Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Advocates: Parks an Essential Community Resource

The DuSable Museum of African American History hosted a panel July 25 called “Black and Brown Lives in Green Spaces: Race and Place in Urban America.” The panel featured several voices that work on this issue across the city and in different disciplines: Tonika Lewis Johnson, an Englewood resident and member of Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE) who is the artist behind the Folded Map project; Juanita Irizarry, executive director, Friends of the Parks; and Brian McCammack, the Beerly Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and chair of Urban Studies at Lake Forest College and the author of “Landscapes of Hope: Nature and the Great Migration in Chicago.”


The conversation covered many aspects of the development of parks in Chicago and how racism and segregation impacted where parks were and how they were funded. Many of the parks were built for white residents in the city and many had explicitly exclusionary policies for the city’s African American residents.

There were many flash points where these discriminatory practices were challenged on Chicago Park District property, including an incident in 1919 at 29th Street Beach, where white residents attacked black beach goers that led to the death of Eugene Williams, which resulted in widespread violence between the city’s white and black residents.

Tonika Johnson talked about her work with the Folded Map Project, which pairs residents on the predominantly black South Side of Chicago with their neighbors on the predominantly white North Side of the city. The project has raised a ton of conversation about segregation in the city that has historically been an issue in the city. Tonika has advised the Peace Fellows previously and is herself a grantee of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities.


Juanita raised concerns about the use of park land for private developments and ensuring that communities have a voice in the kind of programs are offered in the parks across the city. Brian McCammack talked about how the historic issues of segregation in the city have impacted how the city allocated resources to neighborhood parks in the city. One issue he highlighted was the lack of pools in parks in African American neighborhoods and how not having access to pools in their neighborhoods forces them to go to other places when hot days come around.

Chicago has a rich history of parks that is coupled with issues around segregation. Groups like the Chicago Peace Fellows utilize parks to foster community. Peace Fellow and Pastor Robert Biekman brought his community together by working with people who were participating in a little league in his neighborhood park, Maple Park, to start the conversation about how to address violence in the community. Jamila Trimuel, founder of Ladies of Virtue, runs a program with the Chicago Park District every summer to offer young women a community where they can learn in a safe environment.

The parks are important spaces for many Chicagoans and we must utilize this resource equitably.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Chicago Park District Explores Partnerships with Peace Fellows

On June 18, 2019, the Chicago Peace Fellows met with Derrick Faulkner, the Area Manager, and Art Richardson, the Regional Director, from the Chicago Park District. Together they held an open discussion of how the places and programs of the Park District can be used to further peace building and violence prevention over the summer. Art opened the conversation by acknowledging that "outreach is not engagement" and that the Park District relies on partnerships with community leaders like the Peace Fellows to authentically hear from the community and to establish collaborations that respond to the challenges and aspirations of all Chicagoans.


The Fellows were excited to learn about the Park District's "Summer Pass" initiative which allows one child per pass to attend any of their neighborhood Parks' summer programs free of charge. The Park District is rolling out this pilot program in specific west and southside parks to bolster participation and provide opportunities for youth who might not otherwise afford the fees of summer programs.


Each Fellow was also given a Summer Pass to pass out to a member of their communities.

[quote] "We measure success not by how much money we bring in, but by the number of children we serve.  No family will be turned away from Park programs because of an inability to pay.  We'll make it work for families." -- Art Richardson, Regional Director[/quote]

Art and Derrick spoke about the other free programming the Park District offers throughout the city, including initiatives like free music and art programs in Lawndale and mentoring and leadership camps. Such programming is paid for by large city events like Lollapalooza, through sponsorship from large companies such as Nike and LL Bean, or through partnerships with institutions such as the Lincoln Park Zoo.


Peace Fellow Robert Biekman asked how the Park District sought to "build community as a means of violence prevention instead of waiting for a tipping point" and then having to use programming as a reaction. Art Richardson shared his commitment to "recruit Ambassadors from the community" where local residents can enter into a "give and take relationship" with the park, working together as a partnership to build safe neighborhoods. Currently Park Advisory Councils (PACs) are the primary place for this to happen, but Art and Derrick both also noted how conversations with change makers such as the Peace Fellows lead to productive partnerships.

[quote]"It is better to do it together than fail alone." Art Richardson, Regional Director[/quote]

Peace Fellow Jacquelyn Moore asked about programming for teenage youth, a demographic she targets in her work. She shared that there is generally ample programming for young children but fewer opportunities for teens.

[quote]"You turn twelve and the world turns its back on you and then wonders why you are a mess." -- Jacquelyn Moore, Chicago Peace Fellow[/quote]

Art admitted that previous difficulties in working with teens had led to reduction of programs for that age group but gave examples of how the Park District is actively reversing that trend to create more opportunites for teens oustide of their successful youth employment programs. The "Extreme Team Camp" is a successful 6-week program that happens in 35 parks and is looking to grow.


Diane Latiker, a Peace Fellow from Roseland, asked about the Chicago Park District's strategy to follow-up with and stay engaged with the children and youth it serves. Derrick and Art invited advice and partnerships around keeping youth engaged and seeing them return to programs each year. Diane suggested that the Peace Fellows could work with the Park District to help create a follow up program, or perhaps be the follow-up mechanism, for the children, youth, and families that utilize the summer programs. "How can we be that continuity and connect for the Park District after the summer programs end?" she asked.

The two-hour conversation ended with the exchange of contact information and several follow-up meetings schedule for fellows with the manager of their neighborhood park. Art Richardson let all the Peace Fellows know that he would happily provide support and waive fees for Chicago Peace Fellow events and was looking forward to speaking individually with Fellows about their shared summer projects and neighborhood initiatives.