ENGLEWOOD — Jean Carter-Hill, a longtime community activist who co-founded the nonprofit Imagine Englewood If, is this year's recipient of the Rosa Parks Award.
It's the seventh year Gifts From God Ministry Church, 1818 W. 74th St., will honor someone for community service in Englewood. The award will be given at a free event from noon-3 p.m. Feb. 22 at the church.
"This award really means a lot to me. It tells me that my efforts to save our youth and make Englewood a better place to live has not went unnoticed," said Carter-Hill, 76. "I have lived in Englewood for 50 years trying to make life better for black folks, and I have seen changes both good and bad for the community. All I want to do is bring back the goodness that has gotten lost over the years."
Past recipients of the award include state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), Clara Kirk, founder of the West Englewood United Organization, and John Paul Jones, a community organizer and president of the nonprofit Sustainable Englewood Initiatives.
Carter-Hill said she and Helen Arnold Massey started Imagine Englewood If in 1997 with the goal of creating social change and improvements in the quality of life for Englewood residents.
From 4-6 p.m. every third Monday at the organization's headquarters, 730 W. 69th St., the group hosts a community meeting where residents come together to discuss issues facing the community. Imagine Englewood If also provides mentoring to youths although more of that is needed, Carter-Hill said.
"These young folks out here are clueless about our history. We still have kids graduating from Paul Robeson High School without knowing who Paul Robeson is," she said. "Schools need to do a better job teaching students about black history. Thanks to Rosa Parks, blacks are able to sit anywhere they want on public buses. But yet young folks still choose to stand in the back of the bus."
In 2001, Carter-Hill said she took a group of youths to meet Parks when she was in Chicago.
"I told them they were meeting a walking legend and should cherish this moment," said the wife, mother of five, grandmother of 11, and great-grandmother of three. "Four years later when she passed away those same group of youths thanked me for the opportunity to meet her."
Three most challenging issues Carter-Hill said is facing Englewood is a lack of resources, communication between neighbors and a lack of collaboration between businesses and the community.
"You have people living next to one another for years and don't even know each other's name. So if I can bridge the gap for all three of these things before God calls me home, I will be satisfied," said Carter-Hill, a retired Chicago Public Schools employee.
Two youth members of Imagine Englewood If said the organization kept them off the streets and gave them something positive to belong to.
"I got involved with the organization after my friend invited me to come with him to one of their meetings. I didn't have anything else to do so I went to the meeting [in 2011] and have been a member ever since," recalled Kenneth El, 17. "I feel good that I belong to something that is working to provide opportunities for youths. And Mrs. Hill really works hard to make sure youths have every opportunity possible. She's one groovy lady."
Jamal Jackson, an Englewood resident and 17-year-old junior at William Harper High School, he likes being able to meet new people through the organization.
"I have met aldermen, block club presidents and many of the community activists you see on TV," Jackson said. "As far as Mrs. Hill, she is a wonderful person who works hard to make the community a better place."
And her hard work is well appreciated and well deserved, said the Rev. St. John Chisum, executive director of the nonprofit Pastors of Englewood and pastor of Gifts From God Ministry Church, which sponsors the event each year.
"Every year we give this award to someone making a difference and Mrs. Hill certainly fits that bill," Chisum said.
His wife, Gay Chisum, who helped start the annual awards celebration, agreed.
"I met Rosa Parks in the 1980s in the lobby of a Downtown hotel and since that time I have become a greater fan of her work," Gay said. "Mrs. Hill was chosen for all the right reasons you would want when honoring a community leader. She too is a walking legend."