When Chicago won’t invest in black neighborhoods, the community steps in

The Whole Foods saga is perhaps the most revealing and surprising expression of this spirit. In 2013, the grocery chain shocked the city by announcing that it would be opening a store in Englewood, and I covered the story for Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ. No one had seen it coming – an expensive organic store in a much maligned and very poor neighborhood. Cruel comments quickly surfaced on social media: “Chicago will have the healthiest gangbangers in the country. “Whoever thought of this must be drugged.” And then there were blacks – often not residents of Englewood – who predicted that Whole Foods would descend like a gentrified spaceship and that its reverberations would shift blacks to the new white owners.

This does not happen. Throughout the process, Whole Foods listened to residents’ requests not to make it a “half food”. As a reporter covering the South Side, I know Englewood well. My office was once located there and I live in the nearby Park Manor. So I attended community meetings where residents helped design the store, telling business leaders what they wanted on the shelves and on the walls. After the store opened in 2016, Whole Foods has become a gathering place for hot food and conviviality in an area devoid of sit-down restaurants. My mom and I would meet there for the Friday night special – five wine tastings and five appetizers for five dollars. My 2 year old daughter danced in the bread aisle while a DJ was spinning records and once at another show she even sat on a singer’s lap as a live band stood behind her. People were dancing in a line and jumping on hip hop.

Five years after Whole Foods started in Englewood, the neighborhood is still dark, still facing a volatile housing market and still trying to reverse divestment and displacement.

I’m telling this story not to promote Whole Foods, but to illustrate that the residents of Englewood – and other residents of Black Chicago – are not passive renters and owners. All over the neighborhood, homeowners are buying vacant lots on the blocks to beautify them, like Tina Hammond in West Englewood. She and her husband bought a lot for $ 1, decorating it with flowers and a wooden dance floor.

Academics say Chicago is the only city in the country with block club signs at the start of the streets, small pieces of painted public art demonstrating civic pride and educational behavior: no strolling, no car washing, no loud music. Powerful neighborhood clubs are proliferating in Englewood, as well as other black neighborhoods in Chicago, countering the stereotypical behavior of residents of those neighborhoods. A few years ago, bloc presidents sought to update the placards to honor elders or to convey a warmer and less reprimanded message: we promote laughter, peace, love, respect and community. . But the intention around the expectations of the community remains the same.

About Michael C. Lovelace

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