We Won’t Let Pilsen Become Wicker Park, 18th Street Protesters Say

December 17, 2015
 Jahmal Cole, Ivy Bullock and Magda Ramirez Castenada lead a group of 100 during the My Block, My Hood, My City march on 18th Street in Pilsen Sunday.


PILSEN — In the face of rapid change, longtime Pilsen residents won’t let their beloved neighborhood become another Wicker Park, one activist said at a rally Sunday.

Byron Sighco, new executive director of Pilsen Alliance, said the neighborhood is under attack at a My Block, My Hood, My City rally and march in Pilsen Sunday. Sighco was joined by 100 people from across the city, who carried signs representing every Chicago neighborhood as they marched down 18th Street.

Sigcho said the “hostile takeover” ushered in by greedy developers is destroying the culture of Pilsen and dismantling the community in the process.

“We are a welcoming community, we are, but we are not stupid. We will not be displaced without a fight,” Sigcho said. “Gentrification is a segueway for another Wicker Park, another Lincoln Park. And Pilsen is Pilsen! It’s a unique place and we want to protect its identity.”

Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, a non-profit that takes teens from Chicago’s under-resourced neighborhoods on trips to explore different parts of the city, said Sunday’s rally aimed to lift “18th Street up” and elevate issues in the community. It’s the smallest units of local identity — block clubs, libraries and community groups — that will shape Chicago’s future, he said.

With signs representing every Chicago neighborhood, 100 people joined the “My Block, My Hood, My City” rally and march in Pilsen Sunday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

“The prosperity of our city is not going to be determined by a few select wealthy neighborhoods. The prosperity of our city is not going to be decided by a few politicians,” said Cole, a 32-year-old Chatham resident. “Urban prosperity is dependent on economic activity and cultural exchange in all 77 community areas in Chicago.”

During the two months he spent volunteering in Pilsen ahead of the rally, Cole said he quickly learned gentrification was a top concern in the neighborhood. On Saturday, My Block, My Hood, My City leaders brought a group of 20 North Lawndale teens to explore Pilsen’s sights, sounds and eats.

“They say 18th Street is going to be the new Milwaukee Avenue, do you guys want that?,” Cole asked the crowd. “Pilsen is not for sale.”

Byron Sigcho (right) talks about gentrification at the My Block, My Hood, My City interconnectivity rally in Pilsen Sunday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Cole said he hopes the rally creates a new connection between communities.

“There’s a new community being built in Chicago. And to be a member of this community, it’s not about party affiliation, it’s not about union affiliation, it’s not about gang affiliation, right? The only thing you need to be a member of this community is your commitment to travel beyond your own block or your own ‘hood,” Cole said.

“What affects one person directly indirectly affects us all. So you have to ask yourself, what is affecting the residents of Pilsen, and why should that matter to me in Pullman? What’s happening on 18th Street, and why should that matter if I live on 79th Street?”

In a city of have and have nots,” Chicago is only as strong as its weakest link,” Cole said.

My Block, My Hood, My City

My Block My Hood My City leads teens in exploring different parts of the city,introducing them to new cultures and sights once a month. Among other trips, Cole’s group has taken teens from Englewood to explore Wicker Park, teens from Humboldt Park to explore Edgewater and teens from North Lawndale to explore Greektown.

Cole started the group after speaking with teens at Cook County Jail and hearing them talk about their experiences in Chicago. Many had never been outside of their violence-ridden neighborhoods, Cole said.

These teens from under-resourced areas not only suffered from “a poverty of finance” but a “poverty of imagination, a deficit of hope,” Cole said.

“I thought it was tragic they didn’t feel a part of something bigger than the outside of the few block radius in which they live. I knew immediately had to do something about it,” Cole said.

The non-profit My Block, My Hood, My City is funded entirely through the sale of hoodies and T-shirts and donations for now. The organization recently launched aGoFundMe campaign which aims to raise $146,000 to support the hiring of a full-time executive director and three part-time staff members and to fund monthly explorations for teens in need.

With signs representing every Chicago neighborhood, about 100 people joined the “My Block, My Hood, My City” rally in Pilsen Sunday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]