April 3, 2012

Crime, education on table at Woodlawn talks

Over 200 community members gathered at the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) Saturday morning to discuss crime, education, and other neighborhood issues at the third annual Woodlawn Community Summit.

The summit consisted of talks by city officials and community figures with “breakout sessions” where community members split into smaller discussion groups that focused on safety, urban agriculture, the business community, and land use.

Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent Garry McCarthy noted that CPD’s battles against drug trafficking, gang violence, and illegal guns are continuous and evolving. Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), discussed the problem of low test scores and drop-out rates and entreated community members to actively participate in improving the school district.

Rudolph Nimocks, Director of Community Partnerships at the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, has lived in Woodlawn for 60 years and has watched the neighborhood grow.

“It’s well on its way to complete restoration,” he said. He believes that Woodlawn will soon be “one of the most desirable communities in Chicago,” citing the global economic downturn and the problems in CPS as the largest obstacles to the neighborhood’s growth.

Community improvement will be supported by the University, Nimocks said, citing the Urban Education Institute as a specific program that would support education improvement.

“You have to give these kids mobility,” he said, “they want some sort of actualization.” If the neighborhood youth is not pushed on a path to college, Nimocks said, they will find their sense of self in violence and drug dealing.

Past collaboration with the University has included support for the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community and help to secure a $30 million federal grant to renovate an affordable housing complex in the neighborhood.

“I’ve been to dozens of these kinds of events,” said Anton Seals Jr., a South Shore resident with background in Woodlawn politics, “so I’m never clear what the outcomes will be,” he said, noting that often the “power brokers” have already made the relevant decisions. But Seals expressed optimism about this summit as a “community engagement strategy.”

The members of the community are not involved, he said, “except in these kinds of settings.”