While editing video at Robust, a coffee shop in Woodlawn, I met a few UChicago Priztker Medical School students. They asked me what the My Block, My Hood, My City logo meant, so I told them about my dream of a more interconnected Chicago. This sparked a conversation.
Turns out, the Med Students recognized there's a disconnect between the University and the surrounding communities. I pointed out the window of Robust and told them about the historic Woodlawn Community Organization and the Apostolic Church of God, both of which play major roles in the Woodlawn Community.
After a few more conversations I was asked to come speak at the University, but after my presentation I knew that more needed to be done to bridge the gap between the University and the surrounding communities. So in an effort to help medical students learn and build authentic relationships with neighborhoods that much of their patient population comes, I decided to ask them to join my Explorers Club.
The primary Mission of My Block, My Hood, My City is to is to expose Chicagoans to new communities and cultures. I told the Med students up front that this wouldn't be tourism, but rather I'll be facilitating meaningful cultural exchanges between different people so they could get a comprehensive sense of these communities and the people living there.
The first stop of our three month partnership began in the Chatham community. Now today, Chatham isn't defined by a specific locality. Today, Chatham is a state of mind. And that state of mind reflects black entrepreneurship and community groups. There are six major community groups within one mile of my home. The medical students and I visited the West Chesterfield Community Association.
The members of the community association didn't hide their passion for their community. They showed up and wore their emotions on their sleeves. They lobbied for better schools, cleaner streets and more involvement with the Alderman's office. Michael Lafargue, President of WCCA, did a great job leading the discussion and providing the group with thorough information. The UChicago Med students even got a chance to stand up and introduce themselves, and talk about their desire to learn more.
Our next stop was the Whitney Young Library, where Branch Manager Mitchell Smith spoke to the Med students about the Library being more than a place to come check out books. Mr. Smith envisions the library as a community hub, a central place of engagement for residents. And then it happened, an authentic connection was made. The Med Students and Branch Manager Smith agreed to collaborate on a series of future engagement. Be on the lookout for that in the upcoming months.
Our last stop was at Captain Hard Times Dining, we all ordered the famous Chicken & Waffles. Jean Paul, a Data Mining Expert, and my mentor, spoke with the Med Students about life in Chatham. He challenged the students to seek out their own truths, and not to be led astray by the distorted narrative of City Wide newspapers. The common saying in Chicago is that "if it bleeds it leads," and often times Chatham is be painted as a typical south side community, full of violence, blight and despair. But Jean Paul spoke to the med students of a different Chatham. A community that was in transition, not decline. A community full of hope and not despair.
This was a great experience, not only for the med students, but also for the local residents they interacted with. This is just the beginning, and we all need to make more of an effort to cross pollinate our city.