What happened to our strong community?

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I certainly appreciate John W. Fountain’s recent piece urging college students to keep at it and beat the odds of generational poverty – and can definitely relate.

Sometimes I feel as if I am spiraling quick into the dark abyss, with all of my hopes and dreams of doing well here dashed.

Like the author, I, too, am a product of the Austin community, and I went away to college and then on to law school and earned another degree while earning my law degree.

I recently returned to the area to launch and promote a different kind of quality educational program for young children, but I am feeling like such an outsider here. I am hated on my block because I drive a luxury car, own the house where I operate a preschool and the property next door.

To my knowledge, I am the only owner on my block under age 40. Most of the older homeowners, primarily in their late 50s and 60s+, scowl at me and don’t speak.

People over here are really envious and spiteful at the fact that I cut two whole lots of grass by myself and won’t hire out the work to neighborhood people. I did this before, only to have very unwelcomed loitering at my property and flower pots stolen and busted, with the contents dumped onto my lawn.

Someone also broke in and flooded my basement when they stole my pipes. I was told there is value to the copper in the pipes.

I have had an issue with my electricity, after someone stuck a large wooden board into the power lines in the alley that provide electricity to my property.

I believe this is all because people do not like me because I am different than many of them. After seeing a male friend accompany me and help me at my property, young men have disrespected and harassed me because I spurn their inappropriate advances.

I know the Austin neighborhood and grew up in it, but I don’t think many people over here really “get it” but get mad at others when they appear to do well. They look at me and see someone who they think ”thinks she’s better than us,” but that’s not it.

I wasn’t raised to think I am better than anyone. I may have had some different experiences, but I certainly am not better than anyone else. I live in Austin, too. My parents never even got a 4th grade education, were from the South and worked all their lives.

I am also dealing with these issues when it comes to promoting my preschool. I would love to hire from the neighborhood, but I am reluctant to hire people who have 1.7 high school GPAs and the promise of enrolling in college soon, when they have been out of high school for years. Or, hire people who are trying to dictate to me how to operate my business – they think it should be religious based or “pro black.”

What they don’t understand is that the Golden Rule is a foundation of the program and that quality education has no color attached to it. Children from all backgrounds are entitled to a great education.

All of this, I think, has prompted my yard to be trashed with Hennesey Black and Miller beer bottles and people allowing their pets to enter my yard to defecate when I am not home. Cameras and an alarm system have taken care of most of these issues, but there are deeper and more serious issues to address on behalf of a large majority of Austin residents who are misguided and ignorant.

Way back when, we used to have very strong community leaders and people who actually showed that they cared. Now, all I see are a bunch of people who look the other way when wrongdoing is done.

By this, I am referring to the lot of older owners on my block, who see their relatives and their friends doing wrong, but choose to look the other way. Never an admonishment or a word advising against the bad behavior. I guess it’s easier to look the other way than to open your mouth to speak out against something that is wrong.

We as a community need help, but I am not sure what kind of help that is. Is it more education? Parental involvement? Advice from more caring elders? The church? What? I’m tired of trying to figure it out.

Sometimes, I feel like many people who inhabit Austin do not want to be helped because when you know better, you are supposed to do better, right? I don’t know that many want to or even believe they can do better …

Speaking of doing better, I am so very proud of Ms. Amber Jones, the focus of a recent AustinTalks story. I pray that she has a positive and sound journey through DePaul. Mr. Alvin Lubov, who used to be the principal of Frederick Douglass, when it was just a middle school and I was a student, is a director at DePaul. He was a great principal who cared about the students at Douglass Middle, but I digress …

Hearing Amber’s story made my heart sing and is confirmation that there are still some young people in Austin who strive to bloom where they are planted. I love it!

Banks is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and John Marshall Law School. She practiced law in Washington, D.C., for 10 years before founding the MindBloom Preschool of Chicago.

4 thoughts on “What happened to our strong community?

  1. Ms. Banks, I can truly sympathize with you. I also own my own home in Austin and thankfully the people on my people for the most part are quite pleasant. There are however so many issues that we are facing in Austin, that it is mind-boggling on just where to begin.
    I just recently received my license to teach and am currently looking for a job. I see the need, mostly in Austin, of which I have been raised and also raised my children, has the greatest need to be educated, updated and inspired. I do hope things get better for you where you live and I will assist in promoting your daycare in anyway that you may need assistance. If you have any fundraisers or other events coming up, feel free to email me. We have to start educating our children as early as possible, academically and socially. Thanks for your article, it was a great read….

  2. Hello Ms. McGill,

    Thank you for your response and congratulations on receiving your teaching license!!! The Austin community and entire city of Chicago needs enthusiastic teachers with the passion to TEACH and I know you can make a difference because you are already making the right choices in getting closer to your goal. Kudos to you!

    FYI–I heard about a meeting happening on Monday, September 26th, regarding the much-debated topic of a 90 minute longer CPS school day. From what I am told, members from the Chicago Board of Education and CPS will be in attendance, as well as parents and community members. Check this site for more information on location, which will be at a church (this is a main story this week on AustinTalks.org, which has full details). Or, you can call 773-879-5216 to speak with a live person for more information. Perhaps you may want to attend this meeting and chime in with your thoughts. I will be there and would love to meet you.

    Also, to find out more about MindBloom, please visit http://www.mindbloompreschoolofchicago.com or come out to our open house this Saturday, September 24, 2011 between 3pm and 5pm, to learn about the program, which is geared towards children 2-5yrs of age. Please spread the word to friends, family, and neighbors of pre-K children, who are looking for an enriching educational program for little people, that is more than just a babysitting service 🙂

    You are welcomed to contact me anytime! Thank you.

    Susan Banks
    MindBloom Preschool Of Chicago
    429 N. Leclaire Avenue
    Chicago, IL. 60644

  3. Susan
    Like you, I too grew up in the Austin Community, I’m under 40 years old, went away to college, returned to Austin right after graduation, and has hard working (now retired) parents who are both from the south. Those are our similarities. Our difference is my return to the neighborhood was temporary (I left Austin 9 years ago by way of homeownership) and your return is permanent by way of homeownership.
    It’s a fact that the neighborhood turned from a working class decent area with a moderate level of crime to a high-crime high poverty area with a lot of unemployment and broken homes. With that comes an entitlement mindset that causes laziness. Education and the pursuit of Godly behaviour is not valued.
    The high crime from the youth in the neighborhood has caused the older homeowners that you’re talking about to be silent because they fear their own safety if they say something. When you have laziness and bad influences mixed with fear, we have what the neighborhood is today.
    I’ve concluded that the people in Austin simply do not want to get better, do better, nor do they want to get out of their negative situation. For the most part education is not valued and they don’t want God so parental involvement, more education, and the church cannot be the answer for the Austin people. What would be the answer is a desiring heart.
    Look at yourself, you made it because you wanted something out of life and was willing to pay whatever price in money, time, and effort to get it. When you come up higher in life, you have to be among others who has done the same thing or else it won’t work. That’s been proven. It’s not that you’re better, you’re just different; particularly your mindset/thinking. You can’t put new wine in old wineskin, it won’t work.
    Living in Oak Park, a near west suburb, or a decent up-and-coming city neighborhood while still working in Austin seems like the solution for you. As far as helping people, still do that, but help those who want to be helped. There are a few who wants it, but most don’t want to be helped as you’ve seen since your return to the hood. Change doesn’t happen unless people themselves want to change.

  4. I commend you for starting this preschool where you did! That is indeed one of the particularly troubled corners of Austin and really needs people like you!
    Although we live in a less-troubled part of Austin, when we first moved in 10 years ago (also young homeowners at just 30 years old), we encountered a lot of the disrespect problems you chronicle. Persistence pays off, as does creating a community group and just generally setting a good example. 10 years later our litter problem is mostly gone, people say hello, the kids hanging out on the corner are just kids hanging out (not drug dealers or gangbangers), and I rarely get men making unwanted advances!
    I can only offer words of encouragement to stick with it even when it seems impossible!

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