I sometimes wonder how different my life would be if I hadn’t grown up in Englewood.

What if my neighborhood wasn’t surrounded by vacant lots and abandoned buildings? What if most of my neighbors didn’t consist of drug dealers and prostitutes? Imagine going to a actual grocery store down the street to buy foods like fruits and vegetables. Instead the only store in our neighborhood were liquor stores and gas stations, and the only vegetables you’d get came from eating dinner at church on Sundays, attending school, or the toppings of a fast food meal from McDonald’s.

Failure is set up for you when you’re born in Englewood. Liquor stores, fast food eating, and a lack of resources and jobs….that’s the Englewood I know. See, I grew up living directly across from a fast food eatery and a funeral home. That’s what I saw every week growing up – funerals. Crying faces. Coffins brought in and taken out almost daily. My family used to joke that everyone we knew in the neighborhood eventually ends up on our porch and across the street in a coffin. I believe we even get some sort of family discount.

Many in the Englewood community still live in the same situation I grew up in. Years past I had to travel to other neighborhoods if I wanted simple things like fresh produce, or luxuries like Starbucks, Chipotle, a bookstore, hell even a place to work out. You had no other option but to travel if that’s what you wanted. So my options were to eat unhealthy food options, which lead to the increase in bad health conditions, and limited job and support options. Growing up I rarely knew anyone from my neighborhood who actually had a real job, went to college, or wasn’t dealing with some sort of drug or alcohol abuse.

And that’s my life. I’m 40 years old. This situation was like this before me, and even the smallest of changes to the neighborhood just started happening very recently. Thats generations of kids, families who lived through the same environment I did.

I think that’s why I Grow Chicago seemed like a bright beam of light to me when I discovered it online one late winter night. Resources and support were right there in our neighborhood, and while that may not be able to change my present, it will benefit future generations like my nieces and nephews who now can live in a community where there are more options than the ones I had growing up. Where they don’t have to travel 8 miles away to work, shop, play sports, or go to a Starbucks, a Chipotle, or even a grocery store. Vegetables and fruits are now an option, not a specialty item. And the feeling of hopelessness when you need support – support is right down the street at at IGC and not miles away in a community that doesn’t know you and millions of hoops and hurdles to go through.

When there’s a feeling of hope and opportunity, that helpless feeling starts to leave, and the violent ways of the streets start to diminish. And while it won’t completely go away, at least our children have a chance. Future generations have the chance to thrive as our community changes, and that’s a world I’ll gladly help build.