CHATHAM — Chatham resident George Boling had a vision: He wanted to make his home look like a Christmas fireplace.
It started with two nutcracker banners he put up on the sides of his front porch. His three young sons helped out Saturday, adding bows and ornaments. And volunteers from My Block, My Hood, My City stopped by to put up string lights — the finishing touches.
“My kids are going to remember this when they get older,” Boling said, unbothered as his two youngest sons had a friendly stick fight. “And they’re going to keep the tradition alive. We’re going to make this a little tradition.”
It’s the second year Boling had signed up his home on 77th Street and King Drive for My Block, My Hood, My City’s Be Part of the Light event. The group organized more than 300 volunteers to decorate more than 200 homes along King Drive between 35th and 115th streets.
Leon Peatry and other organizers with the group hope the event can spread holiday spirit on the South Side.
“It just brings hope to be able to bring lights down a major street,” Peatry said. “You could go Downtown and see lights, but it’s really important to be able to see that in your own neighborhood, also.”
There were a few bumps.
Families, volunteers, officials and Dreezy Claus, Chicago’s famed Black Santa, gathered outside the Washington Park Fieldhouse after the decorating to wrap up the event with a Christmas tree lighting.
Hours later, the Christmas tree was set on fire.
“It’s unfortunate that an event that was supposed to bring the community together resulted in the burning of a beautiful tree,” Jahmal Cole, My Block, My Hood, My City founder and congressional candidate, said in a statement. “While it is a setback, it’s not going to stop us from beautifying the community through the holiday season.”
And earlier that day, four volunteers were robbed while hanging up decorations near 48th Street and King Drive.
But My Block, My Hood, My City will add security — and definitely plans to return to decorate Saturday along King Drive. They hope to reach their goal of lighting up more than 500 homes on the street.
Christmas must go on. And homeowners like Boling said they are grateful for the help.
“I’m all about love, safety. And I’m all about knowing your neighbor and loving your neighbor,” Boling said.
Across the street from Boling, Dominique Camara rocked his daughter’s Crocs and gave a pep talk to volunteer Jamal Branch, 19, as he taped and re-taped a string light that couldn’t quite stick to Camara’s wall.
“With the Air Jordans over there, you can’t go wrong,” Camara encourage Branch as the young man kept balance on a window ledge.
“I don’t get frustrated, but it’s still a challenge,” Branch said. “For right now, I’m feeling solid. The best part is seeing everyone out. I can describe it as happy. This gives everyone a chance to feel joy.”
Camara said getting the decorations was an exciting time for his family. The youngest of his three daughters was waiting all Saturday morning for volunteers like Branch to stop by, he said.
“I see them finally coming to my house. And I was waiting now, too. Because my daughter is excited,” Camara said. “It brings the people closer together. And everybody needs help. I have some decorations, I can afford it, but for someone to do it for me, I appreciate it. That’s nice.”
Tonya Hooks, president of the 77th Street Block Club, has lived on the block for more than 35 years and remembers a time in the early 2000s when most houses would skip decorating for Christmas. It’s different now thanks to Be Part of the Light.
“The lights make it look like our block is connected. And I love that,” Hooks said. “It sends a message. It says these people are all connected. Here we have tidy homes, people that care about their homes, professional people that work. So we’re trying to change the narrative. Within this little enclave, we have people that care.”
Boling smiled wide as he said the home on 77th and King is the first he’s owned. It’s always been his dream to share the holidays under his own roof with family. On Saturday, his kids, wife, mother and mother-in-law gathered on his nutcracker fireplace front porch and greeted volunteers passing by.
“We’re trying to make our Christmas bigger and bigger every year,” Boling said. “We are proud of who we are, and what we are. And we’ll show it to anybody.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: