‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Greater Grand Crossing

This week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a new plan to invest $8 million to expand mental health services in communities around the city.

One of those communities is Greater Grand Crossing on the South Side where residents say years of disinvestment collided to meet the pandemic and a recent increase in violence, creating a crush of mental health needs. 

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“I think this is gonna be a tremendous investment in the community at large in Chicago and especially here in Greater Grand Crossing,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer, whose 6th Ward, includes most of Greater Grand Crossing. “No matter if you have insurance or not, treatment is free… I just need people to take advantage of it, that’s what’s really important.”

Greater Grand Crossing is located 10 miles south of the Loop, situated between a handful of South Side neighborhoods, including Englewood, Chatham and South Shore. The community area is said to get its name from the many neighborhoods it encompasses.

“All of these streets that come through this neighborhood, that’s why they call it Grand Crossing,” said Ayoka Noelle Samuels, director of the Gary Comer Youth Center. “You have South Chicago, you have Cottage Grove, you’ve got 71st Street. All these streets that intersect and that’s because that’s how we do it here. We intersect.”

Greater Grand Crossing is home to many historic landmarks, including the Oak Wood Cemetery. It is the burial site of many influential Black leaders, including gospel music creator Thomas A. Dorsey, “Ebony” and “Jet” founder John H. Johnson, first African American mayor of Chicago Harold Washington and suffragist, reporter and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells. The community area also includes the Stony Island Arts Bank, Grand Crossing Park and Gwendolyn Brooks’ home.

Today, Greater Grand Crossing is still a predominantly Black community, with roughly 30,805 residents. Similar to other communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides, it has dealt with decades of disinvestment and segregation. Nearly 30% of households live below the poverty line, according to city data

Parts of this community are struggling in the fight against COVID-19. The ZIP code where the Gary Comer Youth Center is located, 60619, has an 8.4% seven-day people positivity rate as of Oct. 4, but a neighboring ZIP code has a much lower positivity rate, and the others fall somewhere in between.

Video: Our full interview with 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer.

At the Gary Comer Youth Center, young people have access to after school programming ranging from urban agriculture and computer technology classes to sports and arts. 

Samuels said so many young people learning virtually has her concerned — not just for primary students, but older students too. 

“We also need to think about what happens for middle school aged and high school-aged young people,” Samuels said. “They often times are bored, and when they are bored and they are left to their own devices without caring adults around them, you can’t really control what their response is going to be to everything going on right now.”

Just down the street from Gary Comer is Ring of Hope, a nonprofit that provides boxing and double Dutch as an after-school activity for young people. Its founder Pastor Anthony Wright also works as a social worker for Chicago Public Schools.

The community has already experienced its share of violence, but as is the case for so many Chicago communities — it's gotten worse.

At 35 homicides, its homicide rate is 35% higher than the same time last year, and shootings are up as well by 77% higher, according to data from the Chicago Police Department.

“Violence has always been a part of our community,” Wright said. “I think that there may be an uptick in violence, but I think that, unfortunately, people have normalized it in an unfortunate way. A lot of people have moved, they’ve relocated. Our community has become more transient. You know when I grew up, you knew who your neighbors were.”

Wright says he sees the mental health issues in the work he does in the community, including depression and domestic violence. 

Vondale Singleton, the founder of C.H.A.M.P.S., a program that mentors young Black and Brown men on Chicago’s South Side, is also working to address mental health needs in the community. C.H.A.M.P.S stands for Culturally Helping And Making Positive Success. The program is headquartered in Greater Grand Crossing.

“The impact that mentorship had on my life is the reason why I do what I do here in the Greater Grand Crossing community, and I would say it is vital now, especially with everything that is happening in the world. And our framework is social emotional learning, so we focus on mental health,” Singleton said. 

Video: Our full interview with Vondale Singleton, founder of C.H.A.M.P.S.

Singleton said young men need the space and opportunity to talk about what they are dealing with. 

“The pandemic has really taken its course because we have the epidemic of gun violence that we know traditionally has been a problem in our city, and so with the pandemic it exacerbated the same issues that we already had,” Singleton said. “So for us, this is where C.H.A.M.P.S. rises. We had to step in.”

Meanwhile, some businesses here have struggled to stay open.

One that’s been able to hang on through the pandemic and the reckoning is 5 Loaves Eatery, a breakfast and soul food family restaurant. 

Restaurants everywhere are struggling. A smaller one like this, capped at 25% capacity indoors means only about six customers, which doesn’t compare to when they used to have customers lined up outside their doors waiting to be served. Even as restaurants have been allowed to let patrons inside, 5 Loaves chose to stick to take out and delivery. 

“While our sales did fall back a bit, we also grew in terms of our customer volume,” said Lyndsey Kincaid, daughter of the owners. Five Loaves began using food delivery sites like GrubHub, which helped expand their customer base. 

Owners are hoping to resume plans that were put on the back burner when the pandemic set in.

“Before COVID, we were hoping to kind of expand to the corner of our location right now so that we can have a bigger space, and now we want to start picking up those plans a little bit more, and really just showing what it is we are capable of doing even despite all that COVID has set us back with,” Kincaid said.

As the business grows, her family wants to remain in Greater Grand Crossing. 

“There’s so much potential within this neighborhood, within this community. And I think a large portion of it, it really comes from understanding that we have to feed into one another,” Kincaid said. “It’s really important for us to connect as a community to lift each other up to reach those bigger goals.”


Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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