Why Block Clubs Matter
Block Clubs are the hidden anchors of many communities in Chicago. They accomplish much more than throwing some of the best parties and gatherings in the summer. In some underserved communities, they are an anchor of unity.
Jacqueline Robinson, a former block club secretary that has lived on Englewood’s South Bell Avenue for over 40 years; Maurice Smith Sr, the current block club president and 45-year resident of Hamlin Avenue and Tracie Worthy, a 25-year resident of the Millard Avenue block all shared the same sentiment about their respective blocks: they are concerned about the crime that is taking place on neighboring blocks. All three of these blocks are safe with little to no crime taking place. Smith says Hamlin has never been a “crime-ridden” block.
“We just always have had a positive block,” said Hudson. “I just wouldn’t be afraid of coming in my home.”
The 6500 South Bell Ave., in Englewood, 1900 South Hamlin Ave.,, and 1800 South Millard Avenue, block clubs seem to have a couple of things in common: a desire to keep their blocks safe and clean, and to maintain communication within their block clubs and ultimately throughout their neighborhoods.
Robinson mentioned “training” other residents on the block to be proactive in protecting themselves and equipping them with resources to use when witnessing crime.
“We worked hard to train our neighbors to call 311 and 911,” said Robinson. “Don’t complain to us if you have not tried to help yourself.”
Worthy sees cleaning the neighborhood as an opportunity for residents to come out and meet neighbors, but also a step toward mitigating crime. She is aware that concerns with crime and cleanliness are not going to be fully addressed by the police or the Department of Streets and Sanitation.
“People are more likely to be respectful of your block area if it’s clean,” Worthy said. “If you have people who are going to try and sell drugs or set up some kind of questionable enterprises on your block, they are going to go to a block where people don’t know each other, it appears, or people don’t clean up so it looks like they don’t care.
On Bell, residents schedule cleaning days either solely on Bell or with nearby blocks to clean up the alleys. “Next month we’re going to have an alley cleanup with Oakley,” said Robinson.
On Hamlin, Smith reached out to Clean and Green, a city-wide volunteer program that provides equipment and materials to residents who come out to clean their block, sweep the streets, pick up trash in yards and mow the lawns.
“We’ll get shovels, rakes, and brooms and start cleaning everyone's yard [and] the street,” Smith said. “Make the neighborhood look a little cleaner.”
Maintaining communication within the block club is important. Not only are residents communicating with each other, but they also keep in contact with their local businesses, aldermen, and other neighborhood associations. Block clubs make sure to send newsletters to all the neighbors by mail and attend meetings with the North Lawndale Homeowners Association.
Both Smith and Worthy mentioned the importance of attending CAPS meetings and sharing that information with the neighbors on their blocks.
“If you have no representative from a block to attend these meetings, what’s going to be in the meeting concerning your block?” said Smith.
Robinson, Worthy and Smith all feel that community members could be more active and participatory in their local block club. Robinson attributes the low participation on her block to the high number of retired homeowners that live on the Bell Avenue. She mentioned how there are many residents who do not participate even though this rendition of the block club as been around for 15 years. Another former Block Club president of Bell Avenue, Gene Hudson, feels that since the residents are older, they do not always have the “energy or the mindset”.
The Hamlin and Millard Avenue blocks are relatively new and are working to make themselves more visible. Both have recently gone under new management.
The current rendition of the Hamlin block club began only a few months ago after the former president and his family moved away. The block club on Millard began having meetings in February of 2017 and many of the residents are now starting to become more involved and attending meetings more regularly.
The current members of these block clubs hope that the next generation can make a difference. Englewood and North Lawndale are not always shown in a positive light in local news, and these block clubs are just one of many efforts aimed to improve the narratives of these historic neighborhoods and the restoration of pride for these communities.
“The reason that I think block clubs are important because it helps you to realize and acknowledge that everybody can make a difference, Worthy said.