Monday, January 4, 2016

Five Years and Still "Growing" Strong...

Happy 2016!

I know there is a lot happening in Chicago as well as in Englewood that I can blog about for hours, however, I am going to use this blog post to share my "President's Message" from R.A.G.E. recently released five year impact report.  Typically, we post a thorough report of our accomplishments, but this year we decided to provide our supporters, members and even our naysayers an in depth look at our impact in Englewood over the years...You can download the full report here.  Below is my President's Message included in the report...

Happy reading and please remember despite the negative news reports there are many things we are proud of and celebrating in Englewood! You just need to open your eyes and recognize it! Until next time...


Greetings,

  As one of the original co-founders and the current President of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, it brings me great pleasure to share our five year impact report with you.  In November of 2010, a dozen residents from Englewood and West Englewood felt it was time that the individuals who live here unite and become the voice of our community, instead of letting others speak on our behalf as it relates to the issues we face.  With our aldermanic wards dividing us along senseless political boundaries, we felt it was important to align our efforts to work collectively regardless of where we lived in Greater Englewood because ultimately all of our issues are the same. 
 

Once we were organized, one of our first actions was hosting several political forums to address the candidates running for aldermanic offices of Greater Englewood.  These actions were rooted in civic engagement and served as empowerment tools for other residents in the community.  Needless to say, this was a strong message to our elected officials, residents and other groups who felt that Englewood residents did not have an interest or desire to take ownership of the issues facing us.
 
With a name like R.A.G.E., based in Englewood and speaking the word of empowerment, we have been faced with many challenges on this journey.  Our biggest challenge is the misconception of what others think about the residents of Englewood.  Most feel we are incapable of addressing and solving our own issues.  Therefore, we have had to be clear and sometimes provocative in our messaging in order to shift this narrative.  While others talk negatively about our community, we have consistently shared the greatness that we observe on a daily basis in order to change this negative perception of our community. 
Our work is essential because we understand that before any transformation can take place, we have to shift the mindset of the individuals who live here and share a sense of pride that will spark hope and value for a community that has endured decades of deprivation.  The heartbeat of our work is based in civic empowerment, owning our narrative, and social connectivity.






As we continue our efforts, our membership continues to grow; year after year, Englewood residents are being activated block by block to join forces with others who want to see Englewood rise. Our only fear of growing at such a rapid rate from 13 co-founders to 223 members today is the capacity to keep members engaged and inspired to take action. We hope this impact report will show R.A.G.E. members and Englewood residents how far we’ve come since 2010, and our efforts that are still underway.
 
Our hope for the future is to continue to tackle the hard issues our community faces, remain focused on why we were founded and to provide residents of Englewood empowerment tools so that they too are inspired to examine issues and take action. There is much work to be done for a real transformation in Englewood, from Economic Development, Education, Public Safety—the list goes on. However, over the last five years we know that our consistent efforts in tackling some of these issues are contributing to this transformation. As the president of this grassroots, resident-led association I am proud to have met so many individuals who share our same sentiments to see Englewood rise.  Each member has contributed to the success of R.A.G.E. by sharing their gifts and talents to address the problems here in Englewood and this is a model that should be replicated throughout Chicago.  Our work is led by passion and driven by a mission to create a community that we are proud to call home.  Our approach can be summed up in this quote from David Allen….Small things done consistently, in strategic places, create major impact.”  Our deep desire to see positive change is what will keep R.A.G.E. moving and growing for years to come.
 
 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
Asiaha Butler
Co-Founder and President
Resident Association of Greater Englewood (R.A.G.E)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Til Death Do Us Part....

I wanted to write a more detailed analysis but I am going to shorten this in order to quickly get out my thoughts....Why do you think that something as sorrowful as death brings forth more division than unity? For example, when a family member passes away particularly in the black family, turmoil is the first to follow...Instead of banding together to ensure our loved ones rest in power peacefully, there is usually petty arguments, scavenger relatives who ransack through the deceased belongings and of course the financial woes about how to pay for the funeral or who will get the insurance settlement....Such a sad reality that many of us are familiar with....

Unfortunately, this seems to be a similar situation within our communities....Now, my blog readers know me, I am always smiling and spreading that #GreatinEnglewood news to help shift the negative perception of my neighborhood, but this post is different because we as a community recently lost two elected officials....


In February, Englewood lost the 16th Ward Alderwoman/Committeeman, Joanne Thompson and a week ago many of us were in attendance at the funeral of the 6th District State Rep, Esther Golar....Both of these strong and courageous women played a large role in the political landscape of Englewood...And although one served on the city level and the other served on the state level, they pretty much served the same constituents....The Residents of the Englewood Community....


Now one would think that this would be a time that the community would band together and work in unity to move forward some of the initiatives they had on their plate to ensure that their work was not in vain....But nooooo....Just like many black families, turmoil has been the first to follow....Folks talk all the time about the division in Englewood but with these two untimely deaths of our public officials, the division is more apparent than ever...

On one side we have #TeamJoanne #TeamEsther who wants to ensure that their legacies live on, and on the other side we have folks that feel this is the perfect opportunity to shake some things up in Englewood....Not that any of these approaches are wrong but it just highlights our division and some of the political dysfunction of Englewood....

With the recent lost of our state rep, the lens is back on the 16th Ward again....Why you may ask? Because when there is a vacancy in the house the ward committeeman of that said party is tasked with appointing someone for that seat....And guess who had the most votes in the 6th District....Yep you guessed it...The 16th Ward...And guess who is the current committeeman for the 16th ward?  No one - because unfortunately the democratic committeeman (Joanne Thompson) is no longer with us and no one has been appointed since May...Crazy right? So just like that black family who loses a love one, we as a community are running around like those crazy relatives....


There are about 10 people announcing that they are running for the 6th District Seat about a handful looking to be appointed, and although the 16th Ward plays an important role in this appointment, no one from this ward will be able to have a say in this decision....This is a mess, a complete mess!  Now this is the time for us to put aside all of our agendas, personal gripes in order to unite and figure out the best way to move forward. I would think that with something so drastic as not 1 but 2 deaths that we as a community would pull it together, take some time to reflect, then work to identify the best people to serve in these vacant roles...



But no instead we are already throwing out hashtags of #Teamthis vs. #Teamthat...And frankly in my opinion it's so many teams trying to play in the game that no one is winning and ultimately our community is losing...I would suggest in dire situations like these, that a "family" meeting is called....We look at all the pieces to the puzzle then decide how we should move as one....However, the problem in most black communities is that everyone wants to be "THE ONE" vs. "WORKING AS ONE"....This situation just further confirms that even when faced with a death - our elected officials, community, faith based, and business leaders refuse to get on ONE page for the betterment of our community...Then we wonder why Englewood is in the condition it is in today....Til Death Do Us Part...Yeah right...


I will end this post by simply saying Rest in Power Ald. Joanne Thompson and State Rep, Esther Golar, we know your spirits will continue to watch over the beloved community of Englewood...I pray and will remain hopeful that we will eventually get it right....Til Death Do Us Part....


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We are Stars - Let the Rest of the Chicagoans be the Extras in ChiRaq!

As I sit on my porch here in Englewood, I cannot help but to reflect on the challenges my community faces day in and day out....I am not watching a movie & waiting for a hero to come save us or sitting here fearful of some big bad villain....This is my life, my block, my porch, my neighborhood....As much as I love my "mini" estate here on Union, I can't help but notice that the rest of the block could be coined a mini Detroit, Baltimore or another urban area in America....





















Vacant lots, trash, abandoned buildings & semi burnt up homes that are barely standing is in my sneak preview. It's the perfect backdrop for a "Boyz-N-The Hood" type of movie or even a "gangsta" rap video. However, what's not in the backdrop is the reflection of the numerous failed policies of the City of Chicago and America….

Yes, I choose to be "cast" in this film, I mean my life & live alongside peacefully with the forgotten misfits; the bloody soldiers of "Chiraq"; the outcast of society; or whatever label you want to call the people who live in areas of concentrated poverty...But at the end of the day it's still home for me and so many other citizens like myself who work diligently to change this current reality.....
As I watch the trash fly through the block, the young people playing with sticks and dirt as a means to childhood fun, I continue my work with pride in order to sprinkle doses of hope wherever I go! I don't do this to brag or to be some extra in a movie...I do this work because I know Englewood is on the rise and I choose to be a part of the POSITIVE change happening here that so many others wish to ignore. 

Even after hearing that one of my favorite filmmakers, Spike Lee, is making a movie about my community and the title of the film would be...You Guessed It...."ChiRaq" - a name that is supposed to be a combination of Chicago & Iraq - due to the high number of shooting victims in Chicago, makes sense right? All, I can ask myself is - really Spike Lee?  Is this the best you can do? It's funny to me because this blog used to be titled -  Englewood the "Brooklyn of Chicago", because of my admiration of the culture & resilience of the residents in the BK....However, after further reflection a few years ago, I decided to change it because Englewood doesn't need to be the new Brooklyn, Harlem or anything else but - ANEW Englewood....



ANew Englewood that has experienced challenges and still rising from this current slump of systematic depression.....As I looked at the national news focused on Baltimore, I couldn't help but to think about Englewood....We have similar characteristics - 
  • Crime
  • Large population of people living below the poverty level
  • A mass of foreclosures or "vacants" as they say in BMore
  • Double-digit unemployment rates
  • Failing Schools - etc., etc.

But in my opinion, instead of glorifying these stats or just using these communities as a backdrop for a film….Let's make a film about real solutions to the problems in urban areas....Let's make a film about the young people who thrives against the odds....Let's make a film about the working parents who are putting in overtime in order to send their children to college, or how about a film that focuses on the single dads who are raising their children alone....What are their stories?  Who will hear their voices? 



Now I would be interested in that type of film, because the story line of the young black male who decided to live a life of crime and mayhem is getting a bit tired, don't you think? There are countless reality shows, TV series, YouTube clips, documentaries, who tells this story....Honestly, how many times will these people get a starring role?


Anyway, let me step down off my soapbox and end this blog on a lighter note….I am forever grateful that the ones who get a starring role in my film aka life are Englewood residents -(i.e.) people who actually LIVE in this community and are progressively navigating through a failed system that was designed to keep us in a slump....Contrary to the outsiders who have chimed in stating that we are all walking around like zombies in a hopeless cloud and that Chiraq is a GREAT name for a film about Englewood.....There are many of us who are the complete opposite of this stereotype & are working around the clock towards long term strategies to improve Englewood! I guess a movie about these residents would be too boring to watch or wouldn't be a box office hit...I digress...


So let the casting calls begin!! You can sit back & watch the gory details of a small number of people in Englewood, but I refuse to own it, condone it or embrace it!! I have no desire to be an "EXTRA" in anyone's film because I know REAL Englewood Residents are TRUE STARS - shining bright through the clouds of crime, poverty & failed policies and there is no film that will capture that TRUTH!! Since the majority of Chicago and folks who do not sleep in Englewood think we live in a war zone, allow me to put my guns aside, unfasten my bullet proof vest and take my laptop off this porch because according to them, residents like myself are lined up to be the next casualty….Give me a break!


I said it before & will say it again....Englewood is on the RISE, but if the same people are being “typecast” you will only see this one-sided story again & again....

Just wait until the extras clear the set and once the lights and cameras are gone....Then and only then will the TRUE STARS OF ENGLEWOOD be revealed...Until next time...Stay Peaceful! 

Aysha Butler aka Mrs. Englewood




Thursday, January 22, 2015

School is Out and Good in Englewood is In!!

Hello Hello Hello....Hope you missed me on my little hiatus from my blog!!  I am proud to announce that I am back to blogging since the bell has rang and school is out! For the readers who were not aware, I have been on a 24-month learning journey earning my Masters in Inner City Studies at Northeastern University at the Jacob Carruthers Center....


Don't know what I was thinking when I decided to return to school.....But I did it and enjoyed every moment of the experience.  From the small classrooms, the intense debates rooted in black culture, to the incredible faculty, and most of all an eager cohort of dynamic people all working towards the same goal - Graduation - December 2014!! Peep the cap and gown below! I did that!!!





I know what you are thinking..."What is a Masters in Inner City Studies? And with a name like "Mrs. Englewood" hasn't she already "mastered" the inner city...." Well it's more to it then that and although, I have a reputation of doing FANTASTIC things in Englewood...There is no way I can master the ever changing "inner city"...The inner city - aka urban areas aka ghettos or whatever you want to label marginalized black communities - is far too complex to master in a lifetime. The culture, politics, people and challenges will always be learning lessons for anyone working in this capacity.....So if you are working for change, prep yourself to be a life long learner!

This learning journey explored in great detail how many black communities with the same challenges as Englewood are systematically structured to fail. I know, depressing right?? But if you know me I am optimistic being and will always see the light at the end of the tunnel. We also delved deeper in Ancient African Civilization, examined the history of Chicago Public Schools, Curriculum for black students and much more...I am grateful that I was able to deepen my understanding of my community, education, economics and even examine my own personal purpose and work in Englewood.

Now when I started this blog back in 2009 I wanted to use this as a tool to give you a glimpse to my life as I work as a change agent and highlight the Good in Englewood - you can view some of my previous posts from 2010 here.


I did this because most new stories only reflect the negative activities here...The Good in Englewood concept has since flourished and if I am not reporting the Good in Englewood, so many individuals, organizations, and even main stream media outlets are now contributing to this movement!! 

As you can see from my previous blog posts, I mainly shared what organizations and individuals were doing...But this time the #GoodinEnglewood is me..Yes, ME - Aysha Butler aka Mrs. Englewood! 

Living in a community, where most people consider residents like myself, poor & uneducated....I am here to tell to you we are not!! I am proud mother of an exceptional student at Lindblom, a loving wife, a real estate investor, a community strategist and a PROUD Co-Founder/President of one of the most recognized groups in Englewood...R.A.G.E.!! I am here to tell you LOUD & CLEAR that we are far from LOSERS in Englewood!! This is the place where many trail blazers like myself are born and raised!!

See people from Englewood have to fight a little harder than an average Chicagoans, because we are always working to prove to others that TRUE GREATNESS resides in the 60621 or 60636 zip codes! 

2014 was a year of greatness and not only did I shine bright, but my community was shining even brighter!  From being the first community to pioneer the Large Lot Program that has now expanded to other communities in Chicago, to hosting our very own film festival, a 5K and just basically being the most talked about neighborhood in Chicago....This is not even half of the Good in Englewood that happened last year....Just search twitter for #GoodinEnglewood or check out my storify for a few of the stories...



So I would close by saying, in case you think Englewood is just a magnet for horrible news....I am a LIVING example of a #GOODINENGLEWOOD story!! So s
tay tuned for more living examples of #GoodinEnglewood in 2015!!! 


Until next time...TAKE ACTION to CREATE the life you truly desire!!!


Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Block, My Porch and 15 Shots Heard Around the World!

Greetings fellow readers, 

I had to post something about the experience I had this week on my block....Typically, I highlight all the #goodinenglewood on this blog and believe me, I've been slacking lately because there is tons of #goodinenglewood stories to report!

From Alan Mather of Lindlom H.S. winning the Golden Apple Award, to a dynamic Teen Tennis Player from Englewood, to one of R.A.G.E. co-founders Rashanah Baldwin making the Front Page of the Tribune....See above.....It is exciting to see this narrative about Englewood slowly but surely making its way to the "mainstream" media! It's a start but of course the struggle continues.....



Let me paint you a picture of my afternoon on May 28th....I had an interview scheduled at 3:30pm with a reporter from NPR to talk about the newly created Large Lot Program....This is a program where homeowners like myself have the opportunity to purchased a city owned vacant lot anywhere on the block in which they reside...I am elated about this program and can't wait to see the different ideas residents will implement after they trick out these open spaces.... 
Interview with WTTW on my block in early in May

I personally want a communal space that everyone on the block can enjoy....And now that I have a puppy, I've been thinking about adding some dog park components to the space....Anyway, that was the REAL reason the reporter was here....


Courtesy of Chicago Tribune - On my block


In the last few weeks, I've conducted interviews with reporters from the Chicago Tribune, WTTW, and others on my block, my porch or at the open space I am looking to acquire....Well this day was no different....

About 10 mins. in the interview another member of RAGE who lives on the next block stopped by....We continued the interview and in a matter of 7 secs, 15 gun shots rang out.....My initial reaction was a mix of being stunned, nervous, embarrassed, and even fearful....I was literally in a daze....I have been on my block for over 10 years and unfortunately I have heard shots before, but have never witnessed a shooter in action....What I've noticed is that there are inexperienced shooters running around with faulty guns and these cowards run or drive quickly with no real aim to their intended target....These are typically the incidents where the wrong person is hit....Case in point the recent teacher who was shot and killed in the Chatham area while in a real estate office....This was such a sad story.....




However, this incident was different....This shooter or should I say the assassinator, calmly shot directly at his target walking slowly with the largest gun I ever seen....."Oh My Jesus" (the twitter quote around the world for this story) was the first words that slipped my lips....And other comments that were expressions of utterly shock...All while the recorder of this NPR reporter continues to roll...Demond, another RAGE co-founder and a frequent visitor of my porch, is equally stunned because this is his walking pathway to work, this is where we both ride our bikes, and the porch is where we frequently conduct strategic meetings....And now this is unfortunate incident is captured on national news....As hard as we work to change the narrative of Englewood, in a matter of seconds that negative, deadly, war zone perception was feeding into a recorder for the world to confirm this horrific story.....


I couldn't believe the space, where I consider my unofficial office was under attack....A community that I love; a block I cherish; in the midst of talking about the work I adore; was abruptly violated...


I was highly offended....This is not the norm for me or for whomever I invite to this sacred space, I call home...We work tirelessly at R.A.G.E. to shift the perception of our community and will continue to do so regardless of how many shootings are reported on the news....This is my block, my porch, my community and I know what happened here is a bigger problem that everyone is ignoring...I witnessed a killer in action....A "rare breed" who is dealing with issues beyond my capacity....However, the majority of the residents on my block know that this is NOT acceptable and if my voice in that interview, is what was needed for my city and country to recognized that this is bigger than gun control policies....Then so be it....I personally don't think this is just a gun control issue, this is a poverty control issue...


We know if the REAL issues are not addressed; we will continue to produce this "rare breed" of individuals, who will walk slowly towards their target, in broad daylight, on a safe passage route, with families and children out and about, for everyone to see and even record....These situations will become the NORM all over Chicago not just in Englewood.....This paints a deeper picture, a picture that is bigger than my block....This is structural violence, that is an element of our society; a society that takes pride in war and mayhem.  There has been a structure in place, where an entire race has been marginalized for years, stripped from core human values, taught to hate oneself and reacts with vicious attacks. This structure has produce a society that looks at a person life as worthless than a pair of gym shoes....

One day of ACTION in Chicago is not enough, a hashtag #putthegunsdown or #savechicago is not enough, 5000 men on a block is not enough, the anti-violent marches are not enough, a PSA on the same radio stations that promote violent songs is not enough...We need to deploy deeper strategies to keep our community safe as well as find a way to handle these "rare breeds"....

Please know this is NOT the NORM and nothing will make me believe that it is....This was my block, my porch, and 15 shots heard around the world....My question to you is how can you as a citizen of Chicago help to keep your block and your community safe? Because if you are like me, I am not equip to handle the "rare breeds"....But I am equip, ready and committed to create PEACE for the majority of us who just want to LIVE, LOVE, and LAUGH!! 

If you are ready to join forces you can either join RAGE or other groups who are working to have safe and livable communities....


My work won't stop and I hope if you are sitting on the sidelines hearing these stories on the news, you too will be inspired to do something to ensure this behavior does not become the NORM....Until next time....Don't just complain or feel sorry for residents like myself who live in Englewood...Find a way to TAKE ACTION to CREATE the block, community and CITY you truly desire....

Aysha Butler~ 


You can read my official statement here.




Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Day I Married Englewood....

I know what you are thinking....What does she mean she married Englewood??? Is this woman just utterly obsessed with this neighborhood to the point she feels like she is married to it...And who in the hell would want to marry Englewood? Well, my nickname is "Mrs. Englewood", so some sort of nuptials had to take place....Right?  

Well, there are a few instances in my life, that I honestly feel like I entered in a marriage with Englewood, but for the purposes of this post, I will start with me buying my first piece of property on 66th & Union...Yep a Marriage on Union Street? How fitting right? 




Well, because buying a home is sometimes a 30-year commitment, with many ups and downs like most marriages this was definitely a time that nuptials were in order....And to make sure that I celebrated my union in style, my husband and a few friends from the block (67th & May) decided to host the "Welcome to Englewood BBQ" which took place for 6 years right here on Union. This became one of the largest BBQs to happen in Englewood....Each year of this marriage, we celebrated our anniversary in the summer, with over 300 guests from all over Chicago and a few out-of-towners who graced our backyard....We had the performers, DJs, dancing, food, drinks and more! Oh how I miss these events....


Welcome to Englewood BBQ

Welcome to Englewood BBQ - That's my Pops too!

Now fast forward to today....I've been able to use my marketing, hosting, organizing and event planning skills from our BBQs to host Docs & Dialogue (a youth film series) that started in 2010, which is a part of our "So Fresh Saturdays" series RAGE hosted in the parks last year! 


So Fresh Saturdays at Ogden Park



Charles "Cheap Charlie" Hoffman
These events served as a great tool to organize and engage residents, promote peace and encourage creativity from our young people!  We are looking forward to kicking this off again this summer....Ok back to the marriage....As you can see it is important that I take the time to not only express and share the positive things in Englewood, but to also give my readers an idea as to why Englewood is so dear to me, so much so that I use the name Mrs. Englewood...I once heard in the "community" rumor mill that I was not connected to Englewood, that I was basically a "plant" sent here by some outsiders and started RAGE....This is hilarious to me and so far from the truth! First off, my grandfather was one of the first blacks on his block on 67th & Aberdeen and was also a known business owner of a store call Cheap Charlies on 69th & Hermitage....
Cheap Charlies - My Grandfather store in the 80s....
I attended over 3 Catholic elementary schools in Englewood before they were shut down by the archdioceses and walked these Englewood streets from school to my grandparents house during the week....



St. Brendan's School - 67th & Elizabeth

My mom and dad actually met on 63rd & Halsted and my dad's side of the family grew up on 60th & Peoria....Are you seeing the dots connecting now....



So having the name "Mrs. Englewood" is fitting....But let me go further....When I was 17, I moved from my mom's house in New City (Some call this area North Englewood) and came back to 67th & Aberdeen. I met my husband on this same block in 96' and stayed there until our daughter was 2....Then in 2002 we purchase our first home on 66th & Union....I even used the name "Mrs. Englewood" on my Myspace page which everyone knows is over a decade old....
6750 S. Aberdeen - My Grandparents House and my spot!
The Butlers' - 1996 Circa
So there has been numerous times in my life where I felt I married or remarried my neighborhood! As a child going to school; as a young adult living on my own; when I met my husband; when I purchased properties; when I got married; and the moment when I decided to get involved with my community....And just like all marriages, there are times when you want to pull out, give up, and get a divorce when things get hectic....But folks like myself who truly believe in these vows navigate through challenges, overcome barriers, and always find a work around that will strengthen the relationship....That is where I am now....


As a community leader and strategists I am hated by few and loved by so many and that is what keeps me moving with this incredible SUPER energy to see my neighborhood the way I used to see it when I was a child...A place where I knew I couldn't act up in front of my neighbors or they will grab a switch...


My Grandma - Rebecca "Mudear" Lias and me!

I knew the local business owners and employees because they were from the blocks! Everyone was aware of the activists on the ground and they was known and loved by the residents not challenged like we are today! 

This is my destiny, I love being married to Englewood and will continue to share my journey with whomever will listen! Even my naysayers will always be WELCOMED to the table as I need the critiques to help me improve and grow!

Now you know a little of the history of my nickname and why I will be married to Englewood until the day I die!



Until next time, TAKE ACTION to CREATE the life you truly desire!

Sincerely,

Mrs. Englewood - The Proud Wife of the Englewood Community!