ENGLEWOOD — The Englewood Breakroom, a pop-up plaza spearheaded by community organizers, opened on the South Side Friday to give neighbors a place to play, shop, work and relax.
Dozens of neighbors, local organizers and city officials gathered at 63rd and Justine street to cut the red ribbon for the plaza, created as an homage to the community’s love for music, sports and fashion.
Teens played basketball on the orange, gold and blue court, neighbors shopped for goods in brightly coated train carts, and a DJ spun the latest tracks.
The Englewood Breakroom was one of 10 projects awarded grants of up to $500,000 under the Chicago Recovery Plan to help neighborhood leaders transform vacant spaces into vibrant hubs in the community.
Corie Luckett, founder of clothing store Englewood Branded, and Cecile DeMello, executive director of Teamwork Englewood, created the court to encourage neighbors to “take the stress of the day away,” Luckett said.
For the next three years, people can stop by the pop-up to watch live music, shop for goods sold by local vendors, work outdoors using the plaza’s free Wi-Fi, or play basketball, volleyball or tennis.
“All of the possibilities that this space has created will provide the type of safe space that this community deserves and communities across the city of Chicago deserve,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said. “When we invest in these spaces, this provides the type of pride that builds communities. When we take steps to create safer, more vibrant spaces, it allows for a better, stronger, safer Chicago to come into fruition.”
The work to bring the Englewood Breakroom to life began last year, DeMello said.
In alignment with the community’s Quality of Life Plan, Teamwork Englewood was working to address crime concerns in Chicago Police Department beats 712 and 725 within the Englewood (7th) District, DeMello said.
The organization made steady improvements in beat 712 by hosting community-led events and youth activities at Moran Park, 5727 S. Racine Ave. The park will receive a new fieldhouse and water spray this year.
In beat 725, DeMello noticed Luckett’s commitment to cleaning and activating a vacant lot near his store. As part of his business model, he donates 10 percent of profits at his clothing store to youth and community-led events, Luckett said.
After a city representative recommended DeMello check out a new initiative to fund pop-up plazas, the two community leaders joined forces to submit a plaza proposal in April 2022, DeMello said. They were informed that summer they’d been chosen for the grant.
The Englewood organizers have worked for months to create the pop-up plaza, Luckett said. The Englewood Arts Collective tackled the art for the space, honoring Englewood Branded’s color scheme of blue, gold and brown throughout the court.
Nearly a year later, the Englewood Breakroom is proof of what “$500,000 and a lot of sweat and labor can produce,” Plan Commissioner Maurice Cox said.
“This lot will institutionalize ongoing activation, bringing resources directly to the residents and increasing collaboration to this corner to reduce crime and increase investment,” DeMello said. “Despite COVID and the negative perspective this city has on this community, we have been getting it done. We have been putting our plans to work. We have been doing it with dedication, dignity and a lot of hustle.”
The grand opening of the Englewood plaza came at the “perfect time,” Luckett said.
Englewood youth “have things they need to have taken care of” and need the services the court will provide, Luckett said.
The community is counting on officials like Johnson to have a vision for Englewood that supports spaces like the Englewood Breakroom and “change the narrative” for the community, Luckett said.
“Together, everyone achieves more,” Luckett said. “Six years ago, when we opened Englewood Branded, we [were] dedicated to being a community-based business that provided for our community. … That’s our firepower. Community has a very special word in it, and it’s called unity. Without Cecile with Teamwork Englewood, without the city of Chicago, we couldn’t have had this done.”
The Englewood Breakroom is a “constellation of projects that are starting to work their way down 63rd Street,” Cox said.
Like “charms on a bracelet,” 63rd Street is amassing developments like the E.G. Woode commercial hub, the $5 million Go Community Fresh Market, the $14 million Englewood Connect culinary hub and the Regenerator, a $26.6 million affordable housing and community health center development.
“We are not going to stop until every parcel on 63rd Street has a new purpose and new life and activates and creates the restoration of the soul of this street,” Cox said.
The Englewood Breakroom is “an investment for the people of Englewood” and “an investment for the hope that our future brings,” Johnson said.
“The decades of old that have left our communities behind, my administration is committed to retiring this tale of two cities and ushering in a Chicago that’s one Chicago that works for everyone,” Johnson said. “And Englewood is leading the way.”
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