AUBURN GRESHAM — The origin story of the neighborhood block club is a pretty simple one. The Chicago Urban League, an organization created in the early 21st Century to address the needs of black people migrating from the South, wanted to help newcomers acclimate to their new surroundings.
Soon, they were everywhere. Part social club, part neighborhood watch, these groups weren’t just swapping lawn care tips and contractors, they were developing networks, empowering communities — and, in some cases — creating powerful voting blocs.
Kweli Kwaza hopes that by reviving the city’s annual Block Club Convention he and other organizers can give residents the tools they need to start, or strengthen, their own clubs. As executive director of Club 21, he’s built a coalition of neighborhood block clubs in the 21st Ward.
“The [Chicago Police Department’s] 6th district was hosting the convention from 2005 to 2012, but they stopped doing it because of time and money,” said Kwaza. “And they were right. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of money that we don’t have, but this type of thing is necessary.”
“We need block clubs on every block,” said Valerie Mays, one of several volunteers helping with Saturday’s event. “I’m looking forward to taking information and bringing it back to my block because we could use the help.”
Kwaza and other organizers solicited donations from the community, raising $2,000, with an additional $1,500 coming from the organizers themselves. Sponsorships from a number of businesses and organizations, including Poppin’ Dough, United Fidelity Bank, Another Chance Church, Grace Evangelical Church of Christ, Block By Block, and the Southwest Federation Block Clubs of Greater Englewood were also a huge help, according to Kwaza.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, St. Sabina Church’s Father Michael Pfleger, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and Operation PUSH’s Jonathan Jackson are scheduled to speak.
“I think people are going to be excited about the speakers, but the most important part are the workshops, because they focus on how to make block clubs more effective,” said Kwaza.
While there’s nothing wrong with throwing parties and cookouts, block clubs have to focus on the hard issues, too, said the organizers.
Over five hundred people are expected to walk through the doors of Simeon High School Saturday morning, attending workshops on disaster preparedness, sex trafficking, property management, and working with Section 8.
Putting on an event this size wasn’t without challenges — mostly financial — but Kwaza and his team are excited to see it all come together.
Will they be doing it again next year?
“We’ll see on Tuesday,” quipped Cynthia Love, Block By Block president.
The 2019 Block Club Convention is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Simeon High School, 8147 S. Vincennes. It’s free to attend, but registration is required.
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