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Black Sailors in Chicago Chart a New Course


When Karen Harris was 10, she and her younger brother went to sailing camp for two weeks in Chicago. Not a common activity for a couple of African-American kids in those days.

“Everyone else was Caucasian. So we definitely stood out,” she remembers. But the experience changed their lives. Today, her brother Joseph is the manager of sailing for the Chicago Park District. And Karen is the commodore of the Jackson Park Yacht Club.

Karen Harris is also first mate on the sailboat Mise en Place, which will sail this year in its ninth Race to Mackinac, an annual race sponsored by the Chicago Yacht Club. In a sport that is still mostly white and male, Mise en Place is unusual: the nine-person team includes six African-American sailors and four women.

Producer Jay Shefsky and cameraman Felix Mendez pose with the crew of Mise en Place at Jackson Park Harbor. Producer Jay Shefsky and cameraman Felix Mendez pose with the crew of Mise en Place at Jackson Park Harbor.

While African-Americans may be a small fraction of sailors nationwide – and especially rare in racing, the Jackson Park Yacht Club, based in Jackson Park Harbor on the South Side is, they say, the largest community of black sailors in the country.

The club has 400 members – and three hundred are African-American.

In recent years, the Jackson Park Yacht Club has focused hard on outreach, including affordable sailing lessons for adults – and even a free sailing camp this year for kids.


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