Altgeld Gardens: a community with a liquor store, but no library
After the beating death of Derrion Albert, the community of Altgeld Gardens took a beating in the media. The young people at Fenger High School were described as depraved monsters, hardly recognizable as children and unworthy of help or intervention.
But imagine if the community you live in had a liquor store and a fast food restaurant, but no library and no grocery.
That’s what Altgeld’s dealing with.
The library was shut down in March after a pipe burst in the building where it was housed. The building is old, built in the 40s when Altgeld was constructed as housing for black war workers, and fixing the damage is expensive. City officials at the library, the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Public Schools are looking for a replacement, and have some hope of a new plan being announced soon. But until then, no library for the kids at Altgeld.
Last week, I was down at Altgeld with resident and community advocate Cheryl Johnson. I asked her about the library closing and her thoughts on what its meant to the kids she works with in the community.
“If they want to do homework, if they want to look something up on the internet, they don’t have a place to do it,” she said. “What are you telling our kids? Your only future mindset is to be a prisoner.”
A library is such a basic city service. Police departments, fire departments, libraries, schools.
I hesitate to use the word “right,” but it almost seems like access to a local library should be some sort of right for kids who grow up in the city. A quiet, safe room with books and computers with caring adults interested in helping. In a neighborhood where most everyone is poor, books shouldn’t be a luxury.
Books were such a haven for me as a child. My sisters were so much older than I was that I spent much of my childhood like an only child, and reading was my favorite way to play. My third-grade teacher would let me stay in from recess to read and brought in special books she knew I would like. I devoured books, and read almost everything in the tiny library in our town.
For kids at Altgeld, who are already so isolated from the rest of the city, not having a library is a big deal. The resources your community provides shows you what your community hopes you will value and participate in. At Altgeld, there’s little for kids to participate in except wrongdoing.
The city is working on a plan to reopen the library. Both library and CHA officials told me they hope to have something to announce soon about when a new facility will open.
But sitting there at Altgeld, Cheryl asked me – if this happened in your neighborhood, how long do you think it would go on?
I don’t know, I said. But nine months later, I don’t think we’d still be waiting for an answer.
Let’s hope we have good news for these kids soon.