Sunday, December 18, 2011

SOS - State of Emergency in Englewood!!

Ok, so now things are getting heavy.  As you I am strong believer that we all have to create the world we want to live in…I have taken the liberty to take on the challenge of changing perceptions and attitudes towards my neighborhood.  I have taken on the challenge to serve in many leadership roles, various councils, boards, taskforces, committees, etc.  I have taken on the challenge to work towards justice for the Englewood residents being displaced by Norfolk Southern Railroad.  I have taken on the challenge to be a sound voice coming from a neighborhood that most take advantage of....All of these efforts are to empower the powerless and connect the unconnected!

These challenges have been stepping stones to thinking strategically, learning the art of empowerment, becoming a master of organizing structures, people and processes.  As you know folks always want you to fit in a box, so of course I have been labeled as this “community organizer” (so boring in my opinion), or better yet a “community activist” (really? what am I really fighting for?)

Now, there is one label that I take with great pride in hearing and that's "Community Leader!" When I looked up the definition of Leader, it read: 1.  a person or thing that leads. (simple enough) 2. a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.

I am particularly like the 2nd definition....A guiding head of a movement!  Honestly, being coined as a "Leader" in any context works for me, because this is a role that few can master…As I am creating a pathway for rebranding and revitalizing the image and culture of Greater Englewood, I see why so many attempts have failed or why vital projects remain idle.

The leadership of Englewood has its own internal power struggles in addition to the some of the challenges our elected officials have with one another, which has truly prevented some real progress.  Very few groups, agencies, elected officials, etc. is practicing the art of empowerment.  I find that giving individual tools to express themselves and become leaders in their own right is the key to being a GREAT leader. As I do this work I am learning the true dynamics of this difficult challenge...People fail because they are not grasping the fact that true leadership has absolutely nothing to do with POWER and all to do with the ability to EMPOWER!

That is why I am utterly in love with the Resident Association of Greater Englewood...infamously known as R.A.G.E…We respect, trust and empower one another. We compliment and recognize our gifts within and then share those gifts with the community at large…How empowering is that? Just recently, our Education & Youth Development Workgroup connected with the students of Wentworth Elementary for a Docs & Dialogue session then a town hall that focused on safety, learning environments and bullying.  Our economic development work group is finding ways to support some of the businesses in the community in order to establish better resident/business connections.  So as we build this Englewood Enterprise, or Empire if you will…These are the type of leaders we need to carry out the task! 

As residents, we have to reclaim our community and think of its current state as an almost an emergency site that needs our immediate attention....It's like we had our own Hurricane Katrina that has wipe us out and now we are like a designated disaster zone that needs strong collaborative support from all key stakeholders.  We have to be our own RED CROSS or EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM...So, for all my blog readers and for the folks who work, live, eat, breathe and sleep here we need to respond accordingly to the SOS call to REBUILD & INVEST IN THE ENGLEWOOD NEIGHBORHOOD…It's a CODE-RED for real!

Over the last month as things continue to heat up, we are finding that more folks have RAGE! Now we are faced with "proposed" School Actions (Guggenheim slated to be closed, and Stagg slated to go through a “turnaround”process...Really?)  Side note: If we want to speak on a turnaround, we need to look at the entire Education System of the nation, then locally at CPS!  I will reframe from saying anything else on that topic, however, you have to check out the video below which was captured during the last Board of Education Meeting....It was Occupy Chicago -  The Board of Education Edition!! And honestly, I am not upset with this rebellious cause because we do need to REBUILD OUR SCHOOLS! FOR THE BETTERMENT OF OUR STUDENTS! In my opinion, it would be better if more parents and community members could "Occupy our Schools" before these actions are even proposed. That way if students are under performing, we can work to develop our own community driven "turnaround" plan that does not require any outside contracts!

A few weeks ago the Englewood Community Action scheduled a special meeting and I must say it was exciting to hear and see folks committed to collaborate around these educational issues in Englewood.  We are working on solidifying an effective action plan that will support these families, teachers and staff through this crisis and beyond...Stay tuned for more details about these efforts!

Ok in other areas of the "Englewood Disaster Zone"....We got Norfolk Railroad still harassing residents to sell their properties and knocking down the homes for some intermodal freight yard, there is a remapping war that can potential decrease the number of black wards which could ultimately decrease the wards in Greater Englewood, this is reflective of the lost of black population in Chicago...Side note again: Englewood still doesn’t have that “satellite ward office” which we were promised during election time back in February, but let’s move on….

Another trend I am observing is all the homes being knocked down left and right specifically in my block radius, which I have mixed emotions about..I am wondering to myself...
Is this the set-up for others to rebuild? Or is this an opportunity to start on a clean slate for some new developments?  It’s quite interesting to see these changes happening, so I am sitting tight and just observing the process...As I continue to plan with my dream team of residents and stakeholders, we are hard at work, researching and learning as much as we can in order to create our own vision of what we would like to see in the Greater Englewood neighborhood…If we don't this designated "disaster" area will be rescued by the wrong folks who I am sure does not have the best interest of the community at hand....

Huge vacant lot at 65th & Union
Instead of complaining about Englewood problems we have to start having those discussions about what it can be or we will loose this valuable landscape of the city...I envision my neighborhood becoming GREAT, which inspires me to keep pressing on to make the necessary adjustments to see Englewood vibrant again...We just have to be patience and continue on our pathway of small victories block by block! As long as we keep focused and dedicated, I am confident that 2012 will be the year of connecting true leaders with common goals to REBRAND, REBUILD, and REVITALIZE this GREAT neighborhood...I'll leave it at that for now...

Until next time, TAKE ACTION to CREATE the COMMUNITY you wish to see and truly desire!! Happy Holidays and stay tuned for more exciting & positive news coming from Englewood in the New Year...2012 will be Englewood's year to shine bright, watch & see!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Generation X, Y, & Z - Community Leaders of the New School?

If anyone is really reading this blog, you might start to see an increase of my entries...Yes, I have a facebook, twitter, linkedin, youtube channel, and of course my beloved blog, but because we have so many mediums of social media it's really becoming like the physical world...Whereas you adjust your personality depending on the situation...For example when I am dealing with my daughter school, my personality turns to "Engaged Parent"...At work I am that "Dependable Co-Worker", in the community I am the "Community Leader/Organizer"...This kinda rings true for the all these different social networking sites...On each site, you may get a different side of Aysha, Ay-Sha or Asiaha Butler depending on how we are connected...But as far as my personal blog you will get all of ME!!

This is a space that I feel is more of an open dumping ground that I can free my thoughts and let loose although millions (yet right) can read this! I guess I decided to be a open book in some aspects...At least when it come to my neighborhood and community activities! And yes I proudly say my neighborhood, because I was deliberate in my intentions when I said I want to created an sense of neighborhood in Englewood that would revealed the intelligent, funny, creative, determined individuals who also has a different vision on what Greater Englewood can become...A few years I was exploring the community, meeting people and building relationships.  I was confident that it was some folks in Greater Englewood with similar perspectives, who are dedicated to building community, case in point RAGE.

Now, what I didn't prepare for was all the dynamic projects and opportunities that will come from building community...Everyone has a passion, a mission if you will that is all tied into one single and simple concept, building community.  I don't want to deter my 55+ blog followers (yeah right, like they follow me) but I think I am seeing a shift in the age range of community leaders...We are in our 20's, 30's and 40's and a bit aggressive when we are passionate about an important cause...You must remember this is a generation who grew up on MTV, Hip Hop, Reality Shows, etc....So yes our approach is a little in your face!

So to my generation and younger, RAGE is just a cool name while our older generation may see it as too much or too bold...Oh well, I was raised on Hip Hop...That's my excuse!! We are a bold, edgy, direct, smart, dedicated, professional generation and we move a little differently from our elders before us. 

I say this because I am seeing a generational gap when it comes to many of our community leaders and seeing why some things are moving at a certain pace...The upside to the concept is that Gen Y, X, Z are now stepping up to table and ready to work for change!  We have the "Occupy the Hood" movement growing, and I am noticing more movements developing throughout many of our communities not just Englewood...

Now of course Englewood is my foundation so I want to build here then branch into other communities and build with other young, vibrant community leaders...We probably have a much greater challenge in re-branding Greater Englewood and honestly I may not see huge changes in my lifetime, but I am determined that my grandchildren will!  They will be the ones who will organize and get a street or school name after me...So I am in this fight for the long haul...and why not? I was raised here, live here now and see how my passion for RE-BRANDING Englewood can be utilized to the fullest potential!

This past month, has been busier than most, conference calls almost daily and even Sundays are not off limits! But they are all for the greater good of the community...Its either related to Education, Economic Development, Civic Empowerment, cultural activities with the youth and so on...Then on top of that new issues popping up through Englewood, like I wrote about on my previous post...The Norfolk Rail yard expansion which is basically a project that will be turning a pocket of Englewood to a complete DEAD ZONE! Now some may argue, Englewood is already a dead zone, but I beg to differ....It is very LIVELY and there is never a dull moment in this neighborhood!! Even if there may be a pocket that will be just a freight yard there are still residents living and breathing the life of Englewood everyday...Folks who are the products of Englewood, are strong, fiesty and refused to be pushed over!! Check out this design that my husband created for t-shirts, hoodies, etc.!! Only the STRONG survive and that's real!!

Here are two videos about the Norfolk expansion I did with Marc Sims explaining more about the project:

Anyway as you can see things are happening and happening rather quickly, Englewood residents was recently given a survey about the use of the post office and how the two post offices in Englewood may be close for any retail activity....There was a "public meeting" about 75-100 attendees that listen to the staff of the Post Office explain to us that the revenue is down due to the advancement of technology...Ok I get that, but there is a only about 40% of the individuals who live here has access to the Internet...The seniors use many of the services at the post offices and they are not handling their business online like my generation, so of course that was some garbage...

Then we hear from the City of Chicago that our libraries may closed and staff/hours will be reduced...Oh yeah let's not forget that the recent guidelines from CPS was just release which means we may also have some schools closing soon....Come on now?!? 

Kelly Library Courtesy of Chicago Public Library

One a positive note, there are some exciting things happening like the Green Healthy Land Use initiative with CMAP and the city...Stay tuned for more info regarding this! 

Don't get me wrong the community has RAGE, but because there is so MUCH happening these issues demand an alliance or coalition to handle them more efficiently...If folks can't put down their egos and work together to strategically address these issues, we will never achieve CHANGE...You can Occupy the Hood, the southside or wherever else but you must join forces with others to tackle many of these things...

RAGE is definitely an action oriented group but we are also professionals who have day jobs...So we can't handle EVERYTHING...It is definitely enough population left in Greater Englewood to build a strong and mighty alliance...But where do we start when everyone wants to be the leader...Do we create a super team of community leaders!  Folks with true intentions, humble enough to take direction, and able to lead as an expert in their own field of expertise...

Like one of my close team mates said to me the another day...True leaders are not measure by how many followers they have, they are measure by how many leaders that can create...I love that because that is all I every wanted....I didn't want to be the token resident leader who is pulled in 50,000 different directions...I wanted to identify other leaders to recruit and handle this load.

Thankfully I am seeing this happen with RAGE...Residents are able to identify their expertise and lead in that capacity...That is the way we can build community by having everyone contributing their expertise to one common goal...So if speaking publicly is your thing, DO THAT, if research is your passion DO THAT, if organizing is your expertise then DO THAT!!

That way no one is burned out and everyone is doing what they do best! So with that said I will continue doing what I do best and build with others especially these aggressive Gen X,Y, and Z revolutionaries that way I will have my very own personal SUPER TEAM!! Stay tuned for more GREATNESS coming from GREATER ENGLEWOOD, until next time, as always TAKE ACTION to CREATE the life you truly desire!! Peace Aysha~

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Englewood Enterprise...What a Concept!!

Wow, I can't believe I let September slip away without posting an entry...I'm slipping! But honestly, after returning from Ghana it has taken me a while to adjust and I've been doing a lot of reflecting on all the work I've started within my community....

Being pull out for a few weeks from all the meetings, boards, councils, my job, etc....Really gave me the opportunity to renew my perspective and see things in a different light...Of course things were still waiting for me upon my return, but then it hit me! I am truly a LEADER!  I have taken on leadership roles in many of the activities I am involved in, so much so that my feedback, suggestions, and ideas are typically an intricate part of the work. So you probably definitely see that reflections are in order!

I also begin thinking about being in such high demand....Now, I have said a few months ago about building and managing an enterprise...It definitely felt that way once I got back into the swing of things. I don't want to stop at just being a entrepreneur of one business...I want to manage several businesses and projects...I want to operate as a true Enterprise & live my life knowing that there are limitless opportunities! So as I throw around this word Enterprise, wanted to share the definition from the dictionary.

Definition of Enterprise
1: a project or undertaking that is especially difficult, complicated, or risky
2: readiness to engage in daring or difficult action : initiative showed great enterprise in dealing with the crisis
3a: a unit of economic organization or activity; especially: a business organization
b: a systematic purposeful activity (agriculture is the main economic enterprise among these people)

I found the definition so on point with what I view some of the endeavors I am a part of...I am already engaging in daring and difficult action trying to force CHANGE in Englewood....This is a project that is definitely complicated...Which reminds me of the Norfolk Southern Railroad expansion....Basically, Norfolk has bought over 200 properties in Englewood for a intermodal rail yard and is now looking to buy out the other residents....Talk about complicated!! Link here to read more about this story...I will also update you more about this situation as time moves on...

Ok, back to Enterprise...I also have the desire to see a unit of economic organization/activity within my neighborhood...This is what I wish to create...A viable enterprise working for a GREATER Englewood...It is actually already here but needs to be arranged under one umbrella....
Speaking of umbrellas, Englewood Community Cultural Planning Council, (EC3) for short...Recently hosted such a peaceful and fun event at Hamilton Park...It was the Englewood Arts Festival with the theme, "What does Peace Look Like in Englewood?" It was a bright sunny day, with art, music, and even the Fresh Moves bus stop by and sold fresh produce to the attendees....

I was able to grab these beautiful Peace Umbrellas courtesy of Wentworth Elementary and display these wonderful umbrellas around the entrance of the beautiful Hamilton Park...It was truly a peaceful day fill with art, right in a disseminated area of Englewood. Hamilton Park is a work of art itself but it definitely needs to be utilize more by the residents of Englewood.

See the photos below courtesy of Toni J Photography
Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

Photos Courtesy of Tonika "Toni" Johnson

There has also been some exciting news around education, since school started back Sept. 6th. Debates about longer school days, CPS administration changes and the Greater Englewood Community Action Council (CAC) presented our strategic plan to the entire Chief Executive Office of CPS...What a experience!

A room with 40 executives listening to the Englewood CAC leadership team goals for the schools in our neighborhood...That was a powerful feeling to articulate our needs, demands and plans to this group and to know after 10 months of long meetings, retreats and forums, we have a finished product that can help shape the educational foundation of Greater Englewood.  I know that this work is not in vain and the passion I have keeps me moving right along....

As long as I am involved in projects that are fulfilling, it will never get old.....I understand the concept of "burn out" but with the drive I have to see an enterprise develop that will help transform the blueprint of Englewood...I am ready for any challenge that comes my way, so please understand...I am just getting started! Want to keep up with me? Follow me on twitter at mrs_englewood or catch me on facebook!

Stay tuned & as always TAKE ACTION to CREATE the LIFE you truly desire!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

From Englewood to Ghana....

I am back in the states and slowly but surely trying to digest all I've seen and experienced during my trip in Ghana....Everyone advised me to journal and blog while I was there but being in the midst of such a GRAND experience, I must admit it was difficult for me to do....As I rode through the streets of Kumasi, Elmina, Cape Coast and Accra...My mind just wandered throughout this magical journey...I did take time on one of the "road trips" headed to Accra to journal and here were a few of my thoughts on August 5th...

My travel mates

I arrived from Ghana on Thursday, July 28th with 9 other hopefuls ready to embrace, enjoy and provide service in this very important destination. The trip was organized by one of my mentors, John Z. of the Depaul Egan Center...

We both serve as members of the Englewood Community Cultural Planning Council (ECCPC) a cultural council based in Englewood...He typically goes about once or twice a year and has established great relationships with many of the people here.  He also serves as a community organizer for Abira, one of the villages who needed some assistant with establishing a stable economy....Sounds a lot like Englewood right??
John Z.

Many people have asked the question, why do you want to go to Africa? Which I found so strange to ask why do I want to go back home? For the African-Americans who have been brainwashed, let me clarify something....Africa is our home not America...So the question should be to all African-Americans...Why don't you want to go home??

Me at the Slave Dungeon of Elimina
Well, I had various reasons why I wanted to go home....First off, I wanted to see exactly where many of our people came from. I was curious to see what was our culture before it was stripped away? How did we live and survive before we were "americanized"? Is there connection between us and our brothers and sisters who were left behind? I was also curious because I know our current state in America seems unnatural and many of us are filled with so much hostility and pain. Well, being in this peaceful place I had all of my curiosities and questions answered...The spirit of the people in Ghana has not been fully touched by the ills of American culture...Yes there are some things they emulate from us, however, their spiritually make-up is much different....Everyone I greeted smile with such a genuine love and there was always a sense of peace in the atmosphere that I have never felt before. So being black and poor does not equal a violent and hostile environment huh? Everywhere we went, the natives welcomed us with grace to this holy land where our ancestors were snatched away a few hundred years ago....

The Chief and Council Men of Abira

The respect, culture, traditions, dialect and just the perspective are things I would never forget about this experience....It really shed light on the European culture we were force to adapt in America, our over consumption attitude and behavior, our sense of urgency for no reason, our obsession with money and material things, our lack of spirituality but commitment to religions are many of the unnatural moral fibers of our existence here....

Now, can I ever live in Ghana? Perhaps, Maybe...if planned out correctly...Its a much simpler life with a slower pace and everything is done with a element of patience...Even the words the people speak, are very literal and gentle with the best intentions behind each word...Here, something as small as eating is viewed as a very important time to share and gather with one another, this sense of community/village is real and there is an underlying system that works, unfortunately this is lacking in the black communities here in the states...

The Fish Market in Elimina

There were very little places to get "fast food"....There were no signs of a McD's, Popeyes's or even a Walmart...Everyone is their own little enterprise, which is something I admired the most...Very few people work for "the man" and almost everyone have their own businesses!

Can you imagine if everyone around you were an entrepreneur? Now how great will that be if everyone in your circle had their own business!  Just think about how far the black dollar will stretch if this was the case in our communities....I am definitely working towards having a circle of folks around me who are the architects of their own enterprises, that way building an empire will come easily!!

Anyway I understand what people say about a life changing experience...Seeing the culture firsthand has really made me appreciate so many small things we take for granted in the US, like hot water, towels, toilets that flush, running water, stoves, refrigerators, TVs, Internet, t-shirts, body lotions, nail polish, close toe shoes, electricity, paved roads, etc....These are just a few items that are seen as a commodity or luxury here in some parts of Ghana, while we in the US see this as our standards.

This has definitely been an eye opening journey for me, especially as I witnessed the work ethic of small children who work so diligently just for drinking or bath water.  Damn our children are privileged and don't even recognize it...Even the youth from my village of Englewood...Folks can write story after story about the abandoned buildings, vacant lots, or low performing schools, however we do not even come close to what the people here has to endure and they still are gracious. 
Male Slave Dungeon in Elimina, Ghana

Elementary School in the Abira Village of Ghana

Abira School Classroom

As we visited the schools here, we learned that the teachers have not been paid in months, however, they continue to educate these students.  Can you imagine our teachers not getting paid for months?? I think CTU would go crazy if this was the case....Teacher's here go on strike when there are no increases in pay, so I am sure if they didn't get paid in the states our children would suffer greatly!  Again, what are our values?

We complain about little things and these students have no computer labs, lockers, or just a freshly painted wall....I don't even think our toughest students will be willing to learn in this environment and I am sure our savvy youth would probably protest against these conditions like they did about the food at CPS.
The lovable Mary a student at Abira

A day of service...Painting the Junior School of Abira

One thing is certain our value system is very different in America! We value money over family, cars over friends, clothes over a piece of mind, a pastor over true spirituality...To be in a place where poverty is obvious and folks still live peacefully, proves to me that is not about being upper or lower class or how much money one has to be happy or fulfilled, it really all depends on what you value and love...

I learned so much through this journey and it has made me reflect on my values and the ones I am instilling in my daughter.  I am proud to say that we could happily live in Ghana as well as Englewood, because we do value family, peace, love and understanding like many of my brothers and sisters here....So although I am 5000 miles away from my other home, I am at ease knowing that I have the same sense of PEACE within regardless of what environment I am in...It is simply about the values you hold dear to your heart that truly makes your environment and being in Ghana really showed me what's truly important in life...I love every bit of my experience and cannot wait to return!!

So, until next time, BE PEACE & as always TAKE ACTION to CREATE the life you truly desire!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hello from Ghana!!!

Just wanted to send another thank you for all the words of encouragement and donations received before my to trip to Ghana, Africa!!

By the time you receive this post, I am probably settling in at One Africa a beautiful wellness resort here in Ghana!! On Tuesday, we will visit the Abira Primary School and assist them with any work they need to help build this educational institute for their village.

I just wanted to personally thank all the RAGE members who contributed to Abira school project before my departure, your donation is greatly appreciated!! I am taking a lot of pictures and cannot wait to share them with you all!!

Again, thank you for all you do and I look forward to seeing you upon my return! I am ever so happy to make my dream a reality...So as always TAKE ACTION to CREATE the life you truly desire!!