner on 62nd Street so that the police can see everything that happens.
Richard and the other teen were walking east on 62nd Street when they turned on Sacramento Avenue and encountered two other males who asked them their gang affiliation. People in the neighborhood say that Richard started hanging out with gang members since school ended for summer break. They always told him, “Don’t hang out with those kids. They’re a bad influence for you.” But he never listened. “Because,” he said, ‘They are my friends.”
Richard was a guy who enjoyed playing video games and watching the Cartoon Network. The neighborhood created a makeshift memorial of three candle holders on a sidewalk by a wrought-iron fence at the corner where he died.
Richard’s death is sad. I tried to find some statistics on gang violence in the neighborhood of Chicago Lawn but I couldn’t find anything clear. I makes me feel scared because in Chicago Lawn we have a lot of kids outside playing in summer.