Updated: November 16, 2011 11:08AM
I appreciate the thought that went into Rick Telander’s series “Can heaven still be found on a playground,” which provided a stark look at a neighborhood that has significant challenges.
It’s rare for writers — especially a nationally respected sports columnist — to take the time to focus in-depth on urban issues. And, while I applaud the attention, I was alarmed by his consistent characterization of Englewood — the community that was the object of the series — as menacing and dangerous. Additionally, such terms as “the devil’s playground” reinforce harsh images and unwarranted stereotypes about people living in low-income African-American communities. Not helpful. Not fair.
For the last six years, I have worked in Englewood, leading efforts of the Adler School of Professional Psychology to address issues such as youth violence, women empowerment and community mental health. In my interactions with residents — men, women, boys and girls — I’ve learned that there is a deep reservoir of pride in the community, of commitment to its survival and a belief in its eventual capacity to thrive. Certainly, the community has challenges; but it has bright spots as well.
I do believe that Mr. Telander identified some of the key factors underlying Englewood’s plight: classism, racism, joblessness and the dismantling of Chicago Housing Authority high-rises (i.e. segregation). And, I hope his readers noted these observations. I would add a few items such as sexism; an inequitable school financing system; a corrupt and abusive banking system, and poor health-care access and treatment.
All this is to say that, yes, Englewood has challenges. But, the origin of its challenges is not bad people, but bad circumstances created by forces over which Englewood residents have little control.
While it is important to highlight the conditions of the Englewoods of the world, let’s take care not to pathologize the people. Let’s take care to clearly situate the pathology exactly where it belongs — in conditions of poverty, discrimination and an inequitable distribution of the resources and opportunities our society has to offer.
Lynn C. Todman, Ph.D., executive director,
Institute on Social Exclusion the Adler School, Chicago