We are powered by community and led by neighbors. While one woman had an idea for a Peace House, that idea became an unstoppable movement for healing justice because hundreds of neighbors stepped up and decided to take back their community. No one knew where this work would lead, just that it was time for something different. The seed of hope has been planted, and now it is our work to water and grow the world we all deserve.
I Grow Chicago started in the streets.
In 2013, the block of 64th and Honore was one of the most violent in Englewood, receiving upwards of 12 phone calls per day to the police due to violence. With years of disinvestment and structural racism, Englewood had become an opportunity and resource desert, leading many into the street economy to survive. Children couldn’t play outside, and residents stayed in their homes out of fear.
After years of volunteering in schools, in community gardens, and training with community activists on the South Side of Chicago, our founder Robbin Carroll wanted to understand and address the root causes of childhood trauma. To support the most vulnerable children, she recognized that she needed to support the parents and the environment where the children were growing up — because we can’t invest in our future without investing in our present.
When Robbin went to see a talk by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, a man in the crowd stood up and declared he would give any amount of money she wanted to support her work. Leymah denied the man and said, “We in Liberia have heard about your problems in Chicago. You go find your own corner and fix it.”
Robbin turned to her husband and told him she was going to go find herself a corner.
She started showing up on the corner of 64th and Honore with sandwiches and an idea for a Peace House. She talked to the young men hanging on the block, the kids, the moms, and the elders. She sought to listen and learn from those most affected by trauma and violence.
When asked if they were ready to take back their community, residents said yes. Their question back was “When can we start?”
I Grow Chicago was created by the streets.
Quentin Mables, now I Grow Chicago’s Co-Executive Director, was one of the first people Robbin met on the block. A lifelong Englewood resident and graduate of Harper High School, at the time he recognized he was part of the problem and wanted to be an even bigger part of the solution. He saw that gangs were filling a needed role of belonging, family, and community infrastructure, and wanted to fill that gap in a healthier way. He decided to answer the call, for his family and his community. He wanted to transform the streets and transform the lives of all his brothers.
Together, Robbin, Quentin, and our neighbors started programming. They blocked off the street, and the community donated their bathrooms and kitchens, their electricity and water to create an outdoor camp for 45 children to play.
More and more members of the community joined in. Roughly 50 residents helped renovate an abandoned home and three vacant lots. These spaces were transformed into I Grow Chicago’s Peace House, basketball court, and Peace Garden. Through the process, these community members learned construction and other life skills.
Everyone has a gift to share with the world. Building on this foundation, our neighbors began to discover and give their skills. Relationships formed. People came out of their homes, curious and courageous. They began asking for what they needed, sharing ideas for what could be possible. The young men on the block put down the guns and picked up tools. They began learning and teaching yoga, planting flowers, and building community resources. The elders who previously didn’t trust the young men began opening their homes and cooking Sunday meals. Our neighbors formed a collective, creating more than 15 healing programs for their community. They put the neighbors back in the hood.
I Grow Chicago is transforming the streets.
Since the Peace House opened in April 2015, what was previously one of the most dangerous blocks in West Englewood has become a symbol of hope and transformation.
Today, our Peace Campus is a community gathering and healing zone. Nearly 15 different programs, all run by community members and volunteers, assist every generation of West Englewood. Residents learn the tools they need to stop violence before it starts, from how to take a deep breath before reacting to how to apply for and succeed in jobs.
Our elders and young people lead together through our Wisdom Council and iHood Youth Council. We train neighbors in peer-to-peer resource advocacy and employ them as Community Wellness Workers, building neighborhood skills and an infrastructure of connectivity. Above our Peace House doors is painted the phrase “If In Doubt, Love.” No matter what, we turn to love. We lean on each other. We laugh together. We are a community and a family.
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