At the northeast corner (i.e., top) of Chicago is a tiny enclave within the Rogers Park neighborhood notoriously known as the Jungle, Juneway Jungle, North of Howard—take your pick. When I was a bartender on Howard Street in the 1990s, the regulars warned me away from the area: It's dangerous; don't go into the Jungle, they said. Today, other Rogers Park bloggers post about the "thugs" and "hoodlums" that terrorize the streets of this community.
Tales from the Top is about a Chicago community at the top of the city.
I moved into this neighborhood in July 2010 and am experiencing a different reality from what others have described.
Full disclosure: Rogers Park is my favorite neighborhood in Chicago—and I have lived in many of them. Rogers Park has been my home for 19 of the last 20 years, and this little corner of Rogers Park is the most "neighborhoody" of them all!
The North of Howard community feels like a real neighborhood—where cousins and friends still holler for one another from the street to their windows and the elderly folks are respected and addressed as Mr. or Mrs.
Don't get me wrong: I have heard gunshots here and see too many young men hanging out on street corners. I suspect there is gang banging and drug selling going on. There is currently a robust police presence. And yet, that underworld element seems small in comparison to the everyday people going about their business and trying to get by during these difficult economic times.
Shortly after I moved into this community, I was taking my big black dog out for a walk. A small group of young people were drinking and laughing on the stoop outside the front gate of my building's courtyard. Do you live here, I asked the young man who seemed to be the loudest one in the group.
Naw, man, we jes' hanging out, he said with a big smile. After taking another swig out of the bottle in the brown paper bag he and his friends were passing around, he decided to school me: See, you in the ghetto now, the Jungle, and this is how it is, he said, while his friends guffawed and egged him on. It's always been like this and it'll always be like this, so you jes' better get used to it.
I looked at them and smiled, unperturbed by his assertion that I now live in the "ghetto." OK, well, have fun, I said. Just please clean up after yourselves before you go, OK? They looked at me a little funny, said OK, and I went on my way. I haven't seen them partying on my stoop since.
I've been here about 18 months now and am smitten. It is socially, economically, racially and culturally the most diverse community I have ever lived in. I am within walking distance of everything a city girl without a car could possibly need: public transportation that will take me anywhere in the city or surrounding suburbs, two grocery stores, restaurants, a community center, parks, the lake, a post office...there's even a community garden around the block from where I live! And I have met some of the most remarkable people you'd ever want to know, some of whom will share their stories on this blog.
So that's what Tales from the Top is all about: Stories about the people who live, work, play, worship and make art in this Chicago community at the top of the city. My hope is that as you get to know me and some of my neighbors you will come to realize we're not so different from anybody else and that we want the same things out of life you do—peace, love and a little security. Your comments are welcome.
The author's big black dog is a lab mix adopted from the Anti-Cruelty Society when he was 4. Big black dogs are usually the last ones to be adopted from shelters and often wind up being put down.
Rogers Parker is a Chicago-based writer and social media maven with more than a dozen years of editorial experience. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Roosevelt University. The Oak Park, IL, native has lived all over the United States but keeps winding up in Chicago and has finally realized this is where she belongs. In addition to blogging, Rogers Parker is working on her first book about extraordinary people who find success after 40. She is a huge Chicago sports fan when said teams are winning and enjoys organic gardening, eating Thai food and roaming around the 'hood with her big black dog.
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