From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Social Work Students

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The City of Neighborhoods"

by Aleesa Ribbens

“Welcome to Chicago, the city of neighborhoods.”

This is something I was told on the first day of orientation. Over the past two months, I have learned that the city of Chicago is broken up into over 200 different neighborhoods, each one with its own unique identity.

Never one to turn down an adventure, I have spent a large amount of time exploring what this city has to offer. Between attending a ballet and a symphony in The Loop, venturing out to a Friday night jazz club in Wicker Park, going on late night Taco Bell runs to Wrigleyville, attending an a cappella competition in Hyde Park, meeting up with friends for ice cream in Andersonville, and walking through the zoo or hanging out in local coffee shops in Lincoln Park, each neighborhood offers a rich variety of things to do.

What I was not told on the first day of orientation is that Chicago is also a city of segregated neighborhoods. Through both experience and conversations with native Chicagoans, it is obvious to many that the northern neighborhoods are predominately Caucasian, the southern are African American and the western are a blend of Caucasian, Hispanic and African American neighborhoods.

This semester, I have been blessed by the opportunity to intern at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, an agency that is dedicated to serving residents of Chicago who live 150 percent below the poverty line by providing them with free legal aid in the areas of housing and family law, criminal defense and criminal records. CGLA takes its work a step beyond legal services and uses a holistic approach by providing case management to clients in hopes of finding the root of a person’s legal problems and preventing recidivism.

Through my internship, I have had opportunities to travel to the neighborhoods Englewood, Back of the Yards, Lawndale, Garfield Park, Logan Square and Austin. For the most part, these neighborhoods are comprised of low-income African American or Hispanic populations. This is a stark contrast to the Gold Coast, the neighborhood where I reside, which is known to many as the most affluent neighborhood in the city.

As a social work student, I have been fascinated to see the strengths and the brokenness that exist in each of the neighborhoods that I have ventured to. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if these neighborhoods gathered together to walk through life, or what would happen if the people who live in the north chose to fight against the injustices that those living in the south and the west deal with every day.

Despite the segregation that exists within Chicago, I believe that there is beauty and strength within every race, culture and neighborhood. By taking the time to experience the diversity this city has to offer, I have been able to hear stories I had never heard before and have come to realize what a rich blessing it is to go to work each day with colleagues who are committed to seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly before our Lord.