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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Community Stage At Historic Church Will Give Neighbors A Platform To Tell Their Own Stories

The stage being built at Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church will host plays, spoken word poetry and gardening workshops.

Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick at the Stone Temple community garden.
Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago
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NORTH LAWNDALE — A community stage being built outside the historic Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church will provide a place for people to gather outside and express their creativity.

The church at 3622 W. Douglas Blvd. will use the stage to host cultural events and it will be open for community members to have their own gatherings. Reshorna Fitzpatrick, who founded the church, envisions the stage being used for an array of performing arts, like plays and spoken word poetry. It’s set to be completed this weekend.

Fitzpatrick is also planning workshops in the church’s community garden. They’ll have cooking demonstrations using produce grown there and gardening workshops.

Built in an area where many residents feel neglected by the city, the stage will be a platform for residents to reclaim the narrative of their community and make their voices heard, Fitzpatrick said.

“This is something we certainly need because we get to tell our story,” Fitzpatrick said.

Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago
The garden at Stone Temple Church has been redesigned with a new stage and hard pathways to improve accessibility.

Lawndale is often overlooked and misrepresented, Fitzpatrick said. Many in the neighborhood and beyond know only negative things about the area, she said. Fitzpatrick plans to invite African American historians and scholars to speak at the stage so residents can have a nuanced understanding of their neighborhood and celebrate Chicago’s rich Black history.

“We have so many accomplishments,” Fitzpatrick said. “And there’s so much that has happened because of the African American people. And I want this community to know that.”

The events will also shed light on the often-forgotten Jewish and Polish history of Lawndale and show how the neighborhood became predominantly Black during the Great Migration, Fitzpatrick said.

Residents will also be invited to share their lived experiences through oral histories so older residents can pass down their wisdom and so youth can have a platform to tell their own stories.

“We’ll have … a collaborative of people coming together and sharing their stories and sharing their truths,” Fitzpatrick said. “Not a revisionist history, but the real history.”

The stage was built in Stone Temple’s community garden along with a seating area with capacity for about 35 socially distanced guests. The project will make the garden a more comfortable place for neighbors who want a peaceful place to work, grow produce or simply relax, said Jorge Mayorga, of Human Scale, the nonprofit design firm that built the stage.

Credit: Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago
The stage at Stone Temple community garden under construction.

Human Scale also helped the church redesign the garden to make the pathways accessible for people with disabilities. The stage’s seating area also has a ramp.

The project was estimated to cost at least $30,000, but the firm did the project for free with the help of grants and material donations, Mayorga said.

Mayorga said Human Scale was excited to take on the project pro-bono in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy in North Lawndale. King preached at Stone Temple during the Civil Rights Movement in his fight against redlining in Chicago.

“He used his voice for the community,” Mayorga said. “We wanted to remember that and create a platform for people to stand up and voice their opinion.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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