ENGLEWOOD — Community organizers in Englewood are hosting a back-to-school celebration for students this weekend with two new goals in mind: to uplift neighbors before the new school year and reclaim a vacant school in the area.
The Resident Association of Greater Englewood, a resident-run organization established to unite neighbors, public officials, business owners and community groups, will host the back-to-school party Saturday.
Neighbors of all ages are welcome between 4-7 p.m. to grab free backpacks and school supplies while enjoying free food, live entertainment, games and more.
Nearly 100 backpacks will be available for students in grades K-8, and supplies will be available for high school students as well.
The day of celebration will take place outside Wentworth Elementary at the corner of 69th and Morgan streets. The Englewood school was among 50 Chicago schools closed in 2013.
Asiaha Butler, the founder of R.A.G.E., said the organization chose the abandoned school intentionally.
“So Fresh Saturdays are still happening, they’re just happening with a twist,” Butler said. “That twist is reclaiming assets in our community.”
So Fresh Saturday’s kicked off in Englewood in 2013, Butler said. The purpose, then, was to meet at local parks and create a platform for local artists to perform while providing family fun and offering services in the community.
“I call it the Coachella of Englewood,” Butler said.
Butler said families could always look forward to a back-to-school celebration on the last Saturday in August at Hamilton Park.
But when the pandemic forced everyone outdoors and six feet apart, Butler said she had to get creative.
“Last year, we did small pop-up events at vacant lots or vacant spaces throughout the community,” Butler said. “We decided, instead of us going into the parks, let’s look at the beautiful aspects of our vacant schools that have been left closed since 2013. They have these beautiful plazas where you can set things up and have a great time.”
Most importantly, Butler said her celebratory events showcase a problem community members have to see and live with every day: vacant schools and empty lots.
“We hear a lot of stories from people who went to [the vacant schools] in the neighborhood,” Butler said. “We want to capture those stories and bring awareness that we have these vacant spaces. And as you talk about violence in the community and other things that are needed here, unfortunately, no real action has happened with a lot of these spaces.”
As schools plan to reopen on Monday, Butler said she hopes this year’s bash serves a day of fun for people “ages 1 to 77.”
“Our goal has always been to reclaim public assets peacefully,” Butler said. “This event is all about spreading awareness and preparing kids to go back to school in a joyful, safe way.”
To sign up to perform at the celebration or provide resources, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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