Monday, June 30, 2008

Foreclosure map: 'A total gut-punch'

Sometimes a photo or graphic is worth far more than a thousand words, as demonstrated on the home page of the Southwest Organizing Project's web site. The map they used to show the spread of foreclosures across the 60629 ZIP code area is what one of my colleagues calls "a total gut-punch." It makes very clear that the wave of foreclosures represents a tremendous threat to Chicago neighborhoods.

Neighborhoods and housing organizations are mobilizing to strike back, with help from the MacArthur Foundation, designing a wide variety of programs and outreach to help people keep their homes and to get boarded buildings back into productive use. Urban affairs writer John McCarron is working on a story about the problem and local responses, which we'll link to as soon as it is public.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Salaam Saturday: Promoting Peace in South Shore

Salaam Saturday 2008, an event planned and sponsored by Richard Muhammad and the South Shore Youth and Community Project, was kicked off June 7 at Parkside Community Academy's playground. Salaam Saturday is devoted to community building by offering a day of peace with music, food, face painting and fun for youth, adults and families while claiming the playground as a public space for healthy interaction. This is the second year Salaam Saturday has been in existence.

The monthly play days are a proactive approach to creating unity and promoting peace. The next Salaam Saturday is tentatively scheduled for July 12 at Parkside's playground, located at 71st St. and East End Ave., just 2 1/2 blocks east of Stony Island Avenue.

Sensei James Muhammad and other representatives of the United Schools of Survival led youth in martial arts exercises and Def was our deejay.

A big thanks went out to Volunteers Demetrice Willis, and teenagers Tianna Barnett and Tiara Barnett; Final Call assistant editor Ashahed Muhammad and his family for helping out; Abdul Bah, who gave out some lessons in soccer; Robyn Washington, who sent a donation from Baltimore, Md.; the Chicago-based Black United Fund’s David Robinson, who dropped off a donation for the day, Washington Park resident Jameszetta James and J. Michael Carr, of Fathers for the Future, and his family who stopped by to lend some hands as volunteers.

To see beautiful photos by Final Call photographer Kenneth Muhammad, visit
For more information, to join us or provide support, contact Richard Muhammad at 773-616-5058, or e-mail

Monday, June 16, 2008

Two more takes on youth violence

Photo by Alex Fledderjohn

A big event took place at United Center this weekend as the Near West Side Community Development Corporation kicked off its Safe Summer Basketball League. A table next to the stage was covered with 30 pairs of gym shoes, representing the youth lost to violence this school year in Chicago. Earnest Gates delivered a heartfelt speech about this loss to society, and how youth can choose the "shoes of success" instead.

The league's games will be played on Thursday afternoons at Crane High School, where 18-year-old Ruben Ivy was killed on March 7. Check out the speech below.

Another take comes from Community Beat contributor Maureen Kelleher and Gabrielle Lyon in a story from Catalyst-Chicago about Jason Gill, a boy whose curiosity and drive wasn't enough to escape gang violence in his Back of the Yards neighborhood.

"Putting people on the street who know the neighborhood and are trained to interrupt violence works," wrote Kelleher and Lyon. "How many more times will we leave young men like Jason Gill to play the odds before we have the strength to do what we know is right?"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What do bikes have to do with it?

Photo by Amadi Jordan-Walker

Daley Plaza was transformed by a sea of bicyclists last Friday morning as early morning commuters converged at Washington and Dearborn for the culmination of Bike to Work Week.

So what does that have to do with community development? More than you might think.

  1. The biggest cheers from the crowd, when awards were being announced, were for Alex Wilson, the co-founder of West Town Bikes. Alex and Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation started the very successful BickerBikes program that puts tools in the hands of local youth and teaches them how to fix up broken bikes and then ride them around town. It's a great program that continues to broaden horizons for kids in Humboldt Park and other neighborhoods.
  2. Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail was represented in one of the booths by its new executive director Julia Kim, who spoke enthusiastically about that group's efforts to transform an abandoned above-grade rail line into a unique east-west biking and walking trail. The trail will run between two park-short neighborhoods, Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and land is being assembled at various access points to provide mini-parks with ramps up to the trail. This will be huge for Chicago and those neighborhoods when it gets built.
  3. Neighborhood organizations and the city will launch Sunday Parkways in October, shutting off automobile traffic on boulevards through five neighborhoods (Logan Square, Humboldt Park, East Garfield, North Lawndale and Little Village) to encourage residents and families to get outside for healthy activities. This idea has been very popular in several Latin American countries and has strong support from local community development corporations including Bickerdike and the Logan Square Neighborhood Assn.
One of the awards went to LISC/Chicago's executive director Andy Mooney, in recognition of LISC's support of these efforts. In his short speech, Mayor Daley pointed out that biking, walking and public transit are all essential elements of making Chicago a more vibrant and livable city. Local residents have the same idea, as they've outlined numerous projects along those lines in the New Communties Program quality-of-life plans, from walking clubs for health to "walking schoolbuses" for safe passage to school, to new CTA and Metra rail stations, to more biking and athletic programs for youth.

What do bikes have to do with it? Plenty.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

SWOP launches its first web site

A few years ago, an organization could get away without any kind of web presence, but as younger people (and older ones with the digital habit) turn increasingly to Google and the web for basic information, that's what every organization and business needs to offer. On line. The paper phone book doesn't cut it any more.

That's why it was a pleasure to watch Sandra Del Toro build out a new web site for the Southwest Organizing Project, where she serves as director of the Integrated Services in Schools program at Marquette Elementary. She did it in under a month, start to finish, using the Grassroots template developed for the New Communities Program by Webitects, Inc. It's the 12th site built on Grassroots, with more to come.

The SWOP site offers recent news, a directory of staff members and member institutions, and writeups about the group's issue areas, including education, immigration and safety.

It's a good strong demonstration of how an organization should present itself to the world. Congrats to Sandra and the others who put it all together.