On Tuesday, August 4, cities around the country celebrated National Night Out, an annual event that aims to promote safety in the streets. As part of the annual “community-building campaign” held on the first Tuesday in August, residents are asked to leave their porch lights on throughout the evening as a display of safety and solidarity and gather together in neighborhood camaraderie. Bringing police and neighbors together under positive circumstances, communities typically mark the occasion by hosting block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and other community events.
Nestled along Lake Michigan on Chicago’s southeast side, Rainbow Beach Park hosted a National Night Out celebration that welcomed neighbors of all ages from the South Shore community. Kids enjoyed the tastes of summer with hotdogs, popcorn and cotton candy, a DJ blasted tunes to a bevy of dancers bouncing to the beat, cops made a splash in the dunk tank and tried their luck at “bags,” and 15-year-old Zoie Horton, reigning Miss Black Illinois Talented Teen 2015, mingled with neighbors in her sash and crown. We spoke to some of the residents enjoying the festivities and asked them how they give back.
We asked retiree Sonya, who was volunteering at the barbecue, how she supports her community and were blown away about how many ways she is involved. A block club president for not one, but two blocks, she gives back by “being a community activist” and sharing information with her neighbors. “Whenever someone tells me about a community meeting, I’m there, so I know what’s going on. I try to keep my residents informed about what’s happening in the community. I have a lot of seniors around me in the area that I live. When I hear of any information, I bring it back to them.”
[pullquote]Neighbors, @Chicago_Police gather in Rainbow Beach Park for @OfficialNNO and share how they support their South Shore community[/pullquote]
Stylish Sally’s generosity spans a lifetime of giving. “Many years ago, during the spring and fall, I would pass out treats to the neighborhood two or three times a month—taffy apples, ice cream cones, containers of grapes, shoes, anything worthwhile.” Years later, she is still giving back. “Now, I go to nursing homes and take the senior residents homemade baked goods and whatever they like to drink. I also give them money. Money might be a dollar or 75 cents, but just enough for a nice cool drink.”
Keeping the sun off his face, Reverend Gregory Rom, pastor of St. Felicitas Catholic Church on 84th Street, donned a straw cowboy hat with his collar. The church is involved in many aspects of the community, from providing space for beat meetings through the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program to hosting Girl Scout meetings and many other local events. “I’m happy that the church is able to provide some of the funding for the event tonight. We try to have our church be involved in the community, not just a group of praise, but also by doing something that makes the neighborhood a better place.”
Angel brought her nieces to enjoy the festivities. The nurturing mother of six and graduate student is very busy but has plans to make a difference for others. “I’m about to start a business and I’d like those proceeds to give back to the community. I’m working on building a homecare business for the elderly, people with disabilities, an emergency daycare, or even for victims of sudden accidents. I want to be there for anyone who needs help.”
Watching his granddaughters bouncing in the castle, Amos leaned on his bike. When we asked him how he gives back, he shared how he helps his family. “I raise two little girls—my grandkids. I spend a lot of time with them. Wherever they want to go, I take them. Their mother went to the Army, so I raise them.”
Arnetta Driver sat attentively as she helped supervise the event from a distance. As a lifetime resident, she spoke about the state of the south side today. “It blows my mind how segregated we are as a community. I aim to help the community in any way that I can.” When asked how she gives back, Arnetta said that one of the ways she helps is by taking on several roles at her job at the Homeowners Association. “I’m on the executive board of directors, welcome wagon benevolence committee and the safety and security committee. That’s why I’m here, to keep everything safe.”
Greg Mitchell, recently elected Alderman for the 7th Ward, brought an inviting energy as he protectively circulated the CAPS event. He said that the negative changes happening to the South Shore community have inspired him to make a difference. “I was born and raised here. I’ve seen it transform from what it was when I was growing up, to what it is now. Because of the drastic changes happening, I often dream about what it has the potential to be. That’s what inspires me.” After working in corporate America for 22 years, Mitchell decided to take his talents back to his own neighborhood. “I took my project manager skills and people skills and brought them back to the ward here in my community. I want to help bring it back to way it used to be. For me, I thought being the Alderman I could make a mark. I ran twice, and the second time was the charm.”
Weaving in and out of the roaring crowd with her camera around her neck, Julia greeted our questions with a bright smile. Her website, Work Together for Peace, provides countless resources and connects residents virtually in southeast Chicago. “I started the site because I noticed that we weren’t using our resources in the community. A lot of times we had pieces here and pieces there. So I wanted the website to show off the different things happening on the southeast side. Then, it evolved into a platform way bigger than just that.” Julia can often be found taking pictures for the website, documenting events and activities for others. “The thing is, we have to support what we have going and add on to it. I take pictures of events like this so people will be informed about what’s going on in the community. Sometimes it might look like a desert, but there is so much going on. This community keeps me busy—for free!”
Jackie from the South Shore (center) realized that caring for her family has been the most impactful way that she gives back. “I raise my grandkids. I bring them up here then pick them up from school. I just got through taking care of my youngest grandchild because his mother is going to school.”
Angela (left) brought her 4-year-old son and her father Floyd (right) to enjoy the festivities in the park. She reflected on how important it is to stay involved in her community. “I’ve been living in the city for the last seven years—I choose to use my personal time to give back. I’m very active in the CAPS department because I don’t think that it’s just the police’s responsibility to solve our issues with crime.” Angela spoke passionately about the way in which neighborhood epidemics should be a concern for the entire community. “[The police] really can’t solve any crime without help from the community—and that’s the reality of it. It’s our neighborhood and if we’re not willing to fight for our neighborhood from the inside, then who’s supposed to come in and save the day. There is no superman. We have to make it a place that we want to pass down to the next generation.”
As her baby girl shyly stood in the background, Geraldine (left) shared how she gives back. “I’m a social worker, so usually I talk to the elderly about their rights and inform them about the insurance they need to sign up for at the hospital. I make sure they don’t just keep to themselves.” Through her job at the Southeast Chicago Chambers of Commerce, Fallen (right) works hard to engage residents in the neighborhood. “We do a lot of work on how to engage with and remain active in the community. That is one of the big things we do. We try to encourage residents to come together with the business community. For example, I was just passing out fliers about our upcoming festival.”