Getting Back to the Garden: A Chicago project plants the seeds of neighborhood hope.

AuthorYeo, Sophie

Opposite page: (Top) Before the Peace House came along, this was one of the most dangerous blocks in Chicago. Now, it's a place where children play in the street and fresh produce is distributed to neighbors. (Bottom) When Robbin Carroll first arrived in the Englewood neighborhood, many of the local children didn't know what a strawberry was. Today, they pick them off the plant as they grow.

The chickens were soon to arrive at the garden he tended in Englewood, one of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. He wanted them to settle in well. Maybe, he thought, he could spend a few nights sleeping alongside them, on the grass or the bench, while they adjusted to their surroundings.

Otis was not the first person to consider spending a night in the garden. When the greenhouse went up, a gleaming box of greenery tucked among the vacant lots, a few residents asked if they could move in. The suffocating temperatures and near-constant sunlight would be bearable, if they could have a home as nice as this. But Otis wasn't driven there by need. For the first time in a while, he was living a good life.

The garden where Otis worked is a project of the Peace House, a clapboard building on the 6400 block of South Honore Street on Chicago's South Side. The Peace House is essentially a community center, but to really understand its vision, you have to know something of what it means to grow up in Englewood. This is a neighborhood where shots are fired at baby showers and bodies are found in trash cans. For most people here, violence is woven into the fabric of daily life.

Residents of Englewood, almost all of them black, endure constant reminders that the world doesn't care much about them. They are stopped by the police around five times more frequently than in predominantly white districts, and incarcerated more than in almost all other areas. Houses stand empty and derelict. Children are literally being poisoned, with blood lead levels twice the city average.

Twenty minutes north, there are communities of white people in million-dollar houses. These are people who have no reason to distrust the police and think the residents of Englewood have no one to blame but themselves.

That was Robbin Carroll, once. A low-end jewelry wholesaler in Chicago for thirty-five years, she was, she admits, "everything that everyone envisions about a white person." She'd never been to Chicago's South Side, and thought that if people down there wanted to eat, they should just get a job.

Nonetheless, Robbin started visiting Englewood after attending a talk by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee. When a man in the audience declared that he would give any amount of money to support her work, Gbowee refused. "We in Liberia have heard about your problems in Chicago," she said. "You go find your own corner and fix it."

And that is what Robbin set out to do.

When Robbin pulled up her Jeep one drowsy day in 2013, CeCe Dixon was cautious. She was hanging around with her group on the block, the men with their shirts off...

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