Few places have held the spotlight during these past few years in what one could argue was not so flattering a narrative as the city of Chicago. Our nation and albeit some parts of the world were captivated as the crime statistics in relation to the minority culture in certain areas of the city were thrust into the political landscape and used as intense rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign and more to the point as a talking point by President Trump in 2017 to bring in the feds in lieu of the escalation in widespread violent crimes. Yet there are other powerful voices from the grassroots perspective that needed to be heard, the endearing people who live in the neighbourhoods affected by the systematic cycle of a lack of community development plus a depravity of resources and a non-ending flood of lethal violence that we who watch or listened to the news are exposed to at every turn. One of those so-called voices is a non-for-profit entity called I Grow Chicago Peace House and it is here on this neighbourhood street located in one of those target areas called Englewood that a new battle is being fought but not with physical force and contention but with a true desire to work together as a community to bring about the positive empowering change in the culture of violence to which there is a desperate need for redirection. Let us now begin this journey into what I deem to be probably one of the most profound interviews that I have had the honour of conducting with the help of the founder of The Peace House Robbin Carroll and director Quentin Mables.
The Visionary’s Manifesto in association with Heart Of Cool Presents I Grow Chicago Peace House
An in-depth interview with the founder Robbin Carroll and Director Quentin Mables Conducted by Eric Simms
HOC: Quentin, what was life like for you growing up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago?
QM: I was born and raised in Chicago, I grew up in a house that is adjacent to The Peace House. My mother who is a single parent raised 6 kids, four boys and 2 girls. I graduated from Harper High School and I had aspirations of being a professional basketball player, so if there are any free agents out there I’m available LOL ?. It wasn’t easy growing up in the Englewood area but my mother raised us to respect ourselves and our neighbors. School was a priority and you couldn’t live under my mothers roof without seeking an education, she made sure everyone was given the opportunity to succeed. The neighborhood worked together and we knew the police who were protecting our communities but there has been a dramatic disengagement from that unique relationship for both the officers and the community due to the ongoing politics and policies associated with our demographic that affects everyone.
HOC: How did you become associated with Robbin Carroll and IGCPH (I Grow Chicago Peace House)?
QM: I got involved with IGCPH through a chance meeting with Robbin Carroll about four years ago. She was on a neighborhood corner passing out free Subway sandwiches to the youths in the community. My friends and I were outside playing basketball and we saw this white lady passing out food and I became curious so I approached her and introduced myself along with my friends. Now mind you it was a hot summer day outside so most of us had our shirts off sweating, dreadlocks, low cuts, pretty much hyped up from the basketball game but Robbin impressed me because she wasn’t afraid and she never passed judgment on any of us and while she was holding a trash bag she asked us a specific question, “did we want to take back our community?” I took the initiative and grabbed the trash bag she was holding and started to help her clean up the area. At that time Robbin was in the first stages of securing The Peace House and she was explaining to me and my friends what it would represent to our neighborhood and the impact she wanted the house to have on our community. The blueprint and the different programs that she envisioned were interesting and in that same breath she asked us what types of activities and programs did we want to see implemented at The Peace House. The fact that those of us who actually live in the neighborhood were being given a strong voice towards how we would like to see our community positively impacted became more of a realization of purpose and a catalyst for me to work with Robbin and IGCPH.
HOC: How does it feel being a mentor for the youth of the Englewood neighborhood?
QM: To be honest with you that’s not even something I can even put a title on. Of course there’s the mentorship element but I just look at it as putting myself in a position of being there for those I feel can use some help. For those youths who didn’t have that big brother figure to talk with, that father figure who was missing during those key moments in their lives, these were the experiences that I had in my life growing up but I also understand the instant gratification of seeing the guys who hung out on the street corners, had the nice cars and all the ladies in the neighborhood who were getting all the attention for whatever was good at that moment and yet most of those guys are either locked up in prison or their souls are at rest. But as far as me being a role model I set the tone for a lot of the guys in my community and for the ladies as well to see a man doing things in a mentally different way. The people in this community know of my background which translates into knowing that I can empathize with the struggles that they are facing. I lead by example by not giving energy to the stigma that is imposed upon certain elements of the community, my choice is to change the perspective in how people view us in a more powerful and productive way.
HOC: What impact do you hope to create in the next 10 years?
QM: The impact I want to create is to make sure that everyone that I meet and or come across are left with an understanding that I am the type of guy that tried to be a great person, a good father and outspoken individual. I want to be seen as a guy who came from a challenging background and lived a life of giving back to the community. I would be a fool to have gained all of this information and knowledge of how to make a difference to not pass it on in some fashion. There are a lot of young men and women who won’t live past the age of twenty, even as we sit here and have this necessary conversation, so the work that myself and the hardworking people here at IGCPH along with all the other community organizations outside of IGCTPH are doing will leave an applicable legacy and that to me is of the highest priority.
HOC: What changes have you observed in the neighbourhood since you began working with Robbin Carroll and IGCPH roughly 4 years ago?
QM: The one resounding factor in all of the work that we’ve done and have yet to do is the fact that we all belong and are connected to the community in this fight for a better life. IGCPH stands as a living breathing monument that says to everyone that someone cares about the community whether it’s through the one on one interactions with the kids and or the adults. The resources that we provide here at IGCPH are community based but built on other models that may be too far away for the people to take advantage of outside of our community. I would say that we are both convenient and committed to the ongoing positive focus and development of the neighborhood. We provide job career services, scholastic endeavors and a wealth of opportunities to encourage individual growth.
HOC: Thank you Quentin for your honest and thought provoking narrative as the director of IGCPH and now I would like to invite the founder of IGCPH, “Robbin Carroll” into the conversation. Robbin, in the beginning was there any resistance from the community to the idea and implementation of your vision?
RC: From the beginning the community was deeply invested in the concept of IGCPH. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome and we had to depend on the community to help us establish the foundational constructs associated with our venture. Two of our neighbors gave us access to their bathrooms to use during the construction process as well as other neighbors providing space in their homes to store some of our vital equipment, a woman next door allowed us to utilize her electricity, folks donated refrigerators and stoves and everyone did everything they could to make it a reality. The community has given us an enormous amount of support and encouragement beyond what I could have ever imagined and they in large part are the reason that we are able to exist and thrive in this space.
HOC: How did the idea of yoga classes come into being and why was it vital to the ongoing programs at IGCPH?
RC: I was teaching yoga in the lots of the Englewood neighborhood and in opening a house it changed the dynamics of who we wanted to be in relation to our mission. I introduced the yoga as a method of inner connections which of course went along with our intent of establishing the bonds with people in the neighborhood and towards the community.
HOC: What should people know about you and the work you are doing at IGCPH?
RC: What I want people to know is that anyone can do what we’ve created at IGCPH. If I can do this work along with the help of a dedicated staff and community there is more than enough of a need among the other neighborhoods in Chicago that would benefit from a place such as The Peace House.
HOC: Ok so let’s switch gears and ask Quentin a two part question. What is your worst fear about IGCPH and what is your greatest hope for the platform?
QM: One of my fears is timing, I mean to say that anyone can create a similar model but not too many people want to put in the effort do this type of grass roots work and that’s how the legacy will not only live on but grow beyond this particular neighborhood and branch out to other communities within the city of Chicago. My greatest hope is for everyone from the young children to the adults to be the best that they can be, to achieve a level of greatness for themselves. When people come into IGCPH they will know that they have a friend who is going to be there for them every step of the way, someone who is going to look out for them and be a voice of reason which will help build a solid foundation of support within their respective lives.
HOC: I feel the need to ask the same question of the founder of IGCPH, so Robbin what is your biggest fear about the future of IGCPH and what is your hope for what you have created along with the amazing people of this community?
RC: My worst fear is that perhaps that some of the negative realities of the Englewood neighborhood will impact us in some sad way here at the peace house, I worry that someone in the neighborhood or even one of our dedicated staff will suffer at the hand of violence. I care equally and deeply about everyone that we serve in one way or another and I can’t imagine how I could ever go through such a moment. My greatest hope is that we continue to create a space that is based upon non-judgment and that is such a difficult thing to do on a daily basis because of the stigma that so many of the people we serve are experiencing from so many outlets.
HOC: I would like to pose a question to both Quentin and Robbin on behalf of The Visionary’s Manifesto and The Heart Of Cool audience. What final thoughts would either of you like to express regarding the journey ahead for IGCPH?
QM: I just want to make sure for everyone who has a genuine heart that it beats to better not just your specific situation but also to improve those elements of the community around you, be the change that you want to see. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to decipher the world that we are living in today, so ask yourself what is your responsibility and what type of actions can you take to make the world a better place.
RC: We are planting better seeds here at the peace house but America has a deep history of racism and it will continue to divide us but IGCPH is a place where we make a supreme effort to erase the wounds of racism by acknowledging that it does exist and cannot be swept under the carpet. We are committed to the positive engagement of everyone associated with this community whether they live and or work here to bring about that important ongoing conversation through our sincere desire to work side by side with the neighborhood.
For more information on I Grow Chicago Peace House please visit www.igrowchicago.org