‘Chicago Tonight’ In Your Neighborhood: Leading Community in North Lawndale

Two anchor institutions in North Lawndale are welcoming in newly appointed leadership.

In the fall, UCAN announced Christa Hamilton would be the first female and first Black person to lead the organization. More recently, lifetime resident pastor James Brooks became the CEO of the Lawndale Christian Health Center.

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“North Lawndale has been vital in my growth as a person and it's dear to my heart,” Brooks said.

North Lawndale on Chicago’s West Side is a historic community. It’s been at the forefront of civil rights, race relations and injustice. And it’s where Martin Luther King Jr. lived when he came to Chicago in 1966 to protest against discriminatory housing practices.

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The area has endured decades of disinvestment, and like other parts of the West Side, faces health disparities, including a significant life expectancy gap compared to the Loop.

The Lawndale Christian Health Center opened in 1984 as part of the Lawndale Christian Church. Founders wanted to address health inequities by making quality health care affordable and accessible.

Brooks says being a part of the North Lawndale community helps inform his work.

“Being proximate to people, being proximate to pain, being proximate to the issues that are in your community because it’s not just their issue it’s our issue when you’re a part of [the community]. So there’s no separation there,” Brooks said.

Today, Brooks says more than 75,000 people call Lawndale Christian Health Center home for primary care.

During the pandemic, the health center has worked with residents and other organizations to help share information about COVID-19 and vaccines. Brooks says collaborations with other institutions in the area, like UCAN, and existing relationships with community members were key to getting more residents vaccinated.

“This happened because of partnerships. We believe in the power of relationships. We are one of the anchor organizations in North Lawndale but it’s vital that we partner with others so that we can make a greater impact on our community of origin in North Lawndale. Vital we partner with others,” Brooks said.

UCAN is a social service agency based in North Lawndale but serves youth and families across the state. It began as an orphanage 152 years ago. Today, it still serves youth through its transitional housing program, but it also provides other programs like violence intervention and prevention, and professional development.

The organization works to support youth who have experienced trauma, helping them become leaders.

“We are thinking about expanding our program offerings into other community areas outside of North Lawndale that face similar challenges,” Hamilton said.

The pandemic has been particularly difficult for youth in UCAN’s transitional living program, Hamilton said.

“Our kids that live in our residential facilities normally could go home for visits, but because of COVID we couldn’t allow that … There has not been the normalcy that we would like them to be able to experience,” Hamilton said.

Contact Marissa Nelson: @ByMarissaNelson | (773) 509-5368 |  [email protected]

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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