“This is the real Chicago,” said Quentin Mables, co-executive director of I Grow Chicago. “Not what you see on the 7 o’clock news.”

Around him, children dove into a bounce house and weaved through the community garden. Hamburgers seared, neighbors met and old friends greeted one another.

It was all for I Grow Chicago’s second-annual Peace Fest, which took place Saturday, Sept. 9, at the Peace House in Englewood. Hundreds attended the street festival throughout the day for music, games, inspirational speakers, food and resources – but most importantly, community building and connection.

“We want to come back and do what we can for the kids, because we’re not too far removed from it,” said attendee Brittany Burr as she stood next to Mables. “It promotes positivity.”

For the young children, that meant basketball, face painting, balloon animals and even a birthday celebration. The Mobile Care Dental Van was also on-site for free oral cleanings for those 19 and younger.

Other resources included the University of Chicago Medicine’s South Side Diabetes Project, which provides cooking instructions, grocery store tours, farmer’s market tours and workshops for those living with diabetes. More people live with diabetes on the South Side than in any other area of Chicago.

Gail Kerr, the organization’s chef, said the organization’s work has allowed people to try new and healthier recipes and learn to cook for themselves.

“I actually have people coming up to me saying, ‘wow, I never tried strawberries with spinach,’” Kerr said. “Not only is it a healthier choice, it’s a better choice.”

Blood pressure checks, provided by the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine’s Keep Your Heart Healthy program, aimed to screen residents for cardiovascular disease. One in four deaths in Chicago are related to heart disease, and people might not be aware of their risk until they know they have high blood pressure, said medical student Jenna Stoehr. Some people also don’t realize that simple changes, such as diet and exercise, can have a huge impact.

“High blood pressure is a silent killer – you often don’t have any symptoms of it until you end up with a heart attack or a stroke,” she said. “Screening events like this can help people find out in time, if they don’t have a physician, they can find one and get on the medication they need.”

Organizations including Strides for Peace, the Humane League, La Casa Norte and Advocates for Urban Agriculture were also present, along with vendors and exhibitors.

Dozens of volunteers and organizers, including Peace Fest founder Mike Kincaide, helped make the event possible, along with speakers and entertainment.

Speaker Cornelius Mosby said his attendance at I Grow Chicago’s Peace Fest was all about giving back. His speech wove personal stories with the theme of negotiating with life.

“Whatever you put out there, you get it right back,” Mosby said. “It’s love – you can’t really see love, but you can feel it. I can feel love coming right back at me whenever I give back or whenever I give my words.”

Co-executive director Erin Vogel felt that love too, like Mosby and I Grow Chicago’s Quentin Mables. This festival was all about Englewood.

“What excites me most is that this is a celebration for the community, put on by the community,” Vogel said. “This is a celebration of the beauty that is in Englewood.”

Story and photos by Kirsten Onsgard