I am very honored to be a part of the 11th Street Bridge Park’s Team, as the new Program Associate. I am not from DC but I am learning daily about its unique culture and the fight for cultural sustainability. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and it was amazing- so filled with culture and love. I see a lot of similarities between my city and DC. Travel with me on this journey through the South Side:
When you were hungry, you always had: Harold’s Chicken with mild sauce and extra lemon pepper; Home of the Hoagie for the best gyro you’ll ever have in life; Maxwell’s and Portillos for Italian beef, polishes and fries to die for; Giordano’s with the best stuffed crust pizza in the world; Old Fashion Donuts where you can get giant Texas Donuts made right in the heart of Roseland; and someone selling chips with cheese on every corner (no, not nachos)!
When you wanted cultural exposure you always had: Juke jams at the Rink, where no one rented skates but foot-worked until the lights came on; 107.5 WGCI and Power 92.3 in our airways reminding us that local artists were just as good as those on mainstream; The Harold Washington and South Shore Cultural Centers that offered youth classes and that reminded us that children are our future; Studio One Dance Theatre the only place where you could see ballerinas in afros dancing to house music and recreating Alvin Ailey productions; The Dusable Museum of African American History, the only historically black owned Museum in Chicago; Evergreen Plaza, where mainstream artists traveled to hang out and do concerts; Or driving down Lake Shore drive just so see the sights and feel the breeze.
Okay Destinee, so what?: These memories may not mean much to you, but wherever you’re from, if I was to ask you what was your favorite things about your hometown, you’d probably have a list similar to mine. Though I’m sure there are a lot of differences between Chicago and other big cities around the country, I know that my neighborhood, just like many African American neighborhoods are fighting to preserve its cultural authenticity in the midst of the vast development that is happening all across the country.
One thing I love about the efforts of 11th Street Bridge Park is that we are working hard to preserve the history and culture of people who live east of the river. In the midst of this million dollar project, systems have been intentionally activated so that east of the river residents are not robbed of their living spaces, jobs, or culture, but uplifted, supported, and have their accomplishments amplified. A few examples of this lie within some of the things I’ve seen programmatically within the first month of working on the team:
- Organizing with community members prior to creating plans for a Bridge in order to determine what needs lie in the community and creating an Equitable Development Plan to hold ourselves accountable
- Intentionally spending dollars east of the river supporting artists, nonprofits and business owners
- Hosting festivals and inviting east of the river residents to showcase their talents and their passions to the broader DMV communities
- Holding Home Buyer workshops so that residents understand the ins and outs of home ownership and financial literacy
- Holding Community Leadership meetings to have conversations across Wards and understand how to effectively become community leaders and organizers
- Organizing Urban Farms and CSA programs so that residents can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
The list can go on and on: but there is so much value and all the things that I’ve learned about the organization during the first month. It’s more than just a bridge, it’s about bridging the gaps in accessibility, supporting and amplifying the voices of residents to truly meet the needs of the community. I appreciate the intensionality that has gone into the preservation of the lives of Black and Brown residents East of the River. I hope this project inspires cities across the nation to truly invest in the communities that are so frequently neglected, and amplify the positive things that are going on within.
Thank you all for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful project– it is more than a dream come true!
Written by Destinee Johnson