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Vacant Lot: The Chicago Ickes Community RememberedbySarah A. Weidmann
Introduction and Rationale
Where does a place go that is no longer there? The Ickes Community was a housing project directly behind the building that is now National Teachers Academy (NTA), the school where I teach. Our school community is laden with members of this former community, as Ickes was torn down in stages between 2007 and 2010. What is left is a vacant lot. A large number of our families were deeply rooted in this community. So the Ickes community can be kept alive through oral history at NTA and beyond.
This community is one that has been left without consideration before, during, and after its existence. Our security guard commented on loved ones and students he's known that struggle and make negative choices, but they must be considered because they are real people: "You tell them that they done something positive. You never look at them different when they don't. You encourage. You never talk down." 1 The vacant lot that once was Ickes has sat without consideration for more than three years now. I believe my students will benefit from beginning the school year with a unit of identity and citizenship. They'll accomplish standard expectations and be able to fight for human dignity in their communities by using their words to show they understand their histories and situations. Although not all students at NTA have personal and geographical history in the Ickes community, they do live and breathe these blocks of State Street at the corner of Cermak and 22 nd, zip code 60616, in the City of Chicago. Dwight Conquergood (2013) directly addresses the spirit of what I want my students to accomplish, "...meta-languages, where-by a group or community not merely expresses itself but, more actively, tries to understand itself in order to change itself." 2
The Ickes community members that made the invisible visible to me through memory are John Pointer ("JP"), and Ms. Johnson ("Audrey"). The Ickes Project buildings, the place that is no longer there, has entered an invisible space. The minds and hearts of those who inhabited the once vibrant and living space carry that place. The human beings that continue to live and breathe the memory of the place pass it along through oral history and some documented history. There are the stories of JP and Audrey: the space itself, the circumstances, and the real lives of those present. I am struck by the stories. The story of this unit is threefold. Seminar leader Joseph Roach clarified this by saying, "It is a story of Chicago, a story of public housing, and perhaps most importantly a story of the tornadic path of social policy through actual communities and real lives."
My first year at NTA was extremely difficult. The difficulties were related to earning the trust of my students. We have 99% African-American students/families and the other 1% is made up of mixed race families, Caucasian families, and Latin American families, of which we have one of each. Our school is a pre-K through eighth grade building. Our families all receive free or reduced meals at school, including breakfast and lunch and dinner for after school programming. We have a large percentage of displaced families who reside with friends, family members, and/or in shelter housing. There is gang activity in our neighborhood.
In completing interviews with Audrey and JP, I recorded thoughts and notes while listening back to our time together. I organized my thoughts and the anecdotal facts that they relayed into categories so that I may easily categorize them for my students and share the moments of the interviews that are pertinent to the unit's theme, which is the fight for human dignity. They are as follows: the questions asked, the space, activities, significant events, people, drugs/gangs, and quotations. I want students to understand how I came to learn this information about the two people that our kids depend on.
This is where the importance of my questions comes in. I want my kids to envision the space again and to know that space intimately, so that in the exploration of a place, its conception, habitation, and elimination, there is a clear map of where everything happened.
These key terms, conception/habitation/elimination, relate to the life cycle. We are born, we live, and then we pass. I believe this is the same process/cycle that a place moves through, especially a place that identifies as home for a densely populated community. The choice of the term elimination suggests that the passing, or death, of Ickes was finite and violent. This would explain why the empty space left behind is so full, full of memory. I would like to consider the elimination of Ickes as torturous, because of the stages involved — making it a slow passing and gradual taking-away of resources.
We will be using performance to deepen our understanding of the experiences of the Ickes residents through a re-enactment and creation of a memorial. I read information from the documentation of John Malpede's re-enactment "RFK in EKY" (rfkineky.org, 2004), Theatre/Archaeology by Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks (2001) and The Viewpoints Book by Anne Bogart (2005). The Viewpoints notion of space and time will assist in my students' understanding of character through relationships with other people, spaces, and objects. This practice will take place on the site of the Ickes that is informed by the concept of theatre and archaeology being deeply related the excavation involved in both crafts. John Malpede's work informs our process for making this work public that will lead to focused and constructive dialogue, as he describes. The official RFK in EKY website (rfkineky.org) describes the reenactment: "The Robert F. Kennedy Performance Project, as a series of public conversations and activities centered around the real-time, site-specific intermedia performance that recreated, on September 9th and 10th 2004, Robert Kennedy's two-day, 200 mile "poverty tour" of southeastern Kentucky in 1968." As Malpede did, we'll transcribe text and create a participatory format. Students will experience both an artistic and academic perspective, but the method will "allow a deeper understanding of the social and political forces that shape their lives", as Malpede reflects after the event took place. 3
Sources and Method
There are many challenges in presenting this work to my junior high students, and for me this means that I need concrete and engaging information and procedures to present this content respectfully and thoroughly. The printed sources I used for contextual information on public-housing in Chicago were from the texts such as Chicago: Race, Class, and the Response to Urban Decline by Gregory D. Squires, Larry Bennett, Kathleen McCourt, and Philip Nyden (1987), The Man-Made City: The Land-Use Confidence Game in Chicago by Gerald D. Suttles (1990), and The Hidden War: Crime and the Tragedy of Public Housing in Chicago by Susan J. Popkin, Victoria E. Gwiasda, Lynn M. Olson, Dennis P. Rosenbaum, and Larry Buron (2000).
When I began reading about the context of Chicago's city planning in relation to public housing, I quickly focused attention on Chicago Housing Authority, the social organization that relays and puts social policy into place here in "The Windy City". To get a real feel of the Ickes' environment, students should understand the people. In the Ickes, there were the roles/perspectives of the enforcer of rules (resident-leader of each hallway), seniors, taggers and neutrons (non-gang affiliated drug dealers), animals (roaches, rodents, stray dogs), children of the hallway (feral kids), abused (mainly women being publicly beaten by boyfriends and husbands), janitors (all crew including some security), and activists (the 5-6 residents going to meetings and standing up to gang leaders/city officials). Then we have the names/labels of people and organizations affiliated with Ickes: women activists (Olivia, India, Shirelle, Marsha, Betty, Geraldine, Sondra, Tondi, Rakiah, Carol, Tenille, Louella, Fran), HUD (Housing and Urban Development office for the nation), CHA (Chicago Housing Authority in charge of all public housing decision relaying), Harold Ickes, LAC (local advisory committee of residents), CAC (central advisory committee of residents and members of CHA and the city), and The Disciples (the first and main gang in the area, one of three gangs, but the largest group).
Beyond the people, students must understand the feel, or ambience, of the land. The Ickes was part of the State Street Corridor, the miles of public housing units along State Street on the Southside of Chicago. Weather, dealers' areas and schedules, tenant screening offices, and the "terror zone" 4 of the north end (Ickes Towers at 2200 State Street) all speak to the plan, the space. Events such as lights being knocked out to fuel darkness for crime, apartment vacancies beginning in 1998, and the Student Assistance Program facilitation tell the once-hidden story of Ickes residents. The Hidden War presents a lot of rhetoric about rigid rules, wildness, and community members choosing to mind their own business. 5
The residents' oral histories, interviews with Audrey Johnson and John Pointer, tell eloquent stories of real people fighting for dignity. I was assisted in the art of interviewing by a University of Chicago doctoral student in Sociology, Cayce Hughes. I asked Audrey the following questions: How did you meet your husband? How did you grow up? What was the Ickes to you? What friends do you still hang with from Ickes and why? Did everyone in the community attend Quinn Chapel (historic church two blocks from Ickes with the same pastor for 35 years) and what is the church influence like? What are one comedy and one tragedy that stick out in your mind from Ickes? I asked JP these questions: What was your childhood like? What was the Ickes like? Do you have specific memories of the space and what were they? Who really ruled the Ickes and why? What businesses did people in the community go to and why? Are there any businesses still around and which ones? What type of service people frequented the Ickes and who had relationships with members of the community? What comedies and tragedies stand out in your mind that happened in the Ickes?
I came to ask the questions above out of personal interest and after a lot of thought about what questions would draw stories out of my subjects. This is something that will be taught in lessons with my students as a way to connect sociology (junior high content areas of Reading and Social Studies) and art. The comedy and tragedy question overlapped so did the questions about growing up and what the Ickes was to each of my subjects. JP was not really able to answer the comedy question. He just talked about how so many funny things happened and people just being comedic; he enjoys being made to laugh. His tragedy had to do with a young girl who was shot and killed in the halls of the Ickes while she was holding a baby in her arms. She was caught in crossfire. Audrey's comedy tells the story of her and one other friend beat the "Reej", Omar, the leader of the gang, in a fight after winning against fifty of his gang members. The fight as she described it had so much emotion, "crying and fighting". Her tragedy happened just after the comedy. Her stepfather was killed in the apartment just above theirs when she was fourteen. Her mother moved them out of the Ickes Towers after that, but they remained in the general area. The purpose of the comedy and tragedy question was to draw theatrical stories out of my subjects to engage my students. "The Fight", Audrey's comedy, has become the heart of this unit.
The study will be broken into stories of conception, habitation, and elimination. The stories will be stories of perspectives/roles, names/labels, plans/land/places, and events/activities.
To research the conception of Ickes, students will learn about whom Harold Ickes was, with a focus on the words of his speech, "What is an American?" 6 They will learn about Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP who designed and constructed the Ickes Towers, The Sears Tower, the John Hancock Tower, and the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Yale University. They'll have a chance to view original blueprints and drawings of Ickes. Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP own blueprints and images of Ickes conception. The plans are held at the research and records office in Chicago on South Michigan Avenue. I will be able to use a few of the original scannings of the drawings for educational purposes only. The drawings list, as sent by Karen Widi of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP, consists of interior and exterior images and prints of each of the Ickes Towers. I will be able to choose four of them to use in actual size and have the remaining in electronic (scaled down) form. 7
My students will read about the history of Bronzeville's interest in sociology and the arts. The Chicago Black Renaissance happened in Bronzeville, a "Black Mecca" 8 for culture and the arts. According to the text The Muse in Bronzeville by Bone and Courage, Bronzeville became a rich center for documentary. 9 Students will read poetry and narratives exploring the themes of home and human dignity by authors such as Alex Kotlowitz, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sandra Cisneros. 10
In Chapter Four (Residence), Chicago: Race, Class, and the Response to Urban Decline, breaks down strategies and tactics of Chicago city planning in ecological terms. There are the banks and saving and loan institutions determining what neighborhoods will have funds and space allotted to them. Municipal zoning regulations focus on the types of housing allowed in certain areas. Government agencies' focus is solely on the public housing. Real estate agencies "steer" the public and in Chicago this is done with consideration of race. The federal government deals with funding through urban renewal or grants. Chicago Housing Authority makes decisions about the locations of the buildings. Social policies are written for housing for the public and the courts are the final hoops that must be jumped through. Courts determine whether the policy is "constitutionally appropriate". 11
Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill conceived the Harold Ickes Towers in 1955. Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP was incorporated in Chicago in 1936. In 1974 the firm designed the Sears Tower in Chicago, tallest skyscraper in the world at that time and part of Chicago's master plan as The Man Made City that "gets things done". 12 The firm is world-wide now. As I've mentioned, they also designed the John Hancock Tower and Yale University's Beinecke Library of Rare Books. The difference between the four structures is worth noting. The private monies that backed buildings like the Sears Tower, John Hancock Tower, and the Beinecke Library were quite abundant in opposition to the Harold Ickes Homes and other public housing projects in Chicago.
The space of the Ickes Towers was set-up as a grid. There were four sections of an eleven-building complex, which at the onset housed a thousand families: 22nd on State, 23rd on State east & the 23rd west, and 24th off of State. There were no gates around the individual towers. Each part had six towers and each tower had nine floors. The first floor of every building was set-aside for the larger families. The apartments on these floors had five bedrooms for ten or more children. The towers were named after the Secretary of Interior for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He had been in Chicago and obtained his federal position before WWII in 1941. Ickes gave a speech in Central Park during that year entitled, "What is an American?" He spoke of the people of Germany being liberty-loving people who were now oppressed and who now have the will to destroy gangsters, referring to the Nazis. He asked the question again and again, "What constitutes an American?" He labeled Americans as idealists, neighbors, voices, allies, and humans. The Germans were militarized and isolated under the Nazi government's policies. The entire world was living with a common enemy, according to Harold Ickes. He concluded that an American is one who loves justice and believes in the dignity of man. This speech and the man were striking to me. I make a special note of the invisibility of the Harold Ickes Homes today and the invisibility/isolation of the population of the Ickes when they were inhabited.
Imagine having a communal Utopia with resources and people to fill life with joy and purpose, never a dull moment, and people looking out for each other. The Ickes were a utopia for many years because at the heart of the community, families came together and knew how to solve problems. 13 For the habitation of Ickes, students will listen to sections of interviews with JP and Audrey. They will participate in the interviewing of Amy Rome and Roy Sanders (D.J. Roy) as well. JP has been security at NTA since its doors opened. He grew up in The Dearborns, the connecting public housing to Ickes, which are still in existence. Audrey is a parent of four NTA students and grew up in Ickes. Amy Rome was the principal of NTA for eleven years and worked in education in Bronzeville for eighteen years. Roy was a parent at NTA and deejayed all of the skating parties, stepping parties, and old school parties in the community, as well as our talent shows currently.
JP was one of the members of the Ickes/Dearborn community that actually walked into the middle of the war. He spent years walking up to gang members in the midst of fighting, young boys and leaders of the gangs drawing guns, and he dragged them into Chicago Park District space (the locker room at The Blue Court, Chicago's Rucker's Park on the Ickes site), locked the doors and told them to settle the issue themselves. He says that gang leaders respected him because, at the time he was growing up, they still respected a man who stood up for himself. He asked them the question, "What would you do if you shot your own loved one? Who would you go after?" That stopped them in their tracks. I will be proposing this question to my students during a classroom activity. JP came a long way while growing up in the Dearborns, which were related to Ickes, sharing families and schools. He didn't talk at all when he was a kid. He simply observed, because of fear and interest. Drugs and guns were a part of his household, but as he says, "None of that fascinated me." JP also says that some important role models saw something "good" in him. Something about him made it so that no one could quite figure him out, so he became a role model and among whatever craziness was going on in the community people would say, "Oh, that's JP and the kids," and let them be. His role is that of the shield, mediator, regulator, president, and oldest brother. He's also a player, or a mean "stepper" (dancer). Audrey thinks so at least, and she says everyone in the neighborhood does too.
Audrey Johnson is a parent of one of my students and leader of our Parent Advisory Council (PAC), a child of Ickes, "a mean piece who made changes", as she describes herself. I'm reminded of gender-role metaphors in so much literature, women and the moon, ever changing. She certainly made changes and is a role model at NTA, especially for our aggressive girls. Audrey now has four children who have all attended NTA. I currently teach her beloved baby-girl, Season, her only girl. Audrey grew up in "the suburbs," what they called the Ickes on 24th. Her mother moved them there when she was a baby. Her mom graduated high school at age 12, reads the Sun Times cover to cover everyday, and is incredibly humble. Audrey's father was the life of the party. He played Santa Claus every Christmas in the common areas of Ickes. Of the families, the good true families that knew how to stick together and solve problems, the Johnsons were not one of the largest, but they were quite popular. 14 Audrey shifted her demeanor after a few years of being involved with our school. She says she changed for the better and that she doesn't know why she was the way she was, "a mean piece." She swears she turned our old principal, Amy Rome, into a "thug."
I wanted to interview characters, people who had grown up in the Ickes and had been deeply rooted in both the school community and the community at large. Both JP and Audrey are very interesting people. JP is so warm and loving! He is the man you see immediately when you walk through our school doors. He inevitably has a smile on his face and is patting a student on the back, or he's having a serious-toned discussion with a student about a negative choice they made. He is the face of NTA, an extremely visible figure, but there are many rumors that are passed in the community about him because he keeps his business to himself. It was JP who informed me of the purpose of the public housing towers in Chicago. He said that when he began working for CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) as a teen, he learned that the housing was meant to be transitional. Families could stay in the public housing temporarily, while they saved money to buy an actual home. It is important for the teaching of this unit to understand the land plan, policy and design, of the towers.
Audrey, on the other hand, is hard and closed when you meet her in person. She is built like a warrior. Her brow is always furrowed unless you are one of her friends or her man laughing at some inside joke in the halls or on the playground. This year, though, in teaching her daughter Season, Audrey and I formed a connection and I found out a bit about her childhood. That bit included the fact that she grew up in the Ickes. Audrey spent the year assisting with the integration of our new students. She pulled aside one of my homeroom girls everyday. This bugged me at first, because this girl had been consistently disrespectful to our learning environment, but Audrey motivated her to change her tone with adults. So I wanted to know more about JP and Audrey because I find them interesting and because their stories seemed to mesh with our students' lives. I want our students to know and see that character, the dignity that Audrey and JP have fought for.
Let's answer the unit's essential question: Where does a place go that is no longer there? The ambience of that place never seems to leave, geographically and ethereally. There is definitely heaviness in the space that was left behind by the Ickes community, as if haunted. I chose to open this unit, after nicknaming the work "Vacant Lot", with a quotation by Lucy Tapahonso (Native American poet), "This thing called memory is like nothing else. Once you remember something, it never leaves you. It's how we know that we have lived." 15 The memories of Ickes are rich, so rich in fact that they, the stories, evoke extreme emotion through laughter and tears. Memories also flood the papers in the drawers of the architecture firm that drew the plans for the conception of the Ickes Community. Memory cries out as it emanates from words printed and spoken about the conception, habitation, and elimination of a place.
What do people remember about the Ickes Homes? The 24s were called "the suburbs". A lot of seniors and families with young children lived there. They had a Chicago Public Library in the 24s on the first floor where children and their families spent a great deal of time for computer access, activities, and good old-fashioned reading. The paramedics were also on site for any medical needs and residents had friendly relations with the staff there. Police were on site, at least during the 1980s and 1990s, and residents described them as "officer friendly types". Later on, JP describes a couple of "bad cops" that the community called "Cagney and Lacey," one of which had a heart attack while chasing a resident off of the property ("and people weren't sad about that," according to JP).
The throughway was a connector between Ickes building tower sites and the Dearborns. This was a street without cars that ran parallel to State Street. Also, there was a half a million-dollar basketball court built on the site of the 23rd street Ickes. It was called the Blue Court and it was Chicago's Rucker's Park. Everybody played basketball and everybody played on the blue court, according to JP. JP's job was to run the Chicago Park District site at the courts. He says he took care of that court night and day: scrubbing it, mopping it, sweeping it, polishing his pride and joy. He hired teenagers from the community to help him out. One of those teenagers is the mother of a student of mine, Miracle.
JP takes pride in knowing Miracle's mom continued to find work after working for him and that she raised a girl who uses her intelligence. When the courts weren't being used for basketball, they were used for community events, such as the Old School Parties. Every Sunday (weather permitting) afternoon and evening, families from Ickes and Dearborns put on a party. People brought their grills out, DJ Roy brought out his turntables, the seniors of the Ickes were brought down to sit in comfortable lawn chairs, balls for games were brought out, and young and old just enjoyed each other. When sundown came it was adult time and people danced together, the players came out and stepped to Roy's music while the children and seniors headed to bed. The Old School Parties had themes. Audrey's two favorite were an all white party and a seventies theme party. The parties were shut down in 2010 and JP and Audrey swear it's because the city didn't know what to do with "that many African Americans just getting along." The memory lives on, loud and proud, among neighborhood residents.
Each Tower had a playground. They were "just the original playground," according to Audrey. To me this means a cement floor, swings, a slide, and monkey bars. She remembered all of the activities they played in the yard: pole to pole, a piece of glass to ride the slide, whoopin' mama, foursquare, and skating "most of all". Every kid had their "street king" skates and skated on the cement lot and in the laundry room. At The Dearborns down the block, they had an outdoor skating rink instead of a playground. The kids skated at the rink during the day and at night DJ Roy set up and the players came out to "step." DJ Roy is a true establishment in the community, which is why the students and I will take advantage of his knowledge and experience through a group interview. We will also invite him to participate in our re-enactment, the finale of this unit.
The Henry Booth House, "Boo House", was just behind the towers and across the street (west). On Monday Audrey had cooking, Tuesday was swimming, Wednesday was modern dance, Thursday was sewing, and Friday was the skating party, again with DJ Roy. You had to line up to get chips to come in. Boys got blue chips and girls got red. The kids usually dressed a little nice and skated the night away. This activity along with the Old School Parties stood out in both Audrey and JP's minds.
Audrey's comedy, when I interviewed her, was a fight that she still cannot believe happened to this day. To her, it was funny because it was incomprehensible, but I truly believe this story encapsulates the perception of real people and real lives, just as JP and Audrey expressed after the Old School Parties were closed down due to the city's perception of such a large group of the community in one place. The city saw loud music, noisy voices, large numbers of people who were black, and bottles floating around in this common area, full of life. The city had trouble interpreting that, as in the city Zoe (Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino) where it is claimed travelers just have one city in their mind full of the roles that get filled no matter where they are. 16 Large groups of noisy people who are black fill the role of trouble in the city's mind, and the city just doesn't know what to do. So shut it down is their answer.
Audrey describes a fight between two young teenage girls and fifty gang members. This is the event that we will re-enact in a site-specific performance to inform the answer to our essential question: Where does a place go that is no longer there? This event (the fight), though invisible to the eye currently, is regularly remembered and is visible to people thirty years later.
The fight takes place on the throughway at first. The throughway was a street without traffic that linked three of the Ickes home sites. This is how the kids got from place to place and hung out in the neighborhood without fear of being hit by the traffic on State Street. The girls are minding their own business walking and talking on this throughway just as a group of gang members are trying to do business. They ask the girls to leave. Audrey, "mean piece" that she is, walks right up to one of the boys and challenges him saying, "I'm not scared of you. I live here." He in turn pushes her. She begins to "wail on him" with her friend Joyce. In Audrey's words she is crying and fighting and screaming and hitting and kicking and yelling and crying and crying and then he's on the ground. She had beaten him up to the point of collapse. Just as she's trying to catch her breath and the tears are still streaming down her face, people begin to notice. It's dusk but the sky is clear, just beginning to get dark. The large group of boys, gang members with loaded weapons, begin to notice what has happened, and they start running towards Audrey and Joyce from further down the throughway.
Audrey's friend Joyce was from a large family, The Pleasants, who lived on the first floor of an Ickes Tower and a few of her ten siblings were turning on lights and looking out of the windows to see the action. The boys are running toward Audrey and Joyce. Audrey calls to Joyce and then whispers to her, "We got to get down and ball up. Just do what I do!" She proceeds to ball herself up, getting into fetal position on the ground. I'd like to comment on the comfort of the womb at this point, the femininity that provides security in a trying moment. 17 Joyce does the same and the boys end up running right over them, trying to turn around to get to them, but there are too many. They trip over each other and end up hitting and kicking each other. Confused and hurt, they all collapse. I'm reminded of the image from the civil war in Syria, visualized by seminar leader Joseph Roach, when artists covered hoards of ping-pong balls with subversive messages and tipped them off the peak of a hill so they rolled in a swarm through the city streets, authorities trying their best to catch the balls in a chaotic and physically comedic fashion.
By and large, this means that Audrey and Joyce had indeed beat fifty gang members. Then the Reej, Omar, the head of the entire gang The Disciples, comes down to talk to Audrey who is still so caught up in the adrenalin of the fight and self-defense that she decides to "pop him in the jaw". He takes it and asks what happened. He's enraged that one of his boys would hit a girl. That's when Omar, those boys, and even guys in the penitentiary start to give Audrey "juice" or "props," and they don't mess with her. To this day, they don't mess with her. And Joyce and Audrey can't run into each other without keeling over with laughter at the hilarity, the unexpectedness, of that event.
That story, which Audrey names a comedy, is extremely significant to me in my exploration of this public housing community, this place that is no longer there, this place that lives on in the peoples' memory. Knowing the description of Audrey fighting physically completely shifted my perspective on fighting, having never truly experienced this myself. She perceives the land, the throughway, as her own because she lives in this space, and it is important enough to her to fight for. She stands up for the residents of the community and sees the gang members trying to take over as an injustice at such a young age. She has a rage inside her because of this. Then the Reej ends up supporting her. He follows rules and guidelines. He is angry that those rules were broken. Her strength and conviction get raised up in her community because of her fight, even among those that have ended up in jail.
What would Harold Ickes have done if he lived during the 1990s when federal funding was being taken away from public housing? Would he have supported (according to Suttles's The Man Made City) the Gautreaux 18 decision in 1966, when no further construction was allowed in black areas and mandated new construction was put in place? How would he have increased neighborliness for instance? Would he have recognized the "common enemy" of the thousand families that ended up being relocated from their homes in public housing? The "common enemy" might be considered the gangs and drugs infiltrating the space, but we know more. We know that decisions were made to take away resources, services, and security when the "common enemy" reared its head. This resulted in a tragic elongated elimination of homes.
For the elimination of Ickes, we'll read about the progressive growth of crime, lack of funding for social organizations, and the disconnect between HUD and CHA. We'll explore concepts of self in the community such as many residents' tendencies to mind their own business, publicly at least. Students will have a chance to read the poem "Chicago's Congo" by Frank Marshall Davis and dissect the text in relation to the slow death of Ickes, the tragedy and the comedy.
On CHA's website, there is still a page for the Ickes Towers. It states that the eleven-building complex housed 1,000 families and began closing in 2007-2010. In 2007, the buildings began to have crime and maintenance challenges. The site says that families chose to relocate, 100% by April 2010. What remained in the months directly after the elimination of the towers was a working group composed of residents, city of Chicago officials, community leaders and other stakeholders who met regularly to determine the future of the site.
Since the Ickes' slowly declined and its resources and facilities were eliminated and taken away from the community, there is no longer a space to mediate. JP told that families were still able to solve problems, but the space wasn't safe, there was no Blue Court, no Boo House, and common areas weren't as well taken care of. JP says there was just nothing to do and people got frustrated. Families had problems inside, 19 but before the space became "out of sync...a lot of tragedy (was in the air, but) good decent families (like us)...(we stuck around) and we never forgot our roots." JP discusses a phenomenon that models good teaching at its best. He speaks of family, "You tell them the positive things they do. You never look at them different. You encourage. You never talk down." If only he could be with me in the classroom, constantly, to aid me in teaching during those trying moments with students' outright disrespect, I would be forever grateful. This comment on judgment might be taken for granted, but I see it as an amazing moment of socialization made visible. If only the policy makers in the city of Chicago could spend a day with this role model.
Social policy has many faces to the people directly affected by its path, which seems to be quick and dirty, like a tornado, in pockets of time and space. But in the pockets of time and space that receive tornadic social policy, such as public housing in Chicago, the real people and actual lives do not always know the details of the policies that decide their futures.
How do I make sure that my students achieve the overall aim of being able to answer the question "Where does a place go that is no longer there?" in written format and through artistic expression? I'll make sure my plan of action synthesizes the active thought involved in writing and the reflective engagement of performance. The strategies broken down in this section connect to the writing, the performance (re-enactment /memorial), or both.
Students will use journaling to collect data. Journaling will be done by hand-held journal. The physical journal will allow recording of important quotations being used for context. Questions for our group interviews will be worked out in the journal. When we do field work, students can use the journal to record ideas and findings. It is a tool for collection. Journaling helps students to organize and keep track of important thinking. This is the jumping off point for both the written and performance components of our unit.
The written component will be focused on argument writing. Below (in the Google Docs strategy section) is the quotation that students will respond to in essay form. The journals play a key role in this process, as they will hold the evidence that is used to back-up students' thesis statements. It will hold all definitions and explorations of new vocabulary and key terms. Journals will be turned in for a participation grade.
The technology I have access to in my classroom is a cart of thirty Google Chrome books and two desktop computers. Students all have Gmail accounts connected to their CPS (Chicago Public Schools) identification numbers. By keeping the written documentation in a Google Doc, I'll be able to give and receive continual communication about the essay work my students are completing. I can also share links to websites, images, and important documents with the entire class on Google Docs. Whereas journaling is a strategy used for privately recorded ideas, Google Docs allows a public venue for electronic discussion, and it is the work on the Google Doc essay that will be turned in for a summative assessment grade, connecting to our Common Core State Standard(s) on argument-writing.
The written component will answer an argumentative question in essay form. Chapter 4 of Chicago: Race, Class, and the Response to Urban Decline begins with this quotation from the Chicago Real Estate Board Bulletin 25, no. 4 published in April: "The Committee recognizes that a great immigration of negroes have arrived and are arriving in Chicago, and that some feasible, practicable and humane method must be devised to house and school them...The Committee is dealing with a financial business proposition and not with racial prejudice, and asks the cooperation of influential colored citizens. Inasmuch as more territory must be provided, it is desired in the interest of all, that each block shall be filled solidly and that further expansion shall be confined to continuous blocks, and that the present method of obtaining a single building in scattered blocks, be discontinued." 20
Students will benefit from dissecting this quotation and answering this question that relates to our theme, the fight for human dignity: Is the committee dealing with a financial business proposition or racial prejudice or both and why? They will then back up their answers with evidence from the context provided on the conception, habitation, and elimination of the Ickes Towers Community.
The overarching EQ (essential question), "Where does a place go that is no longer there?" will be directly addressed in the memorial activity section.
I will be guiding students through a number of theater/performance activities that will take more than one day or one lesson to complete.
There is a word study that must be accomplished before these activities begin. Viewpoints is a strategy I'll be using with the kids that connects the idea of space and time for the use of performance. Just the name Viewpoints communicates to me and you and the kids that this strategy is all about perspective, point of view, and in return empathy, a core trait of humanity. We will be considering space according to Viewpoints definitive key words: relationship, shape, architecture, topography, and gesture (both expressive and behavioral, as identified by Anne Bogart). 21 Time is broken down with this strategy by the terms repetition, duration, tempo, and kinesthetic response. Some examples of how we might work with Viewpoints are by practicing diagonals, shadowing, repeated gestures, and walking purposefully. All of these elements connect the two or more of the Viewpoints.
Viewpoints will be used in succession with exercises influenced by the Theatre/Archaeology text by Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks. Viewpoints will come into play for the re-enactment of "The Fight". We might do a practice re-enactment of the playground activities, or the skating parties on Friday nights at "Boo House" Community Center. This will be a collective decision, but students will definitely have to know how to define the key terms performance and archaeology. I will introduce both terms as social practices, modes of cultural production (Theatre/Archaeology), performance being the acting out of a scene and archaeology being the digging up of the past. 22 After the context of specific scenes is established, especially for the story of "The Fight," we will work towards re-enactment of this event by creating a script and casting roles (some of which will be played by relatives of original participants). 23
These activities will be completed over the course of seven to eight weeks. If that timing is impossible, the unit can be taught over the course of a greater amount of time. Weather needs to be considered for the re-enactment.
Word Study (completed in journals)
There is a great amount of text, key terms, related to the content of this unit that the students will need to know. This knowledge will come from word study and the words will be introduced as they come up in lessons so as to be organic for exploration. As I said in the beginning, this is a story of Chicago, public housing, and the tornadic path of social policy through real people and actual lives. Students must be able to speak about social policy.
Policy comes from the root word "polis", meaning city or body of citizens. Policy is a plan intended to determine actions taken by a central force, such as the government. The root of social is "socio", companion. Social policy is a plan that affects human interaction and communities' well being. It is vital for students to understand this term, because our study centers around the question "Where does a place go that is no longer there?" The reason the place is no longer there and was there in the first place is due to social policy.
Another term that must be "unpacked" for deeper understanding is public housing. The meaning of the root word "public" is belonging to the people. Housing is a noun for houses and apartments considered collectively. Homes for the collective people of a community, the public, are planned out as a noun (a place and a thing) by other people.
The core of this unit is in the three phases of the place in question, Ickes. The first phase is the Ickes conception. Conception is creation. How did the Harold Ickes Homes come to be? They came to be through social policy. Then comes habitation, living inside and outside of the place. Finally, there is elimination, the demolition/destruction/tearing-down of something. Elimination can happen in many different ways and that will most definitely be explored.
Habitation will be introduced through the oral histories of two Ickes residents. Oral history must be defined then, and I'll define the term as the past spoken. We will listen to the past spoken by JP and Audrey who can speak to many different aspects of habitation in this place that no longer, physically, exist. I used a Chicago Real Estate Board quotation to open up this story of public housing, and I would like my students to be able to access the words, own them, and use them to write an argumentative narrative themselves. The words that need defining from the quote are committee, immigration, and feasible. We'll discuss that a committee is a group of people that makes decisions. We'll recount and expound upon what students know about "The Great Migration," immigration, and the large groups coming here from somewhere else. 24 I will explain the concept of feasibility as asking yourself if something is possible or not.
Most of my students understand what documentation means. Because of this, our dive into documentation will be more about types of documentation, beginning with the recorded oral history, interviews. We'll view and take photographs. We'll also venture into videography. We'll take record of the space and make notes on what remains on our excavation of the Ickes vacant lot.
There are several acronyms that need unpacking: HUD (Housing and Urban Development), CHA (Chicago Housing Authority), CADRE (Combating Alcohol and Drugs through Rehabilitation and Education), LAC (Local Advisory Council), CAC (Central Advisory Council). All of these acronyms apply directly to organizations and resources found within The Ickes during its conception and habitation and that were taken away during the long slow elimination. Another term that will be defined is screening, which was the job of the LAC and CAC at Ickes. I will define screening as the act of assessing suitability for a particular purpose. In this case we will discuss screening in relation to residing at Ickes. Screening took place for a number of years at Ickes and residents were the ones making the decisions.
A lot of theme words also come up from the oral histories. JP talks about greed. Intense and selfish desire for something such as power or wealth with no regard for how it affects others is the way we'll define greed. Greed will be discussed by looking at the causes of greed and we'll relate this to the drugs and gangs in Ickes. Perspective will be shown and thought out by assessing the point of view of JP, Audrey, the city and us. Role will be defined as a person's place in the world. Greed, perspective, and role are all concept words that are deeply human and help us imagine where the Ickes have gone and why.
Interviewing (completed in journals, including transcriptions if needed, and recorded digitally)
There are two or three interviews that still need to take place for the fleshing out of this study of the Ickes Homes. I was going to interview Amy Rome (former NTA principal and community worker for eighteen years in the neighborhood), D.J. Roy (of the Old School Parties and talent shows), and Pastor Moody (thirty-five years at the historic Quinn Chapel). After gaining a huge amount of knowledge from Audrey and JP, I've decided to work on interviewing as a group with my students. The experience was eye opening and strategic.
I'll invite a sociology doctoral student to visit the classroom in order to discuss the importance of planning your interview questions strategically. 25 Students will take notes in their journals about considering what you want to learn from your subject, how you will get them to talk about what you want to hear, and how to make the subject feel comfortable.
Walking the City & Heart Maps (ideas recorded in journals during the walk)
The fieldwork we complete will begin with "Walking the City", an activity that will entail listening to oral history with headsets while walking around our school's neighborhood. We'll visit the sites written about below and snippets of oral history as told by Audrey, JP, and myself will be listened to during the walking tour (for access to audio-files: saweidmanncps.edu).
Upon returning to our classroom, students will be shown examples of heart mapping as shown in Katherine Harmon's text Map As Art. 26 Heart-mapping will include tracing the outline of a map of the city of Chicago. Students may use only the perimeter of the city-map or they may trace their neighborhood/community within the perimeter. Then they'll choose symbols and/or words to fill their map.
I'm thinking of doing this at the end of the unit, for a second time, with a map of Ickes. Perhaps the maps will be added to the memorial. Students will create their own "heart-map" with assistance from our visual arts teacher (for materials and methods).
Fieldwork [sites used for above activity, including recorded content]
In the recorded content that will be listened to during this fieldwork, I would like to discuss the word state because of State Street being home to the Ickes. We can speak of a state of being, the part of the whole of a country, and the street itself. We'll speak of the "State Street Corridor" and the part of Frank Marshall Davis's poem about State Street's cement blocks. 27 We'll walk these blocks in order to visit local businesses, Quinn Chapel, and the Ickes Site. Each place has a reason for being on the list of places to explore as fieldwork. Quinn Chapel is a historic site in the area and most of NTA's families attend Quinn Chapel. The basement of the chapel was used as part of the Underground Railroad. We'll go to the Ickes site for obvious reasons and set-up our site-specific performance there. There are a couple of local businesses that JP discusses in his interview that we will visit, including Chef Luciano on Michigan Avenue.
"Footprint" of the Towers
Students and I will observe the original plans and drawings of Harold Ickes Homes from Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill LLP to map out the "footprint" of the towers. We'll begin this journey in the classroom. Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill have scanned plans and drawings of their buildings. I've requested both interior and exterior drawings for each of the Ickes sites, four sites total. We will view one tower from each site at a time. After looking at electronic images of the drawings using projection, we'll print out the blueprints and have students work in pairs to transfer this, spatially, to the actual vacant lot that is the site currently. We should begin with "the suburbs" on 24th and State. This is the building that Audrey grew up in.
Students can use string to show the "footprints". Each student will walk the path of the tower site. We'll move from tower to tower, from laundry room to playground, from library to paramedics. Students will walk one at a time and each will have an end-place that is predetermined. We'll start at the main corner of the grassy lot on the southwest side of State and 24th. The perimeter of the ground floor of each tower will be walked out first. The first students to walk will do so in straight lines to follow the exterior floor plan lines. Each of the first students will walk one exterior "wall", so four students per tower. There were six towers at each site; so twenty-four students will walk with string to map out the ground floor first.
Then, we will have a next batch of students use a different color of string to walk and show the "footprint" of moving from tower to tower from each tower. That is five students walking from one tower to each of the five other towers and then completing this pattern from each tower as a starting point. That's thirty students walking the inter-tower path. In the main tower, which housed the largest laundry room and the Chicago Public Library, we'll send another group of students with different colored string to walk the path of the interior-back by the laundry room to the playground and back, as well as the interior-front by the library to the building with the paramedics and back. This will consist of four more students walking with two different colors of string.
I should mention that the colors of string would be predetermined as well. The colors of the string should match up with the idea of the path that we are walking. The inter-tower path might be done with purple string to represent the hierarchy of residents within each of the towers. The laundry to playground path could be done in red string for the blood relationships of the children to kin that are playing and then washing the clothes that they played in. Maybe the laying of the ground floor could be done in blue string to represent the workforce, blue-collar workers, who laid the bricks of the original towers.
I'm imagining that we will take pictures to document this process, but we will not leave the strings there, as the citizens of Ersilia in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities did. 28 The strings that created the "footprint" of the Ickes could be wound into a ball of "footprints" and relationships. Maybe the ball of string could be used for the memorial in the culminating activity.
Plans and Drawings Viewing (ideas about drawings recorded in journals)
Students will have the opportunity to view and study drawings from the original Ickes plans. The drawings include: abbreviations and material symbols, property line maps, topographic maps, site plans, paved areas/playground, site plans, yard lighting, sections/details, and architectural plans.
The drawings that will be sent to me in four full-size images are the paved area drawings, the topographic site plan, Architectural drawing 207 (the tower triad exterior) and Architectural drawing 209 (first floor birds eye interior view). These drawings give a sense of the structures on the outside and inside. I have access to smaller (and more skewed) images of all of the drawings listed above (saweidmanncps.edu).
There are many options for student exploration of these images. The "footprints" activity above includes use of the drawings to map out the space before we move onto the land plan. I am planning to take students through a series of questions, modeling the first time and then breaking them into groups, that are similar to an art history perspective: What do you see? What can you describe? How do objects in the space relate to each other? What are the lines doing? What stories can you imagine from what you see? After a discussion takes place, students will have time to write down their reflections.
"The Fight" from Audrey's comedy story will be re-enacted on the vacant lot of the Ickes. There will be a good amount of stage combat that needs to be dealt with. I will contact a stage combat professional to do this, and I don't recommend doing this without one. Any local university or college with theater courses should have people schooled in stage combat. This process will take a number of days and rehearsals to do safely and effectively. I am modeling my re-enactment of "The Fight" after research on John Malpede's re-enactment of RFK in EKY. This means that relatives (blood or "fictional kin", as Dwight Conquergood defines) will have the opportunity to act as their counterparts. For instance, Audrey's daughter Season should be able to play the role of her mother.
The fight characters include sixty-five distinct roles: Audrey, Joyce, fifty boys (gang members), Omar (the Reej), bystanders (representative of Ickes people and activities-basketball players, roller-skaters, steppers, seniors, Pastor Moody, JP, play-ground kids). The students will assist in writing a script based on the transcription of Audrey's story from her interview. I should mention that when I say transcription I do not mean word for word, but note taking. When we listen to interviews, we will write down powerful moments and quotations. Props and costumes should match the time and place of the actual event.
We will discuss the media and may have them involved. Whether media is brought in or not, the community will be involved. I'm thinking of having students create invitations for community members, city politicians and policy-makers, and contacts of staff members from NTA. My hope is that this re-enactment spurs a greater dialogue, the beginning of which can happen in the moment based on post-performance discussion. We'll need to address the difference between actual fighting and stage combat. The beginning of the conversation will be about why this fight scene became the heart of this unit: the metaphor for the fight for human dignity.
After the re-enactment, I'll have students come up with a special memorial as the culminating activity for our unit. We will study Maya Lin's process of memorial creation before creating our own. 29 This memorial should be a ritual that gives service to the lives and space of the Ickes. We may complete a burial with ceremony leading up to the digging and sealing. In the classroom, we will work together to figure out how we will honor this community and what we will bury to remain there at the site, the vacant lot.
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