Ten members of the Chicago chapter of the Night Owl motorcycle club fanned out through the blocks surrounding their clubhouse at 4359 W. Kinzie St. on the morning of April 17 to pick up garbage and pull weeds in their corner of West Garfield Park.
Founded in Milwaukee in 1974 by Black motorcycle enthusiasts, the club has chapters in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and even Tokyo, Japan. According to Jerome Jackson, the Chicago chapter’s current vice-president, community clean-ups are just one part of the club’s ongoing efforts to support and improve the community. They have been doing clean-ups for the past three to four years, and they intend to keep doing community clean-ups on each month for the next few months.
According to the “About Us” document displayed at the clubhouse, the Chicago chapter, which was founded in 1976, was one of the club’s “mother” chapters.
“We are not a social weekender riding club, we are a brotherhood of bikers that take riding and flying our colors very seriously,” the document states. “Membership can be a very long and demanding process requiring pure dedication and loyalty.”
Some members said that they appreciate the sense of comradery and support, as well as being able to share their love of motorcycles.
“I want to see the community a little better than it is — safer, cleaner,” Jackson said.
The chapter organizes back to school events with school supply giveaways, winter coat drives, Easter and Christmas gift giveaways, and neighborhood cookouts. It has also been helping out at the nearby True Tabernacle Fellowship Church, 4492 W. Carroll Ave.
“We’ve always been in the community and trying to help the community,” said chapter President Derrick Benford, who’s been a member since 2016.
“I enjoy doing stuff for the neighborhood,” he said. “It gives us a sense of unity, when we do stuff like that.”
Benford said that the pandemic “put a damper on what we’d normally do, but as the city gradually pens up we’ll be able to do more stuff for our community.”
Night Owl clubhouse is located in the mostly industrial strip along the Union Pacific West Metra line tracks. The cleanup focused on the block of Kinzie Street the clubhouse is located on, with particular emphasis on the land by the train tracks. The club members then cleaned the block of Kostner Avenue as far south as Carroll Avenue, finishing up around the Tabernacle Fellowship Church.
While they covered a relatively small area, the group was thorough, going through the grass to retrieve garbage and chopping down weeds with shovels.
Leah Martin is a 20-year member of Night Owls. She grew up in East Garfield Park and currently lives in West Garfield Park. During the clean-up, Martin lamented that many drivers simply toss bottles and other waste out the window without a second thought.
“We’re hoping that, at least, we can keep the community clean,” she said. “We do this all the time, without recognition, but it’s good to be recognized for the things we do in the community.”