The morning of Aug. 27 began murkily, with the sun’s rays locked behind the clouds’ early morning miasma. It appeared as though the dozens of onlookers in attendance at the “New Beginning for West End Community March” would surely be rained out.
However, within moments of convening at the corner of Keeler and West End, the gathering phalanx put away their umbrellas and plastic caps as the sun penetrated the thick fog and assured the crowd a return to summer warmth.
The imagery involved here was not lost on New Mount Pilgrim Church’s senior pastor, Rev. Marshall Hatch, who opened the march by saying, “On the news today, the weatherman said that it was going to rain, but I had faith that it wouldn’t because I prayed today.”
From a symbolic standpoint, the sudden re-emergence of summer amidst the autumn gloom that preceded the event, spoke directly to the heart of the march?”hope and optimism displayed by its participants in spite of a continuing disparity in funding for its schools and a general feeling of disenfranchisement.
The primary purpose of the March was to declare “safe passage” from Tilton Elementary School (223 N. Keeler Ave.) to Marconi Community Academy, (230 N. Kolmar Ave.) both of which are located in areas troubled by open-air drug markets.
It was organized by New Mount Pilgrim Church as a means for community to address the recent upsurge in drug-related trafficking within the section of West End Avenue between 4200 and 4700 West. With school beginning next week, community representatives do not want children or parents to feel concerned about traveling through this part of Austin, especially if they have children attending Tilton or Marconi.
“Seventy percent of drug buyers are not from the community they buy from, including those who come to this community, which makes the problem all the more far-reaching,” said Rev. Hatch. “However, we want to make it clear that we will do what we can to assure that our children can safely attend classes on Sept. 6 without fear.”
Among those in attendance were Alderman Ed Smith (28th Ward) and CPS Superintendent Arne Duncan, whom Hatch referred to as “the hardest working man in the Chicago Public Schools system.” Duncan spoke of the importance of attending classes in the first week, not only for economic reasons but also to continue the steady level of academic success shown throughout many West Side schools.
“We have made one of the biggest jumps in test-scoring of any school district in the state,” said Duncan. “But we still want to get better and that starts with being in class on time from the very first week.”
The march ended in the recess area of Marconi School where refreshments were served and music was played, courtesy of the Romanian Church Band from Elim Romanian Church, located at 4850 N. Bernard St.
European Development & Management representative Marian Avram, spoke of projects that are currently in development through his organization to rebuild the West Side.
“We have worked on 10 apartment buildings between Pulaski and Cicero on Washington, and there is more to come,” said Avram.
Avram also spoke about the “The Family Empowering Initiative,” a 62-unit building, located at 4444 W. West End, which has been completely rehabbed and will house residents of the community who are looking for an economically practical way to achieve their goal of owning a home.
Residents of the building will pay a base unit rent and have a portion of it entered into a special escrow account allowing them to build equity on a home while paying rent. First Bank of Oak Park invested $4 million in the project.
“It is the first of its kind in Chicago, and hopefully will allow those on the West Side to build equity and invest back into it,” said Avram. “It really opens up new vistas of economic opportunity to the area.”
Marconi Principal Michelle Smith summed up the purpose of the march:
“Grade school is the most important period in a child’s academic development and their success during this time will greatly impact where their lives will lead. We want to do all we can to assure that we don’t just send our children to school on Sept. 6, but we take our children to school to guarantee their safety and to invest in their futures.”