Remembering King in Chicago, and much more

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Growing up in Englewood, Martha Jones remembers her mother praying for Martin Luther King’s safety during his Chicago open housing campaign in 1966 – as well as the riots that followed his assassination two years later.

Her story is one of dozens captured by the Southwest Neighborhood Youth Writers Project and available at their Young Defenders website.

The project trained recent high school graduates to produce stories about their neighborhoods and oral histories of its residents.  Project participants have given us a broad view of the hopeful and determined people who make up Southwest Side neighborhoods that are often neglected.

Ben Polk recalls the security of Englewood when he was growing up there – and tells of a blood-covered man recently knocking on his door after he’d been held up.  Liliana Celis writes of rushing to the site of a shooting and finding that a 13-year-old boy had been shot dead.  Nineteen-year Englewood resident Jamesetta Harris talks about volunteering with CAPS, and Morgan Park High School teacher Alvin James talks about making an impact on his students.

There’s a profile of Hubert Newkirk, a retired Streets and San superintendent who established a “litter-free zone” on Halsted from 75th to 83rd, with ex-offenders hired to keep the street clean.

There are stories of recent immigrants like Dionicia Celis, Tania Velazquez, Marcela Orozco and Jaime Espinosa. Carolina Rivera, a community leader and a parent mentor at Talman Elementary, says the Southwest Organizing Project has had “a huge impact in my life,” and Rebecca Shi, a young Chinese immigrant, helps people with computer skills as technology organizer at SWOP.

There are pieces on Southwest Side institutions:  St. Sabina Church, the Southwest News Herald, the Chicago Lawn YMCA, Palermo’s restaurant – and the 20-foot-tall Indian statue at 63rd and Pulaski.  Also Marquette Park (along with a meditation on “empty swings” in playgrounds where children no longer feel safe to play).

And did you know that Ashburn got its name from coal ash waste from steel mills that was dumped there?

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