My motivation for creating Expressions From Englewood came in part from the late griot, singer, and entertainer Oscar Brown, Jr. In 1982, Mr. Brown looked at Chicago's Cabrini-Green Housing Development, stepped inside, and saw what very few people, if any, knew existed: true talent just waiting to be explored.Mr. Brown told me many years later during a one-on-one conversation we had—when I composed a profile about his life and career for a community newspaper—that within the walls of Cabrini-Green he saw a gold mine, not an evil place where only vice ruled. While this development and its residents were faced with daily degradation, Brown decided to give them a positive, life-affirming activity—art—and watch what good would come when art from the inside, not arsenic from the outside, was made available to the people living there. The result was a play entitled The Great Nitty Gritty.
Expressions From Englewood, which features personal essays, poetry, fiction, and research papers from people who live, work, and/or go to school in the community, is a continuation of Mr. Brown’s activities at Cabrini-Green, which, by the way, was preceded by his work with the Blackstone Rangers in 1967. (He and the young men performed a play entitled Opportunity Please Knock.) This journal, my tribute to the community, is compiled, edited, published, and—after the money from sales and gifts is collected—funded by me. And that’s the way I want it.
Why Englewood? Why Not Englewood!
I notice quite often that people, both black and white, will, with glee but usually disdain, take shots at Englewood because she is plagued by poverty, crime, intense self-hatred, and a lack of hope among too many residents. Recently, one daily newspaper in Chicago, when running a profile about Derrick Rose, the legend-in-the-making who grew up in Englewood, ran the headline, “Derrick Rose: From Englewood to Excellence.” Well, if Mr. Rose were not excellent at his craft before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls, how would he have even gotten the chance to reach the level of success he has now? And who says excellence can't be found in Englewood? I certainly do not, and I proudly present five volumes of Expressions From Englewood as proof.
Let us be totally clear about Expressions From Englewood. It is not the "Woe-Is-Me/Shoot-‘Em-Up" journal, nor is it the "Happy Idiot" journal. Yes, vices such as crime and substance abuse are discussed—essays in the most recent issue that address these vices include “11/7/1990,” “Greyhound,” and “Just One More: The Day in the Life of a Heroin Addict”—as these are real problems in the community…and the world. But there are also essays that explore humor and the positive aspects of love and life, such as “Tweenky Mans Up…or Does She?”, “What Dad Does…for You,” and “A Spiritual/Secular Situation.”
Every journal (except for the very first) has featured essays addressing a certain theme. The theme of the newest volume, number five, is “Stand!...for Forgiveness.” Contributors or "Expressionists," as they are respectfully and affectionately called, had the option of writing about a cause that they wanted to champion or a societal wrong they wanted to correct. The “…for Forgiveness” essays feature the Expressionists forgiving someone who hurt them in the past, or requesting forgiveness from someone they wronged in the past. Essays written in accordance with the “Stand!” theme include topics that range from worker exploitation in Mexico (“Stage a Stop; Stop the Exploitation,”) to community cooperation with the police (“Speak Up, Don’t Mumble!”) to the audacity of paying for water (“What’s Next? Air?”) and the need for proper sex education, (“My Son, the Sex-Pert.”) The “…for Forgiveness” essays cover topics such as the terror and taunts a young Lupus victim endured in high school, (“Lessons From Eleanor,”), incest (“A Need for the Soul to Survive”), and infidelity (“My Turn to Cry.”)
Believe me, the numerous topics in the journal are as varied as the Expressionists’ ages. The youngest contributor is in her late teens; the oldest is in her mid-70s. And as a special addition, this newest volume features artwork by Adedayo “Dayo” Laoye, the internationally known, Chicago-based artist, on the front and back covers, along with four pages in the center.
The themes for volume six, which is in the early planning stages as I write this, is “Revising…the Present.” Dayo has expressed an interest in contributing artwork based on this theme as well. Someday I plan to establish either a blog or website to further promote the journal. If you would like further information on Expressions From Englewood, please get in touch.
Corey Hall is currently an assistant professor of English at Kennedy-King College. He has also published numerous reviews and profiles with such publications as the JazzGram and the Chicago Defender and on jazzreview.com and beansouptimes. For information on how to contribute to Expressions From Englewood, send him an email.
Written in Spring 2012.