One family’s efforts to bring change

August 20, 2012
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For more than a decade, Malcolm Crawford and his wife, Stacia, juggled raising their three young boys, running a small business in Austin and working to bring positive change to the struggling West Side community.

That’s no easy task, and the Oak Park couple says they’re exhausted.

Working to keep their business, Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., operating requires long hours, and it can be “taxing” on their family, Malcolm said.

The couple also ran African Accents, also on Chicago Avenue, before it shuttered in 2010.

Malcolm, the “face” of Sankofa, and Stacia, the behind-the-scenes operator, said they’ve seen positive change in the community – and that keeps them motivated.

But, Malcolm added, “With all of the pressure from the city and the state, and it’s just so much stuff all time, it makes you wonder is it worth it for us?”

Stacia, Sankofa’s executive director, said it’s frustrating when organizations in the community can’t work together.

“We’ve done a lot in the community,” she said. “We don’t do it for the credit or glory, but a lot of times other organizations will come in and want to take credit for the things that we’ve done.”

But the various challenges and stresses the couple faces are worth it for the community, they said.

“We love the community response,” Malcolm said. “This is worth the weight in gold.”

Stacia and Malcolm, married now for 16 years, have three boys, Malcolm Jr., 13; Matthew, 11; and Emmanuel, 9.

The Crawford children work and spend much of their time at their parents’ business. They help keep up Sankofa’s community garden, set up tables and chairs for events, and sweep parts of Chicago Avenue, among other tasks.

And that’s when they aren’t in school, participating in various sports such as gymnastics and basketball, playing different instruments including guitar and piano, or showcasing artwork at the Oak Park Public Library, along with dozens of other recreational activities.

“All their life, this is what they’ve done,” Malcolm said, adding that now it’s time to give the boys “a break.”

The family took some time away from Sankofa this summer to travel to Starved Rock State Park.

But when they can, Malcolm Jr., Matthew and Emmanuel help out in the Austin community because they enjoy the work, they said.

“I like it,” Malcolm Jr. said. “It’s fun working in the garden, and my cousins live over there across the street.”

Malcolm, who also serves as executive director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, has seven siblings and handfuls of cousins who live in the area.

He spent a good portion of his life in Austin but was raised on the South Side at Ashland Avenue and 13th Street in a public housing complex.

Malcolm moved to Austin in the mid-1990s when he learned his building would be demolished.

“Now when you go back, my kids can’t see where I grew up,” he said. “You can’t see the land. There is not an old miss so-and-so, because everyone’s been dispersed all over.”

He said when he moved to Austin, it was everything he remembers “being good about his old community” on the South Side.

But Austin started to change when predatory lenders ravaged the community.

That’s about the time Stacia moved to Chicago from Baltimore 18 years ago for a job.

Stacia and Malcolm were introduced through mutual friends.

“She had just come to Chicago, and they thought it would be a good idea for me and her to hang out,” Malcolm said. “So we’ve been hanging out for the past 16 years.”

They knew they wanted to have children but were concerned about the quality of Chicago Public Schools.

In the mid-’90s, the dropout rate for CPS students was about 56 percent, Malcolm said. There was “no way” that they’d send their children to public school in the city, he said.

So in 1996, they moved to nearby Oak Park. But they promised each other they wouldn’t forget Austin.

Malcolm learned the importance of community involvement from his father, the Rev. John Malcolm Jr.

His father was an activist in the 1960s and worked with various West Side organizations. He was also a bodyguard for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We used to have meetings with Jesse Jackson, C.T. Vivian, all these guys at our house. I would see all of them,” Malcolm said, reflecting back on his childhood. “I didn’t know who they were, but I knew it was something to do with activism.”

Malcolm’s father is well known on the West Side. He’s currently in Austin helping ex-convicts at Faith Inc., located at 5840 W. Chicago Ave.

Another business owner on Chicago Avenue called the Crawfords a “great family.”

Rickey Sanders, owner of Rick’s Devine Catering, 5847 W. Chicago Ave., started the Austin African American Business Networking Association with Malcolm eight years ago.

“Both have done such great accomplishments in the community,” Sanders said.

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