Audio Slideshow: Listen to Asiaha Butler and Englewood residents talk about what they’re doing in their community.
By Matt Bailey and Rashanah Baldwin
Frustrated with the lack of programs and outlets for youth in Englewood, lifelong neighborhood resident Asiaha Butler started working to change the impression of her neighborhood with a program that gives young people an opportunity to express themselves with words rather than gunfire.
“I’m not an anti-violence activist. I’m a peace activist,” Butler said.
Beginning last April, she started a series of documentary screenings, in donated spaces, followed by open-floor debates of issues raised in the films, called, “So Fresh Saturdays: Docs and Dialogue.”
This monthly gathering of people between the ages of 12-20, provides an opportunity to have “a fun, safe and educational space, in the heart of a place that people call so violent,” Butler said.
Butler acknowledged that Englewood has its problems, but feels that the media portrayal of Englewood lacks balance. The media picture of the community “is horrible. We’re the worst on Earth, we’re considered the most dangerous community in Chicago,” she said.
“Why is that [the negative] the only thing that is being shed light on?” Butler asked. “Why focus on the night when you can focus on the shiny things that are happening here?”
Butler brought various groups together to organize the Oct. 30 “Spooktacular Halloween Bash” which drew around seventy locals to the 7th District Police Station, to participate in Docs and Dialogue and the Halloween party afterward.
Englewood Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was one of the groups who contributed. Project Director for the not-for-profit, Jimi Orange agreed with Butler that Englewood may be the most maligned community in Chicago. “There are a lot of positive things going on here but unfortunately things like this don’t get the press they deserve,” he said.
“We’re a society that feeds off of violence and negativity. Everywhere you turn it’s violence and fighting. The five o’clock top story is violence, not a whole class of youth graduated from Urban Prep,” Orange said.
Butler said she couldn’t have organized the event without the support of the local police district, who donated most of the refreshments and their station house, opened by Mayor Daley in March 2009, for the event.
Anthony Carothers, who became the police commander of District 7 in July 2010, was entirely supportive of Butler’s efforts and said they were complimentary to his, and his officers, attempts to make Englewood safer.
7th District officers Yanez and Wormly worked closely with Butler to bring the event together. They run a youth sub-committee geared toward achieving similar goals to Butler.
Carothers wants to see the neighborhood’s silent majority to become vocal. “The reason that Englewood is not like Mt. Greenwood, or Beverley, or Chatham is because the people that live here have not decided to make it that yet,” he said.
Carothers pointed to social problems, but said poverty alone could not take the blame for Englewood’s problems, both real and perceived.
Referring to a map of the neighborhood on his wall he pointed out that while Englewood is only a little more than seven square miles, it has over 60 liquor stores, who sell and market 40s and fifths of liquor. A type of marketing that attracts people who don’t buy and go, but who simply hang out in front of the store drinking the products from brown paper bags.
“Too many negatives have been allowed over the years. The last thing we need in this district is more liquor,” Carothers said. “There’s no one cause and there’s no one answer.”
All of Chicago’s 25 Police District Commanders have BlackBerrys, which instant message them whenever there’s a murder in the city. Carothers said every commander instinctively looks to see if it’s in their district.
He said the murder rate in Englewood “is dispersed. But based on the conversation you would think that you’d get four or five murders everyday.”
According to the City of Chicago’s Index Crime Summary, District 7 had 30 murders between January and September this year, which is a 3.2% reduction from the same period in 2009.
District 7 has the third highest murder rate out of all 25 Districts in Chicago. District 6, an area just to the southeast of Englewood, reported 36 murders and District 11, which covers the West Side from Roosevelt to Division Streets, had 41 murders over the same period.
Butler, Orange and Carothers all said that the perception of Englewood is worse than the reality.
John McCarron, a former Chicago Tribune editorial board member and urban affairs specialist, said even though Englewood remains “an island of poverty” and may be “the national poster child for how not to do urban renewal,” the areas prospects may be on the uptick.
He listed numerous factors that were complicit in impeding the development of the neighborhood over the last forty years but referenced the new Kennedy-King City College, Urban Prep and affordable housing development St. Bernard’s Place as the signs of hope for the community’s future.
All those interviewed agreed that Englewood will only get better if more people like Butler step up and contribute to improving the reality and perception of Englewood.
The Revival of Englewood