Positive People

by  Editorial Assistant

Geraldine “Penny” Walton
Geraldine Walton, or “Penny” as most people like to call her, is one of the sweetest people that you will ever meet and her genuine demeanor is quite refreshing.

She was a resident of Washington Park for four years. She explained how the building that she lived in, at 220 East 63rd street, was one of the last to go up and one of the first to come down.

“It was so nice there,” Penny said of the time she spent in the development. “Everything was clean. Back then, the gangs were just getting started so they weren’t so bad. When those street lights came on, everyone was in the house. Obviously, the situation has changed from the time that the buildings first started going up, with so much hope and well wishes, and now that they are pretty much deteriorating.

“I don’t fault the people for what they are; I fault society for letting things get the way it is.”

While she was in the development, she received the first Chicago Housing Authority Outstanding Teen Award. For her accomplishment, she and some other youths were taken to Washington, D.C. While she visited the nation’s capitol, she met with senators, had dinner with them, and spoke about living in the developments on TV.

“It’s just like a big family that helps take care of each other,” she said in her interview.

Penny first started her high school years at Dunbar and then graduated from the Chicago Vocational School. She did very well in high school and her interests included drama and modeling. Penny modeled for Simplicity, an agency that helped place her in catalogs. She was also a Black Velvet Girl; she did still photos and helped advertise hair products.

After high school she attended Southeast Junior College, Chicago State and UIC. She went on to be a teacher and was even nominated for the Golden Apple Award. As a teacher, she also did home visits, bringing puzzles, crayons and coloring books, blocks and other educational aids into the homes of children that were unable to go to school. For children who didn’t have coats and shoes, Penny called Montgomery’s, Sears, Spiegel’s and they were kind enough to donate clothes, shoes and coats.

“Dealing with the residents, I’ve found out residents want what everyone else wants. They want a decent life, food and clothing without waiting on a check,” Penny said.

Later, she worked as an organizer at Parkway Gardens, a Section 8 building, tutoring, doing outreach and working with the senior citizens. She was also an organizer for the Grand Boulevard area. She dealt with the schools in the district, churches and with the Local School Council Presidents.

“I had to attend all the meetings that had to do with the youth. I had to develop a resource guide,” she explained.

Penny is now is an asthma coordinator for the Grand Boulevard Federation. She goes door to door to different developments including Robert Taylor A and B, Stateway Gardens, Dearborn Homes, Madden Park, Ida B. Wells, Rockwell Gardens and Washington Park. She educates residents about their asthma and how to take care of themselves.

When Penny isn’t putting a smile on the face of the world, or at least the residents in it, she is a very active grandmother, raising her three grandkids, ages 15, 10 and 6. She had three children and two of them passed away, due to illnesses.

Franklin Williams
Franklin Williams lived in the Robert Taylor homes in the 1960s. He lived at 4429 S. Federal to be exact, for four years. Through a program made possible by the Chicago Housing Authority, he and his wife were able to purchase a house and make a better home life for their two children. After all of these years, they still live in the same place.

After high school, Franklin attended a barber college.

“When I was coming up, the goal was to go to college. The school system was different,” Franklin said as he described the differences between today’s youth and how young people felt about education back in the day.

As a barber, Franklin started learning about money. In 1970, he purchased his building. He was the first African American on the block to purchase a building. It included four stores. He describes the process of buying the building as involving a lot of “back and forth” because it was hard to finance. In the end, because of redevelopment, he was able to purchase the property.

“In this country, everyone can become financially independent if they learn how to invest,” Franklin said. “Success in life is behind money, and, of course, education is first. You have to have a construction plan.”

One of Franklin’s major role models was Harold Washington. In 1977, Washington won a seat in the State Senate, then became a U.S. Representative in 1980 and in 1983 became Chicago’s 42nd mayor.

“Harold Washington opened up doors, and while he was in office, I really felt free,” Franklin said. Among many achievements while he was mayor, Harold Washington was known for an executive order that increased minority business contracts.

These days, Franklin works in his barber shop called Headliners, on the West Side of Chicago. He has donated his wall on the side of his building so a group of youths can use it for a mural.

“The young kids today have to learn how to make it in the system and not out of it,” Franklin explained.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Categories: Uncategorized