I hope you are keeping well and making the best of all of our challenges!
The last 6 months feel like they could well have been 6 years. Nonetheless, I'm happy to say that our team is growing and working hard to build enterprises that will help Bronzeville and Black Chicago more broadly recover from the damage that the pandemic and the chaos around our racial reckoning are inflicting. Here's a look back, some reflections on how we're moving forward, and a call to join us.
LOOKING BACK. Not surprisingly, Black Chicago has taken a beating. A disproportionate number of lives and livelihoods have been altered or lost due to Covid amplifying existing health and enterprise "co-morbidities".
Our team and effort have been very fortunate. We've had only isolated and temporary health challenges. After a brief shutdown all of our enterprises reopened and successfully pivoted to meet the new reality. Boxville has grown from 4 to 10 full-time "box" partners, with the 2 more that are about to join putting us at 100% of capacity. And we were spared the widespread damage to buildings and businesses that marked 51st Street and so many other Black Chicago retail corridors.
While it's been really difficult and often nerve-racking, I'm very pleased that we've been able to use the time and philanthropic support to build our core team and expand our impact.
Despite a deeply-held belief in private funding/enterprise as a driver for community revitalization, I realized a dozen years ago that "private" simply wasn't going to be enough for the work we do. While there's lots of unique and rich assets to build on, the challenges to making ground-up community revitalization work are too deep, complex, and layered to be tackled by private funding alone. On its own, private enterprise simply can't afford to clean up (and clean up and clean up) and beautify deeply blighted blocks, train neighbors who've never had the opportunity of a decent first job, or change negative patron preconceptions decades in the making.
Consequently, two friends/neighbors/colleagues and I started Urban Juncture Foundation in 2008, a 501c3 nonprofit focused on community revitalization that has become a strong partner to UJ Inc. Now, a decade of investment in UJF has paid off in local philanthropic support for five talented professionals that have come onboard in the last 9 months and now comprise the core of our team. This new team capacity has been key to our success in redefining our work from physical to virtual while expanding our business building services, from bustling Boxville markets to socially-distanced resource sharing aka Boxville Community Day, and to creating new programs for community health (Boxville Fitness Saturdays) while accelerating work on The Forum (e.g. #ForumFridays).
In addition, we've been able to secure support from the state to establish a Small Business Development Center and support expansion of our incubator and from national foundations to move our work on The Forum and on 51st Street forward.
MAKING THE MOST OF THE NEXT 6. Supporting our new team members will continue to be my primary focus over the next half year. Each of them provides leadership for one of our Build Bronzeville initiatives, each of which has great room for growth. For example, Boxville has doubled in size every year since 2016, but the need is almost endless and we need to make a path from our 17 20 ft. containers today to 100+ over the next 2-3 years.
I'll support my colleagues in pushing each of their initiatives forward, but will put every extra hour of time I can find towards two key near-term efforts: closing out "phase 1" of Bronzeville Cookin', i.e., getting from the 1 + one-not-quite-finished current restaurants to a set of 4 fully-operating restaurants in our 51st Street "brick & mortar" facility; and driving the effort to bring life back into a first slice of The Forum.
COME ON OUT! Consider helping us - if you have any philanthropic bandwidth remaining - to raise the roof and bring back The Forum. I'd greatly appreciate it!
Join us - if you can - as we celebrate Open House Chicago at The Forum, Boxville, and Bronzeville Community Garden. I'd love to see you!
* * *
Thanks for all of your support and all the best for a healthy and peaceful fall!
Privacy: We won’t share your data, or post to your wall, without your permission.
Already have a Wefunder account? Login
Don't have a Wefunder account? Signup