Painting Hope on Chicago’s Southwest Side

By Leah Shefsky
JMCBI Intern

Leah Shefsky

On Thursday, May 19 a diverse group of individuals and community partners stood in front of a boarded up house in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood on the city’s Southwest Side. This house had been the site of countless crimes since it was foreclosed on 18 months ago.

In the middle of the block, across the street from an elementary school, 6210 S. Fairfield Ave. is unavoidable.

Community leaders standing in front of 6210 S. Fairfield
Through its Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative (JMCBI), the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs gathered with its community partners, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), and dozens of neighborhood residents, not only as a symbol of unity but as a way of making it clear that collectively we can and will stand up and reclaim our community.

Trinidad, a community artist, working on the beginnings of a mural on the foreclosed home at 6210 S. Fairfield

It was something of a block party, but this block party was more than just a moon bounce and hamburgers. It was a symbol of community power and solidarity. It was an afternoon of painting boarded windows and cleaning up yards. Not just a block party, but a block action party, if you will. Kids from the neighborhood cleaned up trash in the backyard with the ultimate goal of creating a community garden in the empty space that was once a center of crime, violence and vandalism. Artists from the community painted murals on the boarded up windows and doors.

It was a collaboration of interfaith community organizations coming together, not to argue, but to work together for social justice. Rami Nashashibi, executive director of IMAN, spoke to the crowd:  “We can go around and boast about our religious, spiritual, democratic ideals all we want, but when the rubber meets the road and when families are suffering and when we remain silent, we are complicit. Today we are breaking that silence and saying it’s not just about one building, it’s not just about this building.”

JCUA Executive Director Jane Ramsey added:

JCUA Executive Director Jane Ramsey addressing block party attendees

“The people of this neighborhood have been overwhelmed by unresponsive banks that have abandoned not only properties, but our communities as well. We deserve better, and we have lost patience. As Martin Luther King acknowledged in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, ‘Justice too long delayed is justice denied.’ We cannot, and will not, wait any longer. We are proud to be a partner in this unique Muslim, Jewish and interfaith collaboration that demonstrates what’s possible when we all come together to say ‘Enough is enough.’”

IMAN Executive Director Rami Nashashibi with Chicago faith leaders, including JCUA board member Rabbi Bruce Elder (far right)

While the ultimate fate of the house and other foreclosures in the neighborhood are still unknown, the community made a clear statement last week that they are not going to let these homes remain detrimental to the community. A symbol of unity and community is now painted on the boarded up door of the house. Through a legal process initiated by this partnership, we hope the property will be handed over to a community organization in the coming months. There is still not a family living there, but last week the community came together, supported by its allies, and reclaimed it as their own.

Learn more about JMCBI and find out ways to get involved by contacting Asaf Bar-Tura at, (312) 663-0960.

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