I’ve purchased and purused various touristy types of books about Chicago that emphasize walking our neighborhoods to actually understand and appreciate them. I took that opportunity tonight when I visited North Lawndale as part of my Junior League of Chicago placement in Project CON:CERN. Our project involves assisting a community organization with developing a volunteer management plan, focusing on recruiting, training, retention, and appreciation efforts.
At about 5:20, I boarded a Forest Park bound CTA Blue Line train at the Jackson stop, heading to the Pulaski station. I narrowly missed the #53 Southbound bus, so I began to walk in the waning daylight toward my destination. I walked past a high school, a large handful of empty lots, some buildings that look like they should be condemned, a funeral home, a few convenience stores, and a few hair salons, including one that looked like it had recently been redone. I was extremely aware of my surroundings, recognizing that crimes can happen anywhere in this city, as highlighted by the latest rash of robbery and assault cases in Lincoln Park. What I did see was extreme poverty, with too many people lacking a proper winter coat (hopefully they were simply underestimating the continuing downspiral in our temperatures) as well as commercial activity. I think that there may have been a grocery store on one of the cross streets with Pulaski, but I’d bet this neighborhood is considered to be a food desert. Our agency contact admitted there are racial issues in the high schools between the Latino and African-American populations, tensions that are rising as the number of Latinos rises in South Lawndale, which the white residents created as a concerted effort about forty years ago to be referred to as Little Village.
So many thoughts swirled as I walked and on my way back into the Loop. First, I thought about St Vincent DePaul’s insistence that we not only serve the poor, but also know the poor. I am so blessed to have undertaken this degree program at DePaul — it is truly challenge to serve at a greater capacity, with a deeper sense of humanity and dignity, and a new development of self. Second, I considered the topics we discussed last week in Ethical Leadership — how do we address racial issues unless we are willing to name them? Is the state of racial politics actually better or is it just more insiduous? And have we given up on the duty to create equality, instead blaming groups for not moving quickly enough, despite the lack of resources? Unfortunately, my walk did not provide me with any great deep insights, but it did provide me with a wider understanding of my home. Oh, Chicago, how I adore thee!