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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

It Will Take A Village To Fight The Root Causes Of Violence. So West Siders Are Building One

The Sankofa Wellness Village would provide wellness resources, healthy food, opportunities and more to prevent violence and other issues.

Several West Side groups are coming together to build The Sankofa Wellness Village
Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative
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GARFIELD PARK — A mass shooting on Halloween in East Garfield Park left 14 people wounded and devastated the community — but West Side leaders and neighbors are finding ways to address the root causes of local violence and prevent more tragedies.

The drive-by shooting saw three kids wounded, with the youngest just 3 years old. Afterwards, neighbors and local leaders called for more resources and investment to transform the community — and they said they have a plan to do just that through a project that could break ground as soon as next year.

Now, they just need support and funding, they said.

“It was just a neighborhood coming together to respond and say we won’t let this discourage us from doing the day-to-day spadework of building community,” said Marshall Hatch Jr. of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd.

The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative has long worked to make things better for neighbors, pushing for the renewal of the area’s Madison and Pulaski commercial corridors and giving away food to people in need after the local Aldi closed.

The group is now pushing for more support for its latest project, Sankofa Wellness Village. The village would connect health care and wellness providers to other resources, including a business incubator, in the neighborhood.

The idea was named a finalist for the $10 million Chicago Prize in November. The winner will be announced this month, but finalists will at least get $500,000.

The Wellness Village is expected to break ground in 2023. Organizers aim to establish “community-informed and -owned” services where neighbors will feel comfortable and that will help improve life expectancy, community wellbeing and wealth, said spokesperson Brionna Poole.

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
A playground outside of The MAC, home of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church’s MAAFA Redemption Project, one of several community organzations part of the Sankofa Wellness Village.
Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
The MAC, the headquarters of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church’s MAAFA Redemption Project, at 4239 W. Washington Blvd. in Garfield Park.
Credit: Provided
A digital rendering of the to-be-built MAAFA Center for Arts and Activism, one of four main components of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative’s Sankofa Wellness Village.
Credit: Provided
A digital rendering of the interior of the to-be-built MAAFA Center for Arts and Activism, 4239 W. Washington Blvd.

Poole said the Sankofa Wellness Village would have four main elements, which will need to be built:

  • The Sankofa Village Wellness Center, a 60,000-square-foot facility that will include a health center, gym and exercise facility, early childhood development programs, community-owned credit union, small business support and other services.
  • The MAAFA Center for Arts and Activism, or The MAC, a residential leadership, workforce development and arts center to be built inside a renovated New Mount Missionary Baptist Church at 4239 W. Washington Blvd.
  • The K Entrepreneurship Development Hub, a business incubator.
  • The Community Grocer Initiative, a community-led effort to bring grocers and healthy food to the neighborhood.

Theodore “TJ” Crawford, executive director of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, said the village is also part of a larger project where the group will create a quality-of-life plan for the neighborhood, activate vacant lots and more.

The collaborative includes New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, Rush Medical Center, the MAAFA Redemption Project, West Side United, The Community Builders, the YMCA, the Institute for Non-Violence, Erie Family Health Centers, Bethel New Life, Bobbie E. Wright CBHC, the Garfield Park Community Council, and others, Poole said.

Crawford said the village will work to prevent violence in Garfield Park by addressing underlying problems, providing people with mental health care, healthier food, jobs, opportunities and more.

“Violence is a symptom of larger issues in the community,” Crawford said. “Some look at it as the thing that we need to deal with, but when you dig underneath that you recognize that there are a number of different social, political and health determinants that lead up towards violence. 

“So the work of the wellness village and all of the members of the collaborative is looking at what we do before that happens.”

Credit: Provided
A map of future community revitization projects throughout Garfield Park as part of the Sankofa Wellness Village.

The collaborative hopes the Sankofa Wellness Village, which will be funded through fundraising efforts and financial support, can be open and operational by 2025, said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of West Side United.

Jaco, who grew up in the area, said the collaborative is working to improve life for neighbors — and to build trust with them and following through on promises. 

This has shown to be particularly important following the departure of the Aldi last year, Jaco said. The abrupt closure upset many residents, and the collaborative is trying to prevent similar events in the future, Crawford said.

“Aldi’s packing up in the middle of the light left a stain,” Jaco said. “It was an oasis. Living in a community where the food and liquor store was [normally] your grocery store [before Aldi opened], where there were buckets of places that you could go get a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but never a one-stop shop without having to leave the community.

“We’re hoping that our work will help restore [trust], by us being ambassadors, honest brokers to some degree, so that when corporate partners come into the community, we are being very transparent and positioning community voice in a way where they are helping to build out services that will impact them with their voices being taken into consideration.”

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church is one of several community organizations and pillars part of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, which is working on the Sankofa Wellness Village.
Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
A caution sign hangs on a fence blocking off the construction area of the Garfield Park Community Plaza and Roller Rink, one of several community projects part of the Sankofa Wellness Village.
Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
A community banner for New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, the MAAFA Redemption Project and the Sankofa Wellness Project in Garfield Park on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022.

Jaco said she feels a growing sense of hope in her community, even though there’s much work ahead to make the wellness village a reality.

Following through on that hope will take “arming people, supporting people, walking alongside people to bridge that gap to go where power exist,” she said. “To bring your power to then bring about change is something that we’re adamant about.

“I think people — from elders to adults, young adults, children — can see [the community] in a different light than what it was 30 years ago because of the work that we’re doing.”

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