How Growing up on the South Side of Chicago prepared me to travel solo around the world.

Chicago Southside

How Growing up on the South Side of Chicago prepared me to travel solo around the world.

Chi-Town is where I’m from! That’s what some people call Chicago. Chicago is known by many names, The Windy City, Chi-City, Chi-beria, and Chi-raq.   Each one of these nicknames is attached to a historical event or characterization of the city that I call home. It’s funny because at this stage of my life I’ve become intimately familiar with “the why” behind each of these nicknames. However, today I want to focus on Chi-Town. The urban dictionary defines Chi-town as a nickname for Chicago that is used mostly by south side residents, and famous people from the city, giving props to their hometown.

After traveling solo to 33 countries and 49 cities for the past eighteen months, I’ve come to realize that the preparation for my solo journey started long before my departure. It started when I was just a girl, the eldest of four, with three younger brothers growing up on the south side of Chicago in the Auburn Gresham Neighborhood. Below are five things that I learned while growing up on the south side of Chicago that I believe prepared me for the biggest and best trip of my life.

1. It taught me that shit happens, but I have to push past my fears and keep going. In other words, Be fearless, God’s got my back!

 

It was January 2, 1981. I was three years old. I recalled the year but not the exact date for many years. My mother was pregnant with my brother William.  That day, my mom and I were leaving our house. I got into the car first and sat on the armrest in the back seat. The car was my Granny’s Cadillac Fleetwood. My mother got into the car and closed the door.

As soon as she closed the door, a man appeared. He opened my mom’s car door and yanked her out of the car. He put a gun to her head. I hear him shouting, but I couldn’t understand what he said. He then jumped in the car and drove away. My mother screamed and held onto the car door. She held on while he drug her several feet. When she finally let go, I could see her lying in the street through the rear view mirror.

I said “Are you going to go get her? She is hurt! You can’t just leave her!” The man turned and looked at me. At first, he didn’t say anything, but then he asked me my name, I told him, “Mable.” He drove around for I don’t know how long and then he pulled over. He told me to stay in the car. He repeated, “Don’t get out of the car! I will be right back.” He got out of the car and ran away. The next thing I knew, my daddy and a police car pulled up next to the car. I said “Hey daddy!” My father got me out of the car and took me home to my mother. She was home because she refused to seek medical attention until she knew that I was safe.

The man who carjacked my mother  called the police and told them where he left me and the car.

From that day or for as long as I can remember, My mother and I would remind each other to lock the door as soon as we’d get into a car. We had a saying “God always takes care of mommy and Mable!”

I wish that I could say that that was the last violent act that I experienced on the south side of Chicago, but that would not be true. However, with each violent occurrence that I witnessed or was a victim of, I became more resolute about changing my environment. I often recall the courage that my mother displayed when she was faced with difficult situations. She always said, “Shit happens, but you stay focused on what YOU are trying to do! And remember God always takes care of mommy and Mable!   We roll with the punches because that’s what we do!”

2.   It taught me the importance of forming relationships and the benefit of being a part of a community.

 

Many of the residents in Auburn Gresham have resided there for generations.   In fact, the house that I grew up in was gifted to my mother by my maternal grandmother when I was four years old. It was the same house that my mother grew up in. Many of the neighbors that lived on “the block” had watched my mother mature through her late teens and into young adulthood. “The block” is what the young people who lived on 87th and Ada called our street.

My mother worked the evening and night shift, and my father worked the day shift but worked overtime for most of my childhood. So that meant that I was often “in charge” of my three younger brothers. In charge means that I was responsible for feeding and making sure that homework and chores were done before my mother got home from work. It was nothing for my mother to call home and tell me what to cook. If I didn’t have all of the ingredients, she would say, “Go across the street and ask Bessie or Mrs. Turner for….” either the ingredient or the money to buy the ingredient.

These same women that I borrowed sugar or flour from in my mother’s absence became my surrogate aunties. They would advise me and cheer for me. The other neighbors on the block, although I never stepped inside their homes, they were always welcoming and supportive of me. Whenever I had a school fundraiser, I would knock on everybody’s door on the block and ask for donations, and they happily contributed.

In fact, when I was leaving for college, many of my neighbors put money in my hand and told me how proud they were of me. My mother was adamant about making sure that I wrote thank you notes to each of them. The memories of the smiles on my neighbors’ faces when they saw me at the door left a lasting impression on me. Although I did not understand it at the time, I was a part of them, and they were apart of me. My success was a win for everybody on the block. I felt the love and support of my neighbors just from a simple inquiry about my life (mostly school stuff) and my dreams.

From those encounters, I realized that relationships and the ability to form them are an essential part of my happiness.

Relationships and the ability to form them are an essential part of my happiness. Click To Tweet

 

3.   It taught me that I had a choice of being judgmental or compassionate when interacting with people. More specifically, it taught me that how a person looks or speaks is not an indicator of their heart or their capacity to love and express compassion.

 

I’m a child of the 1980’s and 90’s. My neighborhood was not immune to the crack epidemic. The duality of living in a “stable community” but having exposure to drug dealings and gangs is fascinating to me. During my childhood, I knew many drug dealers and gang bangers, but I never felt unsafe or threatened in my neighborhood. I didn’t see the drug dealers/gang bangers as bad people. I saw them as my friends and family who made different choices than I did in life.

In fact, these “drug dealers and gang bangers” were very protective of me. They were my play cousins, god-brothers, and god-sisters. They braided my hair, played basketball in my backyard, and they taught me how to skate.

If we were somewhere and they perceived that I was in danger, they shielded me. As I grew older, I saw more depictions of what “thugs” looked like on the news media and in movies, but when I saw people in my community that fit those stereotypes, I did not see thugs. I saw my friends. I saw people who were always kind and genuine to me.

I learned that I have the choice and the power to treat people with love and compassion, no matter what they look like or how they speak.

I have the choice and the power to treat people with love and compassion no matter what they look… Click To Tweet

4.   It conditioned me to embrace traveling to unfamiliar places to get my needs met.

 

The neighborhood that I grew up in, Auburn Gresham, did not have a quality grocery store, nor did it have a shopping mall. Therefore, my mother would take me with her to grocery shop in the closest suburb to where we lived called Evergreen Park. The border of Evergreen Park was about 4 miles from our house. However, the neighborhoods were like night and day.

Auburn Gresham, was mostly African American and Evergreen Park was predominantly White. Auburn Gresham did not have many commercial businesses except a few lounges, gas stations, corner stores, beauty salons and fast food restaurants. Evergreen Park was home to a golf course, a shopping mall, a bowling alley, boutiques, a grocery store and several sit down restaurants.

When grocery shopping with my mom, I was always fascinated at how beautiful the fruit and vegetables looked in the produce section. I remember my mother saying “Don’t ask me for nothing when we go to this store! And don’t touch nothing!”

She wouldn’t buy produce from that grocery store because she said it was too expensive. She bought canned goods and meat from that store. We went to another grocery store in another southwest suburb to go to the produce shop. That grocery store was about 15 miles from where we lived.   This was our routine. We traveled to two sometimes three neighborhoods to complete grocery shopping.

The routine of going to different parts of the city and suburbs to grocery shop or shop for anything was the norm. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that in other parts of Chicago and other cities in the United States, that people had access to all of the amenities, like grocery stores, department stores, restaurants, etc. within walking distance of their homes.

5. It showed me how to be resourceful. In other words, how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.

 

I loved going to Six Flags Great America, a theme park 2 hours outside of Chicago when I was a kid. My favorite part of the park was the games. I spent hours playing the games. When I was growing up the cost of entry to Six Flags was $20, and you could get another discount if you brought a Coke can. Well if you can imagine, it got quite expensive for my parent’s as our family grew.   We did not go as often as I would have liked. And after awhile, I was sad that some of my friends in the neighborhood could not afford to go, so I asked my mother if I could create a theme park in our backyard. And build a theme park I did! I made five game stations, Bobbing for Apples, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Bean Bag Tic-Tac-Toe, HORSE, and an egg toss. I used my old stuffed animals and change from my bank for prizes. I invited the other kids from the block. I asked my daddy to barbecue hot dogs. It was $2 to get in, and the hot dogs were free.

 

I don’t remember how much money I made, but I was so proud of myself. This experience lit the fire in me to create the experiences that I wanted to have and to share them with others. It gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and not to allow the lack of money or resources stop me.

I have plenty more stories to share, but enough about me. How do you think growing up in Chicago or your hometown has prepared you to chase your dreams? Please share in the comments below.

 

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23 Comments
  • June E. Porter
    Posted at 04:27h, 28 June Reply

    Being poor and Black in America and in particular being subjected to racism and limitations in Chicago give rise to dreams of “a better place” where ever this might be. It can be a matter of a few blocks, another neighborhood, another city or state. And like you maybe another country. When the time is right I think everyone is inspired to make a move..

  • June E. Porter
    Posted at 04:18h, 28 June Reply

    Wonderful story Mable. Like you I decided to make a change because of my young sons..In 1969 at the height of the Black Stone Rangers activity focused on the recruitment of boys within their gangs, my husband and I moved from the 47th Woodlawn area to Batavia, Illinois in the southwest suburbs. During those times this was considered a bold step.
    My other sisters and brother decided to remain in the city. Needless to say subsequently my older brother was killed about 3AM after walking my sister safely home from her job and was returning to his apt. Two half sisters were victims of crack and other drugs that ravished some communities..The moral of the story is…You have to know when to go! And you are the best judge of knowing when something is toxic you have to drop it.

  • Craig Elliott
    Posted at 01:31h, 09 June Reply

    Wow Mable. This is exactly what MY CITY…our CITY is nd why I love that it is apart of us. Amazing read. I’m proud to have you as a friend. Keep an coming….I KNOW there’s so much more

  • Stacey Penny
    Posted at 00:43h, 09 June Reply

    Growing up on the South Side and spending many, many summers and days after school with my grandparents and family friends on the West Side gave me a well rounded perspective of life that many do not get. So when I moved to DC for graduate school and lived on Howard’s Campus in 1997, it wasn’t foreign to me. Walking down U street and Florida Ave back then was nothing like it is today. They had just built the U street metro and Republic Gardens had only been open for about a year. LeDroit Park had not yet been gentrified. But similar to you, I was taught to treat people with kindness and respect regardless of a how they spoke, how they looked or what they did. It also helped me as I traveled around the US for work and to be more open minded than others about some of the places we had to visit. I often think about where I grew up and how I grew up prepped me for my adulthood. So thank you for sharing your story and allowing us to share ours.

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:33h, 10 June

      Wow Stacey! I went to Howard too! I graduated in 98′ from the college of Nursing! Yes, learning to treat people with kindness is invaluable. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kay Farrell
    Posted at 23:25h, 08 June Reply

    Awesome and those are some of my experience’s being born and out raised in the Chi ! I grew up in South shore side of the city.Where at that time The Blackstone Rangers had full control ! As you say, I had no fear because those too were my friends 😉 You made me remember memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life.😊

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:34h, 10 June

      That’s wonderful to here Kay! Memories are soothing to the soul!

  • Alexander Foster
    Posted at 22:39h, 08 June Reply

    Thanks for giving me fond memories of yourself.
    My experience growing up in Chi Town was similar only I lived on the south side and visited my dad on the west side wh8ch was not the norm.Most people who lived on the south side feared going to the westside.Doing that I didn’t fear moving across the country.

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:36h, 10 June

      Wow! I had family on the west side too! When we visited, it seemed so far away, I was the young cousin so they wouldn’t let me go outside. My cousins lived on West end.

  • Tif Jamison
    Posted at 14:46h, 08 June Reply

    Mable, I truly enjoyed reading this, and I can see you so vividly in my head at your home theme park. Thanks for sharing your story and experiences! I am so proud of you!

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:36h, 10 June

      Hey Tif! Miss you!

  • Angela Lewis
    Posted at 14:22h, 08 June Reply

    This made me cry! A happy cry. I grew up on the west side of Chicago until I got married to a man from the south side of Chicago. His mom wasn’t having that, she wanted her son back out south. That was in 1997. The south side was not that much different, as a matter of fact, visiting what once was a mall at 63rd and halsted reminded me much of pulaski and madison. I as a teenager visited the south side with my friends. Your story is very touching. Living in Chicago has prepared me for LIFE! I feel if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, The things I have experienced in this life growing up in this city needs to be shared too. Many have told me I should write a book. But my excuse is my story is no different than the next. But reading this passage that I stumbled across on FB has encouraged me. We all have a different story. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:38h, 10 June

      Angela, the world needs to see and hear from you! I can’t wait to read your story! Start with a blog post! Maybe publish it here?

  • Ekelaka
    Posted at 01:44h, 08 June Reply

    Nice….very nostalgic. Thx for taking me down memory lane….such a rich history

  • Tami
    Posted at 00:33h, 08 June Reply

    Hi Mable!!! This is a great bio for you!! Thsnks so much for sharing..Time sure does fly .. it has been at least two years since I have seen you when I was taking care of your family member. However I am proud of you and your courage to explore the world.!!! How exciting this was and is for you!!! I wish you well in all of your endeavors!!!

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:39h, 10 June

      Hey Tami! Thank you so much!

  • N Mourillon
    Posted at 13:31h, 07 June Reply

    Love this in its entirety!

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:40h, 10 June

      😘

  • Candace Hunter
    Posted at 07:22h, 07 June Reply

    Nothin’ like a Chi-town gal! Especially one named Mabel. I am more proud of you with each seccesive step that you take into your btight, shining future. And thank you for taking us along with you on your journey.

  • Nikki Smith
    Posted at 18:46h, 06 June Reply

    I grew up in a plain-jane ,midwestern city and after college (and visiting Chicago during college), realized that there just HAD to be more to life. I got a taste of how having an ample supply of arts, culture and diversity fed my soul. All I knew was that Chicago was calling me. I didn’t know how, when, or what the details would be, but I knew the where! I didn’t wanna be forty-something saying “shoulda-would-coulda.” The need to be in a more diverse, creative environment was the fire that had me quit my job and move to Chicago without a job or friends. When it’s time to shift, one’s comfort zone becomes sooo uncomfortable! I had a cousin who’s home was open to me and $2k to my name–and it was enough. It was where I blossomed, bloomed and came into my self. I come from a solid family where there was lots of love and support (although some thought I was crazy for leaving the familiar). However, familiar wasn’t enough! I knew I always had that support system to fall back on if needed. Fast forward almost twenty years later and it’s been almost a year that I had to return home to “reset”. I’m back in a place of finding out what the next chapter and/or dream will be. Having had such a dream fulfilled once has allowed me to know that it can happen again! Thx for all of your inspiring stories!

    • Mable
      Posted at 08:58h, 07 June

      Wow Nikki! Yes, it is true that your faith muscles grow as you grow! Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Mellini Monique
    Posted at 16:17h, 06 June Reply

    Excellent article! I can identify with this on so many levels.

    • Mable
      Posted at 14:40h, 10 June

      Thanks Mellini!

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