In commemoration of Black History Month, we are proud to launch a new series of posts spotlighting neighborhoods we play a part in across the city. Over the next few months, we'll share brief histories and voices from residents working to empower the communities they call home.
February's focus is North Lawndale, the site of our Pathways Transitional Living Program, a hybrid transitional housing model for young people facing homelessness. It's a community that's faced more than its fair share of challenges across the decades, but the tenacity and resilience of its residents have led to its revival.
North Lawndale was once a predominantly Jewish community. But around mid-century, it attracted many Black residents as the Great Migration brought those fleeing the Deep South to Northern centers like Chicago. The neighborhood soon became a largely Black community, a demographic makeup it retains today.
The neighborhood hit hard times following Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination, as riots pushed open a painful period of history and decimated many businesses. "I was about 8 years old when that happened. I watched my neighborhood burn," said Rochelle Jackson, a lifelong resident and Chair of the Transportation/Infrastructure Committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC), a local organization that launched in 2015.
It's taken decades to sort through the aftermath of the riots and other traumas, but the present – and future - look brighter thanks to the efforts of community members and local organizations.
"All along, even during the dark periods, there were really good people doing great things, but they were doing them separately. NLCCC brought all those great organizations to work in common," says NLCCC member Paul Norrington, founder of the K-Town Historic District Association, the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee, and the North Lawndale Sesquicentennial Committee.
NLCCC has worked with residents to design a thorough vision to improve the quality of life in North Lawndale, and it's paying off. "There is economic development happening all around us," says Jackson. "People are coming to us to ask for advice on how to improve their neighborhood now."
Norrington, who also grew up in the community, feels similarly. "I think that, outside of my childhood, North Lawndale is the strongest I've ever seen and with the most potential I've ever seen. I just hope we use that position wisely."