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I want to begin by painting the scene. We live in Woodlawn, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Chicago is reputed as being one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. The North Side tends to be white and wealthy. As you move south and west, you encounter what we jokingly (because it’s true) call “the buffer zone,” which tends to be home to Latinos, with pockets of blacks and (usually lower-/middle-class) whites. As you continue down, the South Side becomes increasingly homogeneously black and markedly poorer than the North Side.

Of course, there are notable exceptions. For example, Hyde Park–home of President Obama and the University of Chicago–averages much higher levels of income and racial diversity. Although only 43% of its residents are white, it is sometimes jokingly (again, with some truth in it) referred to as the “white island in the middle of the South Side.”

Despite its proximity to Hyde Park, most of Woodlawn remains a legit South Side ‘hood. A mile-long, city-block-wide grassy park–the Midway Plaisance–divides the two neighborhoods. Once home to the 1893 World’s Fair, the Midway is now a sort of DMZ for the neighborhoods. Across the Midway from Hyde Park the average income level drops by more than 50%. Woodlawn is 94% black, meaning that I am a part of the less than 3% white population.

Woodlawn itself is further divided into four quadrants by two major roads: 63rd & Cottage Grove. 63rd runs east-west and Cottage Grove runs north-south, dividing Woodlawn into 1-mile by 1/3 mile sections. The northeast quadrant happens to be just south of the Midway and the University of Chicago. This area is the new Wild West, reserved for only the most daring of white pioneers. The university has slowly begun spilling over into this quadrant and gentrifying it. A coffee shop recently opened on the corner of 63rd and Woodlawn Ave. Across 63rd, the southeast quadrant becomes increasingly more ‘hood. Still, a few white faces brave this area.

Across Cottage the two western quadrants remained virtually untouched by the university’s influence. This is my ‘hood.

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