“Wait, why are you going there? I’ve heard about that area. It’s not safe.”

When I first ventured to Englewood, I was bombarded with statements like the one above. I was told that I, a young, white woman from suburban Maryland, would not be welcomed in the south side of Chicago. That I would not be safe.

Safe – the recurring word. Safe is defined as ‘adjective; protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.’ I get that. But, what I found utterly perplexing was that everyone was so concerned with me spending three or four hours in this seemingly unsafe neighborhood when people, actual human beings, worked, lived and breathed there. Why wasn’t anyone concerned about their safety?

So, I opted to be unsafe. I went to the corner of 64th and Honore, driving to an area of the city I hadn’t stepped foot in after more then a year of living here. I stepped out of my car. My eyes widened. My mouth closed. My ears opened. I might have even lost my breath for a moment. Not because I was unsafe, but because I was inspired.

The first thing that catches your eye are the colors: red, yellow, blue, green, pink. The vibrant garden across the street, teeming with flowers and vegetables and a greenhouse. The painted lines on the sidewalk spanning in all directions, which I later learned are used to guide neighborhood residents to the house. And the art – oh, the art was overwhelming and beautiful and raw. Statements painted on large wooden canvases for all the world to witness with no apologies for what they said.

I knew, in that moment, that something inside of me was shifting. Some random little voice, a voice I hadn’t noticed before, said ‘You’re supposed to be here.’

Fast forward to today: I’ve been working alongside I Grow Chicago for over two years and am a member of the Junior Board. The moments I’ve been at the Peace House have been times of laughter and love, peppered in with times of learning and discussing the tough stuff (the stuff we shy away from, the stuff that really matters.) I’ve carried kids on my back, raced around the garden and planted kale without killing it with my lack of a green thumb. I’ve learned there’s so much more to life then the safe, miniscule circle we surround ourselves with daily.

In the fall of 2018, with the encouragement of my I Grow Chicago family, I will be leaving a stable job to go back to school. In two years, I will have a Masters in Social Work (a far cry away from my undergraduate degree: dance.) I guess those colors really got to me.

No, I’m not saying I’m always safe. As much as it hurts to admit, I’m not unrealistic. But I don’t want to live in a world where people view my safety as more important. I want to live in a world where compassion and love are so abundant that safety is a guaranteed human right. It may not happen in my lifetime, or even the next, but I can’t wait to be a small part of paving the way for change.

One more thought for the road:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch