Chicago. A city of neighborhoods. And I would see a lot of those neighborhoods when I first started this project. I’d visit various after school programs throughout the city, explaining the creative concept of the project to generate interest. And then when one after school program on the West of Chicago actually said “yes,” I found myself on a twice-a-week winter bus ride, one hour each way to and from that West-Side neighborhood.
If you have ever regularly taken the metro bus in Chicago, or any major city for that matter, you know very well that it can get, shall we say, interesting. You never what you may see or who you may meet.
But that’s what makes any city special. The melange of people, personalities and life experiences. And let me tell you, you see that in a very real way when you travel on a bus in Chicago twice a week.
And you also begin to get a very real sense of the character that permeates from each of those unique neighborhoods on the routes of those many rides to and fro. The food they serve and eat The history that sometimes screams through the architecture. The people and their journeys, both personal and ancestral.
And it’s in that context that we wanted to facilitate this collaboration series, Neighborhoods and Their Residents, working with urban youth to create comic content for our Back of the Yards comic series based on some of the unique characteristics of our urban neighborhoods, especially given that they themselves, the participating youth, are at the very heart of those urban neighborhoods.
Back when we first had the idea of creating a fictional neighborhood to tie together a common comic story narrative based on those initial collaborations with participating urban youth, we set out to figure out what to call that fictional neighborhood. And we thought what better source to draw upon for such a name than our own backyard (no foreshadowing pun intended); Chicago, Illinois.
After all, Chicago was where this project was born. Where it was inspired. And where we would meet the initial participating youth for those early collaborations. Even before we ever knew this project would ultimately evolve into a comics based project.
We would then begin to scour through the various neighborhoods in Chicago:
- Albany Park
- East Garfield Park
- Humbolt Park
- Irving Park
- Little Village
- McKinley Park
- Rogers Park
- Ukrainian Village
- West Town
And as we would go through that list over and over again, one particular neighborhood would always stand out to us.
Back of the Yards.
There’s just something iconic about that name … “Back of the Yards.” And even more so, about its history. The neighborhood extends from 39th to 55th Streets between Halsted and the railroad tracks along Leavitt Street in Chicago, and was until the 1950’s the largest livestock yards and meatpacking center in the country. Attracting the attention of novelists and activists alike through much of the 20th century.
And in many ways, the real Back of the Yards neighborhood is symbolic of so many of our nation’s urban centers. An influx of European immigrants looking for a better life, back when manufacturing jobs were plentiful. Followed closely by an influx of African-American migrants from the rural South. All creating a vibrant melting pot of cultures unique to our nation’s great urban centers.
But, of course, those once plentiful jobs would soon begin to disappear due to economic forces beyond the control of those early residents. Steel would leave Cleveland. The auto industry would soon begin to abandon Detroit. A general exodus of manufacturing from Baltimore. It was just a different version of the same story for many of our nation’s urban centers.
And in the Back of the Yards’ case, it was the stockyards that would leave Chicago, leaving behind economic strain for those who could not also depart to the suburbs or elsewhere. But what was also left was a proud, resilient and increasingly brown and black community, dynamically contributing to the ethos of its surrounding area and its city. A city of neighborhoods. Chicago, Illinois.
And with that, we will go ahead close this introductory blog by including a short comic feature on the “real” Back of the Yards that we created shortly after selecting Back of the Yards as the fictional setting for our first comic series. We plan to do many more short comic features based on the neighborhoods of other participating youth, and in doing so, also create more comic content for our Back of the Yards comic series as part of this ongoing Neighborhoods & Their Residents collaborative series.
So we thought where better to start than our own “Back of the Yards.”