Monday, October 17, 2022

‘A bridge to something greater’

Attendees at a Sabbath dinner to mark the end of the first Chicago Sukkah Design Festival cover their eyes during the lighting of candles Friday night.

     Mrs. Chris Brown, a lady of a certain age and that age is private, thank you very much, insists the honorific must be used before her name: “Mrs. Brown.”
     “Everyone in North Lawndale knows me as ‘Mrs. Brown,’” she said, forcefully enough that, while I did make a stab at explaining the rigidities of newspaper style, for today it seems both prudent and polite that the rule book be set aside in recognition of a force greater than itself.
     Mrs. Brown, elegant in a bright red jacket, butterfly pin and pink cancer awareness ribbon, came up to Chicago from Mississippi by way of St. Louis in the 1960s. She remembers contract buying, redlining and the way Blacks were jammed into tightly constricted areas where they were forced to occupy substandard apartments at jacked-up rents.
     “Coming from the South, I got an apartment of my own,” Mrs. Brown tells a group of about 30 gathered for Sabbath dinner Friday night at the Stone Temple Baptist Church on West Douglas Boulevard.
     “If I told you what that apartment looked like, nobody in this room would believe me. It was in a six-unit building, an apartment designed for one family that was cut apart for multiple families. Our apartment was two rooms of that unit, the back part, which was a kitchen and a little bitty bedroom. ... Filthy. Dirty, dirty, dirty. I mean, dirt like outside, that took me weeks to really clean. Got it clean. Got a job. Started to work. Went on from there.”
     Including her current work to improve North Lawndale.
     ”Our goal now is to get homes where people can live with dignity and pride,” she said.

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Mrs. Chris Brown, right, resident of North Lawndale, talks about the racism that led to the long-term housing problems seen to this day in the community. Looking on is Jenny Merritt, community engagement manager of the Night Ministry.


  1. A great positive to start the day. Thanks, Neil.

  2. There's a synagogue across the street from New York Bagels, just east of Touhy Cicero in Lincolnwood. About six years ago, I noticed a sukkah there. Guarded by an off-duty cop, in uniform, so it wouldn't be torched. Shit happens. My niece worked on the building of one in the Twin Cities, and it went up in smoke. But Brown Shirts marched in Minneapolis (and beat up Jews) in the Thirties. It's not always so "Minnesota nice" up there.

  3. Nice piece. So glad you made it there to see what it's all about. Looks like we both had a Lawndale connection this weekend. I'll share Saturday. Masa Madre looks amazing!


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