ENGLEWOOD — More than 500 residents urged Englewood’s five aldermen to take action to improve the quality of life in their South Side neighborhood at an intense town hall meeting Tuesday night.
Alds. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), David Moore (17th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) were in attendance. Coleman was credited for organizing and hosting the meeting.
During budget negotiations for 2020, the aldermen decided they needed “to come together and have a frank, upfront conversation about bettering our community,” Coleman said. “Unity is what makes a community.”
At one point at the packed town hall at Kennedy-King College, 6301 S. Halsted St., the hosts asked standing attendees to find an open seat for fear of violating fire code.
Dozens waited in line to speak during a public comment session that lasted two hours. Neighbors primarily focused on issues of black economic power, family welfare and collective action.
Englewood is one of the neighborhoods targeted by Invest South/West and the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, two economic initiatives focused on the minority-dominated South and West sides that suffer from disinvestment.
Beyond just staying in the neighborhood, resources from these programs must be funneled to less-prominent residents too — those who “can’t just go to venture capitalists and get money,” said Sheila Rogers, who has lived in the Englewood home her parents bought since 1966.
“We must have creative opportunities for people who have business ideas, but need help, need capital,” Rogers said.
With these programs, elected officials must prioritize entrepreneurs willing to hire the formerly incarcerated and others who “have a hard time finding a job,” she said. That’s the only way Englewood can “move forward, rather than keep cycling.”
Resident Willis Myers, who also pressed officials to ensure the Invest South/West program actually benefits local entrepreneurs, asked the aldermen to institute programs to “strengthen black fathers” and support black families.
Issues of family and child welfare like Myers’ were a common concern. Recent tragedies like the killing of two young children in South Shore allegedly at the hands of their mother and of a nine-month-old baby in nearby Chicago Lawn were highlighted as extreme examples of what can happen when families don’t receive help.
Lopez, who recently made headlines by proposing conception fees in response to the Chicago Lawn killing, said more could be done to protect neighborhood kids. He said the city’s Family Connects program is a first step, but doesn’t go far enough.
“People in our communities are not nurtured enough to be raising babies today. We know this; it’s not a question,” Lopez said. “Family Connects helps parents with their newborns in the first three weeks. Is three weeks enough? Ask my mom, she’ll say 40 years isn’t enough.”
Other proposed family-centered solutions included the rehabilitation and reuse of resources that have left the neighborhood.
Evelyn Johnson, who has raised four generations in Englewood, said though the neighborhood has wracked by school closures, there’s been no overarching plan for what to do with the empty buildings.
In order to end drug sales and violence on Englewood’s streets, residents need to have a place to go and things to do, she said. Old school buildings provide the perfect opportunity to host community-centered programming.
“There is no economic development if there is no resident investment,” Johnson said.
Though Johnson takes issue with the city’s treatment of her neighborhood, she acknowledged government isn’t the only way to create change.
Johnson, like numerous other attendees, encouraged Englewood residents to take action in any way they can — inside or outside of the political arena.
She practices what she preaches. When she retired, she donated her home to the Temple of Mercy Association, which now uses it as a home for men returning from prison.
“Rather than blaming your alderman, if you know how to do stuff, you need to make sure your alderman knows that,” Johnson said. “We are our own solution. If we don’t work together, we can’t make change.”
Tuesday’s was the first public meeting to bring together all five of Englewood’s aldermen. Last week, Taylor told Block Club similar meetings should be held on “perhaps a quarterly basis to make sure that all constituents are getting the services they need.”
Aldermen said the neighborhood tends not to gain attention until a tragedy occurs, as was the case after December shooting that left 13 injured. The town hall “is national news-worthy” too, Moore said; others agreed.
“Too often, just like in our own families, we only come together for the bad times,” Lopez said. “How often do we only see our families at funerals? Well, this is not a funeral, this is the rebirth of our neighborhood.”
In that spirit of positivity, Moore used his opening remarks to honor 16-year-old Jae’la Leavy, a published author and founder of the Junior Writers Block youth writing club.
He used Leavy as an example of the “power of the community,” particularly as it resides in Englewood’s youth and young adults.
“Aldermen come and go, mayors come and go, but the people will be here,” Moore said. “You all better know your collective power and how to use it.”
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