Leo Allen came to Chicago 40 years ago, after he finished high school.
“I said, ‘I’m gonna go see what Chicago’s like.’”
Allen had lived outside of Memphis, born and raised "out in the country."
“I love Tennessee," Allen says. "You hear the crickets at night, the birds…and then at night the moon would shine so pretty right out in the country. You could see the moon, the stars. I kind of miss that.”
In 1974, he settled into a house in the West Englewood neighborhood, right across the street from an elementary school.
“Oh, I love my neighbors. I just like this neighborhood, period,” Allen says. “And so, I pretty much watched all the children grow up….Some of them have families. Some of them are still here. And we try to keep it pretty, you know, we try to keep it pretty neat.”
A few years ago, Allen took early retirement from a northwest suburban steel company. As I chat with him, a handful of kids run around, back and forth between his house and his son’s, which is next door.
“It’s grandkids day today,” Allen laughs. “They don’t live with me…. Since school got out they be coming over.”
“Certain areas [in West Englewood] you go, it kind of makes me feel a little shaky," he says. "Sometimes you be driving down the street, then you wonder, Uh oh, when you see people running or you see a lot of police cars gathering around. You say, Uh oh, something happened.” Last year there was a shooting down his street, Allen says, and a little boy got hit in the leg.
In general, though, he considers his street safe, in part because of the school. It's safe enough where he’s not looking over his shoulder, safe enough for his grandkids to run around.
Allen knows what the rest of Chicago thinks about West Englewood. He knows what they see on TV. But he says this neighborhood can’t be generalized, because crime varies block by block.
“If some of the people would come visit West Englewood and really get the real picture and see how things going, I think they’d have a different outlook. Instead of just watching the news every day, and seeing what’s happening on the news.”
“I’ve been seeing more police officers this summer than I did last summer,” Allen says. “You see them a lot. Sometime they be sitting in the school lot, and that really makes me feel safe.”
Allen credits new mayor Rahm Emanuel for this. Emanuel had promised to increase the number of beat cops patrolling neighborhoods.
"Always room for improvement,” Allen says of Emanuel. “Some things could probably be a little bit better. But…give him a little more chance because since he’s just new in office….But to me, he’s doing a good job.”
Chicago, Allen says, is headed in the right direction. He loves this city. And even though he misses the stars and moon from Tennessee, Allen gets fresh air.
“At night I sit out here on my porch. And during the day sometimes, I sit on the porch. If I’m not on the porch, I’m in my backyard,” Allen says. “Oh, I love the outdoors. I love the outdoors, period.”