Harold Ickes News

by Jacqueline Thompson 

A Welcome Gang of Bangers
The banging, scraping and grunts began in earnest midway through August.
A welcome gang of bangers had arrived, wielding hammers, crowbars, screwdrivers and all manners of tools that workers use to get rid of the old and replace it with the new as a long-awaited renovation project for the Harold Ickes Homes went into full swing.

I interviewed Darrell Jones, a resident of the Harold Ickes Homes whose one-year old construction business is working on the project. Not only has Jones earned the construction contract from CHA but he also hired about 15 young men who grew up in Ickes and had moved away to work with him. Twenty five percent of the workers are residents, according to Jones. “The Resident-Owned Business Organization made it possible for me to qualify,” said Jones.

RJ: “Darrell, how did you get the CHA construction contract even though it was through the Resident Owned Business Organization?”
DJ: “Well, there were certain requirements on my part. I had to have a license and insurance, both of which I do have.”
RJ: “Taking note of some other minority contract working, what made you want to do this job?”
DJ: “I thought that it was something that I could do, pursued it and God made it happen. I had already worked for another company for six or seven years but I have been on my own for about a year now.”
RJ: “How were you able to bring back all of these young men who used to live here?”
DJ: “I have kept in touch with them for the last 10 and 12 years in some sort of business like clearing out buildings in Chinatown, etc. and other construction jobs.”
RJ: “Are your fellow residents giving you their support?”
DJ: “Yes and no. You hear some negatives but we keep moving on. Then some people pat us on the back and we are strengthened.”
RJ: “Do you have any female members on your crew?”
DJ: “Yes. Three. Desderea Zeller, Jackie Green and N. Sanders.”

Jones added, “Our community is experiencing trouble because of low self esteem. I tell my workers that if you keep God before you and view your surroundings as a positive and not as a negative and work hard, we can help ensure a positive change.” Jones’ company is one of other minority companies at work in Ickes. With all of the good gang-banging going on, I spoke to Gloria Williams, our Local Advisory Council President, about schedule and outcome.

RJ: “How is the overall renovation going?”
GW: “It’s going good, just a little behind time because some contractors weren’t able to purchase the required cabinets to use in replacement of the old. The stores ran out and a new shipment was pending.”
RJ: “When are residents scheduled to move in?”
GW: “We are ready now. The building at 2822 S. Calumet is scheduled to be torn down. Forty eight families from there (will move into the building), which is the minority‚ĶSome families are trying to get Section 8 certificates to move farther.”
RJ: “Are all the renovated apartments going to be occupied by residents from the 2822 building?”
GW: “No, some of them may come from Stateway Gardens housing development.”
RJ: “Do they have a deadline?”
GW: “Yes, they should all be moved in by Sept. 30, 2002.”
RJ: “Will this deadline be extended, if necessary?”
GW: “I couldn’t tell you that but they are still moving from 2822 and do have until the end of this week. It’s up to those who are moving. I guess it will be week by week until they finish.”
RJ: “Is there a plan to give some sort of welcome to our new neighbors?”
GW: “We planned a Town Hall meeting for Thursday, Oct. 17, 2002 at 5 p.m.”
RJ: “Will there be refreshments?”
GW: “Yes.”

This should be a good opportunity for neighbors to face the fullness of change and become the best neighbors they can be. This would mean both the newcomers and the long-time dwellers of Ickes will live only in peace that they bring to each other.

On the other hand
The problem of the huge bed of water that collects along the State Street side fire lane is still with us. After many calls to the manager’s office and to Chicago Housing Authority Operations Chief Dwain Bailey’s office, I chanced to see CHA CEO Terry Peterson in the supermarket and told him what I told everyone: that residents were concerned about the water being something that could spread West Nile virus.

I was informed that it takes days for the host mosquitoes to develop enough cells and tissues to produce a place for the West Nile virus to live. Coincidentally, the day of Sept. 3, which was also the first day of the opening for a new school near Ickes, Peterson and Bailey were present in Harold Ickes to survey the problem that the residents are plagued with.

In many past editions of the RJ, pictures have vividly shown the depth of the water problem. But on this day, all the janitors learned together to sweep the water to one new sewer on newly paved 23rd Street. Wonder of all wonders, a city-owned Vector truck arrived and suctioned up most of the water in front of 2250 S. State and 2240 S. State.

Then the truck arrived and dumped rocky gravel along the edges of the fire lane on top of the mud left by the water. It lasted three and a half days. Thursday, Sept. 6, over night, it rained again. The water formed again and we were back to square one – no solution for the water. Each time I’ve spoken to our manager, Liston Williams, he says there are plans to remedy the problem. He just never provides me with a date.

Teachers Academy
At 23rd and State Streets, new traffic lanes define and guide drivers into the newly created parking lots solely used by the employees of the brand new National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak Blvd. The double yellow lines, heavy slated cross walks, people crossing signs, no parking signs, stop signs, new trees, street lights, curbs and sewers on a new stretch of paved roadway, not to mention the early morning police presence, all indicated that this was a bona fide City of Chicago street.

Where were we, the residents, when we thought all of the driveways within Ickes development would stay mere fire lanes? Well, here’s the real deal. While this reporter lamented the fact that many families were displaced so that the new school and community center could be erected, no one volunteered to inform this reporter that the way the city does business, the one thing, the displacement of families, has nothing to do with the other thing, the new school.

I’ve tried to stay on the bandwagon concerning the displaced families and the chances of attending the new state-of-the-art school. However, my hopes for recovery of 100 percent participation from the families have turned into confusion.

Because the school is a neighborhood school, only the children who live in certain boundaries will be allowed to attend, I was told at the new school. I talked it over with LAC President Williams and she assured me that the families would have come back rights to attend the school if they so chose to. She got this information from Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan himself.

So since this reporter is much relieved, I can cheerfully give a full report of the first day of school and share an extraordinary session of public events leading up to the historical opening of the first school of its kind. The two open house celebrations of the new school prior to the first day of school were carefully organized. The whole staff was receptive to the community of residents and the activities were informative and engaging.

We were treated to hands-on tours of the classrooms, the library, the full-fledged art department and the in-depth, fully equipped and ready science department. The auditorium/lunchroom is a huge room with an unusual stage complete with modern back stage wings. Several student ambassadors put on a mini fashion show of the uniform coordinates they all would be expected to wear.

Six teachers, men and women, modeled clothing, jeans, hooded sweats, shirts, mini skirts and other items which projected the unacceptable clothing, attitudes and behavior that would not be acceptable while in school. The crowd cheered in acceptance and understanding as the event came to a smooth close.

The third day of the pre-celebration was the most exciting day the residents have had in a quite a while. The fabulous Spirit Stilt Dancers and Drummers from the Muntu Dance Theater, in residence at Kennedy King Chicago City College, presided over the early evening celebration, which was geared for parent orientation.

Standing over twenty-five feet tall, agile, colorful, spirited and shocking, they came onto the beautiful terraced front court yard of the new National Teachers Academy, moving smoothly and rhythmically as they cast a spell of magic and mystery daring any negative spirits to interfere. Once the crowd of children realized they were not harmful, their fears turned to curiosity and fun. Then they took turns dancing with them by answering the call of the drummers and the powerful beat of the drums, by running tough ten-foot legs and dancing, showing off intricate steps of their own.

Some adults joined in the dance for the good of it. Everyone present experienced excitement, joy, bonding and expectation of great things to come. The first day of school, Sept. 3, was a special day because all the components of a just and worthy ceremony were in alignment, including the weather. The temperature was a cool 68 degrees.

The sun was not yet hot. The clouds were crisp white, freely flowing in compliance with the cause of the day. The new students who will attend the new school are among the most shunned population, demographically speaking, in our country. But on this historic day, no one seemed to notice. Everyone was present early, long before 9 a.m. The dignitaries present were a list of who’s who: Gov. George Ryan, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Alds. Madeline Haithcock (2) and Dorothy Tillman (3); CHA CEO Peterson, Chicago Board of Education CEO Duncan; Ickes LAC President Williams, The Woodlawn Organization’s Leon Finney and, of course, Linda Ford, the new school’s principal and yours truly.

This once-in-a-lifetime event went smoothly and joyously. The families of children, parents and neighbors should remember the ceremony that was carried out with great dignity and respect from the speakers to the media representatives. To anyone who has not been to see the new school both inside and outside, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a whole new kind of educational preparatory institution. You will come away impressed and energized.

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