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The Hidden Truth About Chatham

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For years, Chatham has been the premier black community on the South Side with nice homes and manicured lawns. But some residents feel their "grass was greener" on the other side of history. Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times featured an eye opening series called "Changing Chatham", creatively written by columnist Mary Mitchell. The series has an eerie feel to it, where the residents appear like victims. But as someone who lives in the area, I think those victims created their own monster.

Can We Have All The Facts Please?...

I don't officially live in Chatham, but I live in the 6th Ward -- an area which includes that neighborhood and two others. Sometimes, it feels as if I live in Chatham because it is just a couple stop lights away. And for the past 13 years, my experiences in the neighborhood have given me a different outlook than the one posed in the newspaper.

The old saying is that you get out of life what you put into the life. Well, the residents who complain could be reaping what they sow. Some of them put more money in the lottery than they do in their own community. In fact, the 60619 zip code -- where Chatham is located -- is one of the highest lottery playing zips in the State of Illinois. Just imagine if the dollars spent on lottery tickets were used to create jobs and summer programs for at risk teens. Yet, it feels like no one imagines anything except hitting it big and moving to south suburban Olympia Fields.

As much as I admire Ms. Mitchell, I was alarmed by some of the verbiage in her article. She uses the same phrase for the lead and closing sentence: "There are some things the good Lord and good black folks will not allow in Chatham." By contrast, the "bad black folks" are characterized as those who moved to the area due to the availability of Section 8 housing. Interestingly enough, the people who participate in this program tend to get more of a bad rap than the landlords who benefit the most from it. On that note, I want to expose my secret: I used to be a recipient of government assistance as a child. And I never brought down the value of any community I lived in. If anything, I beat the odds and turned poor excuses into great expectations.

The problem with pointing fingers is that if we focus on the problem, we ignore the solution in the process. I want to ask some of those residents if they ever take time to speak to those "Section 8" people. [Last time I checked, a human being wasn't defined by their housing arrangement.] When I run into the young men beating on buckets to make an HONEST living, I try to donate to their cause or just encourage them. But as I've written before, you can't make people understand what they don't care about or make them care about what they don't understand. Some of the "good black folks" in Chatham either don't care or don't understand. Those who don't care have never realized they actually are poor, while those who don't understand haven't been poor.

I challenge the people in Chatham to talk to their troublesome neighbors. Respect is a two way street. You have to give respect to get respect. Nobody cares about your currency more than your character. Money comes and goes but character is long-standing. Maybe the neighbors don't care because you don't care. As we say around the way, "game recognize game." So, you have to be a model of the kind of person you want to attract.

Chatham is not a perfect neighborhood, but it still has potential. One of the things plaguing the neighborhood is the lack of unity. The neighbors don't speak to each other because they don't understand one another. Understanding is based on interpretation, so if you judge people incorrectly that will lead to unfair assumptions.

There are good black folks in Chicago, but they live in every neighborhood and not just Chatham. But only the Good Lord can decide which ones deserve that distinction.