Connecting to the Community and Beyond MLK Day

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by Sydney Paul, AB '12

On January 12th, UChicago hosted Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, who spoke at the University's annual MLK Commemoration Celebration. Canada passionately advocated for high expectations that all children should attend college, regardless of race, financial circumstances, or place of residence. His work in Harlem, NY has inspired the creation of Promise Communities across the nation, including the Woodlawn Children's Promise Community (WCPC), which counts the University as a close partner.

Many students are answering the call, and Woodlawn has been a particularly active neighborhood when it comes to University collaboration. The success of projects like WCPC cannot be accomplished without the work of volunteers.

We sat down with just two of many student organizations creating collaborations in the Woodlawn neighborhood:

Neighbors is a Community Service Recognized Student Organization (CSRSO) that cultivates mentoring relationships between Law School students and local elementary and high school students.


John O'Hara and Bethany Fisher

3Ls (3rd years), UChicago Law School

How has Neighbors impacted the Woodlawn community?

Neighbors has enabled Law School students to become meaningfully involved with the surrounding community rather than simply viewing Hyde Park and Woodlawn through the Law Library windows. [It] provides a way for University students, and the University itself, to positively interact with residents and local affairs.

What do you all personally gain from the experience?

Working with students at nearby schools is incredibly rewarding. We receive so much gratification seeing the students develop and mature throughout the year. Plus, younger students' boundless energy is a great pick-me-up after a long day of studying at the Law School!

The Woodlawn Collaborative is a student-run community project which hosts a collaborative space at the First Presbyterian Church on 64th and Kimbark, which they make available to non-profit groups and University students.

Laura McFadden

Third year, Political Science/Gender Studies

What do you like about working in Woodlawn?

I come from a rural-ish area where most of the work is done by churches. It is really nice to be able to work for something just for the sake of the [collaborative] project. I have also really enjoyed getting to know the University in a different light. UChicago has given me so much in the way of education. It is easy to set it on a pedestal, but it is important to see where things are a bit iffy, you know?

What do you personally gain from your involvement in Woodlawn?

Working in Woodlawn helps me interact with a large variety of people, I dig that. So many amazing University and community people exists that I would not have met without collaborative work. I enjoy doing service that is secular, because you are doing service for the sake of that. It is nice to interact with movers and shakers.


Julia Sizek

Third year, International Studies/Anthropology

What is the mission of Woodlawn Collaborative?

We are the space that provides a bridge between members of the Woodlawn community and the UChicago community. We are primarily interested in issues of political activism and empowerment, education, and the arts, but we are also interested in issues like health and the environment.

What do you hope Woodlawn residents gain from the work you do?

I hope that they understand that students at UChicago are interested in working with them, not for them as a collective "charity case." I also hope that people are gaining a greater understanding of issues in their community and what they can do to help.

Looking for more information on CSRSO's and group service opportunities?

UCSC's Guide to CSRSOs
University's MLK Day Celebration
Harlem Children's Zone
Woodlawn Collaborative

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Woodlawn has been doing marvelous work in greater Chicago area, for the community. It's great to know, some organizations put philanthropy greater than personal and corporate gains.

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