Chicago Avenue has a King. Westside Health Authority is caretaker of the ‘The Chieftain’ a 10 foot bronze statue depicting Martin Luther King as a Nigerian warrior. That landmark is located just 2 blocks away in the Austin Justice and Peace Plaza (Chicago + Mandela Road). Today was all about The Queen’s arrival on The Ave.
Sculpture Artist, Keith Brownlee was commissioned for the piece that will overlook a newly created garden at 4922 W. Chicago Ave. Keith is a lifelong Chicagoan whose family owned Abe + Tommie’s Carryout Restaurant across the street. He’s a certified fiberglass technician that has worked on 100s of sculptures and public art murals worldwide.
Queen Pharaoh is a tribute to the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The sculpture is made from dichroic glass, a component that changes color in certain lighting conditions. Expect bright, radiant symbols creating 3D effect on a 30ft garden wall.
Chief Operating Officer, Ms. Quiwana Bell led the program with a poignant speech that spotlighted the theme of the event. “Black people need to understand that our history didn’t begin with slavery. Recognizing, identifying, promoting that we’ve been kings and queens for a long time is the reason we are here today.”
Ms. Bell’s Good Neighbor Campaign is an apparatus that allows WHA to connect and empower everyday citizens to be the change they want to see.
GNC seeks to dispel the myth that our neighborhood is deficient. In our areas there is an abundance of both is talent and resources but often in our areas they are disconnected. Giving your gifts and talents to build a better community is the goal of the campaign.
The Young Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow were presented with their first ever contract at the event. YET is a group of 7 young men (1 woman) that recently launched a creative mobile retail cooperative in Austin. They will provide business, marketing and promotions services along the AV72 Chicago Corridor.
There are more 14-24 year olds in Austin than any other neighborhood in the entire state of Illinois. There’s so much power that has yet to be harnessed. Uplifting and investing in their talent puts us in the best position for a greener, safer neighborhood.
Yemisi Dinkins, AV 72 Director was recognized as her passion for artistic expression and economic development is the driving force within the corridor. This is phase one of the ‘Queen Pharaoh’. When completed, a mural filled with symbols that translate to Community & Prosperity will surround the centerpiece. The mural painting will reflect off the sculpture’s face on the 30-foot wall.
When you look down Chicago Ave and see those Red, Black + Green street banners for Austin Village, it creates a sense of pride. Having an identity marker for us in our neighborhood by artists that look the way we do is important for civic engagement.
-40 Acres Fresh Market (fresh fruits + vegetables) have local summer popups scheduled and are looking for a permanent Chicago Avenue home.
-Chicago Sub 4805 W. Chicago Ave
-Entertainment provided by Windy Indie Violinist + Spoken Word by B’Rael Ali Thunder
-Volunteers from Black Workers Matter Chicago where in attendance. Back in 2016 they helped workers at Ferrara Pan in Oak Park receive a settlement of $1.5M in a class action discriminatory lawsuit by workers who lived in Austin.
-Artist, Keith Greenlee first saw his art displayed in an museum when he was 10. Queen Pharaoh is a stark contrast to the restrained, balance, minimalism of the Fire Department art display next door. Keith installed the frog outside Rainforest Café. Theme Construction is his profession. Phase two of the Pharaoh project is to “make her look more like Aretha than Fred Sanford.. we’re not done with her yet.”
-CEO Morris Reed reminded us, although it’s a historic moment we must hold the new black mayor accountable for the crisis in Austin.
Residents need to make money in Chicago since we live in Chicago. We need local living wages. Currently there are Austin residents that travel as far as Batavia (41 miles away) for factory work.
It was announced that Westside Health Authority has acquired the Robert Emmet Elementary School at Central + Madison. A decision that focuses on the Austin Quality Of Life Plan. Action items that center on the needs of current residents who already live here. Back in 2014 the school serving 450 kids was closed by CPS. It has been coveted as a space for a potential health care campus since a townhall proposal meeting back in 2016.
For more scenes from A Queen Finds A Home be sure to check out our FB page.
In Austin there are 34,000 youth between ages 13-25. That age group has the highest amount of disposable income in the neighborhood. Young Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow is a collection of seven young black men (and one woman) who are launching a Mobile Retail Cooperative in Austin, Chicago.
The idea was born out of a need for innovative economic development that brings entrepreneurs from home-based and storefront businesses into a mobile cart incubator for vendors. Young Neighbors Entrepreneur Program is 12-week subversive journey underwritten by McArthur Foundation and Westside Health Authority.
Saturday December 29th at 10a is the launch event. The retail platform will begin as series of popup shop events. Those gatherings will be used to recruit and curate brands to be featured during the popups between January and February.
“This is an asset to the community. At it’s core this is a movement where we expand our reach and bring people together by creating something that they can be involved with.” – Michael Clark, Y.E.T.
For young adults who feel like they can’t work for someone else, the chance to build a team and an infrastructure around a business was something that couldn’t be passed up.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Y.E.T’s personal social media footprint reaches 13,000 youth. They are already a resource that connects with the 13-25 year olds. The product and employees are community based. It’s a chance to educate neighbors not only about the product, but also about what a co-op is.
High traffic areas near Lake Street, Chicago Ave and North Ave have been selected for events. Intersections where where high schools and grammar schools are located are also ideal for the project. Spaces where students are potentially spending their allowances on personal accessories.
To accompany the training curriculum, a feasibility study was conducted by program directors Terrand Smith (retail consultant specialist) and Demetrius Brooks (instructor + civic leader)
Terrand is the CEO of 37 Oaks, a retail consulting firm that specializes in creating scalable, sustainable businesses on the city’s West and South Sides.
Demetrius is lead program manger for the Young Neighbors. Aside from being a pastor for 14 years he is responsible for recruiting this group and was the key in all cohorts completing the mission together. His approach is non traditional. An advisor an teacher with a critical understanding around the importance of civic and community engagement.
“We’re establishing entrepreneurs from a group of young men who gave very personal reasons on why they wanted to help their community. We needed to give them a platform to do that. It’s an opportunity to increase their capacity as difference makers. “
When you see this group of young black men, an entrepreneurial collective might not be the first thing you necessarily think of. These business owners embrace the opportunity and understand the serious need for economic independence.
We need to improve our social economy. Some of us drive out of our neighborhood and even out of the city, subsequently spending our money out there as well.
A service and retail co-op with accommodating mobile carts can benefit small businesses by expanded the reach of their products. Examples of the impact have been felt close to home. Business like Schweets Cheesecake and 40 Acres Fresh Market operated out of Boombox Austin. Repurposed train cars served as a temporary home for those businesses to thrive. Schweets ultimately opened its doors in a permanent storefront at 5051 W. Chicago Ave, in part because of new visibility the popups provided.
The intent of the platform is to address the need for businesses in retail deserts. Spaces where there are food options but no other concentration retail presence.
Core textbook business fundamentals, of scheduling, financials, inventory management were emphasized. Guiding principles for this venture include that participating vendors have to contribute back to the local economy beyond just product sales.
We all have skills and ideas, we can monetize the talent’s that God gave us for a reason… and it’s a sin to just sleep on those abilities.” -Quartez Singleton
The Youth Fellows have created a family, not just a business focused on profits. This is a socially conscious effort where everything ties back into the development of the community.
Y.E.T’s final business model is about operating mobile carts not much different from the kiosks that you would find at Taste of Chicago or around Soldier Field. You can experience the brand and understand the journey at their launch party on Saturday December 29th from 10a-12p
- The point of difference is not just selling products, or the need to give back. It’s that the project represents Generation Z. Y.E.T.’s value is that their ability to reach shoppers in markets that other business don’t have access to.
- Once the right brand partnerships are created to go into the carts you will see events Mobile Retail Cooperative around Austin and other neighborhoods in the city
-Young Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow Founders:
It’s important to circulate dollars in the neighborhood you live. The Shop AV72 Travel Guide was a showcase of eight local businesses on Chicago Avenue. We’ve actually never been inside the Chicago Public Library West Chicago Ave Branch.
Nick Cave, the trained dance performer with Alvin Ailey also creates fabric sculptures. His works at the library were designed specifically with the Austin Branch in mind. There’s an entire wall dedicated to Queen and Kings of Africa at this location.
Aside from the librarians suggesting that there’s no reason Santa cant be a woman next year, the jewel of the showcase may have been the soulful styling of Kai Brown. Fly Kai songbird vocals effortlessly filled Brown Sugar Bakery & Schweets Cheesecake on the route. Recently Kai was a finalist in the Windy City Live “Search For A Star” competition. The entire scene felt like an episode of NPR’s live web video series, Tiny Desk Concerts.
Last time we came close to strolling Chicago Ave in this fashion was The Peace in Austin Mandela Block Party. Regardless of where you live, it makes too much sense to shop in that area…especially if those people look just like you.
Brown Sugar Bakery, 4800 W. Chicago Ave
Soulful Feelgood Small Business Saturday Performances by Flykai/kaibvocals
Schweet Cheesecake, 5051 W. Chicago Ave
Sweet Sounds Holiday Sing-Along
Chicago Public Library, 4856 W. Chicago Ave
Santa & Story Time
Chic’s Elite Hair & Nail Salon 5234 W. Chicago Ave
$20 Off Quick Weaves
Gigi’s Food Mart, 5053 W. Chicago Ave
Vicky’s Place, 611 N. Cicero Ave
3 Perch + 3 Wings $9.99 w free pop
Customers who posted a picture of their receipt from one of our featured businesses to our socials were entered into a $50 Visa Gift Card
Ms. Myrtle, as Father Tom Walsh calls her is about tribe building. Creating a business during tough times takes a woman full of energy, faith and love. When Mrytle Mullins had thoughts of purchasing the building that would become Chic’s Elite Hair & Nail Salon 44 years ago at Chicago Ave & Latrobe it was mainly a Polish community.
As the demographics shifted she was steadfast in the belief that home is what you make it. 'The Legacy of Beauty on our Block' AV72's Summer 2018 block party finale served as a tribute to a business owner who understands the value of building her neighborhood over fleeing the scene.
Westside Health Authority CEO Morris Reed will tell you that the transformation you see with AV 72 is something Mrytle has been doing for decades.
Her neighbors would loiter and leave trash all the time in the early days, to the point where clients would complain. It made more sense for her to do something other than just be upset about it.
“It can be done. You can save a community if you’re not just concerned with yourself and your bank account. I decided to open up here for that,” she would tell us after the ceremony.
Electricity in the salon went out on the day of the block party. Staff had to pivot and send customers back and forth to a neighboring shop to keep things business as usual.
44 years ago this location was a Fannie Mae Fine Chocolates Shop.
“Black people will move out of the neighborhood for a suburb. I’ve been here since ’74. When I was ready to buy, friends would suggest I move out after God blessed me with a business right here in Austin. I decided to stay and give back to this community. Why would I move to a different community that may not be as welcoming? “
Every time you move in, white people move out. The reason our communities don’t grow is because people get tired and move out. Over the years she saw her clients, many of whom were teachers and elected officials and that’s what they had done…sell and move out.
“We started a committee, recruiting anyone we saw walking down the street and paid them 10$ per hour to sweep and clean. Every Saturday covered a 4-block radius keeping the neighborhood clean. Other business started doing the same.”
Ms Mrytle is a straight shooter. When Father Tom Walsh of Austin’s Church St Martin Deporres Parish began his speech she gave a look that suggested he just start the prayer like he’s suppose to.
I asked if she had given a name to the group of change agents she hired to keep the neighborhood beautiful.
“Everything don’t need a name, actions are louder. “
-Austin’s Jamaica Grill, and Schweet Foods Cheesecakes catered the block party in partnership with Westside Health Authority and Play Streets.
-Chic’s Elite Full Service Hair & Nail Salon is located at 5234 W Chicago Ave
-Block party featured a makeup and skin care essentials workshop by Cicara & Kayla Reese
Gone Again, the West Side’s first black owned travel agency was in attendance. Soon they will take a group of Chicagoans to Kenya for 9 days.
The HHW Vocal Arts Ensemble arrived with no less that 50 performers draped in gorgeous robes to perform South African classical hymns. After the press conference at Freedom Plaza, a procession of residents, elected officials and children gathered for a three-block stroll to the party of the summer at WHA’s patio oasis.
This is the side of Austin that the media wont show you. We always hear about the negativity…but never about the love.
No one brings out every corner of the community quite like AV72. Today’s celebration was for a man who was more than just a president. The 5th Annual Chicago Ave. Street Dedication for Nelson Mandela was the largest to date.
Described as bold, resilient, and perseverant. Speakers shared stories of meeting President Mandela during a U.S. visit as the state of Mississippi rallied to get the first black members of congress elected.
Quiwana Bell Westside Health Authority COO presented the Inaugural Leader of Leaders Awards to recipients LaShawn K. Ford and #1STV Activist George Bady.
LaShawn’s acceptance speech included sharing a very personal story about his nephew’s fight with the criminal justice system. The vigorous keynote address led to a larger discussion about trading in hope for expectation.
The State Representative’s nephew was held for a miserable 17 months, only for a judge to hear his case and have prosecutors throw it out. The young man was never charged with a crime. “Don’t complain about men on the west side not taking care of their kids until we acknowledge that there’s a system in place to lock them up.” Not just siting back, but getting involved in the fight is mission critical.
At the end of the day confronting a lack of quality schools, safer streets and an unjust criminal system are your civic duty.
Lashawn K. Ford’s initiative for renaming Cicero Ave to Mandela Road received pushback from it inception. The desire to not give up was rooted in his belief that future generations should understand the significance of who the South African leader was. Today he announced a bill to expand the renaming to include all 44.5 miles of Cicero Avenue. Currently the Mandela Road tribute runs from Grand Ave to Division St.
A full day of events followed the award ceremony. Our job is to celebrate when entrepreneurs go out of their way to bring businesses to our neighborhood.
Austin’s Jamaican Jerk Grill, Brown Sugar Bakery and Oak Park’s L!ve Café were showcased. Other highlights included performances from the Good Neighbor Campaign Cheerleaders, spoken word artists and an encore of ‘My Lord Deliver Daniel’ from HHW Vocal Arts.
The best part about these events is creating a space where history, entrepreneurial spirit, visual and performing arts are all equally on full display in a passionate that our children can appreciate.
-Peace In Austin celebrated what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday
- Inaugural Leader of Leaders Award recipient George Bady was chosen in part for always uniting the Austin community against senseless violence. Leading prayer vigils, sports mentor clinics, donating winter coats, promoting positive interaction between residents + police, and even providing the groove as DJ at most AV 72 events.
For more scenes from the 5th annual Chicago Avenue Street Dedication be sure to checkout our FB page. Don't forget to Like!
It’s been a long time coming, initial talks began three years ago. Brown Sugar Bakery always wanted the next location of their award winning, southern style dessert shop to be in Austin. Alderman Emma Mitts said it best when the mic was passed her way. “Our community is too intelligent to have empty storefronts.”
The urgency of economic vitality and promoting retail were themes that echoed over the sound system on Juneteenth 2018. Not many businesses like coming to Austin but, founder Stephanie Hart believes in supporting people that look like her.
Additionally I think we can all agree that having a talk with hard working small businesses owners about things that don’t work is important. It’s certainly more meaningful than running to tell others.
It’s a great day in Austin when we can debut our own bakery. Spreading the word to make this new development a success now becomes the mission.
The block party was a family affair that included Chicago Sky giveaways, kickboxing, face painting, pop up vendor showcase, live performances and a Brown Sugar bake off contest.
June 19th is a special date. Freedom Day commemorates the long two long years after slavery was abolished. We celebrate those whose emancipation was delayed. News of the confederacy surrender was hella slow...24 months slow.
When you spend a dollars with those that employ black people wonderful things happen.
-Some of Stephanie Hart’s most popular cakes include flavors like caramel, red velvet, pineapple coconut as well as custom cakes.
-Mistress of Ceremonies was Blair Christian from MTV's Wilding Out
-For more photos of from this fantastic celebration in Austin be sure to checkout out our FB Page. Dont forget to tap that Like button.
Open House AV72 presents the 2018 Community & Business Summer Extravaganza on Chicago Ave between Central & Kilpatrick. Join us as we explore community, commerce and culture while connecting community to business and business to community. Our Community & Business Summer Extravaganza will launch in Austin Saturday, May 12th with the opening of Schweet Foods located at 5051 W. Chicago Avenue! Enjoy music, sweet treats, giveaways and more!
They hated Dr. Martin Luther King the marcher but they love the martyr. It’s been fifty years since the assassination of our modern day Moses. We forget Chicago’s role in the civil rights movement. How events like the tragedy of Emmitt Till and the Chicago Freedom Movement changed the course of local black politics. Today was a reminder that unfortunately gun violence is a long-standing tradition in our country.
At the time of King’s murder he was in Memphis lobbying on behalf of city sanitation employees. For today’s commemoration, State Representative La Shawn K. Ford invited local city workers to honor the life and death of Dr. King. The wreath laying ceremony was co hosted by Pastor Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church. Pastor Acree’s longtime mentor Jesse Jackson was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on Memphis on April 4th, 1968.
Michael Eric Dyson refers to King as the most important American in history. He was a prophet of racial and economic justice. I love the man for challenging the United States to embody the words in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, demanding that our country act on those proclamations.
Attendees witnessed power speeches from Alderwoman Emma Mitts, Westside Health Authority CEO Morris Reed, Pastor Ira Acree and AV 72 Program Director Yemisi Dinkins. State Rep Ford values his commitment to images that change the conversation in Austin Village.
Chieftain Statue is the forty-year-old masterpiece that portrays Dr. King as an African chief. Just last week Lashawn announced House Bill 4113; it’s a landmark Illinois legislation that provides both parents equal time with their children. You cannot be what you cannot see. The optimism and energy of his actions are shaping the vision of Austin. Along the way children will understand that the images of this day inspire us all to commit to Austin.
AV72 Chicago corridor banners are active on Chicago Avenue & Mandela Road. The red, black & green colorway celebrates black culture and community. The symbol adorning neighborhood street lamp posts is Gye Nayme, which translates to God Is Supreme. The Yemisi Dinkins speech served as an introduction of AV 72 and highlighted the importance of Austin’s first SSA designation. Special Service Areas provide the city a chance to reinvest tax dollars back into the area. The goal is to usher in a vibrant stability and vitality along the designated corridor. Providing enhanced services beyond those offered by the city and improving the socioeconomic health of the community are the immediate objectives.
-Over the loud speaker played an MLK speech where he is noted saying that black supremacy is just as dangerous as white supremacy.
-Reporters from all major Chicago TV outlets were in attendance for the ceremony.
-Chieftain at Justice Plaza in Austin Village is the only statue Dr. King in Chicago
Morris Reed is CEO of Westside Health Authority. The 501c3 non-profit is celebrating it’s 30th year in 2018 and is the service provider for this very website.
When you’re in his office you notice several awards along with a framed Tribune article spotlighting the Coalition to Save Community Banking.
Instead of mourning the regulatory shutdown of a local Park National Bank, this group of freedom fighters negotiated a deal for no-interest loans to buy and renovate foreclosed homes on Chicago’s West Side. In the process of this sixteen-month negotiation, the coalition created a model of how a community establishes a relationship with a big bank.
Inspired by that story and a University of Chicago feature on WHA President - Jacqueline Reed, we sat down with Morris at his offices near Mandela Road. Topics ranged from the current Austin Renaissance to why investing in your neighborhood is one of the most important things a leader can do.
Today WHA organizes into five key components:
Can you tell me about the projects that led to the current structure of Westside Health Authority?
One of the first developments was a health and wellness center. Cook County declared that our only health care center was inadequate and going forward if you wanted to access those services you would have to leave the community to do so.
We wanted to maintain health services within Austin and this was unfair. There was a facility in the neighborhood. At the time our interest was to maintain services for poor people in Austin. We saw how money invested into a building created construction jobs and building tenant opportunities.
We saw the benefits that it offered a land developer once the building was completed. Those benefits came in the form of rent payments, developer fees and wealth equity because you own the building you providing the services in.
Our annual budget went from of $500k to $5 Million mostly due to our real estate investments and the ability to own where we operate. It’s simple concept but most black businesses don’t have that mentality, because to own you have to have confidence in your future.
There is also an opportunity to leverage the skill set of the neighborhood when you take that approach. But still, the prospect of ownership may seem risky to some.
We need to start having a long-term plan. In most cultures you plan with the idea that you’ll live until about 80 yrs. old. Habits in our culture suggest that we have more immediate needs and we don’t worry about that far in advance.
When it comes to Austin there are many options when choosing a house of worship. What church do you attend growing up?
I come from a very religious family. We have a strong Christian faith. Living in the south it was Baptist. We became Lutheran after we moved to Chicago because that was my father’s family church (Bethel New Life). A health center eventually spawned out of that Lutheran church. After that we went to Trinity Baptist Church over here on Division and Waller. We stayed there from the time I was 14yrs old until about 25 when the pastor died. Now I’m apart of a megachurch, New Life Covenant. We are building a new home and currently operate out of UIC.
What are your thoughts on the notion that churches have become territorial and don’t have the best interest of the neighborhood in mind?
There’s a lot of truth to that. The church is going through a transition period from the civil rights movement era. The church back then was pivotal in the politics, service and leadership of those communities. They helped navigate us through understanding our voting power and supported development in these areas.
I think over time as those neighborhoods changed, we began to see churches made up of people not from that community. It causes some confusion as you to who are you really leading. How are you playing a role in this neighborhood when the citizens living here are not your constituency?
I’ve always wondered how churches measure success. Or how you decide that you need to start a church?
In some cases it’s a conflict of interest. You start a church with a mission to preach the word of God and get people saved. You shouldn’t have a business side of a church but you have to. Churches worry about membership, keeping the doors open, supporting themselves through offers, donations and tithes.
There are so many churches that they can’t sustain themselves. Sometimes pastors have to a find part time job to support his pastoral responsibilities. These actions limit the number of days a church can be open to give the area the presence that is needed.
This brings the reason for starting a church in question. Why are you even starting a church when you can only be there on weekends because you work Monday – Friday.
But my response is that they wouldn’t be in that space if we could put a business there. I don’t mind churches occupying space; it’s better than it being vacant.
That’s a great point.
I’m a landlord and we rent to two churches. Sure we want them to have more of a presence, but it’s still an economic investment back into our area. I think as we continue the transition, churches need more outreach to residents.
The growth of community-based organizations seems to parallel the shift in the traditional church presence. Is that fair to say?
Community based organizations have said we will form these groups and takeover the role of a non-biased voice. The church also plays that role but since they are in the neighborhood but not apart of its membership base it can be confusing.
What are some of the projects currently in flight at WHA?
One of our major efforts is the Good Neighbor Campaign – violence prevention, crisis intervention effort. Building capacity within the neighborhood to resolve issues. Giving neighbors power instead of bringing in a car jacking unit or crisis team from the city. Why have all those resources go to an external group when we can support those who live on that block everyday? Why can’t we give them the skills to resolve issues as they happen? They are in tune changes in real time and know how to direct a resolution to real issues immediately.
When there is a shooting you should call 911, but their needs to be another step as well. We need to be at a point where neighbors are communicating about crime if they see something brewing before we call 911.
I’m envious that there was no Good Neighbor system when I lived in South Shore. It’s a great area very close to the lake but crime ridden when compared Hyde Park, which borders it.
At one point the house next to me was uncontrollable with drugs and parties. I didn’t feel comfortable having my young children outside there. But there’s no Block Club and you don’t want to go into that situation alone. The only thing you can do is call the police.
Wouldn’t you love to have an alternative group assess that situation for you?
Would it make sense for these citizens to dress in uniforms and drive marked cars?
No, No, No we want them to look like a good neighbor interested in making the block safer. Most times if you’re in a large enough group and you confront people about how what they are doing is negatively affecting the block, eventually they will stop doing it. We don’t want to arrest anyone. We see a need for our blocks to be more civically engaged.
The Austin Renaissance is upon. With major projects like the LED street lighting initiative, the new CPD Training Academy nearby, and an influx of new businesses the area is under a transformation. Can you recall a time in Austin as exciting right now?
Well Austin never needed it before. It’s a relatively young black community; we’re talking maybe the last 40 years. Black families moved here in the 70’s, by the 80’s it was a middle class black neighborhood. By the end of that decade it was an area in need of support and services. In the 90’s you saw an increase in crime and a decline in homeowners.
The baby boomers that bought their house in the late 70’s were becoming seniors by the 90’s When the foreclosure crisis of the 2000’s hit those homes were vacated. Home ownership dropped from 60% to 30% over that time. Transients began to move in and out of the area, schools started closing.
For 30 years were hit with these setbacks, it was a bad cocktail and there was no bailout. You’re starting to see Austin finally come out of that.
What is your focus when it comes to real estate?
We need to create an attractive, clean and safe environment. You can’t do you that without focusing on both residential and commercial properties.
We advocate for better streets, schools and cleaner parks because at the end of the day our goal is to increase home ownership. Lack of home ownership leads to unwanted elements. Voting, education and marriages are important in communities.
Understanding how to buy and sell property sounds like an important life skill.
If you own something you control it’s value. This is the simplest way to gain wealth. When you buy something you can finance or you can sell it. Either way you control how wealth is leveraged. We aren’t selling any of our commercial properties; we will invest more and watch the value of the area go up.
You’ve got to own something! It could be an insurance policy or a stock option but something that appreciates over time.
What are the goals for Special Service Area 72? The Chicago Ave corridor received that designation for the first time in 2017. This allows for city-endorsed improvements to the area utilizing tax dollars.
AV72 is all about creating an environment that inspires people to be more energetic. Hope catches on quick. Things can happen if we maintain hope regardless of statistics.
Our biggest challenge is the flight of African Americans from Chicago to another region because they lost faith in these neighborhoods. They don’t see any value so they are leaving.
Can we pool our resources to avoid people giving up? Gary McCarthy, former Chief of Police said, “ Those African Americans that could have made a difference have fled the city and left behind the weak who have become shooters.”
Integration ruined these areas just as much as systematic racism. We had Black Wall Street because we were forced to live with each other. Integration gave us an option to leave.
The youth are angry because the elite have abandoned them. They don’t have anybody protecting them from the police. No mentoring or role models, it all leads to aggression. Those who can must share knowledge of sciences and must come back. Westside Health Authority wants to promote the spirit of giving back.
The synergy around giving cannot be denied. It changes the way people think.
There’s a story of a young man that got out of jail. We helped him enter an apprentice program with the CTA. He was a smart guy who designed a system of cleaning EL trains. He removed graffiti so efficiently that CTA promoted him to manager. Now he’s a director with salary north of 100K$. He went from prison to director of a CTA department within three years.
This is a guy who came looking for a handout, now he comes back with a donations and mentors people who were in his situation… it’s really powerful.
Cheers to Morris Reed for taking time to chat. In a perfect world I would have explored what it was like for him to be elected as CEO, succeeding his mother and WHA founder, Jacqueline Reed. But this was a great exchange nonetheless.
When WGN Radio’s John Williams recently interviewed co-owner Chamille Weddington, he confessed that Schweet’s signature cake was ‘one the best dang foods he’s ever had’. That impulse buy from the online store led to an invite to his weekly radio program.
This family business is owner-operated by West Side natives Brian and Chamille Weddington. Currently the company is run out of a commercial kitchen in West Loop. This April, Schweet Foods is set to open their long awaited first storefront location in Austin Village at 5051 W. Chicago Ave.
The couple is excited to embrace the challenges ahead. Although some may consider it to be tough starting a business in Austin, The Weddingtons understand that this is a vibrant community of people that appreciate good food, like a specialty line of local, handcrafted, undeniably homemade, undisputably fresh cheesecake.
Fresh. Handmade. Never Frozen.
With a year under their belt gaining the trust of consumers through catering private events, fairs and festivals, the time is now for their first brick and mortar location.
Their most popular item is The Viola; it’s a cheesecake topped with strawberries or blueberries named after Chamille’s grandmother. It was the re-engineering of family recipes that led to the launch of the business.
The Weddingtons first and foremost are educators and community activists.
Proceeds from sales goes to the Schweet Foods Scholarship. Food That Does Good is their tagline and education is of primary importance. This fund offers assistance to anyone who attends one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Awardees are eligible to have their course fees and books paid for through the program.
Recently we spoke with Chamille about the journey up to this point and how an Austin Village event helped put her on the map.
Why did you decide to bring your business to the Austin neighborhood?
I live on the west side, never left. We wanted to remain here even as our business grows. We know and care about this community, more importantly we understand the beauty of it.
What have been some of your favorite Chicago events up to this point?
As much as we wanted to participate in Chicago Black Restaurant Week this year, we decided to put the brakes on festival circuit participation and focus on our Grand Opening in Austin.
I’d have to say the Randolph Street Market in West Loop. The VIP Tent at Bud Billiken Day Parade was the best! But what put us on the map was The Boombox Austin popup shop at Mayfield & Chicago Ave.
It was our six-week summer promotion. Boombox is an incubator storefront you can leverage for the duration that you need it. When you are a small business with no time and limited resources, its important to work with partners that have very little red tape. Boombox was that partner for us.
Are there any local restaurants that you draw inspiration from?
I can’t say there is one particular model. We draw inspiration from the small, neighborhood café. A tightknit limited menu, an opportunity to know our customer and build a relationship with neighbors.
No particular favorite spots, we do enjoy Italian and Asian cuisines and of course MacArthur’s in Austin.
This has been a whirlwind 18 months for you and the team. I’m excited that the Austin neighborhood played a role in this expansion from an online model to include a physical storefront location.
When I reflect with my husband on how we got to this point. We knew we had to join forces with local associations and the experience could not have been better. Malcolm Crawford at Austin African American Business Network Association (AAABNA) has been a wealth of information and connections. Our friends over there led us to Boombox where we started gaining traction.
This interaction also let us to meeting Westside Health Authority and AV72 Chicago. These are exciting times; we wouldn’t be here without hard work.
-Chamille and Brian teach at Columbia College and Harold Washington College respectively. Majors & Programs include Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Marketing and Business Development.
-If you order your cheesecake before 2pm on any day Schweet will deliver it to any location in Chicago (and a few neighboring towns) next day at no cost.
-The Avenue is a plain Cheesecake drizzled with caramel is named after Chicago Avenue.
-Schweet Foods was the Leaders Network Chicago October 2017 Business of The Month.
Schweet’s Austin location is set to open on April 1st at 5051
-You can participate in Schweet’s upcoming community photo shoot and have your beautiful face appear on posters, window flyers, websites and more. Compensation includes your choice of a dozen cupcakes or one cheesecake. Sign up here http://bit.ly/2Fqs21H
AUSTIN COMMERCIAL TIF
City of Chicago Small Business Improvement Fund Application Rollout
The Small Business Improvement Fund, or SBIF, is a City of Chicago grant program intended to
help small business owners renovate, expand, or start-up businesses along commercial
corridors in Chicago neighborhoods. Small business owners and property owners that lease to
small businesses in the Austin Commercial SBIF can receive reimbursement grants of up to
$100,000 to cover the cost of approved remodeling work. Join local delegate agencies and the
Aldermen of the 37th and 29th Wards at the Rollout to learn more about the SBIF program!
WHEN: Noon, December 4th, 2017
WHERE: The Community Room, 4926 W. Chicago Ave.
The Application Period for the Austin Commercial SBIF will be 12/4/2017 to 1/5/2018 at 5 p.m.
The Rollout meeting will be hosted by Alderman Mitts of the 37th Ward and Alderman Taliaferro
of the 29th Ward. Admission is free and there is no RSVP needed.
The Austin Commercial TIF district encompasses four main commercial corridors within the community that suffer from vacancies, dilapidation and various non-retail uses. The goal of the TIF is to help transition portions of North Avenue, Division Street, Chicago Avenue, and Central Avenue into strong and viable shopping districts that serve Austin's residential community and, in turn, fosters residential investment. As a means of attracting viable regional and local stores to the area, TIF funds are intended to support the assembly of land into sufficient sizes for contemporary projects, also to rehabilitate existing structures. Additionally, the 256-acre district is designed to support new infrastructure improvements and corridor beautification efforts, and to provide incentives for residential projects that accommodate the community's low-income residents.
Rollout meeting will be hosted by Alderman Mitts and Alderman Taliafero. Attendance of the meeting is not a requirement to apply, but it will be very helpful to those who are interested in applying but may have questions. We hope to see you there!!
The 3rd Annual Austin Power of Life Saturday morning 5k run brought thousands to Chicago Ave + Mayfield. It wasn’t just about the race, but to bring attention to the economic renewal underway on the westside of Chicago.
The pre-race celebration landed on the first day of fall with a righteous 81-degree forecast. Austin’s two Aldermanic council members Emma Mitts, Christopher Taliaferro along with colleagues and friends took the moment to spotlight massive projects underway in the area. 2018 will see the city invest $130M in and around the neighborhood. A new Public Safety Training Academy for police and fire departments on Chicago Ave. Also, the next phase of Chicago’s Smart Lighting Project will replace all street lamps with LED fixtures that use less energy. Through the Minority Business Enterprise Participation Plan, 27% of the project will be awarded to neighborhood business.
Austin POWER of Life (People Organizing Wealth +Organizing Resources) hosts the run every year. Their conversation with the mayor relayed a simple message about the community; it needs businesses and an infusion of capital.
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has run this race the last three years. During the celebration he took the local media in attendance to task for the stream of negative images directed towards people of color. “We want the media here to know that the vision you portray of Austin is not the people that make up Austin.“
The Mayor emphasized the importance of the having a vested interest in Austin via The Neighborhood Opportunity Plan and Retail Thrive Zone. “You cannot be what you cannot see, and that’s the reason we want to make a commitment to Austin. When every child looks at the city they should see it’s power, energy, optimism and sees it as his/her home. But if they see this city as a separate city and don’t see their future, we can never be what we need to be.”
State Rep Camille Lilly, Cook County States Attorney Kim Fox, State Representative Lashawn K. Ford, Senator Don Harmon and owner of Austin’s Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, Malcolm Crawford all participated in the run.
This event was about much more that running a race for the notion of good health, it’s about empowerment , vision and Austin not being represented by violence.
The stories the media chooses to tell are not the stories taught around the kitchen table at night. We know this all to well and the time to change that narrative is long overdue. Making sure that the rest of the city knows what we know in our heart should be a priority.
-The 5K started on Chicago Ave & Mayfield, headed south down to Race, east over to Menard then back down Chicago Ave to Cicero Ave.
-The opening ceremony included Miss. Junior Pre Teen Illinois, Demira Scott singing the national anthem.
-Winning time for the 3.1 mile race was 20 mins, 14 secs.
-The $29M Minority Business Enterprise Participation Plan for the next phase of Chicago’s Smart Light Project includes a commitment to half of their employees being ex-offenders.
- When Power of Life engaged Mayor Emanuel about empowerment opportunities to the Austin community, he response was that he has a vested interest in every Chicago community and that you are knocking on an open door.
For more scenes from a glorious Fall afternoon. Be sure to checkout our FB page. While you're there, be sure sure to click that Like button.
The 2017 Austin POWER of Life 5K Walk/Run is taking place on Saturday, September 23rd. With more than 1,000 people expected to attend, we are anxiously awaiting this special event in support of those impacted by diabetes.
Packet pick-up will be held on Thursday, September 21st and Friday, September 22nd from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm at Hope Community Church located at 5900 West Iowa Street, Chicago IL 60651 [enter via Mayfield entrance]. Only individuals that registered before 12:00 Noon on September 20th will be eligible for packet pick-up on Thursday and Friday. If you are unable to pick up your packet on either date, packets will also be available for pick up on race day beginning at 7:30 am.
RACE DAY INFORMATION
The Austin Power 5K Walk/Run Steps-Off at 8:30 am at the intersection of Chicago Avenue & Mayfield [just off the major intersection of Chicago Avenue & Austin Boulevard]. A pre-race assembly will begin at 8:00 am. Post-race activities will begin immediately following the start of the Austin Power 5K Walk/Run.
General street parking is available in the area. Public transportation is suggest. Depending on your travel direction, please contact the Chicago Transit Authority [888-968-7282 | transitchicago.com] or PACE [800-606-1282 | pacebus.com] for travel instructions.
Race Course Map
Please visit the Austin POWER 5K website to view the course map. www.AUSTINPOWER5K.com.
If you have any questions, please contact AAABNA at 773-626-4497 or HOPE [Helping Our People Excel] at 773-921-2243 or email us at: 2017AustinPower5K@gmail.com.
To further assist and continue the success of the Thrive Zone program, we will be providing city services to your local communities through satellite offices. These satellite offices will include services from the Department of Buildings, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, and Department of Public Health. The purpose for this neighborhood outreach is to give small businesses and property owners within the Retail Thrive Zones an opportunity to discuss their specific projects with the city departments. Many of the conversations are regarding Business Start Ups, Business Licensing, Building Permits, Food Safety Regulations, and Health Inspections, among others.
We will be hosting the satellite office in the Austin Community on Thursday, September 28th
AAABNA @ SANKOFA CULTURAL ARTS AND BUSINESS CENTER,
5820 W. Chicago Ave.
Consultations can be scheduled through Mary O’Connor by emailing her at mary.o’firstname.lastname@example.org, however walk-in appointments will also be available.