Whose Neighborhood Is It, Anyway?

August 1, 2007

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People who live in Englewood point to the new Kennedy-King College as just the latest sign that their South Side neighborhood is on the upswing. With six red brick buildings linked by grassy walks, the campus is seen as an anchor of new life along neglected 63rd Street. But even as they welcome the community college and other development, residents and neighborhood leaders want black wealth to come from any revitalization of Englewood. One place they're eyeing is a new shopping mall set for construction north of Kennedy-King. Chicago Public Radio's Natalie Moore has the story.

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The new Kennedy-King College opened on a summer day to a bit of fanfare.

Ambi: from ribbon cutting…clapping

And a lot of speeches.

AMIN: This college belongs to you. If you let this college even belong to the administration, you're making a big mistake. This college belongs to you.

Kennedy-King President Clyde el-Amin told the audience to take advantage of all that's offered on the 40-acre campus. Like the culinary institute and nursing programs. But there was a broader message, too: Big changes are coming to Englewood. That means tension about what will happen…and who will benefit. For Englewood Black Chamber of Commerce President Arness Dancy, the immediate worry is a planned shopping mall.

DANCY: In any community, when it comes to development or wealth creation, you want to be involved from beginning to end and given the same opportunities are other ethnic groups.

The corner of 63rd and Halsted where Kennedy-King stands used to house a weathered shopping district. Its shops were owned by mostly Korean merchants who sold discounted clothing. Now many of those same business owners are planning a new mall a few blocks north of the college. Groundbreaking is set for fall.

DANCY: We want to negotiate that a certain number of those spots be set aside for African-American businesses that want to locate to the mall.

Dancy's chamber is a few years old but it's geared up over the last 18 months as investment's been hitting Englewood. He says members want to be involved in building black-owned businesses. Here's Dancy's message to shop owners and the Korean Merchants Association behind the new mall.

DANCY: Give small black businesses rent abatement to help them grow and be a viable business in the community and employ residents and things along that nature.

To make that happen, Dancy is crafting a written agreement between the chamber and the Korean entrepreneurs. It calls for contracts, jobs and community investment. Dancy got the idea from similar contracts in Los Angeles and New York black neighborhoods.

DANCY: So it's of vital importance that business opportunities be created where we can employ ourselves and pass on to other generations.

He says though Englewood is more than 90 percent black, fewer than 10 percent of its 1,400  businesses are black owned. It isn't clear whether the black chamber's idea on how to boost that will fly. Richard Kim, a lawyer for the Korean merchants, says shopkeepers are willing to meet with chamber leaders. But he wouldn't say whether anything more formal might come of that. Not all business leaders are sure it should. Jenice Sanders runs the Englewood Business Council. It's trying to reduce store thefts. She says the percentage of black business owners is higher than Dancy's number. And she wants unity, not quotas, to be the theme.

SANDERS: I believe that your community is composed of many different nationalities and whatever's going to make it a complete whole, I think we need to find a way to work with each other and not work against each other. Personally, I wouldn't advocate, lobby for one particular nationality to be a part of any community.

Still, sub par grocers, churches, liquor and dollar stores are rampant in Englewood where 44 percent of residents live below the poverty level. So are boarded-up buildings, fast-food eateries and weeded parcels.

Dollar store sound

Dollar and Up is on 69th and Halsted. Manager Raid Salameh says race shouldn't dominate when it comes to who owns businesses.

SALAMEH: We have stuff that neighborhood or the community we have in it's not around. It's hard for them to find. We try best to get them what they want, make it close to them at cheaper prices.

Bill Jones agrees -- to an extent. He owns a printing shop in Englewood.

JONES: Number one - we don't have enough black business people in Englewood to really get them together to start working toward an agenda. I'm not mad at the Arabs or no other race. All they're doing is filling a position that we're not taking time to do. We can't be mad them.

Nonetheless, he says nascent black business owners need mentoring. He suggests vendors be allowed to operate small booths in the new Korean mall.

Englewood has struggled with a declining population over the decades. Forty-four percent live below the poverty level and 22 percent receive public assistance.

Restaurant sound

Julie Mae's Soul Diner sells pot roast without gravy, pork rib tips and salmon croquettes.

It's on 63rd and Racine, next to a check cashing joint.

Julie Mae's has a couple of tables inside and no servers. Thick plastic separates the customers from the cooks.

Ordering chicken sound

But this is the only place Arness Dancy can pick out for us to meet on a Friday evening.

There aren't many sit-down restaurants or places to grab a cup of coffee in Englewood.

Dancy says he worries about whether the people of Englewood will share in any future prosperity.

DANCY: That economic development and wealth creation passes us by as people focus on Englewood and pretty watch much more and more generations mired in poverty, unemployment and crime. That's my biggest fear.

He wants a future that includes black developments, jobs, decent housing….and a place to gather for a sit-down meal.

I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.