Exploring community in the far Southside…


I take the Indiana toll bridge to head to George Washington High located in the far Southside of Chicago. Most of the time when taking a major bridge I am captivated by the scenery. Its like you can, for a moment, have a God-eyed view of the community or city. But when I head to George Washington, the view makes my heart sink as I remind myself to take one deep breath before  completely crossing over. I take a breath because the community encompassing the school is surrounded by factories. You can see, and even smell, the smoke the more you arrive. The demographics of the people who live in this area are mostly Hispanic and Black (majority Hispanic).

After reading “seventy-first & king drive” by Quraysh Ali Lasana, and “Winthrop Ave.” by Briteney Black Rose Kapri from The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, I gave a prompt so students can write their own reflections of their communities. We closed our eyes together and I asked them to think of their neighborhood as they answer the following questions…

  • What are three sounds you hear regularly?
  • What are three scents you smell consistently?
  • What is your favorite place in the community?
  • What is your least favorite place in the community?
  • Who is the local character – the person everyone knows, for better or for worse?
  • What is the one thing you would like to change in your surroundings?
  • What is the one element you would retain?

 Here are a few of the poems that resulted…



A whiff of my hood
by Anthony A.

It doesn’t smell like fine wine
but smells like pollution.
Not even a piece of pine in winter time
can save us from this delusion.

All these gas stations, companies
and factories are killing our lungs.
They are worse than guns
which brings sirens and loudness
all around here.



Ewing Avenue
by Miriam M.

Town & Country cars from the last century honking their way through Ewing Avenue. Taylor Elementary students jaywalking across the busy and bumpy road, making their way to the school by Calumet Park. Stopping by Lily’s Supermarket, the corner store. A single crossing-guard ensures safety and complete guidance, but once we leave so do all those qualities. Numerous pitbulls unleashed the way teenage kids seem to be as well. Old protective neighbor walks his small dog promptly everyday with a weapon such as a hammer to guard his dog on the way. Emergency ambulances roar during morning, day and night. Countless neighbors start meaningless fight after having some drinks. To make the situation worse – not one star comes out to twinkle at the end of the day.



by Jesus B.

I pass by Ewing.
On Sunday all the restaurants are packed
but the smell of sulfur takes over.
I smell pollution swirling around me.
In the summer the smell of
barbeque cover it for a small time

but everyone knows the
pollution is around the



by Ludra P.

A small red bricked house
inside the wonderful neighborhood they call
is the place I call home.

People go by the stereotype.
My own mother does as well.
She sees violence in the neighborhood.
I can’t walk to the park nor the
corner store cause she thinks its all bad.

It’s not half as bad if you keep to yourself.
Don’t make eye contact with anyone
and try to survive the neighborhood.
There is schools and hangouts where kids go
and what today’s talk is about are shootings
or robberies, but other than that its not
as bad and there are some people
you can trust – just be careful who it is
because you might get backstabbed.

Welcome to Slag.



by Lindsay B.

In the ghetto we hear tires screeching
rollin’ down the street.
Cars beepin’
Swings creekin’
Babies speakin’
Sinks leakin’
It only begins when brothers are fellows
but that’s what happens in the ghetto.
The gangs bangin’
Children on monkey bars hangin’
People slangin’
Neighborhoods changin’ in the ghetto.

The tempo is mellow
but it all happens
in the ghetto.



by Ariana R.

The sound of sirens crying
followed by dogs barking
and when you look up you see planes gliding.

My streets so busy
I never get to throw block parties
imagining all the drinks getting fizzy
but who wants to throw one
the way people are.

When it turns dark everything gets crazy.
I hear the burning tires.
At night you can tell no one is lazy.
I can see some buyers
down the streets.

As the next day follows
you hear car beeps
and sometimes I see the guy
selling tacos.



by Elizabeth C.

Sirens penetrate my ears at midnight.
How I wish for one peaceful night.
Neighbors blast music.
Vibrations could be felt inside my two-story home.

Pitbulls bark at screeching vehicles.
Couples arguing from down the block.
Chinese could be smelt from a block away.
Maybe even pizza from Doreen’s.

Mann Park is where you find your crew at.
Baltimore Foods is where you get alcohol.
Hegewisch Fruit Market has all the groceries you need.

That’s what I call home.



“Writing poetry makes me feel like I can see myself, like I can see my reflection, but not in a mirror, in the world. I write and I know I can be reflected.”
-Oscar S.

“Writing poetry makes me feel free.”
-Buenda D.

“Writing poetry is like your best friend.”
-Jessica M.