Hope Has a Way

by Mary C. Piemonte 

“Hope has a way of breaking through walls” is a verse from a Christian song that I listen to and so I thought it would be the appropriate title for this story. This story is about “Hope.” In the world today, you rarely hear about the successes of the “project people.” I hope that this story will encourage the readers and let them see and know that it is possible to get out of the “projects.” Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of good, well-educated and talented people who live and have lived in the projects. I spoke to a few former CHA residents to help encourage those that remain:

CHA has an alumni association which is made-up of former CHA residents so I interviewed a few of them. I met some interesting people. Take for instance Denise Eligan, a former resident of 364 W. Oak St. in Cabrini Green, who lived there from her infancy until she was nine. Her mother and father worked hard in order for her and her siblings to go to private school. But because her family had two incomes, she was told that she had to move. So that’s how she got out of CHA. Eligan is now the director of Grant Administration at CHA.

“Change starts with self,” Eligan said. “Dreams do come true but you have to take the steps to do all you can do.”

Loisteen Woods-Walker, mother of one, lived in Altgeld Gardens for 20 years. She got out with the help of subsidized housing. “First you need an education,” Woods-Walker said. “Then you need exposure to elements outside of your environment. CHA residents are no different from others. It’s not where you live; it’s where you want to go.”

Woods-Walker is currently personnel manager in the Chicago Department of Revenue and is also chairperson of the CHA’s Alumni Association.

Rose Williams lived in Ida B. Wells from 1959-60. Though it was a brief stay and she was too young to comment about her time there, she wanted to say a few words anyway to help encourage residents. “First have a dream and believe in that dream! Anything is possible, if you believe.”

Williams is owner and president of Williams Communications, a public relations and marketing firm.

Harriet M. Youngblood is a former resident of the 29th Street & Dearborn Avenue apartments and is a single parent of one. Youngblood and her son, Marchello, lived there for approximately 10 years. Gang related issues mainly motivated her to leave.

She recalled saying to herself, “My son needs a better place to live and so I felt that I’ve got to go!”

She is currently working for the U.S. Postal Service and has recently purchased her first house. This May, she was chosen third-runner-up in the 1997 Glamour Girl International Beauty Pageant.

Youngblood said, “Don’t lose hope! Believe in God and I believe that He can help you.”

Elder Denon Culvar is the founder and pastor of True Holiness Apostolic Faith Church, which just so happens to be right across the street from where he grew up – a CHA building at 220 E. 63rd St. he called home for 16 years. His wife Tina was also a resident of 220 E. 63rd St. They moved out of the building when they married in 1979.

”We all should try to set goals for ourselves,” Culvar said. “Apply yourself. Be the best you want to be.”

Barbara Onyeali is a retired Chicago educator. She is a former resident of what is today called Cabrini Green but back in the ‘40s and ‘50s was called Francis Cabrini.

She lived there from 1942 until 1953 when she also married.

“I’ve always had a dream of having a big place and visions of being something,” Onyeali said.

She is the owner and president of “Black Images Unlimited” and, at the age of 62, a yoga instructor.

“If you are around people who are moving and going someplace and expanding your horizons, then your vision of what you’re going to do and where you’re going also expands. Get out, see and do things.”

OTHER FORMER CHA RESIDENTS

NICK MARTINO- consultant for CHA’s Purchasing Department; former ABLA resident.

JEROME BUTLER- General Counsel for CHA’s Legal Department; former Altgeld Gardens resident.

MARY MITCHELL- Chicago Sun-Times Columnist; former resident of the Darrow Homes.

T.C. CARSON- Actor; former resident of LeClaire Courts.

MR. T.- Actor; former resident of Robert Taylor Homes.

RAMSEY LEWIS- Famous jazz pianist; former Cabrini-Green resident.

MARTHA ALLEN- Chief of communications at the state Department of Children and Family Services; former Ida B. Wells resident.

GLORIA BROWN- business manager for news at WGN-TV and producer for “People to People”; former Cabrini-Green resident.

DELORES MEBAIN- director of station relations for WMAQ-TV; former Ida B. Wells resident.

FINAL THOUGHT

Remember that it is possible to accomplish your dreams. These are but a few that have experienced “the way of hope.” If you put your mind to it, then you too can be a performer, business person, journalist, educator and/or government leader. Belief in God, a good education, setting goals, outside exposure, putting forth an effort and hard work are the keys for breaking through walls.

Roy Hobley, a resident of Francis Cabrini Homes, in 1952 shortly before his wedding to Barbara Onyeali.

CHA alumni Loisteen Woods-WAlker (from left), Rose Williams, and Denise Eligan stand proud. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Onyeali poses in her home today. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte.

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