This doesn't happen here: Wrightwood

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Wrightwood neighbors don't want to be mixed up with "those people."

What people? The ones who tote guns, sell drugs and terrorize corners.

On Tuesday, the guy who lives two doors from Tom Durham was arrested for killing his ex-wife and shooting his stepson in the mouth.

"This kind of thing doesn't happen here," Durham said, watching a scrum of cops search for bullet casings on his stretch of Francisco.

It sounded like something a suburban soccer mom might say.

But in a mostly black neighborhood on the South Side, outsiders don't think "this kind of thing" is rare -- especially when a black guy pulls the trigger.

Back when I lived in one of those lily-white North Side neighborhoods with the trendy boutiques, folks who wouldn't dare travel south of Cermak often talked about the South Side -- all of it -- as if it were a faraway war zone and open-air drug market.

And as I chatted with Wrightwood neighbors this week, it was clear they worried that when "this kind of thing" -- though the shooting was a domestic attack -- showed up in the news, it might unfairly stereotype their community.

After all, Wrightwood is one of those neighborhoods that has -- wink -- "changed."

When Charles Hawkins moved there in '82, people weren't used to seeing black faces in an area known as the St. Thomas More parish.

Back then, Hawkins, a disabled Chicago Public Schools security supervisor, says he once came home late and got followed by white cops in a squad car.

"I pulled up in front of my house, and they asked me, 'What are you doing here,'" he said. "They watched me walk to the porch and didn't leave until I pulled out my keys and let myself inside."

In the following years, white folks trickled out of the neighborhood. But Hawkins says middle-class black people moving in took pride in maintaining the "manicured lawns and clean streets."

These days, Wrightwood is about 90 percent black, according to U.S. census figures. And about 5 percent of all city workers -- loads of police officers, bus drivers and schoolteachers -- live around there. In fact, six cops live on the block where Gail Bullock allegedly murdered his ex-wife. Modest brick homes there sell for about $250,000. The neighborhood is a lot like Mount Greenwood, another city cluster of cops and firefighters, only with brown faces.

"We sit on our porches and watch our kids. We don't let them hang out on our corners," Hawkins said. "We worked hard to buy these homes and harder to keep them up."

Like almost every city neighborhood, there's some trouble in Wrightwood -- a handful of robberies and burglaries and street crime -- but it's far from the worst of the South Side neighborhoods.

Wrightwood folks say they don't want the shooting on Francisco to lump them in "with that mess."

"For people who have never heard of Wrightwood before, it gives the impression that this is a bad place. And I want to scream, 'No, no, no, no,'" says Wrightwood activist Mark Allen.

Because like anywhere in Chicago, a neighborhood is only as good as its reputation.

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Go and ask Stanley Kichler what a great neighborhood Wrightwood is!

"We sit on our porches and watch our kids. We don't let them hang out on our corners," Hawkins said. "We worked hard to buy these homes and harder to keep them up."

This is the American Dream. No one just gives this to you.

I'm confused as to why I got several negative calls from my comments to this piece from people in the Englewood/Auburn/Gresham community where I was born and raised. Because I am praising Wrightwood, its not at the expense or direct comparison to any other neighborhood, especiall the one where I grew up, AND am actively working with local groups on some majoe economic and other long time improvements.

Please make note of my new contact information for anyone who may want to discuss my concerns any further.

"This is the American Dream. No one just gives this to you."

gagj, where did Mr. Hawkins say anything about it being given to them? In fact, in the very quote you cited, he mentioned hard work.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on June 15, 2007 9:50 AM.

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