New Initiative Aims to Bring Jobs, Economic Opportunity to Violence-Stricken Chicago Neighborhoods

For many in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood, a new initiative announced Wednesday brings with it a sense of hope in more ways than one.

In what has long been known as the heart of Chicago’s African American middle class, residents say the city’s violence has been getting far too close to home.

“I live right in the midst of Chatham and I hear gunshots at night,” said resident Judy Alderson. “It is what it is.”

But many say it was an act of violence that may have helped lay the foundation for the neighborhood’s recovery. That tragic incident happened two years ago, when a bullet pierced the wall of a real estate office at 79th and Evans, striking teacher Betty Howard.

The shooting happened across the street from Congressman Bobby Rush’s office, and he has since vowed to bring back business and residents, restoring the neighborhood to what it once was.

On Wednesday, Rush announced the Greater Chatham Initiative, a plan to bring investment and growth back to Chatham and neighboring communities including Auburn Gresham, Avalon Park and Greater Grand Crossing.

“Without economic vitality, you have no hope,” he said. “And that’s the problem. We are dealing not only with an economic crisis but a crisis of hope in our cities and in neighborhoods like Chatham.”

It’s an initiative area officials hope will revitalize in the community and draw new residents.

“We have the housing stock, but we don’t have the amenities that would encourage a young family to move into our area,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer. “This will give us the shot in the arm to attract the new generation of Chathamites.”

There is also hope that the investment, and the jobs it aims to bring, will calm some of the violence the neighborhoods have seen in recent years.

“It is a very powerful weapon when you have neighborhoods, strong communities, there is no space for gang banger,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Residents also note that the effort could help keep kids off the streets.

“I believe if these kids had more jobs and something to do, there will always be bad things, but I don’t think it would be as much,” said resident Bianca Stephans.

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