‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Englewood on the Rise

Englewood on Chicago’s South Side once had a bustling economy of local businesses and a much larger population than it does today.

But despite the neighborhood’s challenges over the decades, it’s host to an array of people and organizations working from within to make sure the community has what it needs to thrive.

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Englewood has also been in the news this month following the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church catching fire after Good Friday services. The building dates to the 1880s and has held worship services there since the 1950s, though the structure can’t be saved and is being demolished.

The Rev. Gerald Dew says the pandemic taught the church how to be flexible: they’ve pivoted to virtual fellowship and have been holding services at a nearby funeral home. They’ve already started a fundraising effort, BUILD Antioch, to reconstruct and continue the congregation’s mission.

“Antioch has over the years become the spiritual conscience of the Englewood community providing ministry, counseling, even human services, quality affordable housing to lower- to moderate-income families,” Dew said. “We want to build a new facility on the same spot. We want to maintain our presence in the neighborhood. This is our home base. This is our anchor. We're committed to this community."

Another community gathering space in Englewood is its village plaza which was created last year as a space to share meals, feature public art, and give local makers a space to show their work.

Cultural steward Tanya Ward says it’s about creating something community-driven and honoring to longtime residents. The group’s next project is turning an unused rail line into the Englewood Nature Trail.

“Public health and wellness is a big thing,” Ward said. “A lot of the folks here have been through all the things that have happened over the decades and it's just about creating our own, honestly. We are in tune with the community…we hear what they want, what they need. We want to create something so that they can stay in the community and not have to leave to enjoy the beauty of the city.”

Ward is an Englewood native, but the block of homes she grew up on no longer exists.

“We were erased,” Ward said. “I can't live in my community even if I wanted to. So for us, it's about building from within, building beauty. We don't have to wait for someone else to come along to beautify this. We're gonna do it ourselves.”

The trail she is helping steward will be developed in phases. Ward hopes to see that work start to pay off in the next year or two. She says it'll be a way to connect with nature, and to rebuild from within.  

Meanwhile, Sana Syed of Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) has been focusing on people’s physical wellness by promoting greater access to healthy food in Englewood.

“Limited access has been a huge issue,” Syed said. “The result of that is you have higher rates of obesity, of diabetes…many residents in these neighborhoods do not have cars so having close access, to be able to walk to a grocery store, and get what you need to prepare a healthy meal is like a make or break deal for a family.”

IMAN has collaborated with Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.), E.G. Woode, and Teamwork Englewood top open the Go Green Community Fresh Market at 63rd and Racine.

“We’re used to corner stores in our community,” Asiaha Butler of RAGE said. “What was important for us was that we need a variety of different corner stores. They shouldn’t all have horrible food at the front of the store or the back…eating differently, changing the culture…just being a model and living in this community is getting more people to do the same.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Sana Syed

For many groups working in Englewood, helping improve the neighborhood means working with its youngest residents to provide them opportunities that can help prevent the kind of violence many Chicago communities face.

Michelle Rashad leads the group Imagine Englewood If, which offers after school enrichment, summer programs, and much more in a cluster of buildings and outdoor spaces.

She started as a program participant, after her friend was killed in a drive-by shooting in high school. She credits the group with giving her a place she felt welcome, and where she could learn about her community’s history while becoming empowered to make it better.

"The mission of ‘Imagine Englewood If’ is to strengthen and empower the Greater Englewood community by teaching local youth and their families healthy living, environmental awareness and positive communication skills,” Rashad said. “We are what we need. However, collaboration with each other -- amongst our community, organizations, elected officials, law enforcement -- all of that is really important because the work that we are doing and the challenges that we are facing are multi-layered. We all need skin in the game.”

Rashad says she’s excited about a lot of the group’s upcoming programs, including a community cleanup day on May 14.

Englewood native Kenneth Clayton Jr., better known as KC, started Longevity Barber Lounge seven years ago.

He sees it as more than a place to get a haircut. It’s a safe haven, a place to talk about what’s troubling people, and a home base for his outreach efforts.

Clayton's hoping to restart a monthly pre-pandemic program with West Englewood Public Library where young people can come in, read a book, and get a free haircut. He also sees young people as key to the community's future, and hopes to start a barber college one day.

“When I was younger, I had a lot of mentors so I wanted to basically take that torch and be a mentor as well,” Clayton said. “Teach a child how to fish they'll never go hungry… It's only nine months once they get their barbers license. If they're going through a financial crisis, they will still be able to feed themselves and their family.”

Greater Englewood is currently divided into six different wards. 16th Ward Ald. Stephanie Coleman hopes that the Chicago United coalition, comprised of 34 city council members, come out victorious is in the remapping process.

“We should not disenfranchise representation, especially among African Americans, and make sure that we retain 17 African American wards versus 14 wards that other maps have suggested,” Coleman said.

Coleman said that it’s going to take grassroots organization, such as Go Green Racine, to draw development and investment into the community.

“One of the plans we have is to open the Green Line stop on 63rd and Racine, which will cost a little more than $12.5 million,” Coleman said in reference to Mayor Lori Lighfoot’s CTA-gas card giveaway which was narrowly approved by City Council on Wednesday. “We’re all working together and addressing this Green Line so that Racine will become the other business corridor where people live, play and work.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Stephanie Coleman

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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