Washington Park is one of the many historic neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago.
The community area is nestled between Hyde Park, Woodlawn and Englewood. It’s home to the DuSable Museum of African American History and the former Schultz bakery company. Now closed, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and there are plans to turn it into a data center.
And the community park – under its namesake – was among the sites proposed for the Obama Center.
Interactive map: More from our series of community reports
It’s also an area that has seen a lot of change, which many community leaders say has been for the best.
Thirty-nine years ago this month, Pastor TL Barrett Jr. opened Life Center Church of God in Christ, which he calls a Palace of Prayer. At the time, Barrett said Washington Park was grappling with a big crime problem.
“It was deemed by the Chicago Police Department as the worst criminal district in the entire city of Chicago. It was called “the hole”. Not with a “w”, with an “h”. And everyone was fleeing this community. Now everyone wants to come back to this community.
Barrett says Washington Park’s greatest asset is its people. He says they have come together to respond to the pandemic.
One of them is Evelyn Shelton, chef and owner of Evelyn’s Food Love. It opened as a restaurant in 2017 serving up comfort food – shrimp and oatmeal, hush puppies, ribs. When the pandemic struck, Evelyn began preparing meals for those facing food insecurity – and for the overwhelmed emergency room staff at the nearby Provident Hospital.
“It is very rewarding to help people in general, but food is such a basic necessity that it is even more rewarding to be able to provide nutritious meals and help people when there was not a lot of help. “Shelton said.
Evelyn’s is only catering at the moment, but hopes they can reopen as a restaurant next year.
A local place that has reopened – the Currency Exchange Café, developed by the artist’s foundation Theaster Gates. Its “Retreat” project got off to a false start of a month last year before COVID-19 cases peaked, and has been operational since July.
Retreat provides a place for artists and entrepreneurs to showcase their work, collaborate, perform, develop ideas. Manager Barédu Ahmed, herself a musician, says it’s a space for creatives, for creatives.
“The Monday Coffee company in residence here, they are also creatives, a photographer, they manufacture by-products, they experiment with denim. Pour souls they are also creative. They are culinary artists… I think it gives a different meaning when you know that the people responsible for the space care about what is happening in the space because they themselves are also linked to it, ”said Ahmed.
Next door, L-1 Creative Business Accelerator also helps entrepreneurs. The University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life effort has its retail location in Washington Park, with three black-owned businesses based on the South Side.
Andrea Polk is the originator of the Solo Noir for Men skincare products. She and her daughter Ava developed the Zen Soul Apothecary wellness line after Andrea faced major health issues.
“I started to research what my ancestors were doing. I started to create teas and tea blends. I started to mix crystals. I started to meditate and to do yoga, and I started to transform myself considerably in visualizing, then I brought my daughter because she has helped me a lot on my spiritual journey. She would always motivate me and say, ‘Mom, you have the power, you can do it,’ ”Polk said.
“It was really fun and exciting because I’m working with my mom,” Ava said.
As places where artists worked or startups sold their products closed or downsized, L-1 and Retreat intensified during the pandemic.
Another group responding to the pandemic – KLEO Community Family Life Center. They offer a wide range of programs for children and families – and they’ve added contact tracing, COVID testing, a call center, and immunization education awareness. KLEO’s executive director says one-on-one relationships are key to helping people overcome their anxieties about the COVID vaccination – it even helped allay her fears before she got the shot.
“Once you get people to a place where you can have an open conversation, I think it helps people instead of always watching the news and worrying about what you see in the news… Having a conversation is really important during this time. because that’s the unknown, ”said Ereatha McCullough.
Video: Watch our full interview with Ereatha McCullough
One of the representatives from the region said that when it comes to increasing the immunization rate, overall health is the starting point of the conversation.
“Let’s talk about health. It’s like anything else that has happened to us: the flu, chickenpox, other things. So we have to teach people to take care of themselves, ”Ald said. Jeanette Taylor (20th arrondissement). “You talk about a community in which we have divested and which does not trust the government. So we have to work hard. “
While the pandemic and vaccinations are still a concern, community members look to the future. While some fear the Obama Center – underway next to Woodlawn – could lead to displacement, some residents say they are excited about the jobs it will bring to the community.
Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Jeanette Taylor
Community Report Series
“Chicago Tonight” Expands Community Reporting. We take to the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. Find out where we’ve been and what we’ve learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.