Community development is key for a neighborhood to thrive. In low-income communities like Auburn Gresham, community development is scarce, creating a lack of opportunity for residents to grow and sustain wealth. Auburn Gresham is a majority Black neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. In the 1920s, it was a bustling metropolitan community with schools, churches, and locally owned and operated grocery stores and businesses. In the late 1960s, after restrictive housing policies were outlawed and Black people settled in Auburn Gresham, white residents left the neighborhood. Businesses and other resources followed.
Auburn Gresham is 95 percent Black. The community is proud and grounded in its history; its sidewalks are lined with West African Adinkra symbols. But community resources are in short supply: Residents must travel outside of the community for medical care and community centers. That dearth of available services lowers the value and the quality of life within Auburn Gresham, creating obstacles to wealth generation and stability.
In 2017, the community published the Auburn Gresham quality-of-life plan, guided by three simple questions: What did Auburn Gresham used to be? What is it today? What might it be tomorrow? The report called for the construction of a wide range of amenities, such as banks, coffee shops, pharmacies, and fresh-produce markets.
Walking into an empty building on 79th Street, a smile stretches across Carlos Nelson’s face. This is the future home of the Auburn Gresham Healthy Lifestyle Hub (HLH), a project Carlos, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), has been dreaming of since 2016. GAGDC, founded in 2001 in response to rapid disinvestment in the area, is at the forefront of the HLH. The organization works to foster and promote revitalization of low- to moderate-income communities.
One of the Adinkra symbols found in Auburn Gresham is Mmere dane, meaning “time changes.” As Nelson and GAGDC look forward to opening the HLH in a building that has been vacant for 25 years, the phrase rings true. The HLH will house medical facilities, a sit-down restaurant, a Black-owned pharmacy, a teaching kitchen, and plenty of open space for community members to convene. The medical facilities are expected to treat more than 30,000 patients per year.
Nelson hopes the hub is the beginning of a new chapter, for both Auburn Gresham (which he calls the “crown jewel of the South Side”) and the organization he’s spent his life growing. Once a two-person operation, the organization has grown into a comprehensive community development organization employing 40 full-time and part-time staff focused on health, education, youth development, housing, and seniors services.
The HLH, an $18 million project, was made possible, in part, by a $14.5 million equity investment from JPMorgan Chase, a longtime supporter of GAGDC, via the New Markets Tax Credit initiative, which helps economically distressed communities attract private capital by providing investors with a federal tax credit. It’s an example of the kind of strategic projects the firm supports as a part of its $30 billion Racial Equity Commitment for a stronger, more inclusive economy.
Nelson is proud that his personal bank is also an investor in his ambitious community development efforts. He first engaged the institution through his participation in a leadership workshop hosted by Prosperity Now, an organization focused on creating a more equitable economy. JPMorgan Chase is the seed funder of Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative, aiming to address the resource and capacity disparities that exist between nonprofits led by people of color and those led by white people.
Since connecting with JPMorgan Chase through the program, Nelson says the firm has furthered the work of GAGDC as a whole and made him a better leader. The bank has provided Nelson and GAGDC with networking and fundraising opportunities as well as management-skill training. He says the firm has been instrumental in furthering GAGDC’s “bold vision and audacious aspirations.”
Standing in the 60,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by a furniture store, Nelson daydreams about the light that will pour into the HLH from its ample windows. The space is a testament to the possibilities of public, private, and philanthropic partnership: In addition to JPMorgan Chase’s commitment, the HLH was supported by a number of city grants and donations (Whirlpool and Kohler donated appliances for the bathrooms and offices, and the teaching kitchen is funded by the Chicago Bears).
GAGDC has invested countless hours and dollars into stimulating a thriving local economy that prioritizes community ownership and participation—the hub itself is expected to create more than 150 jobs for local residents. The HLH has also kick-started the process to bring a new metro station to Auburn Gresham, opening up transportation options for local residents and giving the greater area an opportunity to patronize the community’s budding businesses.
GAGDC believes that when people in the community win, Auburn Gresham wins. JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to community development is helping to increase the value of homes and the quality of life in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
But a self-sustaining community also requires a thriving local economy, fueled by resident-owned, well-resourced small businesses. Just three miles northwest of Auburn Gresham, in the Englewood neighborhood, JPMorgan Chase is investing in visionary entrepreneurs leading the way.
Learn how we’re supporting the growth of small businesses in Auburn Gresham and beyond.
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