A Long Ride Home

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While taking a cab home from work one evening, I gave the cab driver my address. He turned around and looked surprised

“You live there?” he asked.

The ‘there’ he was talking about was Cabrini-Green and my reply was the same as every time I had been asked this question in that way. “Yes.”

Then he started asking me more questions, “How do you live there? Because it’s so bad and there’s all this action going on.”

As our conversation continued, I would not – could not- let these questions go unanswered. So I proceeded to comment on his topics. The ‘action’ he was taking about takes place in the midst of the Gold Coast, Michigan Avenue, downtown and the Lakefront. Cabrini is surrounded by beaches, Lincoln Park, Northwestern Hospital and Children’s Memorial Hospital, where they bring children from all over the country to be treated. Cabrini is surrounded by banks, drug stores and some of the world’s best restaurants: the Crab House on Wells, Carson’s Ribs, Dave and Busters and so much more. I can see and hear that kind action from my apartment.

But the driver wanted to talk about the crimes in the area. I asked him, “Do you think that Cabrini is the only place with problems? When was the last time you picked up a newspaper or watched the evening news?”

“Wake up,” I told him, “It’s happening all over the world.”

The driver stopped the cab outside of my building and we kept talking. I told him Cabrini is a place that does not suffer a lot of car thefts or home invasions. When I go on vacation, I told him that I don’t worry about my apartment or my belongings. By the time I left the cab, that driver had a new concept of Cabrini.

The next day, the conversation with that cab driver was still fresh in my thoughts. I decided to take a walk through Cabrini. My mind started drifting into the past as I approached certain areas. On Larrabee Street, now known as ‘The Boulevard,’ I remembered the Feast – an annual carnival of fun and entertainment that I enjoyed every year as a youngster; the Sadie Hawkins Day celebration; Street Dances; Drill Team; the 911 N. Hudson Teen Club. All these events made for fond memories filled with joy and laughter. I also remembered the many businesses of yesteryear: IGA Foods, Pioneer Foods and Del Farm Foods. Most of these businesses are gone today. But then I passed the Laundromat on Larrabee, which is still based in the community even after all the others have gone.

The community has changed a lot since the Laundromat first opened its doors. First the businesses fell. Now some of the buildings are disappearing. Under the HOPE VI federal plan, four buildings already have been demolished. The structures at 1117-1119 and 1157-1159 N. Cleveland are gone.

The federal takeover of CHA also has left its mark on Cabrini. Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have been working with residents to make resident management a success. The biggest impact, however, may be made in the near future, if the mayor’s plan to demolish even more buildings becomes a reality. These days, many tenants are wondering how long it will be before their buildings are added to the demolition list. Most are concerned where they will live.

People outside have no concept of the large number of social service agencies in the Cabrini area. The Al Carter Youth Foundation, Demicco Youth and Family Services, Cabrini-Green Youth and Family Services, the Lower North Center and the Tranquillity Marksman Organization, to name a few. These agencies are involved with the residents throughout the area and help to bring the community together.

Most of all on my stroll, I thought of the residents who have seen the community at its best, its worst and now, hopefully, on the rise again. Local Advisory Council President Cora Moore, social service provider Lillian Swope, activist Marion Stamps, this list could go on and on.

More than the institutions and people who live in the buildings, Cabrini is filled with the hopes and dreams of our young men and women: graduating, going off to college, becoming the self-sufficient adults of tomorrow. It has always been our hope to reside in clean, safe housing. The residents of Cabrini need to get involved in community affairs and really find out what’s going on around us. If we don’t, Cabrini in the near future will become a vision from the past. When I think about Cabrini, it’s not just tall buildings made of bricks and concrete. It’s not “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood’ and it’s not a war zone either. It’s a community of families called Home!!

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