The Crusader Newspaper Group

‘Heroes in the Hood’ aims to help Parkway Gardens

Crusader staff report

A pair of tennis shoes dangle from two powerlines in front of the Parkway Gardens apartments in Woodlawn. It’s a ritual whenever someone is killed in the Black community.

Parkway Gardens, a historic complex that gave Blacks a chance at the better life during the Great Migration, is struggling to return to its glory days.

Now, the Chicago Crusader, which sits across the street, aims to offer help and hope to the complex by expanding its successful “Heroes in the Hood” program, which fosters community activism by honoring and celebrating selfless volunteers.

The move comes as shootings and gun violence continue to rise and keep Chicago in the national spotlight while President Donald Trump accuses city officials for not doing enough to reduce Chicago’s murder rates.

The Crusader will launch its latest plans with an expansion reception on February 9 in the Gidwitz Lobby at the Logan Center on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park. The event will invite community leaders and elected officials to help with the “Heroes in the Hood” by becoming a sponsor.

Crusader editor and publisher Dorothy R. Leavell explains: “the need for the expansion of our program comes as shootings and gun violence continue to rise and keep Chicago in the national spotlight. The Crusader is located in the heart of the violence, and has been for 53 years. Yet our building has not been vandalized, our employees have not been harmed in all that time. The reason is that the community respects what we do. The program is needed now more than ever, and our expansion initiative reflects that need.”

Now in its 24th year, the “Heroes in the Hood,” a non-profit campaign will hold its annual awards ceremony that honors young volunteers in May. In addition to awards, Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell wants to make the program even bigger by bringing together Parkway Gardens alumni who are former residents of the complex. The plan aims to help mentor and inspire the complex’s current residents, many of whom need strong role models for guidance and courage to live better lives. Another planned component would highlight young volunteers who are doing good things in the community throughout the year in the Crusader.

As gun violence and crime continues to rock many of Chicago’s predominately Black neighborhoods, life goes on at Parkway Gardens, a sprawling apartment complex of 35 buildings located from 6330 to 6546 South on King Drive.

Parkway Gardens was once the home of former first lady Michelle Obama and her older brother Craig Robinson. Both went on to become successful individuals with Ivy League degrees. The family moved out in 1965. In a 2009 interview with Time magazine, Michelle Obama recalled her childhood memories of the complex as ‘a wonderful, small apartment building… but now when I pass it, it’s – I was, like, God, I never saw that apartment in the way that I’m seeing it now.’

Back when Michelle and her brother lived at Parkway Gardens, many households were headed by two parents. Mary McLeod Bethune once gave a speech at Parkway Gardens during the development’s cornerstone-laying ceremony.

Today, Parkway Gardens is known as the ‘O Block’ after Odee Perry, a member of the Black Disciples gang who was killed in 2011. Gang wars continue to rock many Chicago neighborhoods as residents in Parkway Gardens cry out for help as poverty, unemployment and crime force many to live in despair and fear. Some who spoke to the Crusader for this story are too afraid to have their names in the newspaper out of fear of retribution. But many say more jobs are needed for the complex’s youth. They also say more men are needed to help keep teens on the straight and narrow.

“We do need more role models in Parkway Gardens,” said one resident. “Too many of these households are headed by women who need help to survive the hardships that come with living here.”

Some blame the neighborhood’s economic woes on businesses that have closed in recent years. Last year, the Walgreens store on 63rd Street closed after operating in the community for more than 50 years. In 2015, a McDonald’s fast food restaurant that brought jobs to the Parkway Gardens neighborhood closed as well.

“We want to make a change to Parkway Gardens that will transform the lives of residents who live there,” said Leavell.

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