Is Grand Crossing Park Crossing Out The Community?

“We are still waiting,” says CeCe Edwards

By Ken Hare

Chicago Defender Staff Writer

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Located in the Greater Grand Crossing  neighborhood at 7655 South Ingleside sits 17.16 acres of greenery known as Grand Crossing Park.
Designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers in the early 20th century, it boasts two full gymnasiums, a woodshop and fitness center indoors. There are basketball, baseball, football, and tennis courts and more outdoors.
Initially settled by the Irish, Scottish and English, the area went from 99.4 percent white in the 1930’s to 86 percent Black in the 60’s.
Despite the decline that happened throughout the 90’s and 2000’s, the area is starting to show signs or urban renewal thanks to local community efforts like the Grand Crossing Park Advisory Council (GCPAC) which single-handedly restored its playground.
Established in 2005, GCPAC’s President CeCe Edwards stated in an interview with the Chicago
 “From 2006 through 2010, we raised $250,000 with the help of Friends of the Park to rebuild a playground for the children in the community.”
Door knocking led to many donations from community residents and thanks to generous donations from Children’s Memorial Hospital and Kohls, GCPAC and its board members were able to turn around a much-neglected park.
In June 2010, in a partnership with John Simonitis, construction manager for Parks-Recreation, Edwards stated “They showed us how to rebuild the playground with our own hands under their Community Built Playgrounds program. Normally it costs $600,000 to build a playground, so we saved the park district $400,000 by building the playground ourselves.”
It took 100 volunteers two days to transform the once neglected play area into a modern playground. “It was the most rewarding experience of my life,” says Edwards.
However, it appears that some in the park’s management haven’t been supportive of the community’s renewed interest and revitalization of the park, especially as it relates to the children using the park for weekend recreation and after school activities.
Chester Hillard, a 49 years-long resident and board member of GCPAC, shared his concerns. “When I was a kid growing up it was free to use the park. Nowadays it’s all about the money. Today the kids have to pay to use the park,” he says.
As part of GCPAC’s renewal efforts, they held fundraising events and had Allstate donate money to cover the cost of activities for low-income families with children.
According to Edwards, how it is supposed to work is that when a child or teenager shows up to participate, the donated monies are to be used to cover the cost, thereby eliminating the possibility of anyone being turned away because they can’t afford to pay.
Despite this arrangement by the Park District, “Some Section 8 children were turned away by the park’s supervisor and were told their parents had to pay even though the park already had the money,” Edwards says.
The Chicago Park District’s (CPD) Communications Director, Jessica Maxey-Faulkner disagrees “Children are among the CPD’s core values, and the park does not turn any child away for inability to pay.”
Also, park management has been accused of withholding receipts for part one of an Allstate grant. The
receipts are necessary to prove where the money went, how much was spent and for tax purposes.
According to Jessica Maxey-Faulkner “The district’s south region manager met with members of GCPAC to demonstrate through its electronic registration system how all donated grant funds had been used, as well as the balance available for additional use.”
CeCe Edwards explained that “South Region Manager, Daphne Johnson contacted Ronald Wright, Grand Crossing park supervisor and made him fax over the receipt(s) for a $1,000 GCPAC second donation.”
Some 37 receipts were missing from the first donated Allstate grant since 2014. Miss Johnson promised to research the missing receipts and give them to GCPAC.”
Miss Johnson was transferred days later after the meeting and the 37 receipts have not been delivered as promised to GCPAC. “We are still waiting,” says CeCe Edwards.
Dawn Allen, who lives two blocks from the park and has worked for the Black Star Project, in the past, tutoring youth, said “The management at Grand Crossing, unfortunately, is not kid friendly. Some of the staff members are not interested in providing a quality experience and open door policy to the young people, especially teens, in our community. They are not interested in providing programs that will bring this demographic into the park.”  
On January 5, 2016, three teenagers, two male and one female, were shot, two fatally, on the park’s
corner at 76th and Dorchester. Two of the teens were known to come to the park and had been turned away in the past, according to sources.

The Black Star Project is one of six partners that has allegedly left the park due to various reasons. 
Dawn Allen said “My mentor Phillip Jackson (head of the Black Star Project) stated to me ‘All we want to do is educate Black children.’”
GCPAC’s focus has always been on the park’s usage, activities for the children and adults and attractions that raise revenue,” says CeCe Edwards. “We are the community stakeholders and we need the park district’s support.”

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