Joyce Duriga

6300 S. Bell Ave.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

One of the benefits to my work as editor and journalist for Chicago Catholic is visiting many neighborhoods in Cook and Lake counties because the church and its members are there.

We go to areas such as Wilmette, Oak Park and Beverly, which are usually considered “safer” neighborhoods, but we also go to areas that suffer violence, such as Waukegan, Austin and Englewood.

That was true the afternoon following the funeral Mass for Officer Ella French. Karen Callaway, our photo editor, and I were outside Leo High School in Auburn-Gresham, which was located along the procession route. We covered the students and staff outside paying their respects to Officer French.

After the procession, Karen said she wanted to get photos of a small shrine of signs, candles and flowers erected near  the site where Officer French was killed at 6300 S. Bell Ave. It was only 15 minutes away, so off we went.

In those few 15 minutes from Auburn-Gresham to West Englewood, we saw three incidents where police were present and where it seemed obvious that crimes had occurred. In one case, the tell-tale red and yellow police tape that cordoned off a block suggested that what happened was serious and possibly deadly.

As we got close to the site of the shrine at 6300 S. Bell Ave., what we saw took my breath away. Poverty and blight. Abandoned buildings with broken out windows. Trash strewn about the curbs and open lots. Many liquor stores. No grocery stores.

People were out on their porches fanning themselves because their small, and in frequent cases, dilapidated homes had no air conditioning. It was a hot and humid day.

In a city as wealthy as Chicago, some people live in a war zone and struggle to make ends meet and stay alive every day. On the day of the funeral, this made me angry.

This wasn’t my first visit to Englewood and it won’t be my last, but for some reason, on that day and after covering an emotional funeral and moving procession, it made me angry. People should not have to live in these conditions.

It is not OK that there are such disparities between our neighborhoods, that just a few miles away from West Englewood, the streets are free of trash, many grocery stores exist and the lawns are manicured.

And often these communities are segregated.

I saw this on a daily basis when our offices were located in the Cardinal Meyer Center in Bronzeville. While Bronzeville is seeing a resurgence of new housing, business and cultural developments, it was not then.

Working there gave me my first real look into just how segregated Chicago is. And it doesn’t escape my notice that the experience likely has stayed so strong in me because it was something I saw everyday for several years, not something I saw just going in and out of a neighborhood to cover a story.

I regularly shopped at the Walgreens and Jewel at 35th Street and King Drive. I filled my car’s gas tank at the BP across the street, where violence often happened. I was often the only white person in these places. Before this, I didn’t take much notice of the race of those around me.

I picked up lunch from the Kentucky Fried Chicken where I saw, for the first time in my life, bulletproof glass dividing the cashiers from customers. Food was passed to customers through a glass-encased turnstile so the cashiers couldn’t be robbed. The same thing was true at the post office and other local places.

Then there was the violence. Shootings happened just blocks from our office, and in one case at the end of our parking lot. A couple was attacked, beaten and robbed crossing the footbridge that takes people to Lake Michigan. A footbridge just next to our building that I crossed several times a week to go running on the lakefront.

Our city is hurting. What many pastors and community leaders have told me in interviews is that the violence touches all of us, not just those living in these communities.

Countless Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago do small and big things all the time to help those less fortunate than themselves. If you are a regular reader of this newspaper, you know this because we share their work. More help is needed.

In a recent interview, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo, who has lived among the poor for more than a dozen years in West Humboldt Park and before that in the Bronx, told me that he believes as the violence has increased so has the number of people who want to help.

If you are one of these people, I urge you to contact a parish in one of the neighborhoods you see on the news or call Catholic Charities. Help is always needed and your presence will be welcomed.

And know your life may also change. You might even get a little angry.


  • anti-violence
  • poverty