Storied South Side Chicago Neighborhood Begins a New Chapter with a Playground

A symbol of a truce between rival gang factions in the Pullman area.

A mural in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood is dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

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Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, deep into the city’s south side, has a storied history as a home to the Pullman Palace Car Company’s main railcar construction and maintenance yard. The company was one of the few that hired black workers on a nationwide basis to serve travelers across the country. The network of black railcar porters helped distribute Chicago’s black-owned newspapers throughout the south, even as those states banned the production or sales of black newspapers locally.

With the demise of the company, followed by the demise of the steel mill that took its place in Pullman, the neighborhood, like much of the south side, fell on hard times, eventually leading to the rise of gang violence, among other social ills. Even as the neighborhood is amid a kind of revival, thanks to a national park designation for the former Pullman yard and the economic revival of its unused land, gang violence remains a concern.

Now, a new playground in Pullman is more than just a place for neighborhood kids to play. It’s a symbol of a truce between rival gang factions in the area.

Previously, the Chicago Tribune reported, violence “marred the community. Kids didn’t play outside. They knew not to go to the basketball courts or the gas station — both hotspots for shootings when rival gang members found each other across the 107th Street dividing line.”

As the paper reported, the workings of a truce began about a year ago when Sherman Scullark, a member of one of the factions, approached Vivian Williams, a detective with the Chicago Police Department and resident of the neighborhood for 32 years.

“I could see in his face that he needed to talk about something. And when I opened the door he said, ‘Officer Williams, I’m just tired. I’m tired [of the violence],’ ” Williams said, according to the paper.

Scullark asked for help to set up a meeting with the rival gang faction. Williams needed to ask her district commander, who approved, but not before Scullark had already reached out to the rival gang and initiated discussions, the paper reported.

Scullark then asked Williams to set up a meeting with Arnie Duncan. The former education secretary under Barack Obama and former Chicago Public Schools CEO, Duncan now leads the organization Chicago Creating Real Economic Destiny, known as Chicago CRED.

According to Block Club Chicago, in just half a day, a joint effort transformed the park. The organizations who collaborated on making the playground possible included: the Chicago White Sox; Chicago Park District; Chicago CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny), an organization whose mission is to provide at-risk young men with job opportunities in an effort to end violence; KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to giving kids safe places to play; and engineering firm F.H. Paschen.

After the playground was built using designs from neighborhood children, Chicago CRED now pays rival gang members to maintain the park’s landscaping, according to the Tribune. Scullark told the paper the gangs used to pay members to clean up the park area using funds raised from illicit activities.

“We’re doing it the right way now,” Scullark said, according to the Tribune.

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Oscar is Next City's senior economic justice correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha and Fast Company.

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Tags: chicagoparkscrime

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