By Wendell Hutson
The first Washington Park Summit was attended by about 150 people Saturday, but less than 20 percent lived in the community and that was disappointing to some community leaders.
The purpose of the summit, according to organizers, was to find out from Washington Park residents how the community could be improved and engage them into working toward ways to uplift and rebuild the area.
Community leaders who said they were not totally satisfied with the summit include the Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave., in Woodlawn.
“I would have like to see a larger crowd from Washington Park. This summit should not be held once a year. This summit should be at least every 90 days,” said Brazier, who is a Washington Park resident. “The summit was what I expected. The speakers were good and their message was clear.”
He added that he plans to work with Washington Park residents to organize another summit later this year.
The Hyde Park – Based South East Chicago Commission organized the summit. And according to its website, the SECC was founded in 1952 and its mission is to enhance the quality of life in its neighborhoods through an array of programs and initiatives that promote responsible neighborhood development. Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Kenwood, Oakland and Washington Park are the neighborhoods it serves.
At the beginning of the summit Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council, asked all Washington Park residents to stand and only 14 were present.
“We should have had droves of Washington Park residents but we don’t and that’s because they were unaware about the summit,” Butler said. “I tried to get the word out by calling my neighbors and passing out fliers.”
But SECC Executive Director Wendy Walker Williams disputed the notion that it failed to notify Washington Park residents.
“It’s unfortunate that they [Brazier and Butler] are disappointed in the number of Washington Park residents that showed up, but we welcome Rev. Brazier’s participation with planning the next summit,” Williams said.
Williams added that Washington Park residents helped plan the summit and it was marketed on social media and they distributed fliers throughout the community.
Not every Washington Park resident, who attended the summit, was disappointed though.
“I’m glad we had this summit and I hope we have more gatherings like this one,” Washington Park resident Bryant Lewis said. “I grew up in Washington Park before it was the Washington Park it is today. I know how important it is for communities to stick together.”
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose wards run through Washington Park, both attended the summit. Both gave updates on completed projects, such as new businesses that have opened in the past year and future projects they are spearheading.
Andrea Zopp, deputy mayor of Chicago, also attended and assured residents that City Hall is all for improving neighborhoods and not just the upper-income ones.
“My job at City Hall is to help the mayor implement his vision to improve all communities by driving economic development particularly in neighborhoods that have historically been underinvested,” said Zopp, who previously was president and chief executive officer for the Chicago Urban League.
Jessica Biggs, principal of Edmund Burke Elementary School, 5356 S. King Drive, where the five-hour summit was held, said it is the duty of all principals to be invested in the community their school serves.
“I firmly believe it is an essential responsibility of all schools to be a community resource,” Biggs said. “One of the biggest factors I see Washington Park needs is stabilized housing because when people move out of the neighborhood it not only affects the community but schools as well.”
Jamie Clare-Flaherty, an executive with Chicago-based Ariel Investments Inc., gave an update on the Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park. Other speakers included David Reifman, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development; and community activists Carol Adams (former president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African-American History) and the Rev. Torrey Barrett, executive director of the K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center in Washington Park.