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Community Development in Chicago Lawn and Englewood

On our excursion to the respective headquarters of the Inter-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation (GECDC) I was inspired by the commitment to community that drove the work of these organizations. IMAN takes a grassroots approach to community development. They feature an extensive, eclectic menu of programs aimed at providing services to the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, thereby facilitating a higher quality of life for community members. IMAN operates a free health clinic and addresses the lack of available produce in the neighborhood through partnerships with local corner stores. One of the most interesting initiatives at IMAN was their reclamation of public space in the neighborhood through cultural programs that reconceived sidewalks and street corners. IMAN uses art as a means to transform the sidewalk into a place of personal reflection rather than a numbing reminder of the hardness of urban living, while bringing spoken word jam sessions to street corners to promote them as spaces of community rather than hooliganism. Through these programs, IMAN change how residents perceive their neighborhood and one another, creating the social and emotional ties that are crucial for community stability and prosperity.

In Englewood we were introduced to perhaps one of the most confident leaders I have ever had the pleasure to meet in Executive Director Glen Fulton. The GECDC takes a more investment oriented approach to neighborhood redevelopment. The GECDC courts new businesses to the area, with the aim of building up the employment opportunities available to Englewood residents. Their efforts have already been successful, as a Whole Foods is scheduled to open in the area next year. There are also plans for a call center that will support approximately twelve hundred living wage jobs. The GECDC is also nurturing entrepreneurial endeavors within Englewood through their small business incubator that will be expanding in the coming months. The GECDC strives to transform perceptions of Englewood—one of the most impoverished, notoriously violent neighborhoods in the city—within five years; ambitious indeed.

IMAN and the GECDC represent what is best about Chicago’s strong sense of local identity. Both organizations are committed to acting upon their sense of responsibility to their respective communities, committed to working with an unshakable grit towards building vibrant, healthy neighborhoods. In both organizations one sees the seemingly endless ability Chicagoans possess to conceive and work towards more prosperous futures for themselves and their neighbors in spite of complex challenges and harsh realities. The work of IMAN and the GECDC preserves hope in communities that, at times, are neglected in the Chicago psyche—relegated to short news clips depicting yet another murder, yet another arrest, yet another shattered neighborhood.

May 24, 2015