We did the same thing two years ago, offering an afternoon of activities including snack time, crafts, tutoring, puppets, game time in the gym and a Bible study for 150 plus kids near Humboldt Park, an improving Puerto Rican community with lots of history, culture and pride.
Katie and I were working with the tutoring sessions, and I spent the week reading the Fantastic Mr. Fox to third and fourth grade boys (just so you know, it was a book before it was a movie), and selections of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHMto fifth and sixth grade boys. We read the delightful How the Tsar Drinks Teato everyone and served hot tea with sugar cubes in glass cups.
We also took the entire group from our church out to experience Puerto Rican food and hear stories of how the gospel had transformed the lives of people who had grown up in that neighborhood.
The mission itself, Inner City Impact, is on Fullerton Ave, just along the edge of a developing area that is seeing lots of new shops and condos, Logan Square. But if you walk north from the mission toward Logan Square you see a different city than if you walk south toward Humbolt Park.
Or if you take a bus south, which is what Katie and I were doing at the end of each day. We were staying with our son Michael and his wife Karina (not to mention our beautiful four month old grand-daughter Elena.)
When we first got there Google Maps said we should take the bus from his house sixteen blocks west on Madison, and then transfer to another bus and take Kimball four miles north where it stopped right outside the mission.
“Let’s just walk the sixteen blocks,” Katie suggested. We need the exercise of course and we like to walk in the city. Then, we could just hop on the Kimball bus.
But Michael said we shouldn’t go west of Western Avenue. It was a rough neighborhood, he said. He wouldn’t feel safe if we did.
That was sweet. We appreciated his concern. So we decided not to walk along Madison, but take the bus instead. And by Wednesday we were taking the Jackson bus west instead, since it saved us a few blocks of walking.
That intersection was a little more, well, bleak. The youth center was boarded up. It didn’t exactly look like a war zone. OK, maybe it depends on the war. But it was completely deserted.
But Thursday afternoon, about 5:30, standing alone at the bus stop on the intersection of Jackson and Kimball (Holman at that point), we were suddenly aware of lots and lots of people hanging out on the street.
No one said “hi.”
It may have had something to do with the police arresting over 120 gang members on the west side in the last two weeks, but hey, we weren’t reading the papers.
That’s when a police cruiser rolled by and the officer asked us if we were OK.
“Sure,” I said. “We’re fine.”
More questions. Where are you going? Where have you been? Why are you here? Do you need a ride? And, two more times, “Are you OK?”
We must have been unusually dense. We’re OK. We’re just going to our son’s over on Leavitt. Just waiting for the bus. No problems.
The two officers pulled off, apparently unconvinced, because they circled the block and came back by.
“I think you better let us take you home,” the driver said. And the other officer was already opening the door to the back seat.
As we drove the sixteen blocks the driver told us how his wife was a principal in that part of town, and they routinely had people drive cars into the building or shoot through the windows. She couldn’t leave work one day because there was a dead body beside her car in the parking lot.
It was rapidly becoming one of the roughest districts in the city.
So when Michael looked out the window that afternoon, there was a police cruiser pulling up, with his parents in the back seat, perhaps finally a little wiser.
Oh, we thought. Michael didn’t want us not to walk west, he didn’t want us to go west at all.
So in the end, we learned at least two things.
You’re never too old to read children’s books.
And you’re never too old to learn stuff from your kids.