Neighbors and local groups are teaming up to plan the biggest holiday light show North Lawndale has ever seen — but they’ll need help pulling it off.
Organizers are preparing for the second annual Light Up Lawndale event, a community-wide holiday celebration that will illuminate the entire greenway of Douglas Boulevard. The holiday light celebration is a way to “bring unity to the community” and reclaim the boulevard, which has been troubled by violent crime in recent years, said lead organizer Princess Shaw.
To make the celebration bigger and brighter than last year, planners are asking donors to buy lights and volunteers to put up the lights.
You can support Light Up Lawndale by donating to its GoFundMe, buying lights from the project’s Amazon Wishlist or signing up to volunteer.
Shaw is working with various organizations and community leaders on the project.
The partners aim to get enough battery-powered lights, funds and volunteers to decorate all 575 trees along Douglas Boulevard between Independence Boulevard and Douglass Park. Shaw was inspired to bring neighbors and organizations together to have a spectacular holiday event so families wouldn’t have to leave the neighborhood to get energized for the holiday season and see beautiful light displays, she said.
“It doesn’t have to be Michigan Avenue. It can be right in our backyards and have the same effect that it would Downtown: holiday cheer, more togetherness and unity,” Shaw said.
When Shaw was younger, holiday lights were a more popular tradition in North Lawndale. As a child, she would look forward to seeing the lights along the 3300 block of Flournoy Street, where families went all-out each year. But in recent decades, residents stopped putting up lights — until 2019, when Shaw rallied the Flournoy residents and revived the light displays.
Light Up Lawndale is a continuation of that revival, and Shaw hopes it can inspire others to decorate their homes for the holidays.
“It’s history repeating itself. In one time, it was very booming, and everybody looked forward to it. Then it kind of dwindled and it died out,” Shaw said. “It needs to be revitalized. Just put the jumper cables on it and bring it back to life.”
The lights aren’t just about holiday cheer. They are also an opportunity to pour love into a struggling part of the neighborhood that often doesn’t get enough attention. Douglas Boulevard is a greenspace that has plenty of promise as an asset to the community where children can play outside and families can get fresh air.
“My favorite part is seeing all the lights lit up at the same time at night, and seeing other community residents walking up and down the pathway that a lot of people have forgotten and may not have known was even there along Douglas,” Shaw said.
The lighting event, planned for Dec. 18, is also a way to show a positive presence by the community to reclaim the boulevard, which has been troubled by crime, said Chelsea Ridley, director of Lawndale Reads and co-founder of the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot.
“We understand there are safety concerns, so dong these sorts of regular activations are a sort of way to take back the boulevards and show that it’s for peaceful, fun family and community activities,” Ridley said.
The lighting ceremony will also aim to connect various parts of North Lawndale with multiple events that feed into one another.
The day will start with a holiday event 1-4 p.m. at Franklin Park, 4320 W. 15th St., which will have story time for children, a book giveaway, a bicycle giveaway and free food.
After the Franklin Park event, there will be a community bike ride through North Lawndale, which will culminate at Douglas Boulevard for the tree lighting ceremony.
“It’s such a great way to connect the K-Town side to the other sides of North Lawndale,” Ridley said.
The bike ride is being led by Boxing Out Negativity, which regularly organizes community rides for local youth.
Many Lawndale youth stick to their own corners of the neighborhood, so the community rides are “a chance to ride outside their comfort zone and see different parts of North Lawndale,” said Derek Brown, Boxing Out Negativity founder.
When the community rides together, there is safety in numbers, Brown said. People involved in street organizations give riders “safe passage,” so the rides are a powerful way of “connecting the communities and bringing youth together,” Brown said.
Whether it’s biking through the neighborhood or lighting up the boulevards, showing a consistent presence in the neighborhood can make start to push out some of the problems that have taken root, Brown said.
“To have that presence, it gives a culture of calmness. It gives people the feeling of being safe. We’re making a tradition of peace inside of a hostile environment,” Brown said.