The Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago is hard to fit neatly into a description. With Lake Michigan running along it’s eastern border and Loyola University along it’s southern, the neighborhood is home to significant amounts of wealth and academic achievement. As the third densest neighborhood in the city, Rogers Park boasts an array of diversity within its population. It’s nearly 55,000 residents come from all around the country and world.
At first glance this vibrant color wheel seems like a shining positive. For many, though, the wheel spins in the wrong direction. Gentrification and segregation have led to vastly different tales of life in the neighborhood, depending on the block one lives in. White households, for example, make nearly $20,000 more per year than black households. Few blocks are truly, or even moderately, integrated, and a good portion of the poverty and crime has been sequestered to the northern tip of the neighborhood.
This northern tip contains the North of Howard neighborhood, which is the distinct community our organization calls home. Representing only 9% of the population of Rogers Park, and only 8% of it’s land mass, “The Jungle”, as our residents call it, sees 23% of all the crime in the neighborhood, and an even higher percentage of the violent crime (https://www.trulia.com/real_estate/Rogers_Park-Chicago/2948/crime/). 21% of our neighbors are on food stamps, as the median household income is 34% lower than the city as a whole. This number would be even lower, were it not for the well-to-do lakefront residents who drive the statistics up significantly. Most of the neighborhood is much worse off than the numbers show.
Most people C24/7 serves are African American, and for them the system is simply not set up for success. The North of Howard neighborhood is severely segregated, leaving many families to deal with a lack of living-wage jobs, not-so-hidden employment discrimination, and sky-high costs of child-care all on their own. Less than half of all black men in our community are employed, and black women are only slightly better off, employed at 51%. This is in stark contrast to employment rates of 81% and 70% for white men and women, respectively, in the very same quarter-mile radius.
Due to the context of oppression and depression which so many in our neighborhood are forced to deal with, spiritual growth rarely has a chance to start. To be sure, not everyone is interested in growing spiritually. For those who are, though, and those who might be, were they not buried under systemic injustice, there should be opportunity to seek deeper meaning, embrace divine love, and build relationships with others on similar journeys. It is here that we start our partnership, and from this point walk in solidarity with our neighbors, seeking academic, economic, social, and spiritual renewal.