NORTH LAWNDALE — Ever since 67-year-old Sel Dunlap was a kid, he's hated the sight of trash on the ground.
"It was just something I did not like when I saw it on the ground. I was not raised in filth and never liked it," said Dunlap, who grew up in Indiana.
For the last seven years, the self-described "garbage cop" has turned his childhood pet peeve into a nonprofit organization, the Lawndale Amachi Mentoring Program, that promotes cleaning up the environment and provides mentoring to West Side youths.
Dunlap said 600 youths have come through the program, and his organization employed 70 youths over the summer.
Now, the former U.S. Army specialist hopes to go even further by organizing what he's calling a "filth summit" where residents "can learn the importance of cleaning up their neighborhoods and the benefits that comes with it," he said.
No date or place for the summit has been determined, but Dunlap said he is hoping to get it off the ground in the next six months.
"Everything takes money, and that is what I am working on now," said the community activist.
He's also hoping to get teenagers involved through their schools.
"I want to also initiate a volunteer program at high schools for students to help clean up around their schools," Dunlap said. "It would be a great way to show young adults how to be responsible for their community."
While he has yet to move on his high school initiative, Dunlap said he is preparing a proposal to present to principals.
As a young adult Dunlap said he lived in West Garfield Park and the former Cabrini-Green housing development on the Near North Side.
After two years in the military, in 1981, he cleaned up hallways at public housing buildings as head of the Beautification Program for the Michigan City (Ind.) Housing Authority.
"Cleaning up human body waste was the norm when I worked for the housing authority. People who lived in these buildings would step over waste and act like it was no big deal. Living in conditions like this had become a way of life for these residents," Dunlap said.
And now Dunlap said many blacks in Chicago have adopted the same mentality that it is acceptable to live in a dirty neighborhood.
"Filth is the reason why white folks are running from us. If we as a people did not have a high tolerance for poor living conditions, we would be better off as a race," said Dunlap. "Why can't North Lawndale look like Lincoln Park? Filth is the reason why we run from each other."
Although he now lives in south suburban Lansing, he has turned his attention to the West Side.
"That is where my focus has been the last few years," Dunlap said. "With the help of volunteers, I have cleaned up six West Side sites. Now I maintain those sites to make sure they stay clean."
A nearly 20-minute YouTube video, "War on Filth & Fear," that Dunlap helped produce shows him and volunteers cleaning up a vacant lot in North Lawndale.
In the video, he notes that much of what he finds in vacant lots — like bottles, cans and paper — is recyclable.
More "cleanup" videos are forthcoming, he said.