By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
It was recently reported that 28 Chicago public schools will be tested for lead, on the heels of the recent tragedy in Flint, Michigan, where the water supply has been deemed unsafe for citizens. Thousands of families and children are at risk of contracting the devastating after effects of having ingested lead for years. As part of a global community effort to reach out to the citizens of Flint, organizations in the Englewood community on Chicago’s South Side known as the Englewood to Flint Collaborative, recently traveled to Flint to bring bottled water and care packages to some of Flint’s more vulnerable residents.
The Crusader spoke with some of the lead organizers of this initiative to find out how important it was to be involved in supporting surrounding areas in times of need.
The Voices of West Englewood president, Gloria Williams, said that she wanted to show others that while Englewood may face its own problems, that organization wanted to show its depth.
“Englewood is plagued with many challenges, such as crime, poverty and joblessness, but although we face these issues, we are not under siege.” She continued: “The purpose of the Englewood collaborative team project to travel to Flint was to reach out and help our neighbors and bring awareness to others about the goodness that goes on in our community, because many of our good deeds go unrecognized.”
The Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E.) was also part of the collaborative effort and helped with much of the planning. Tina Hammond is a member and weighed in on why it was important for her to be involved. “I went to Flint because seeing the situation on the news hurt me to my core because it could have been Chicago. It is important to reach beyond our own community because caring and love has no boundaries,” she said. “You love when you see that it is lacking. The water and care packages were Gloria’s vision, and we were willing to help her make this vision come to life.”
Hammond was hopeful, however, about how officials would respond if Chicago’s water was deemed unsafe. “I have concerns about Chicago water, and I do buy bottled water, because I know that it could happen here. I would hope that we would be informed if the city knew something.”
Asiaha Butler, one of the founders of R.A.G.E., said that there were more than 10 organizations involved, assembling nearly 500 care packages that included wet wipes, dry hair shampoo, hand sanitizer, hand soap, Listerine tablets, toothpaste, toothbrushes, vitamins and baby oil. “We had between 18,000 and 19,000 bottles of water, and we targeted senior homes for the elderly and home bound individuals who were unable to travel to the distribution centers,” Butler said.
Butler said that she previously had attended a meeting held by Williams and residents of Flint who discussed their daily challenges. It was brought up that the elders and home bound individuals couldn’t travel to get supplies, so Williams wanted to dig in and help the more needy residents of Flint. “I wanted to see and hear firsthand from the people and do what I could do to assist them.”
Englewood and other communities throughout the nation face similar problems, Butler said. “However, we felt empathy for these residents because their basic needs were impacted. The fact that they could not drink water, wash their hands, or take care of their personal hygiene needs was alarming and I felt compelled to help them through this crisis. It also shows that Englewood cares not only for our own community but for other communities in crisis.”
It was a daunting task, from the solicitations of donations, to the packaging, which was done at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, said Butler. The help from the men within the organizations and community who helped load the truck and also who drove to Flint was invaluable, she added. The other organizations were Canaan Community Church, Imagine Englewood IF, The Rise Foundation, AAIME, Teamwork Englewood, Grow Greater Englewood, Southwest Federation of Block Clubs of Greater Englewood, Antioch Community Social Services Agency and Evening Star Missionary Church.
But in the end, the collective effort paled in comparison to the appreciation of the Flint residents. “I felt an overwhelming sense of love and empathy for them. Knowing we traveled all the way from Chicago for these personal visits was one of the best feelings to experience. Some of the people were disabled and asked us to come into the apartment, and that’s when a sense of sadness came over me to see how much they needed—not just supplies—but they needed to know that even people outside of Flint care. Englewood Cares.”
Butler also voiced caution about Chicago’s water supply. “With the recent reports about potential lead contamination, I am worried. I drink my tap water on a regular basis as water is my beverage of choice, but I hope that our government is working around the clock to ensure that what happened in Flint does not happen in Chicago.”
Finally, Butler added that R.A.G.E. is always open to collaborate with genuine groups in Englewood, and says that the people who worked on this project were genuine. “We have our own action areas, but we are willing to join forces with others to make a greater impact, and that’s what this project represented for us. The residents in Englewood united to help others is the real good happening in Englewood.”
Hammond agreed: “R.A.G.E. is a voice for the ‘voice less’ or those who might sit by and watch the faucet drip. R.A.G.E. not only turns off the faucet but gives you the tools to stop the drip.”
For more information about the organization, visit ragenglewood.org or visit www.englewoodportal.org for information about other Englewood organizations.