ASPIRE, a 25-foot tall monument created by art activist Maxwell Emcays, celebrates Englewood's educational history. Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago

ENGLEWOOD — Six years after acquiring a 5-acre city-owned lot on the South Side, a prolific West Loop developer unveiled a 25-foot-tall monument created by a local artist at the site.

Neighbors and local leaders gathered Thursday for a first look at ASPIRE, an art piece dedicated to Englewood’s educational history. The monument’s location at 6701 S. Wentworth Ave. is the former home of Kennedy King College, now at 6301 S. Halsted. St. 

Sterling Bay, the developer behind Lincoln Yards and numerous other projects primarily Downtown, West Loop and on the North Side, commissioned the piece. 

Money from the developer’s deal to buy the Lincoln Yards site led to the company acquiring the vacant Englewood site in 2017, the Tribune reported at the time. The 5-acre site was to be Sterling Bay’s first South Side project. The initial vision was for a retail strip, DNAinfo reported.

In 2019, Sterling Bay announced plans to collaborate with Chicago-based DL3 Realty. At the time, a company spokesperson told neighbors more information about the project would be revealed in upcoming weeks, but no firm details to redevelop the site were ever announced. 

ASPIRE, a 25-foot-tall monument created by art activist Maxwell Emcays, celebrates Englewood’s educational history. Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago

Sterling Bay has hosted community events like holiday giveaways and COVID-19 testing at the lot, said Keiana Barrett, chief diversity and engagement officer.

But for six years, the 5-acre site has sat vacant. 

Developers are “close to and hope to be able to share more details on a project” coming to the Wentworth lot, said Julie Goudie, director of communications at Sterling Bay. 

The company is partnering with a local developer, minority- and women-owned businesses and neighbors to “work through the initial stages of a community-forward development plan,” Goudie said. 

Sterling Bay representatives refused to share more information but confirmed the company would have more details in the fall. The company is no longer partnering with DL3 Realty to complete the 2019 development, Goudie said. 

Representatives at Sterling Bay did not immediately respond to Block Club’s request for comment on the 2019 project or the proposed strip mall in 2017.

Neighbors interested in contributing their thoughts on potential developments for the vacant land should email the company at, Goudie said.

Local leaders, developers and neighbors cut the ribbon on ASPIRE, a 25-foot-tall monument in Englewood. Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago

Maxwell Emcays, an art activist who calls Auburn Gresham and Englewood his “stomping grounds,” crafted the 25-foot-tall monument after a two-year collaboration with neighbors and local stakeholders, he said.

Sterling Bay received architectural and design support from Skender, a construction company, and Lamar Johnson Collaborative, a design firm. 

Barrett partnered with Gallery Guichard, a Bronzeville gallery, to find a local artist for the piece, inspired by the Fulton Market gateway sign near the developer’s headquarters, she said.

Gallery owners Andre and Francis Guichard thought of Maxwell Emcays, an award-winning artist who came to the gallery 15 years ago, Andre Guichard said.

For months, Emcays and Barrett met with Englewood neighbors to “create different concepts that reflected how the community wanted to be represented,” Emcays said. 

It became a “feedback loop,” where Emcays would bring ideas to neighbors, listen to their thoughts and reconceptualize the piece to reflect the community’s wants and values, Emcays said. 

ASPIRE, a 25-foot-tall monument created by art activist Maxwell Emcays, celebrates Englewood’s educational history. Credit: Sterling Bay

The base of the monument includes a time capsule. Englewood organizations and local alderpeople placed artifacts in the base that “celebrates what’s happening in the community today and will be a great history lesson” for future generations, Barrett said. 

“Fifty to 100 years from now,” neighbors will unlock the base and find a yearbook from Englewood STEM High School, a newsletter from the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, memorabilia from the Englewood Five and much more, Barrett said. 

“The time capsule will be a wonderful repository of present-day memorabilia that we hope will pave the way, illustrate and change the narrative for this community,” Barrett said.

ASPIRE, a 25-foot-tall monument created by art activist Maxwell Emcays, celebrates Englewood’s educational history. Credit: Sterling Bay

Creating ASPIRE was a “meticulous process,” Emcays said. 

Emcays rendered a model of the design with “every millimeter of detail mapped out” so he could “follow directions to a tee,” he said. It took about four months to fabricate the monument. 

The final design uses aluminum that was “plasma cut and layered up,” Emcays said. With every piece Emcays creates, he likes to add “texture to give the work dimension,” he said.  

At night, the monument will light up like a beam for all to see as they drive past, Emcays said. Environmental Systems Design provided electrical and structural engineering support.

Young people who see it will know “someone like them is responsible for this creation,” Emcays said. 

“I think it’s important to young people growing up to be able to see this and see themselves in this positive light,” Emcays said. “That’s a big thing for me — showing us uplifted. That’s what I’ve been trying to do for forever.”

Keiana Barrett poses with Maxwell Emcays and Andre and Francis Guichard at the ribbon-cutting celebration for ASPIRE. Credit: Atavia Reed/Block Club Chicago

Emcays said he hopes the monument encourages city departments to support more local artists and community-driven projects. The city should be “leading the charge” to represent communities like Englewood in a new light, Emcays said. 

“It should be commonplace to see us elevated in the highest capacity, specifically in neighborhoods where we don’t get that type of representation,” Emcays said. “People say we can’t have nice things, but we deserve this and more.”

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast:

Atavia Reed is a reporter for Block Club Chicago, covering the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods. Twitter @ataviawrotethis