On a Saturday afternoon, residents from across Chicago gathered in the Peace Garden to listen to stories from multiple generations of Englewood residents. The event is part of a summer series hosted by the Chicago Impact Network to hear from people and organizations who are making a difference in their neighborhoods.
Mainstream news and media outlets are primarily responsible for crafting the public’s perception of Englewood’s community. These perceptions often offer only a fragmented and one-dimensional view of individuals who defy easy caricature. These incomplete narratives leave many stories untold and many voices unheard.
For young men like Peace and D’anta, or a long-time resident like Mama Pearl, having the space to share their voice and their stories is a declaration that they are here and that they matter. Forgetting is not a luxury that they can afford; they carry with them the past and have to confront it within themselves and also through how they are treated every day. Storytelling is one way to honor the resilience, the courage and the love that we witness in our neighbors every day.
Below are excerpts and transcripts from the storytelling event lightly edited for clarity.
The reason I ended up in Englewood is during the rise when King was killed, our house was burned down. We ended up having twenty three people living in a single washroom, in a three bedroom house, in our grandfather’s house. So my sister Gwen bought a house on 64th and Wolcott, that became my home to this very day. Forty-six years I’ve been over here. When I came here, I was in 9th grade, the first experience I had was “One, I’m not joining a gang, and my sister and my brother had thirteen siblings. We fought them, we won. They never approached us again. All three of the women who tried to get me to join a gang was shot the following Sunday, by who I don’t know. They were shot but they left us alone.
My thirteen siblings and I stayed in Englewood, we lived here and went to high school here. I was employed by Blue Cross Blue Shield for thirty five years. I started my own children’s program because kids were smoking. Little kids. They didn’t have anything better to do. So I’m nineteen years old, I started a kids’ school. That was the first or second one. Then I joined I Grow.
Being here has taught me, the police would literally beat you if you don’t have a gun. My grandson who’s in prison was beaten by the Chicago police because he did not have a gun. My father was beaten by the Chicago police because he was defending my sister. When the captains came, they tested an eighty-five year old man to see how strong he was. Nothing happened after that, nobody was held accountable for what they had done.
Now, my oldest grandson is twenty-six years old, he’s in prison. They gave him sixty-three years for non-death crime, he pleaded for eight. They said, wow this boy is not like the rest of them. They made him a barber, they made him a trustee. They put him in a better prison. He’s gonna be out in a year and a half. When he comes back to Englewood, he is going to start his own business. He won’t be involved in the street gangs or any type of violence that had captured his mind at the age of seventeen.
I am a great grandmother. I have one daughter, three grandchildren, but I am a grandmother to every other child on this street. I am an Auntie Pearl, Mama Pearl. I kiss them each and every morning, tell them how much I love them. If they’re out here fighting, if they’re out here arguing I’m in the middle of it, if they’re in domestic violence, I’m in the middle of it. I don’t want to see these babies hurt. I would literally give up my own life to protect each and every one of them. This is our community. We have to take it back, these vacant lots were not here 46 years ago. We’ve had a community. And if you come on 64th and Wolcott, everybody is relatives. Aunts, uncles, married this one, married that one, skipped over this one, remarried that one…That’s Wolcott. We’re all family so how can you dispute with your family, when this is my great nephew right here. So we love each other.
We had one man come to 64th and Wolcott, he said “who runs it?” We said nobody, it’s family. He came back and killed the man in front of my mother’s house. He came to this block to kill someone else and they killed him.
When I tell you the violence is real, it’s real. When the little kids don’t want to be killed and are scared to go outside, we have to change it. If you don’t change it now, when? So that’s my main reason for being with I Grow, it’s to make a difference. Stand out as much as I can, and I’m just gonna be here to the very end whether I’m working or not working, I don’t mind. If they need anything I am here to participate.
My journey started a long time ago, before I even knew it was a journey. I just thought it was life, and I was supposed to wake up everyday to figure something out. Go to school, get a job. Grow something for something so you can give something and maybe get it back someday. Raise a family, a house. When I was thirteen, my mom put me out and my life became so real.
I felt like I was homeless from that day forward. I never had that bed, never had that bathroom to call mine, never had those sheets, those pillows, I was searching. Searching, searching, searching. On that search I did a lot of things that wasn’t who I was. I was trying to be a lot of things that surrounded me. I gravitated to a lot of things that I felt hurt me on the inside the most. But those are the things that you got to do to maintain. You’re in the world, you want to fit in with certain things and that’s what I was trying to do. Fit in.
I found restorative justice, I discovered it. It was something that was more natural than anything in this world, any bible, any song, anything. Something that was on the inside of me, I didn’t have to read it to find it. I Just had to do it. Had to walk it. Had to be it. And what was that, that was being Peace. I found that it lived on the inside of me. Finding hope in that and believing in that and really loving it, I found my drive and everything that was inside of me. The ambition just manifested before me. Now I have the chance to give back something I didn’t have to create. The only thing that I had to create for peace and create for hope is space, and it grows. And that’s what I Grow gave me a platform to do. That’s what this community is giving a platform to do, it’s what Chicago is giving me a platform to do. I see the violence, yea it’s horrible but in a way violence is everywhere, it’s just touch home. And we have a solution. A solution which is healing, which is giving back hope. Which is telling our stories, so that the next person who knows that their struggle is just like mine. And if it’s not, I can understand how you are feeling my brother, my sister.
I grew up in Englewood. It wasn’t like this when we were growing up. I grew up with a lot of friends, able to play against each other in sports, on 63rd, growing up running around having water fights. And the gun violence got so strong around here it’s to the point you can’t walk around without knowing if you can make it back home to your kid the next morning, just standing at the bus stop, brothers can’t go to work because they’re scared to stand at the bus stop to go to another person’s neighborhood. When I first knew that it was real, I lost my friend and my aunt in 2015 in Englewood on 65th and Marshfield.
I was still in school.
It was just like a vision, it was so close to the point where I couldn’t even go to sleep at night. It was all for a change, it wasn’t like we were just running wild. Kids going to be kids, young, growing up, never dropped out of school but started fighting. It went from the elders to the young men, I stayed in school, I made some mistakes, I got incarcerated for two years. I changed my whole life around when I came home, in a matter of two years, I lost two friends. Four. In Englewood, in this area. I thought like, is this really what I want? Is this really who I want to be? I had to find myself, and it took a while. I had friends who looked up to me, as in going to school, playing basketball, leadership. I got little brothers and sisters, and if they see me still doing wrong, what are they going to grow up and do? I came here to I Grow. I’m stressing, I’m tired, I’m losing my friends.
Then, I had a beautiful daughter and I had no time to do nothing. I didn’t get a job. Due to my background, I couldn’t get a job. We were going to interviews. We did several applications for jobs. I want to be a photographer. I’ve always wanted to be a photographer. But it was just like the third thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be a basketball player [first]. So I picked up a camera and put the guns down, and now it’s like I changed a couple of my friends. Everyone wants to pick up a camera now.