By Ciera Duvall, Member of the Black Underground Recycling Program
On May 18, 2019, the Black Underground Recycling Program celebrated the placement of its first recycling box in front of The Jerk Taco Man at 7723 S. State St. on Chicago’s south side.
The day included free horseback riding, free jerk tacos, and free cake and ice cream. This celebration was a culmination of three years full of dedication, research, and community engagement.
“Serving communities that have been neglected, marginalized and overlooked. Being able to give back to the South Side of Chicago through the placement of the first box is just the beginning of more to come,” said Justin Blake, founder of the Black Underground Recycling Program.
Justin Blake is a visionary on a mission.
To most, it would not seem like such a big deal that an organization would kick it off with a community celebration complete with free food and horseback rides for the kids. That’s because it is more than the placement of one recycling box. To one man it is the first step in a master plan to save a community—one box at a time.
This ex-gang member, son of a civil rights activist, grandson of a Tuskegee airman, and great-grandson of a Garveyite, seeks to have a long-lasting positive impact on the community. The goal of the program is to recycle enough aluminum on a regular and consistent basis to support existing community-based programs and one larger goal.
Under the umbrella of “A Work of Faith Ministries,” a 501c3 that focuses on reducing violence and rebuilding communities, Blake’s program and his supporters fed an impressive number of people every month since last November. “We’ve fed over 1,000 people every month through our street team, soup line, and delivery to senior citizens and veterans,” said Blake.
Blake’s larger goal is to open a free 24-hour computer lab in Englewood that will be known as the Karibu Jamii Center. His organization is working with the alderman to acquire a closed school in Englewood it hopes to repurpose to not only house a computer lab but also serve as a mecca of empowerment. The vision for the center includes housing a recording studio, state of the art media center, commercial kitchen, and an entire floor dedicated to a wellness center. The Karibu Jamii Center will include a licensed psychologist who is well-versed in diagnosing and treating children who suffer from childhood trauma.
Through recycling aluminum cans, the program will do the obvious—lower the community’s carbon footprint, which will improve air quality, help prevent global warming, and avert drought and forest fires. That’s not typically what people in communities like Englewood are concerned with changing.
However, according to Blake it is a means to an end—revenue made through the Black Underground Recycling Program will be utilized for restorative justice in our African American communities in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. “These neighborhoods, starting with Englewood, have gone decades with no investments or funding. We are eager to raise $150,000 dollars to help us establish our recycling yard, purchase our garbage truck, and open the doors to The Karibu Jamii Center in Englewood.”
Sponsors include Cook County Commissioners Bill Lowery, Brandon Johnson, and Larry Suffredin, who support the “Just Housing” amendment as a new clause in the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance. The Jerk Taco Man owner, Julius Thomas, permitted the organization to place its first box on his property. Blake said, “Providing a safe haven for those in the community who need it most is exactly what we aim to do.”
For more information visit Black Underground Recycling on Facebook and follow the page or go to www.blackundergroundrecycling.com to make a donation, find volunteer opportunities, and most of all recycle. Blake said the organization is about action so join them as they change the world!