I interviewed Karin M. Norington-Reaves, the founding CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, on Aug. 5. A biography that was emailed to me stated that she was a Chicago native, so I asked her where in the city she grew up.
I was hoping there was a West Side connection in order to give me an opportunity to ask her about this place we all love. Thankfully, there is a West Side connection for Norington-Reaves — a deep and enduring one. So, don’t test her West Side credibility. She’ll quickly put you in your place.
On her family’s West Side roots
I like to say that my people are West Side, I grew up North and I live South. I’m descended from two generations of West Siders and we’re probably in our fourth generation of family members who have lived there.
My parents grew up on Walnut Street, between Kedzie and Homan. It’s a double block. They were next door neighbors, so their families know each other. Whenever there’s a funeral of one of the older folks in the neighborhood, both sides of the family show up. My father’s siblings know all of my mother’s siblings and all their kids know each other. It’s wild.
Any memories of the West Side?
What do you mean?! Come on. Of course! I remember making mud pies in my grandmother’s backyard. When we were kids, we didn’t have video games or cell phones — none of that. We were outside every day from dawn to dusk.
All my cousins were basketball players and went to Marshall High School. They were basketball players or musicians. Most of my mom’s people went to either Crane or Marshall.
How things change, but stay the same
Ask an old head about Smothers. They had the best hamburgers. It was where the Hatchery is, about a half-block south of there, right on Homan and just past the ‘L’ tracks. It’s boarded up now. I drove by there a couple of weeks ago and was like, ‘What?’
So much has changed over there and unfortunately much is still the same. One of my cousins was murdered there two summers ago — just up the street from where all of them grew up. Yeah, it’s different, but it’s still the same.