The history of Uptown is one filled with a past of wealth, entertainment, and jazz, and also gangs, violence, homelessness and tragedy.
If you were to Google Uptown, Chicago, you might find articles on the Riviera, the Aragon Ballroom, The Uptown, The Green Mill and other venues in Uptown that have been bringing famous musicians to entertain Chicagoans since the 1920’s and 30’s! The Green Mill is known for being frequented by Al Capone and for having world-class jazz musicians on stage every night of their long history in Uptown. Little Vietnam, close to where JUSTembrace began, has over a dozen Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian restaurants. Uptown is truly a melting pot.
An attempt to revive Uptown as Chicago’s musical entertainment district is in effect. In fact, President Obama celebrated his 50th birthday right here in the heart of the neighborhood. However, with all too frequent daylight shootings and gang-related fights breaking out in grocery store parking lots and a large mixture of mentally ill, handicapped and previously convicted felons housed, or displaced in our neighborhood…I don’t see much of a bright future. At least as far as an “entertainment revival” may go. I do see hope in relationships, in community development, in positive loitering, and for a mixed-income people who still love the neighborhood of Uptown and refuse to leave.
From an article on the nursing home facilities in Uptown: “Among the nursing homes in a 2-square-mile section of those neighborhoods, 11 facilities last month housed 318 convicted felons and 1,350 people with mental illness – roughly 10 percent of the felons in all Illinois nursing homes and more than 9 percent of the psychiatric patients in state facilities.”
All of the facilities rated in the area were either well below average or below average. Only one rated a solid “average” out of seven facilities. Addictive behavior is fostered in these environments, not prevented. The poor conditions of these facilities is one of the reasons Uptown’s streets are filled with many people who might not be on their medication, or are convicted felons. All of them are in need of real relationships and loving caretakers. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the neighborhood has a stark contrast of a wealthy class and a poor class – convicted felons, mentally-ill elderly folks, and men and women in transitional housing are not the first on the list to get jobs in this difficult market; or even in a healthy job market.
REST Shelter located in The People’s Church, Uptown Baptist Church, Uptown Ministries, Ezra, Emmaus, JPUSA, and Inspiration Corp. are just some of the organizations and facilities that aid those on the streets. Those in need of housing or a job can stop by any of these places and receive information and assistance, many of them offering a place to stay for the night, or at least a hot meal. Many people who lose their jobs and their homes flock to Uptown because of all these groups. As wonderful as these programs are, many of them do not help people emotionally or mentally, only meeting physical needs. Even though many of their mission statements would state otherwise – it seems that most of these programs enable a state of dependency rather than a state of strong independence, freedom and opportunity.
More than anything, this community is in need of love. Where programs fail, relationships are able to keep real people accountable by one-on-one interactions, by friendship, by a safety net of being known. This is JUSTembrace’s desire – to love our neighbors, to live in this community and suffer along with our friends, and to be a voice and also give them their own voice. We wish to celebrate despite the pain, to connect with our neighborhood, to contribute to their lives everyday. To show them through our lives, our words and our actions that God is with us in Uptown all the time.
Check out: http://www.uptownupdate.com/ for some current blogs on our neighborhood news.