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On June 14th, Mayor Brandon Johnson presided over the grand opening of Go Green Griot Plaza at the intersection of 63rd Street and Racine Avenue which connects the Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods. Part of the multi-phase Go Green on Racine project led by nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), the plaza sits on what was until recently a vacant lot. It has now been transformed into a beautiful community gathering spot and outdoor artistic and cultural venue. The new plaza will host community engagement events, pop-up shops for local businesses and vendors, artist workshops, live performances, events centered around health and wellness, and other community programming.

The renovation included a new concrete plaza, custom stage and sound system, custom bench seating, lighting, fencing, retractable canvas canopies, signage, and two large murals that are strikingly beautiful and meaningful. Muralist Eric Hotchkiss, Englewood’s resident artist, and Ash Busse created a large wall mural on the east side of IMAN’s Fresh Market. Its central motif, a black silhouette of a person and the words “this is our story” are the backdrop for the stage where performances and educational events will take place. It is also the message that thousands will see on a daily basis as they travel west on 63rd Street or north and south on Racine Avenue. The mural is an affirmation of the nature of people as beautiful, creative, and expressive beings and that each of our stories is important. The floor mural was created by Jamal Cyrus and Jabari Anderson and incorporates the rich tradition of the West African griot – a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history – whose role is to preserve the history of people through storytelling. The floor mural’s traditional colors and patterns, reminiscent of African textiles and other symbols, help to bring the rich history of the griot to life. But the overarching message is about storytelling and telling one’s own story and the stories of one’s community.

Go Green Griot Plaza. Photo courtesy of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation

Implementation of Go Green on Racine began in 2022 with the opening of Go Green Community Fresh Market. IMAN transformed a vacant building at 1207 West 63rd Street into a bright and sunny grocery store with skylights, cheerful green paint, and most importantly, a wide selection of food including fresh produce and other healthy selections at very affordable prices. Englewood had few grocery store options and Fresh Market was an immediate hit with residents. The second phase was Go Green Griot Plaza. Phase three is expected to begin this fall with the rehabilitation of a vacant school one block north of Go Griot Plaza. It will transform the building into a re-entry center providing housing, job training, and wellness for residents for the formerly incarcerated. IMAN also is working with the City of Chicago to reopen the CTA station at just south of the plaza. The story of all the elements of Go Green on Racine is one of reclamation, reimagination, and redemption.

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation provided IMAN with a $626,000 grant to support completion of Go Green Griot Plaza. This, along with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act as part of Mayor Johnson's Road to Recovery Plan, as well as other smaller donations, allowed the project to become a reality.

Our late founder, Richard H. Driehaus, believed every Chicago neighborhood should be vibrant with beautiful gathering spaces that convey a sense of history and provide both support and joy for residents. Go Green Griot Plaza is a remarkable example of transforming urban decay and disinvestment into a vibrant, beautiful community hub. We hope Go Green on Racine will serve as an example and inspire others to reimagine their communities and encourage more thoughtful investment in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

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