The Crusader Newspaper Group

In Kenwood, Black picket fences

By Deborah L. Shelton,

When Bill Lowry learned that 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton had been shot to death near his home, he was working in his corner office at a law firm in Chicago’s financial district.

The high school honors student was caught in gang crossfire on Jan. 29, 2013 in a playground behind Lowry’s home. Pendleton had recently performed at a presidential inauguration event in Washington, D.C., celebrating Lowry’s friends—Barack and Michelle.

Her death, steps from the Lowry family’s elegant two-story home – not far from the Obama’s house – would have been unthinkable in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s North Side neighborhood of Ravenswood. But it is not in Kenwood, a predominantly African-American community on the city’s South Side that is a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan.

Here, in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, well-off residents like Lowry, a managing shareholder at his law firm, live with the trappings of the haves and the have nots: take-out joints and tony sit-down restaurants, check cashing businesses and branches of major banks, public housing units and million-dollar homes.

Lowry and his wife Cheryl, a dentist, could afford to live elsewhere in the Chicago area. They chose a double lot in North Kenwood, where they built a 4,600-square-foot home in 1999 and settled in to raise their three children. Their resources, like those of other middle-class families, can help improve the community.

The Lowry family built a home in North Kenwood in 1999. (From left: Cheryl, Bill, Jr., Evan, Clarke, and Bill.) (Photo courtesy of Bill Lowry)
The Lowry family built a home in North Kenwood in 1999. (From left: Cheryl, Bill, Jr., Evan, Clarke, and Bill.) (Photo courtesy of Bill Lowry)

While some middle-class African-Americans like the Lowrys benefit from living in neighborhoods like Kenwood, with its tree-lined streets, striking architecture, short commute to downtown, less costly housing and a connection to the history and cultural legacy of the Great Migration, they also pay a price. Their homes have less value than those in comparable white neighborhoods. They live in close proximity to poverty. They sometimes go home to gunfire.

Middle-class whites are more likely to reside in communities insulated from high concentrations of poverty, says Derek Hyra, associate professor and director of the Metropolitan Policy Center at American University. “The black middle-class is more vulnerable,” he said.

This is especially true in Chicago, one of the most racially segregated cities in the nation. Most black Chicagoans live in a neighborhood that is more than 50 percent African-American, compared to 42 percent of blacks in other metro areas, according to research by Mary Pattillo, professor of sociology and African-American Studies at Northwestern University.

The Kenwood community area is 68 percent African-American. One in three residents has an advanced degree, and one in six lives below the federal poverty line.

“The black middle-class is more susceptible to feeling the impact of some of the legacy of violence that remains in [gentrified] communities,” said Hyra, who conducted research on urban renewal in the nearby neighborhoods of Douglas and Grand Boulevard.


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