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It was a super sunny and warm day in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. 6am and the volunteers start to arrive. Putting together the tents. Laying out the t-shirts, water bottles, name tags. All in preparation for the community and its’ partners to come together to take a once neglected park and turn it into a playground that the whole neighborhood can be proud of.
Peace Park as it is now called sits at the corner of 104th and Corliss. KaBoom! a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play to children, especially those in underserved communities, teamed up with several partners including the Chicago White Sox, Paschen Construction and Chicago CRED. The former Secretary of Education under President Obama, Arnie Duncan who now serves as the Managing Partner of CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) noted “when I asked the young men what they wanted from us in return for laying down their guns, they said they wanted a park for their kids. It was incredibly powerful. It also is symbolically important as it is a park that has been neglected. This playground will honor the leadership and commitment to peace that these young men have made.”
Kids never played there. They weren’t allowed to but today there are a lot of kids at the park, excited to be there and helping in any way that they can. The mountain of mulch starts getting smaller as the day goes on. Kids make signs, painting the sun and smiling faces that will decorate the fence that runs along the border of the park. Weeds are pulled. Trees are trimmed. They bring in wheel barrow after wheel barrow of cement to secure the swings. And the whole time, the DJ spins. As hot as it is, no one ever slows down.
Being an event photographer in Chicago for close to 20 years, I’ve been just about everywhere in the city and covered just as much. This though, was different. It felt like that “Hope & Change” we all used to refer to a few years ago. The park was built on the idea of a truce between rival gangs and with the neighborhood kids’ designs in mind. This galvanized a community. As a mom who recently moved to the block with her young daughter said “when you’re a part of something, you don’t want to tear it down.”