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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Pull Up The City’s Youth Organizers Are Building Gardens In West Side Vacant Lots — And Helping Residents Along The Way

The group is hosting a block party Saturday to raise money for a camp that will empower South and West side kids.

Pull Up the City's Fitness Garden and the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center.
Francesca Mathewes/Block Club Chicago
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GARFIELD PARK — West Side youths with Pull Up the City are using this summer to turn vacant lots into safe, sustainable spaces where residents can gather and practice mutual aid.

Members of the group want to empower young people by creating gardens and hosting programs in once-vacant lots. They have already hosted several summer events, allowing residents to connect with each other and get resources like food and books. On Saturday, they’ll host a block party to raise money for a camp for South and West side kids.

“I’m from the West Side, and I noticed that there was a lack of spaces and resources for Black people on the West Side,” said Zyhier Justice, 16, who planned and curated one of the group’s events last week.

At that event, young organizers hosted a Community Youth Day at their West Side Fitness Garden, 219 N. Sacramento Blvd. It was a hub for mutual aid, with clothes, books and food from local vendors given away to community members. There was also a gardening workshop and conversation focused on community.

While last week’s event was focused on community building and mutual aid, spaces like the Pull Up the City Garden allow people to take an important first step toward meeting and getting to know their neighbors, Justice said.

Justice has been involved with activism and mutual aid efforts in Chicago since he was in elementary school, and he got involved with Pull Up the City this year. 

“Knowing someone’s name goes a long [way]. So creating more spaces like that for the community to come out, be social with each other, learn each other’s names, learn what everyone likes — all of that stuff, that’s important,” he said. ”That’s important to building love in the community, building joy and building a community of care.”

Credit: Francesca Mathewes/Block Club Chicago
Event and Resource Coordinator Gertie M. spray paints a sign advertising Pull Up the City’s June 18 mutual aid event.

The gathering was just one of many that Pull Up the City will put together or co-sponsor this summer. Another: the Nature Ninjaz camp for local kids, which starts July 5. 

Gertie M., event and resource coordinator for Pull Up the City, said the camp series will be about “normalizing nature for kids in the hood.” It will serve Black and Brown residents ages 8-13 on the South and West sides.

Gertie M. asked that her full name not be used because she has been harassed for her activism work.

The camp will feature a variety of activities and facilitators, including kung-fu instructors, yoga teachers, a STEM program that will teach kids how to test their own soil and more. 

“It’s about teaching them young the things that we wish we knew growing up,” Gertie M. said. “And really just giving them not only skills to sustain themselves, but also the confidence to sustain themselves and their communities.”

The group has organized a block party fundraiser for the camp for 1-6 p.m. Saturday at 219 N. Sacramento Ave. There will be a raffle, food giveaway, local vendors and more. Proceeds will go toward paying the instructors for the camp and transportation.

“We’ve definitely expanded a lot since the launch. There’s a lot more collaboration with organizations like GoodKids MadCity and Erase the Gang Database,” Gertie said. “Since the launch, we’ve definitely been blessed with an abundance of people wanting to utilize the space, which was just what we wanted.”

Gertie said Saturday’s fundraiser is important because it will help create a dynamic summer camp that gives South and West side kids a chance to experience different parts of the city and nature. 

“We’re not just meeting at the same place every day,” she said. “Chicago has a lot to offer. We’re taking the kids to different gardens, we’re taking them to the Breathing Room once a week, taking them camping and on other field trips every Friday. That means being mobile. We’re really like the Magic School Bus.”

The summer program is also a step towards the larger vision for Pull Up the City and their garden spaces as an ever-growing comprehensive space for community enrichment, said Gertie. Artist and founder Marcileno Riley echoed that statement.

“We’re never finished with this garden,” Riley said. “This is something that is going to continue to evolve and require attention and care and love.”

More information about Pull Up the City is available online. You can donate to the group on GoFundMe.

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