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Alisa Valentin/MEDILL

Al Green, a panelist at The Cities Project meeting, speaks to a DePaul student about mentoring youth in Englewood.

Englewood: 'Not just a charity case,' residents say

by Alisa Valentin
Oct 09, 2012


Alisa Valentin/MEDILL

John Zeigler and Asiaha Butler engage in conversation about the Englewood community.

Google “Englewood” and the results are news articles about violence, murders and gangs. Community members are working to rebrand Englewood as the thriving neighborhood it once was.

“Most people when they think of Englewood they think of the poverty, they think of homelessness, they think of the gangs,” said Asiaha Butler, president and co-founder of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood.

Butler said she wants people to know there are residents who are educated and have great jobs and haven’t turned their backs on the community. She added the focus on the community is often on the unemployed and homeless, but there are taxpayers working hard to improve the area.

During the 1850s the intersection of 63rd and LaSalle was known as “Junction Grove“ because of the thriving railroad industry. In the 1970s the community was home to a large shopping center that was the site of parades, concerts and radio broadcasts.

The panelists said community members are trying to relive those eras through civic engagement and empowerment. Volunteers are registering residents to vote, creating art pieces to display in vacant retail shops and cleaning up trash-filled lots.

In one effort to help outsiders understand Englewood better, community members met with DePaul University students involved with The Cities Project, a youth mentoring program, who will be working in Englewood. They met Monday at Wentworth Elementary School in Englewood, one of the places the students will be working.

“Unfortunately most people look at Englewood as a charity case,” said Butler, “I would hope that as you mentor these young people that is not the approach you guys have.”

The panelists said programs such as The Cities Project help build social capital in Englewood, which is the most important asset a community can have. The program is a year-long service learning course. Thirty-four DePaul mentors are responsible for helping their 6th-grade students achieve academically. Mentors are also encouraged to positively engage with their student’s guardian and community during their roughly five hours devoted to the program each week.

Al Green grew up in Englewood during the time when drugs and gangs were beginning to be a large influence in the neighborhood. Green, who today is a community leader with By the Hand Club for Kids, was the youngest of nine children and his mother was on welfare. During his youth Green was in a mentoring program sponsored by the University of Chicago, which he credits for much of his life achievements.

“I will never forget one of the things my mentor from that program poured into me. Two things you need is education and opportunity,” said Green, explaining to the DePaul students the importance of the work they will do in Englewood.