Within 48 hours of writing a Facebook post calling for at least 50 men to take over the block of 4400 W. Madison, community activist Marseil Jackson stood surrounded by a crowd of excited volunteers and police officers in the middle of that block — considered to be the most dangerous in Chicago last year (“the site of eight separate shootings in which someone was wounded,” according to a 2016 DNAinfo report).
In the post, Jackson implored people to lend a hand in improving their communities while calling the Feb. 18 clean-up just the beginning of real change.
The orchestration of the clean-up was stressful but when you’re passionate about something it will happen, said Jackson.
Several community organizations donated food, bottled water, gift bags, gardening tools, work gloves, and more. Over 50 men attended within the first 45 minutes.
Representatives from the Chicago Police Department, Austin African American Business Networking Association Inc., (AAABNA) and other organizations showed up throughout the day.
“This event was birthed out of frustration,” said Jackson. “I’m tired of people just talking and not doing anything. What the community needs is actual steps and not just people talking.”
The block clean-up consisted of removing debris from the sidewalk, sweeping, raking leaves, throwing away trash and more. In addition, job opportunities and informational material were available to those who attended the event and to passersby.
Jackson said he and some other people intend to raise money to buy a few of the abandoned homes on the block and “turn them around”.
“We have to make sure we are bringing resources to the block and not just cleaning it up,” said Jackson. “We need to figure out what the block needs, not telling them what they need but asking what they need. If we take it one block at a time we can make it happen.”
Part of the motivation for the block clean-up was the recent deaths of three youth in Chicago. One was as young as 2 years old. Jackson called the killings a “shame” and said that the next block clean-up will “hopefully” take place next weekend after a new block is identified.
Darius Jenkins, a member of New Life Impact Church, 3540 W. Cermak, said that he saw Jackson’s Facebook post and was inspired to participate.
The unwillingness of some individuals to come out into the community to help address some of the issues is part of problem, said Jenkins.
“We are obligated to come out into the community and bring people together,” said Jenkins. “Just the fact that we’re doing this and not negative things is making a difference.”
Trina Coulter, a resident of the 4400 west block of Madison for 47 years, said the neighborhood has slightly improved over the past few months but violent crime is ever-present.
She said that residents, afraid of gun violence, seldom park their cars in front of their homes or sit out on their front porches. Several residents have already moved away. She said she was pleased with the clean-up effort and hoped it will encourage residents to stay in the neighborhood.
“This lets people know that officers, preachers, and politicians are very concerned when they’re over here,” said Coulter.