‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: West Garfield Park Community Coalition Receives $10M Investment

West Garfield Park is getting a big boost from a foundation with deep pockets.

A coalition of community-led groups just received $10 million from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation to help fund a wide-ranging project. It’ll bring together a range of services and opportunities — from health and wellness, to arts and culture and beyond.

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The goal is to meet community needs and address a long-running life expectancy gap. There is a 13-year life expectancy difference between West Garfield Park residents and people who live downtown, according to city data.

The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative is working from within to change that. It's a coalition of community-oriented groups that came up with the idea for the Sankofa Wellness Village, which just won that $10 million prize.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

The village will be anchored by a 60,000-square-foot center that will bring together multiple health care providers, a gym, a credit union and more. The idea is to tackle a range of community needs in a single building.

“When you think about the wellness center, it’s about addressing the whole person, the whole family,” said Kemena Brooks, director of development at Community Builders Inc.

Many area families were left in the lurch when the Aldi grocery store in the area closed abruptly in fall of 2021.

It was the primary source of fresh food for a lot of community members. Rush University Medical Center, which is also part of the Sankofa project, quickly organized food distribution pop-ups that served hundreds of families each weekend.

“We had to act fast and provide some sort of support – what I call a Band Aid approach,” said Julia Bassett, system manager of health and community benefits at Rush. “Now we’ve been talking to community residents, doing pop-ups in the community to be that supportive background for them until a grocery store is in place.”

Finding a permanent grocery option that’s committed to staying in the neighborhood is another of the major goals for the Sankofa Wellness Village project.

“We have to stay on top of making sure residents have access and it’s possible through collaboration, having the voice of residents lead the way, having anchor partners that have access to funding and have other core partnerships be part of that table,” said Ayesha Jaco, director of West Side United.

Creating opportunities for future generations is also the driving force behind the Maafa Resurrection Project. It’s a ministry of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church that offers housing, mental health care and family support for Black and Brown youth in West Garfield Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

Maafa and the church are also part of the larger Sankofa project and plan to launch a center for art and activism. Executive Director Marshall Hatch Jr. said those two ideas have always gone hand in hand.

“What it means to be African American has always incorporated art to challenge, to inspire. We believe that art and activism are the two tools in the toolkit to show residents – young and old – that this a neighborhood worth fighting for, it has always been and it will continue to be,” Hatch said.

Hatch said that’s even reflected within the church – formerly, a Catholic place of worship that's been renovated with artwork that reflects its Black congregation. He says the church, MAAFA, and the larger wellness village project reflect a self-determined community committed to reversing to disinvestment.

“It’s a neighborhood with a lot of history and we just see ourselves as part of the continuum building on that history and making sure that the coming generations have the opportunities, the resources that they need to thrive,” Hatch said.

The Sankofa wellness village is slated to cost about $50 million in total. Leaders hope to break ground by the end of the year.

Another recent development in the neighborhood is the Garfield Park Community Plaza. It opened in 2021 and has become a safe space for residents, said Theodore Crawford, executive director of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative.

“Folks don’t always feel comfortable because of the disinvestment that’s been going on for decades, so we were able to engage with the community,” Crawford said.

In the warmer months, the roller rink inside of the plaza will reopen. It’s what residents wanted, Crawford said, as there used to be a rink in Garfield Park.

While it’s providing a space for residents to have fun, Crawford said he also hopes it will spur further investment.

“This is where we need to come to prove the concept that we can do for ourselves and radically change the ways our community currently exists and also currently viewed,” Crawford said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Theodore Crawford of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative.

While there’s many new development projects on the horizon for West Garfield Park, one of the mainstays of the community is a record shop that’s been around since the ‘80s.

Out of the Past Records is filled to the brim with vinyls, tapes and CDs of jazz, soul and more. And while the storefront has been around for the past 40 years, Marie Henderson, the owner, has been selling the community records since the ‘60s alongside her husband.

It’s an institution in the neighborhood that Henderson said is also called the “Out of the Past meeting place.” She’s seen generations of families come into the store to listen to music and comb through records. And now, her family helps run the store.

“Everyone that comes in here knows somebody, they’ve seen somebody and you can’t go anywhere without knowing that we’re stabilized in the neighborhood,” Henderson said.

And there’s plenty of newcomers as well, with younger generations getting into buying records, she said. But, she welcomes the interest in the older tunes.

“Most of them was in that rap era, but now they’re coming back to – what I say – is the good music era,” Henderson said.

Video: Watch our full interview with Marie Henderson of Out of the Past Records. 

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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