August is outdoor hooping season in Chicago. For the next three months, I’ll be visiting 12 Parks in 12 Weeks, partly because I need to lose ten pounds, but mostly because I love playing street ball in Chicago. And this may sound dreadful to some people, but I prefer hooping in under-resourced communities. In my experience, you can always find a good game and meet people who grew up in the area and still come back to hoop. I always take public transportation so I can walk through the communities. I usually stop and support a local hidden gem business, take pictures of murals, and of course, just talk with residents of a different community to find out what’s unique about their hood.
I got off the Red Line at Garfield and walked east toward Washington Park. The first thing that stood out to me were the grand murals on Garfield Ave. Every two blocks, I saw a mural that was as big as the entire building. To me, it seems like someone purposely painted this strip with love. This area has the intentions of Rodgers Park, but Washington Park appears to be a more blighted community—the murals really warm up the Boulevard, though.
I stopped to grab a little bit of breakfast at the Currency Exchange Café, a hip cafe in Washington Park with repurposed decor and a library that serves a mix of American, Mexican and Filipino food. From what I’ve been told, Chicago Community Super-Hero Theaster Gates owns the spot. I see Theaster Gates murals all over the Red Line. This Chicagoan is a potter, and he inspired the city to sprout into whatever they want to be. I also really like the name, Currency Exchange Café. In my community, there are 14 Currency Exchanges and only two banks.
I was served an Arnold Palmer and something light on the menu. The waitress recommended this quick meal, saying it was the food the runners order. I consisted of a biscuit, sausage, boiled egg sliced in half, and a grapefruit. I hadn’t had a grapefruit in ages. What a treat.
The space was pretty large, and it was filled with grass-tops leaders from all over Chicago. I ran into Sonya Harper from Englewood Votes. It’s great to see that this place is not only a café, but a community hub/Internet café where the thinkers of Chicago gather to bounce ideas and create.
After eating, I kept walking east on Garfield, headed toward Washington Park. Once I hit a right on Martin Luther King Dr., I noticed a few older men gathered outside, eating and talking. I decided to speak to them about the uniqueness of Washington Park. I’m glad I did. It turned out that one of the guys leaning on the car was Daniel “Doc” Habeel, who currently serves as the Base Commander, an honorary position the RTW Veteran Center. Doc is a retired Army Vietnam-era disabled veteran who comes from a military family with a long history of service. Since World War I, over 14 of his family members have served in the United States Armed forces, which includes almost every war and conflict down to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He talked to me about the Veteran Center. In February of 2011 during a fundraiser dinner, homeless veterans and others living in the park across the street came to their door. After feeding them that Friday and again for the next two days, they made a commitment that anyone who came to their door hungry would not leave hungry.
The Center also has a free clothing program, housing program, job placement and training program, and a free computer lab. In the spring, they opened two gardens on the north side of the building to provide food for the feeding program and free fresh produce for the community.
In the summer when school was out, hungry children from the neighborhood began to come into the center seeking food, which led to the creation of the center’s Young Soldiers Leadership Program.
One of Doc’s friends told me how good it is to see “somebody like me” in the hood today. He said that more positive black men need to come back to Washington Park and school the younger black men. He said that dope dealers are the mentors, and they’re mentoring young and impressionable minds. Most people with college degrees don’t take the time to come back to the ghetto and mentor. We all exchanged contact info and vowed to stay in touch.
Washington Park Basketball
It seemed like I had already had a full day before I even got to Washington Park. When I arrived, ironically, there weren’t any real hoopers. I saw about five younger kids being coached by a black guy who looked my age, so I decided to stop and speak with him. His name is Richard, and he runs a mentorship/basketball program at the park. Trying to make a correlation between life and basketball. Richard is a graduate of Wayne State University, and he also grew up in Washington Park. I graduated from Wayne State in Nebraska, so we joked about my squad beating his back in the early 2000’s. He still comes back to the Park occasionally to volunteer, but he wouldn’t recommend living near the area. “It’s the ghetto, and there’s too much violence, as of right now. I don’t think it’s the worse place to live, but it definitely needs some help. I mean Obama lives only a mile that way, but it’s the hood, man.”
I played 21 with the youngsters. I remember one’s nickname was Steph Curry. He did have a crisp jumper, but he looked more like a 6th grade full back than a basketball player. But once he started shooting, I could see why h
e had the nickname. He moved gracefully for his size. He stole the ball from me and told his friends he “2K’D” me—a slang term he and his friends use for stealing the ball.
Today, I wore the 3M Logo Jersey. Pick up one at www.mbmhmc.com. Money raised helps support the My Block, My Hood, My City explorers’ program.