Living in Beverly, a Chicago neighborhood with a well-deserved reputation for tranquility, I sometimes take that tranquility for granted. Englewood is at the other end of the spectrum in public perception.
This week, I attended the dedication of the Heritage Station community garden, a truly joyous celebration for the Englewood neighborhood. Stay Environmentally Focus'd, a grassroots organization, worked with other neighborhood groups and Openlands, a Chicago-area environmental organization, to prepare the site, create a theme for Rahmaan Statik Barnes, who painted the mural, and get funding and work out the logistical details. It took a lot of hard work to make it happen.
The site of this community garden has a mixed legacy. A railroad station formerly stood here, an entry point for African Americans arriving from the South during the Great Migration. Many in the community take pride in that piece of history, and the mural celebrates it. It was also the station where Emmett Till left for his fateful trip to Mississippi, a fact that some would prefer to leave behind.
The bridge in the background carries the CTA's green line. Under that bridge, on tracks that run along the viaduct behind the mural, Metra, Amtrak and freight trains rumble through. Beyond the viaduct, an infamous site described in The Devil in the White City is now occupied by a post office.
The garden joins several others in the neighborhood as places of hope for peace and healing. One of the speakers at the dedication spoke of her wish for an end to violence in Englewood. I share her wish. I'd love to see more children grow up to follow their dreams instead of dying too young, and see families stay whole instead of being torn apart. We need to hear more about positive events and accomplishments in neighborhoods like this, not see them constantly portrayed as hopeless.
Our city has many dark chapters in its history. We can't escape or deny this part of our collective past. We can work to overcome it through healing and unity, and work together to make the city whole again. Projects like this garden can help.