‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Ashburn

A new grocery store is coming to Chicago’s Ashburn community on the Far Southwest Side. 

Ald. Derrick Curtis of the 18th Ward announced on “Chicago Tonight.”

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Pete’s Fresh Market will be on 87th and Kedzie, formerly the location of Luther South High School. Construction will begin soon, and Curtis is hoping the market will open in two years.

“It’s been a long time coming, but we got it done,” Ald. Curtis said.

It’s good news in a community that some consider a food desert, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. 

Ashburn sits 14 miles southwest of the Loop. It was a predominantly white neighborhood, but today, it’s considered to be much more racially integrated.

It got its name because the area was where Chicagoans used to dump the ash from their furnaces. The community grew as soldiers returned from World War II, said Virginia Bell, of the Greater Ashburn Planning Association and the Wrightwood Improvement Association. She moved into the community in 1966, and has lived here ever since. 

Ashburn was also home to Chicago's first airport, Ashburn Flying Field, which opened in 1916. 

A point of pride for neighbors here are the single-family bungalow homes, well-manicured lawns and racial diversity.

Ashburn is a middle-class community — these days it's almost 50% Black, 40% Latino and 10% white. Ashburn is composed of a handful of neighborhoods, including Wrightwood, Scottsdale and Ashburn, the neighborhood.

Lt. Quention Curtis co-founded the Black Fire Brigade in June 2018 in Ashburn. The brigade helps support EMT students on the South and West sides, from helping with tuition to additional training. Curtis said the organization was created to keep young people away from gun violence and to increase the ranks of African Americans in the field. In the past two years, 332 students have gone through the program. 

Video: Our full interview with Lt. Quention Curtis, co-founder of the Black Fire Brigade.

The brigades’ work has not slowed down during the coronavirus pandemic, Curtis said. The students in his program are out working on the front lines. 

“We’ve continued to educate during COVID because if we lose first responders we need to know what to do in that event,” Curtis said. 

Two students contracted COVID-19, though they have recovered and are back working on the front lines. 

In this ZIP code, there are 1,930 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 52 deaths with an 18.8% positivity rate, compared to the city's 14.3% positivity rate.

The executive director, Maurice Brownlee, at a testing site, run by the nonprofit Baal Perazim Wellness, says they've already noticed the increase in positive cases that the rest of the city and state are experiencing. 

“There’s more work to do, a lot more work to do,” Brownlee said.

Ald. Curtis said businesses, residents and community organizations came together to make sure everyone got the help they needed.

“We took a hit as a community,” he said. “I am so proud of this community, we’ve always been known for, and our motto has always been, bringing people together.”

Many businesses here have struggled amid the pandemic — as is the case in so many neighborhoods.

The local bowling alley is still open, but has lost business as leagues have slowed down and birthday parties are canceled.

A local martial arts studio closed down. Other businesses, like Starlight restaurant, have remained open. The owner said he had to let a couple of employees go, and has just recently restored indoor dining.

Barbara Barry, also with the Greater Ashburn Planning Association, said the constant changes have made it difficult for business. 

“There’s a lot of rule changes, and the rule changes don’t seem to be consistent, so they work very hard to comply, and then something changes, and then they have to work again. It’s very, very difficult,” Barry said. 

Video: Our full interview with Ald. Derrick Curtis.

Brownlee said the looting that occurred during the civil unrest this summer has also been detrimental to business in the community.

He and his colleagues were just moving into their testing center on Kedzie in a strip mall at the intersection of 83rd and Kedzie as looting occurred. A number of surrounding businesses in this strip mall had to close down permanently, he said.

Also on Kedzie, the New Foundation for Hope, a youth center, normally serves kids 7 to 18 years old with homework assistance and after-school activities. Organizers said they had to shift to just providing food, books and at-home activities for their students and families at the end of every month outside the center. Their regular programming has been effectively shut down since March.

“It wasn’t worth the risk and we didn’t have the people to continue to wipe surfaces down. We just wanted to make sure that the families are safe,” said De’One Johnson, assistant director of New Foundation of Hope. 

However, the center will be open on Election Day. It has served as a polling location for the last 16 years. Though this year, amid the coronavirus, will be different than others. 

“It’s gonna be very interesting, but we’re prepared for it because it’s important to vote,” said Ronald Mason, executive director of New Foundation of Hope. 

New Foundation for Hope says this pandemic has proven how much organizations like theirs are needed.

Another example of that is Transformation Church at 77th and Kedzie.

The pastor there said their food pantry would typically serve an average of 300-400 families a month.

During the pandemic, they're serving more than a thousand a month — so much food that the church bought a 53-foot refrigerator to store it all in after running out of space inside.

Though one bright spot in all of this, pastor Gicele Lindley said, is the community itself and the people who are her neighbors.

“I have the opportunity to learn from different people,” Lindley said. “To learn about people’s struggles, to learn about their upbringing to learn about their hardships and to come to a conclusion, a resolve within myself that we all have a story, that we all have a purpose, and that we’ve all been through something, we’ve all been through hardships. That helps us here as a community, as a church, to connect for a larger good that we’re all in this together.”


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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