Leave a Comment
Bronzeville, a neighborhood honoring its history and looking forward
April 11, 2022
Federal bill would designate Bronzeville as heritage area
Jazz icons, historical monuments and civil rights — these are just part of the many reasons why the U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush has been fighting for over five years to make Bronzeville a national heritage area. Stretching from 22nd Street to 63rd Street, this area is chock-full of things to do and places to see.
The designation would not only honor and recognize the deep history of Bronzeville, but would also be accompanied by federal funding and likely attract more tourism.
In 2016 Rush introduced The Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Act. Although it was initially dismissed by lawmakers, Rush reintroduced the bill in 2021, and it has since gained traction. The bill would designate the area from 18th Street to 71st Street, and from Canal Street east to Lake Michigan.
It would also encourage travelers from different parts of the world to come visit, increasing tourism. After the city council approved a $3.8 billion redevelopment project for the former Michael Reese Hospital site as well as receiving $10 billion in federal funding, Bronzeville residents should expect a heightened amount of people visiting the area, especially if this bill is passed.
“People come here for the culture,” said Bernard Turner, executive director of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, which is supporting the bill. “They come here for the art. They want to learn about gospel music and jazz music. It’s the culture, it’s the people and it’s the legacy of all those people who did the work.”
Recognized historical sites include the Ida B. Wells Barnett house, the Great Northern Migration monument and the Chicago Defender Building. The historical significance of this neighborhood is one of the reasons Benita Phipps, owner of A Lotta Good Stuff, believes Bronzeville should become a national heritage area.
“I think Bronzeville deserves it, Bronzeville is to Chicago as Harlem is to New York, and it is a very historic area that everybody loves,” Ms. Phipps said.
While the rest of Chicago did not welcome Black people, in Bronzeville most of the establishments were “Black and Tan,” meaning only Black and multiracial people were allowed in to enjoy the music and company. Bronzeville has been a large influence on jazz music, being famous for their jazz clubs, some of which are still open to this day.
Bronzeville is not only known for its culture but also its long-standing restaurants. One of these is Pearl’s Place, a restaurant known for its buffet style and soul food. Owner Darell Green also takes great pride in having served influential figures such as Ethiopian royals, rapper Future and musician Jerry Butler.
Established at the start of the Great Migration, Bronzeville’s rich history and culture has garnered it the title as Chicago’s “Black Metropolis.” The neighborhood has been home to many history-changing figures such as journalist Ida B. Wells, author Richard Wright and blues musician Muddy Waters.
The economic boom from tourism would also benefit parts of the community previously overlooked, according to Block Club Chicago. Residents can expect the investments that would come with the National Heritage Act, including $10 million in federal funding for the neighborhood, to spur economic growth for local businesses.
Many Bronzeville residents like Ms. Phipps are thankful for the financial support from outside sources, especially given the financial struggles due to the pandemic.
Shawn Michelle’s spreads love with every scoop
Bronzeville ice cream shop employs, gives back to neighborhood
Even on a cold day, Shawn Michelle’s Homemade Ice Cream remains a hot spot for the Bronzeville community to gather. The liveliness of the restaurant flows through the classy jazz music, echoing laughter and the aromas of caramel and fudge.
Thanks to hard work, entrepreneurship, and both community and grant funding, the success of Shawn Michelle’s has allowed it to give back to its community in Bronzeville, a message they hope other small businesses in the neighborhood can carry on.
According to co-owner Nataki Muhammed, “Bronzeville does not have a business like Shawn Michelle’s.”
Shawn Michelle’s was first founded in 1996 and operated in Blue Island, and later Avalon Park. For the past three years, the shop has been located in Bronzeville’s historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments at the corner of East 47th Street and South Wabash Avenue.
During the pandemic, Shawn Michelle’s thrived and expanded since many regulations other restaurants faced did not apply to them due to their lack of seating. Ms. Muhammed said Shawn Michelle’s opened another successful location last year at the Time Out Market in the West Loop and plans to open another restaurant in south suburban Olympia Fields in May.
Ms. Muhammed believes Shawn Michelle’s has worked hard to propel itself as a pillar of the Bronzeville community. In the past few years, the store has raised nearly $5,000 in scholarships for five students.
“We have community members that work here at Shawn Michelle’s,” Ms. Muhammed said. “We have volunteer community cleanups. We donate our time. We donate our ice cream. So anything that the community needs, we’re there for.”
The introduction of the Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Act by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, which will include $10 million in federal funding, will help the expansion of small businesses in Bronzeville, such as Shawn Michelle’s.
Wadi Abdullah, an employee at Shawn Michelle’s, credits grants with allowing them and other small businesses to flourish and give back to Bronzeville.
“When we get opportunities to make something our own, then of course we care,” Mr. Abdullah said. “And those opportunities, they come in forms of grants.”
Mr. Abdullah wants to see more small businesses in Bronzeville prioritizing the community, and giving back. He believes a grant can make this change a reality and further incentivize small businesses in Bronzeville to foster the creativity and entrepreneurship that had previously been hindered.
He believes that businesses in Bronzeville deserve this grant to give back to the community and fulfill their intentions of what the neighborhood can be.
“Because we should be able to represent ourselves.” Mr. Abdullah said. “We should be able to build our community the way that we envision for the future.”
The staff at Shawn Michelle’s acknowledges that love is put into every scoop of homemade ice cream.
“Here at Shawn Michelle’s our big emphasis is just love. That’s the first ingredient in all of our ice cream,” Mr. Abdullah said, “and when you come in here, first thing I say is ‘Welcome home.’”
Leave a Comment