Chicago Activist Turns Her RAGE Into Purpose

Asiaha (Ay-sha) Butler is a proud resident of Chicago's Englewood community. 

The youthful, Afro-centric activist knows that her neighborhood receives more media attention for bad things-- like crime and foreclosures-- rather than the positive aspects of it which she feels many people overlook. 

One of those things is her organization, the Residents Association of Greater Englewood--better known as RAGE.  It is a "resident-led" and "resident-funded" cooperative consisting of people who work to change the perception of Englewood both internally and externally. Currently, the William Balfour trial--centering around the 2008 deaths of Jennifer Hudson's family members--has put an eerie spotlight on the poverty and despair that the neighborhood has dealt with for years. But RAGE members are looking to the highlights of the past to serve as a road map for the future.

40 years ago, Englewood was a vibrant neighborhood in Chicago which had the second largest shopping district in the city.  At that time, it was a predominantly white area. As blacks moved in, whites moved out and so did the economic opportunities. 

That was until 2006, when development resumed at the intersection of 63rd and Halsted--the place where all the shopping took places decades before. It would be the new location of Kennedy-King Community College and a point of revival for the area.

In an interview with public television host Marc Sims, Butler talks about how a feeling of unity must be revived as well. She feels that the downside of integration from the 1970s is that African-Americans have become "hyper-segregated" among one another, as well as from those of different ethnic backgrounds.

"We have the bourgeois individuals; we have the wealthy individuals and no one is connected to this underclass that is the headache of our entire race," the happily married 36 year-old mother said.

"If I had 4 or 5 people on my block like me, I wouldn't have problems over here." 

Yet, hope is on the horizon. 

Butler told 2CN that RAGE has helped "build social capital" and "exposes youth to residents who are committed to change." But she knows that there is more work to do.  

"I think that more positive stories [in the media] will give residents a better sense of hope," she suggested. "For our youth, showing them working class role models invested in their future will add value to the way they view Englewood."

For Butler, the hard part is getting those role models to realize that making a difference is easier than it looks. 

~ Zack A. Isaacs

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