On a cool late-spring evening in the Wild 100s of Chicago, an area on the far South Side known for its gang wars, Kurt Summers Jr. is addressing a small crowd gathered inside a once-gleaming 1920s retail building. There used to be a beauty school here; later the building housed a counseling service and a check cashing store. But even those businesses are gone. This community, built by middle- and working-class Dutch families 15 miles from downtown, never recovered from the closing of the South Chicago steel plants in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, it’s a symbol of violent crime and urban decay.
But to Summers, who grew up on the South Side, violence is only a symptom of the community’s real dilemma. “We don’t have a violence problem in Chicago, we have an economic problem in Chicago,” he tells the crowd of about two dozen residents, who applaud in agreement.