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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Learn The History (And Help Map The Future) Of Chicago’s Block Clubs

Plus: Check out old home movies from the South Side Home Movie Project and learn how a photographer connected people by using a folded map.

Learn about block clubs, segregation and watch old movies at South Shore Night.
My Block, My Hood, My City / South Side Home Movie Project

SOUTH SHORE — How well do you know your neighbors? Do you want to form a better bond between the people who live in your block? Or in your building? 

On Wednesday, a Chicago Humanities Festival event will explore the history of block clubs in Chicago: how they began, what they became and whether their future is in jeopardy. 

The event is part of the festival’s South Shore Night at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr. from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

Block clubs were created by the Chicago Urban League in the early 1900s, according to Amanda Seligman, author of “Chicago’s Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City.” The clubs would unite longtime black Chicagoans with newcomers from the south during the Great Migration.

Seligman will be part of the Wednesday event along with Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City. Cole, a longtime community organizer, has spent the past two years working to get young people more involved in their neighborhood block clubs — from helping them repaint and re-message outdated and offensive signs, to encouraging community clean-ups and gardens.

Block Club Chicago co-founder and Director of Strategy Jen Sabella will moderate the panel and Block Club is a media sponsor of the event. 

The event, Signs For Community, is part of an entire night dedicated to highlighting creative and impactful projects happening on the South Side.

The South Side Home Movie Project will kick off the night at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. University of Chicago Cinema and Media Studies professor Jacqueline Stewart has spent more than a decade gathering “8mm, Super-8, or 16mm reel-to-reel gathering dust in a basement, garage, or Granny’s attic” from Chicagoans. She’ll play some of her favorite footage and discuss why keeping these films alive is important.

At 6 p.m. in the Cultural Center’s gorgeous dining room, Tonika Johnson, who has made national headlines with her Folded Map project, will be discussing the wildly popular project, which highlights the city’s segregation.

Johnson had set out to photograph “mirror points” in the city — corresponding addresses in North and South Side neighborhoods—and let pictures tell the story of disparities caused by segregation. But then, something bigger happened: residents on both sides of the map wanted to meet one another.  

“The beauty of what art can do [is that] it offers an opportunity for people to engage in difficult large issues,” Johnson told CityLab.

She’ll be joined by architectural and urban designer Paola Aguirre. 

Signs for Community, the event focused on block clubs, runs from 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Cultural Center’s Paul Robeson Theater.

Entry to South Shore night is $15 for the general public and $5 for students and teachers. Entry is $10 for CHF members. Pick up your tickets here.