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Feb. 16 2010 - 7:30 am | 2,452 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Dueling Memories: Inside Cabrini-Green with Doreen Ambrose

Doreen Ambrose, former Cabrini resident. Photo by Melissa Hayes.

Doreen Ambrose, former Cabrini resident. (Photo by Melissa Hayes)

Today, the voice of a former Cabrini-Green resident, Doreen Ambrose, who’s been working to document her former neighborhood before it disappears.

Doreen shared this story with me and gave me permission to share it with you:

On a brisk Saturday afternoon, I set out out with photographers Ryan Flynn and Melissa Hayes to document the demolition.

Some people – people who see the glass as being half full instead of being half empty – would say we set out to preserve memories of Cabrini Green.

As a former resident of Cabrini Green, I needed to see Cabrini Green one more time before it changed.

The building my family lived in for 13 years of my life -  365 W. Oak, a 7-story red brick building -  is one of the last buildings that is still standing.   Standing directly across from it is 364 W. Oak.

Our first subject was 1230 Burling because I have relatives who live in the building. As we made our first stop into 1230 Burling, which is one of the “white” projects left, we were greeted by guards and plain clothes police who informed us there had been a shooting and stabbing the night before.  They told us that the 10th floor was on lock down and that we could not go up there.

Inside of 1230 Burling, one of the remaining buildings at Cabrini-Green. Photo by Melissa Hayes.
Inside of 1230 Burling, one of the remaining buildings at Cabrini-Green. Photo by Melissa Hayes.

But the three of us were on a mission, and nothing could stop us.  We submitted our ID and gained entry into the building. In bone-chilling temperatures on our way up, we met a man who shared with us his memories of days gone by in Cabrini.  Ryan’s face was beet red as he listened intently to the man’s life story.  Melissa’s hands shivered as she tried desperately to hold her camera steady and capture the moment.

Afterwords we entered the welcoming and the warmth of my cousin Roberta Rendles apartment.   Ryan, who is a resident of the newly built homes in the Cabrini and has lived in the area since the late 90’s, recognized some of my family members who also live in the new housing a few doors down from him.  My cousin, Jamesetta Dixon, remembered him from the block party the year before.

Photo by Melissa Hayes
Photo by Melissa Hayes

As we reminisced and the cameras lights flashed and everyone was laughing and smiling, I must admit that I was sad inside after seeing so much of Cabrini gone.  Yes, I knew that it was coming, but to see it up close is something else.

365 W. Oak is the address that is written on my original birth certificate.  Cabrini was there for me when I fell in love with poetry.

Though I love my memories, I am honest about them and I don’t sugar coat them.  I remember the day in 1982 when I went to my mother and told her I wish we could move because something inside me had broke.  Two classmates were killed in previous years and I felt gloomy. My mother looked at me and said, “We are going to move soon.”

Sometimes, when I think about the casualties of Cabrini like Derrick Savage, Glenn Hairston, Dantrell Davis and Curtis Cooper, I say, “Good riddance, Cabrini.”  But when I think about my mother holding my hand every morning and taking me to St. Mathew’s preschool, I say, “Thank God, Cabrini.” So I guess you can say that I have dueling memories.

Photos by Melissa Hayes
Photos by Melissa Hayes

But one things for sure if there are a thousand more Ryan’s and Melissa’s inhabiting the neighborhood, then I will continue to say thank God.

Doreen will be sharing more memories with us in the next few weeks. I look forward to hearing her stories, her dueling memories, and words of wisdom.

You can see all of Melissa’s photos from her day with Doreen at her blog, Image of Humanity. Ryan Flynn runs Cabrini-Green.com, where he regularly documents the demolition and reconstruction in his neighborhood. And Doreen Ambrose writes My Life in Cabrini-Green, where she shares her writing and poetry.


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    About Me

    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

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