Recently, I spoke with Dr. Sonya Watts-Davis, the executive director of Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, about her life as a West Side native and current Austin resident. 

I moved to the West side of Chicago in 1992, from Fort Mill, South Carolina, but I lived in the North Lawndale area first. I lived in East Garfield Park, then I moved to the Austin area in 2002. 

One of my sisters’ husbands is from Chicago. They lived in Charlotte and his grandmother died. She left them with some property. So, she moved here with her husband. We came here two years later. 

I actually lived four blocks east of Central Avenue. When we first moved to Austin, the area was kind of mixed with drug dealing, gang-banging, and older adults. A lot of older people were moving out or passed away. So, our generation was able to come together as a community. Ten of us moved here around the same time, maybe a year apart. So, we kind of got together as neighbors. And we got rid of the drug-dealing activities that were going on over here. We called the police constantly. We talked to the drug dealers and told them they can’t sell it in front of our homes. 

Two years ago, there were more apartments right there on Washington and Pine. That is where a lot of the activities were going on. And the police kept telling us those apartments were owned by individuals. They were working on them each year individually. Finally, after a couple of years, they were able to close all of them down. So, I want to say that in the last six years this neighborhood has been changing. People are buying homes and upgrading. 

It really has changed and helped, because I work with the criminal justice system. I work with parolees who are in prison or getting out of prison that need substance abuse, anger management, domestic violence, cognitive, and mental therapy. So that’s what I do as a profession. I am a program manager and run a day reporting center. Working in a community helps me to deal with the issues; as well as educate neighbors and peers.