On January 14th, at Kennedy-King College Community College, the five aldermen representing Greater Englewood organized the first town hall meeting in the history of the community. Englewood’s fragmentation goes back to 1971 when Anna Langford was representing the 16th ward in City Hall she was the sole representative for the majority of the community. The districting of wards has continued to this day, causing each alderman to represent a constituency that included other neighborhoods which led to the non-prioritization of focusing on the disinvestment in Greater Englewood. In Block Club Chicago’s coverage of the announcement, 20th ward alderman Jeanette Taylor stated, “for so long, the aldermen of Englewood have not worked together”, adding, “that doesn’t work for our city or our constituents”. With community leaders distributing flyers, 500+ residents came to Kennedy King to voice their concerns for the future of Englewood.
WTTW report, Paris Schultz, covered the townhall and summarized the issues that prompted the town hall. Schultz pointed to gerrymandering as a major cause of this lack of cooperation claiming, “in 2012 the power brokers at the time got together to draw the 50 ward map that we have at the time’, which is done every 10 years following the US Census. Schultz continues, “this remap came down to Latino aldermen, African American alderman, and Caucasian aldermen that wanted to make sure their groups had as much representation as they could so what gets lost here is any type of cohesiveness”. Schultz spoke with the alderman of the 16th ward, Stephanie Coleman, who believes this collaborative effort is how the community will improve, stating, “ this is Englewood Rising!”
Being a resident of Englewood, I was amazed at the turnout. After attending Governor Pritzker’s and Lt Governor Stratton’s “Fireside Chat” that was held the preceding Saturday at the same location, it was great to see not only a greater number of attendees but a greater number of residents of Englewood. In a community that is predominantly African American it was a proud moment to see the potential for civic engagement being a norm. When you entered the college the alderman had outreach tables full of resources with representatives to make sure anyone who wasn’t familiar with our aldermen they could easily get acquainted with the type of work they were championing. The energy in the building was primed and ready to tackle the issues that plague our community.
Derrick Warren, Executive Director of Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation, and Tanisha Terry Jackson, Enrollment President of Kennedy King, greeted the audience and introduced the Aldermen. Warren reminded us of the historicity of the town hall and what it means for our future, stating, “neighbors and residents that work together turn into brothers and sisters working toward a common cause”. Jackson welcomed the audience into the space that has hosted the Englewood Leadership Symposium, the governor and lt. Governor’s fireside chat, and now the 1st town hall in Englewood’s history. She pointed to Kennedy King’s role as the sole college in Englewood and announced that they were awarded a $1.5 million workforce equity grant which they are looking to create a “community of excellence of creative arts”. After the facilitator’s and the host’s introduction the aldermen were next to greet attendees.
Each Alderman came with a unique energy that gave you insight on who their constituents were and their personal praxis. Coleman’s opening statement shouted out the Residential Association of Greater Englewood, Teamwork Englewood, and Imagine Englewood If, while calling out the media, stating, “every news organization should be here because 2 weeks ago when we had 13 shootings they were”. 15th ward alderman, Raymond Lopez, shouted out Growing Home and I Grow Chicago while reminding us of the historicness of the town hall with his closing statement, “its been a long time coming”. Taylor was short and to the point stating, “you can’t say your progressive and not act progressive”. 17th ward alderman, David Moore, opening statement included a 16-year-old Englewood author by the name of Jae’la Leavy who published her first book titled, “Unraveled”. Senior alderman, Roderick Sawyer, pointed to the efforts of R.A.G.E., 10 years ago, to bring the aldermen together for a town hall. The round of introduction ignited different portions of the room, yet the entire room was there for Greater Englewood.
Residents of Greater Englewood brought a plethora of concerns that range from TIF funds, repurposing closed schools, corruption and accountability of government officials, community violence, and coalition building. Manny Ramos of Chicago Sun-Times quoted Sheila Rogers concerns over TIF dollars when she asked, “I realize it might not be as much as Lincoln Yards got, but I want to know are we going to get our fair share?”, which Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox stated Englewood would be receiving $25 million over the next three years through the Invest Southwest initiative. One attendee wanted to convert Harper High School into a community center, pointing to the 15000 teenagers that were technically homeless without anything to do after school. Another attendee pointed to the delay in “Black investment”, adding that “there are 20 Black aldermen and it takes 26 to pass a vote”, a grievance that was very clear to our community after marijuana legalization. Each attendee that had a question for the aldermen was given two minutes to address their concern, but with the line seeming to continue to grow throughout the night all concerns weren’t heard.
Lannon Broughton, a community leader with RAGE and action champion for many of Englewood’s Quality of Life Task Forces, asked about the 500 pending applications for the $1 Lot program. He spoke of how he has been receiving calls from the many residents of Englewood who were waiting to hear back from the city on if they were approved. Broughton used half of his two minutes to speak to the audience, making a call to action for community members to take part in the community effort to address nearly every issue brought forth in this town hall. He welcomed them to the Englewood Village meeting, facilitated by RAGE, being held on January 21st at Bass Elementary from 6pm-8pm, as well as plugging the EQLP’s Quarterly meeting on the 25th. The EQLP meets monthly with five taskforces focusing on housing and public spaces, public safety, education and youth development, health and wellness, as well as jobs and economic development.
Being part of the town hall was inspiring to say the least. I was lucky enough to get to the mic and ask a question of Alderman Lopez on his tweet after a 6-month-old was murdered by their father. I was also lucky enough to be quoted in different publications, but named by Manny Ramos of Chicago Sun-Times. My question was guided by wanting to understand why Lopez felt that childbirth licensing, conception fees, and/or toddler escrows. My belief is that we must hold all government officials accountable for their words and actions, so the goal was to make the community aware, but to also understand his reasoning. Lopez essentially felt that making incendiary comments on Twitter was one of the only ways to get the media’s attention on real issues that plague our community, which includes infant mortality, maternal health, and domestic violence. When government officials meet the community where they are at the community is able to better understand the long-term vision of their representative and find ways to address issues using community and city resources
For more details please check out the works cited below. Block Club Chicago, WTTW, and Chicago Sun-Times did a great job reporting; Block Club Chicago’s Maxwell Evans also did a great job detailing the town hall.
I attended the meeting as a resident of Englewood, member of RAGE, Health and Wellness Taskforce, Health Navigator, volunteer of IEI, member of Greater Englewood Toastmaster, amongst many other roles. I researched the mainstream coverage from and supplied the links above.
- Block Club Chicago’s coverage of the announcement and summary by Jamie Nesbitt Golden and Maxwell Evans.
- The WTTW team of Paris Schultz and Evan Garcia that went over redistricting.
- CBS Local’s team’s coverage utilizing the Invest Southwest Angle.