EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: For more than 30 years the North Lawndale community has suffered severe private disinvestment, a dramatic decline in the availability of affordable housing, and an increase in crime and poverty. The largely African American population has faced numerous challenges in its attempt to move toward economic self-sufficiency and decrease unemployment and welfare dependency. There are a growing number of local resources that address these issues, but many are underutilized due to the lack of knowledge among community residents that they exist. There is an urgent need to increase the circulation of information within the community and address issues of education, unemployment, housing, crime, and drug abuse. Strategic Human Services (SHS) created an innovative approach to respond to this critical need— the North Lawndale Community News.
SHS is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1999 by a group of five residents from the North Lawndale community. Originally conceived as a newsletter that would inform residents of relevant resources and community news, SHS has evolved into an essential community resource that serves to develop not only an awareness of resources available, but the ability to use those resources strategically; to seek positive ways to build community involvement for the purpose of raising the overall standard of living; and to increase the employability of North Lawndale residents in the fields of communication, technology and community journalism. This is accomplished in part through the publication of the semi-monthly North Lawndale Community News, which has become both the catalyst for the birth of additional programs and the source from which they flow and derive strength.
While any resident of North Lawndale is welcome to participate, one of the most important objectives of the publication is to give a voice to the African American residents of North Lawndale. We mentor and encourage writers—both youth and adult— within the community by employing them as freelance journalists and as full-time staffers. Training is provided to residents and businesses in several areas related to the publishing of the newspaper: community journalism, interviewing, photography, computer literacy, desktop publishing, website design, graphic design, and marketing. We also offer educational opportunities in video journalism through CAN-TV. Our ability to offer these workshops is supported by strong relationships with colleges, universities and technology-proficient organizations.
During 2003, NLCN will highlight education and training opportunities within the North Lawndale community. Our goal is to raise participation in these programs in order to ultimately decrease unemployment and increase economic mobility. The community’s eager response and feedback regarding our programs indicate that we are making a significant difference in the lives of North Lawndale residents. In just three years, NLCN has become a strong voice for the community. Written by community residents and viewed with pride and integrity, it is one of North Lawndale’s most important communication tools. Residents utilize its pages to arrive at solutions for problems related to employment, health and wellness, housing, crime, community activism, parenting and education, and training. NLCN also seeks to offset residents’ negative perception of their community by balancing discouraging realities with solutions, resources, and information.
Our budget for FY 2003 is $344,860. In addition to the XXXX Foundation, we receive funding from the XXXX Foundation, Illinois First, XXXXX Bank, the XXXXXX Foundation and the XXXXX Fund. SHS also generates advertising and subscription revenues in support of its budget. Strategic Human Services respectfully requests $XXX in general operating support to continue publishing our bi-weekly community newspaper, the North Lawndale Community News (NLCN), and to advance our community training and leadership programs.
THE NEED: Simply reading statistics related to North Lawndale presents a fairly stark picture of a community in need. Likewise, touring the community, with its more than 3,000 vacant lots—lots where homes or businesses once stood—may leave one with a very real feeling of despair. Imagine what it must be like to grow up here. That is why it is essential to experience our community on a more personal level because while there is despair, there is also an abundant supply of hope and eagerness to be part of the North Lawndale renaissance.
Our community is predominantly African-American (95%), with a small but growing number of Hispanic residents. North Lawndale has seen a steady decline in population during the past 40 years. In 1950 the community was predominantly Jewish, with a population of approximately 120,000. This population soon changed as white families left the community and were replaced by African American families. The population increased in 1960 to nearly 125,000, of whom 91% were black. A series of community setbacks resulted in a stagnated economy and a deteriorating social fabric, and the population decreased by 30,000 per decade between for the next 30 years. By 1980 the community numbered only 61,534 individuals. While slowing, the loss has continued; in 1990 only 47,296 claimed North Lawndale residency.2 As of 2000 we numbered 41,768.
Much of what is left of the housing in North Lawndale is in need of rehabilitation. One-quarter of the homes in North Lawndale are owned by residents, compared to two-fifths in the rest of the city. North Lawndale has been designated a Federal Empowerment Zone and an Illinois Enterprise Community.
According to a community profile completed by the Sinai Urban Health Institute, North Lawndale ranks among the neediest communities in Chicago. With a rating of 1 being the worst and 77 being the best, North Lawndale ranks 6th on the number of unemployed persons; 7th on the percentage of persons with income two times below the poverty level; 9th in median household income, percentage of persons with income below the poverty level and children living below the poverty level; and 10th in the percentage of high school graduates over the age of 24.3 Fewer than 2% of North Lawndale residents have graduated from college. Basic reading and math skills among North Lawndale residents are so poor that residents often fail to qualify for or complete job-training programs. This lack of educational skill also translates into reluctance on the part of residents to even apply to programs that might help them. Among adults over the age of 25, 53% have not completed high school, and only 7% have associate, college, or graduate degrees. 4
The situation is looking brighter for the younger residents of our community. Between 1995 and 1999, there was a huge increase in the number of children reading and doing mathematics at grade level: from 13.4% to 22.4% in reading and 16.8% to 32.1% in math. That still leaves almost 80% reading below grade level and two-thirds unable to demonstrate math proficiency at grade level.
Like other poor, inner-city communities, North Lawndale has more than its share of crime, drug dealing, and gang activities. In 1999 there were 56 homicides in the community, 1 per 900 residents (compared to 1 per 4,000 for the city of Chicago). Along with the daily stresses of poverty, the threat of violence contributes to poor health and risky health behaviors among community residents.5