In 1930, almost 90,000 people called Englewood home. Its retail district at 63rd Street and South Halsted Street, anchored by a new, $1.5 million Sears department store, was second only to the State Street as a retail center. Englewood, which had been populated first by German, Swedish, and Irish immigrants, was thriving.
In the decades since the Great Depression, Englewood has struggled. White flight, poverty, crime, and falling real estate values have hurt the area. In 1980, Englewood’s population had declined to less than 60,000; by 2010, it was below 31,000. To remove vacant real estate from its rolls, the city of Chicago has sold hundreds of vacant lots to local residents for $1.
But Englewood’s struggles show just part of the picture. There’s another side to Englewood, where people are working for a better future. Business people such as Sunni Powell, owner of Powell’s Barbershop, run mentoring and job programs for neighborhood youth. Kusanya Café (“kusanya” is the Swahili word for “to gather”) is a hip coffee shop that brings people together and offers job training and employment opportunities.
The Englewood Jazz Fest, led by renowned saxophonist Ernest Khabeer Dawkins, who grew up in the area, is in its 16th year and going strong, with hundreds of people enjoying live jazz at Hamilton Park. The festival’s Live the Spirit residency fosters young talent, encourages original composition, and provides opportunities for performance.
Community organizations including the Residents Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), Teamwork Englewood, a non-profit that works to bring other community services together, and Englewood Blue, a business incubator for the community’s entrepreneurs, are all working to improve the neighborhood and to fight for a more balanced representation of Englewood in the media.
While violent crime is part of the area’s reality, the neighborhood’s hopes are reflected by Rashanah Baldwin, whose weekly radio segment, called “What’s Good in Englewood,” provides a balance to the crime reports.
“There are assets in the community that mainstream media isn't covering. I'm happy to report about the awesome things that occur,” Baldwin says.