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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

With Pandemic Stifling Recruitment, Hyde Park and Kenwood Advisory Councils Shift To Sharing Info

The councils were created to boost civic engagement in the 4th Ward.

Kenwood advisory council chair Tonya Primus and Ald. Sophia King (4th) rein in the crowd after a breakout session at a Kenwood advisory council meeting in March.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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HYDE PARK — Ald. Sophia King’s Hyde Park and Kenwood advisory councils, created to inform the alderwoman around a variety of issues, have switched to addressing the impacts of coronavirus with everyday life put on pause by the pandemic.

Hyde Park and Kenwood were two of the six councils announced and by King weeks before stay at home orders were issued. The others are the South Loop, Douglas, North Kenwood-Oakland, Grand Boulevard and Kenwood.

They were created to boost civic engagement in the 4th Ward in each of the communities King represents, with council meetings three or four times a year.

They feature seven subcommittees, which planned to meet monthly:

  • Arts and parks
  • Block clubs
  • Development
  • Economic development and jobs
  • Education
  • Infrastructure
  • Public safety

With in-person meetings out of the question, it’s been a challenge balancing recruitment with the effort to “address the larger impacts of COVID-19,” Hyde Park chair Bennie Currie said. The Hyde Park council’s efforts have leaned toward the latter.

Three months since the council’s inception, a vice-chair and subcommittee chairs must still be chosen, Currie said. He is the lead organizer of CollaBOOration — which has grown from its Halloween roots into a band of block clubs — and is reaching out to the “block captains” behind that effort to boost membership.

“I’ve been meaning to circle back with [King’s] team with thoughts and ideas about fleshing out those committee chairs,” he said. “I want to do whatever I can to help move it forward. We’re trying to adjust.”

In the meantime, King has been “utilizing her relationships with the various advisory councils to help get the word out” about town hall meetings, mask giveaways and other coronavirus-related resources, Currie said.

King was unavailable for comment, according to a spokesperson.

In Kenwood, chair Tonya Primus has faced many of the same recruitment challenges. The mother of three is also juggling her chairship with family and work responsibilities.

“We do need more people to apply and be interested,” she said. “All councils could actively use volunteers who are willing to help. It’s a great time to get in and help our community when it needs it most.”

Primus said her position with the council has allowed her to spread the word about resources — whether King directly recommends them or not. She recalled walking past Masjid Al-Faatir, 1200 E. 47th St., and being offered a meal.

“I declined, because I know other people who could really use that food more than I could,” she said. “But I knew I could send out a text to let people know. There are so many great organizations out there, especially churches and places of worship” that provide assistance.

Once the pandemic is over, Primus said she hopes the sense of community persists and people will remain engaged through programs like the advisory councils.

“We need each other right now, and we can become better after this,” Primus said. Since the pandemic, “I feel like people speak [to each other] a lot more. Part of it is people are craving that sense of connection.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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