Youth-led tours show North Lawndale culture, history

Youth-led walking tours from My Block My Hood My City aim to give attendees a look at the culture and history North Lawndale has to offer.

Under the beating sun, the group was joined by Mayor Brandon Johnson on Juneteenth to show a different side of the neighborhood.

“Our Black youth constantly get targeted,” Johnson said. “From the mischaracterization of their existence and the lack of recognizing their humanity and their beauty to the very real one-sided coverage and perspective of Black young people. Today is a reminder of why it’s important for us to fully express our liberation.”

In its sixth year, the youth-led walking tour has added stops around North Lawndale and highlights community gardens, a local grocer, churches, restaurants and the history of the neighborhood.

“We generally take teenagers from their communities on educational field trips and expose them to different things. … It’s called our Explorers program,” said Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block My Hood My City. “This is kind of that in reverse. So we bring the world into their community.”

“They get to change the narrative, and they always hear negative things about their neighborhood, but you can walk with them and hear their pride,” Cole said. “It gives them presentation skills for college and allows them to do storytelling.”

The tours also are a way for students to earn money during the summer. Most are paid $15 an hour, Cole said.

The tour stops at sites like the MLK Legacy Apartments, a memorial to King’s time in North Lawndale in the 1960s.

Guides also stop the group at the Stone Temple Baptist Church, a Chicago landmark built by Jewish immigrants that was the site of many speeches by King.

Veronica Galindo, a Chicago Lawn resident, and her boyfriend attended the tour after learning about it via social media. She didn’t realize the tour would be led by students, she said.

“Rather than ‘Let’s take the kids downtown,’ it’s like ‘No, let’s go to the community.’ That was so cool,” Galindo said.

Xavier Ferguson

Zubaer Khan/Sun-Times

It was Xavier Ferguson’s first day as a tour guide. With about 10 other guides, the 15-year-old Austin resident spent the two hours talking individually to attendees about the stops.

“I’m actually learning a lot about this neighborhood,” he said. “While we are teaching people about it, I’m learning about it.”

“We have good vibes, we laugh, we make sure that our guests feel welcome,” said Jubrea James, a 22-year-old tour guide. “We make sure that everybody feels safe.”

“[People can expect] good energy, to see young kids share what they love about their community,” she added. “They should expect the long walk and expect some good sandwiches.”

For the hungry walker, the stop at Douglas Park Dollar and Food is a highlight.

Jubrea James

Zubaer Khan/Sun-Times

Although it’s primarily a corner store, the owner sells hoagies that draw in crowds, Cole said.

After grabbing sandwiches, the group will stop to eat at Douglass Park before finishing the tour at the Farm on Ogden, a produce market and grocer.

Tours run every Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. Tickets are $30.

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