North Lawndale resident and artist Alexie Young speaking with Rodney Brown of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council | Photo courtesy of Alexie Young

The People is our section for all opinions concerning Black Chicago. In this opinion piece, North Lawndale resident Alexie Young shares her thoughts on commitment to community service on MLK Day, as told to Tiffany Walden.

I live in North Lawndale. I work on the same corner in North Lawndale where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family took up residence in order to fight housing discrimination and redlining during his 1966 Chicago campaign.

When I think of the greatest act of service on MLK Day, it’s deeper than reciting his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech or posting a quote and photo of King on social media. For me, the greatest act of service on MLK Day is commitment. 

It’s commitment beyond community service on this one day out of the year. It’s committing to a social group or community organization that is mobilizing to counter the effects of gentrification and economic disparities within our neighborhoods.  

King was the face of the Civil Rights Movement. But his work was deeper than finding ways to help people in need. He tackled important questions. How are we going to organize? And how are we going to get 30,000 people — without social media — down to Soldier Field for a “Freedom Sunday” rally for housing equality? These are things that he couldn’t have done alone. And, I think, sometimes we miss the mark when we’re not studying and analyzing the best practices and strategies of our ancestors in the movement.

King’s non-violence stance was a strategy — one that was mostly about optics. Through non violence, he showed how violent the “others” were. People didn’t know how racially charged white people in Chicago were. There was this premise that the South was bad.

However, white people hid their racism in the North. King showed the world just how racist a northern city like Chicago could be, with non-violent marches in Marquette Park and Cicero, where blue-collar white residents would throw bricks at their heads. But again, King and other civil rights activists made calculated decisions that would lead to outcomes that they wanted. 

Today, to honor King’s legacy, we must analyze what he was fighting for in Chicago in 1966. What types of inequalities were part of his Chicago campaign, and are those same inequities still prevalent for Black Chicagoans today? We’re still seeing the effects of redlining today, as Chicago is more segregated than ever. Through a recent study, we’ve also learned that Black Chicagoans lost an estimated $4 billion due to these predatory housing contracts. 

In North Lawndale, and through Black Chicago, we’re still fighting the same inequities King fought against in 1966. That’s why I joined the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, a group of organizations, business owners, elected officials and residents who are committed to building North Lawndale into a sustainable community for all. 

We’re currently working on a comprehensive Quality-of-Life Plan, which is our vision for a healthy, vibrant, diversified and innovative neighborhood with sustainable growth. 

I’m on the Arts and Culture subcommittee and we’re responsible for the overall feel and vibe we want to see in North Lawndale. Each subcommittee comes up with a mission and an outcome they want to see in the next five to 10 years, and we then dedicate time to bringing our ideas to fruition. 

It’s collaborative work like this that helps residents leverage resources and amenities that they deserve in their communities. Commitments like these also keeps you engaged in community service more often than one day a year. 

So my call to action is this: find out what community organizations are available in your neighborhood and commit to getting involved in the decisions that affect your neighborhood. NLCCC has 13 subcommittees run by us, the residents, who push forward the changes we want to see in North Lawndale. King was best at organizing and collaborating, and that’s the part of his legacy that we must uphold to bring his dream to life.

Alexie Young is the director of the MLK Exhibit Center in North Lawndale, and a subcommittee member of the Arts and Culture committee for North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council. She is a working artist and entrepreneur whose goal is to live, work and play in North Lawndale.