Defining The Standards of Beauty in 2018

Rapper Kodak Black created a ripple of controversy on social media when he stated he doesn’t date black woman, when does the self-hatred stop?  As a millennial who listens to his music it’s heartbreaking to continue to hear that black men don’t want black women. This continues to create a fundamental since of self-hatred in our music and hip hop world.

When do we as Americans acknowledge that yes we come in all shapes, sizes and complexions that black beauty matters? When do we lift up those who feel left out? Overlooked?

Today we still live in a world where our black identity (culture) is miss appropriated by a society that still doesn’t accept that “Our Black Is Beautiful”. In contrast magazines, beauty editorials and blogs are quick to praise our white counter parts who manipulated their bodies to have fuller lips, hips, bigger butts, cheek bones and even hair styles of black women. While little black girls grow up trying to understand what beauty is, what does black beauty look like, are often left confused and they’re left to these images seen on TV or magazines to shape the meaning. In turn you have men as well as women lifting up our white counterparts and adoring them for imitating the beauty of a black woman while putting down the actual black woman herself.

In the 1940’s, Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark in their famous doll test conducted a series of experiments on the psychological effects of segregation on American children. According to a report by the N.A.A.C.P.  “Drs. Clark used four dolls, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. Their subjects, children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they prefer. A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.”

The studies concluded that segregation impacted the children to internally hate themselves and their black skin. Since then more tests, reports, and studies post-civil rights era continue to resonate. In more recent studies, young children were still selecting the white doll, white model or white figure which in their minds represented beauty, respect and an ideal role model.  The brown bag test was another example of discrimination and used to deny black privileges to social intuitions such as churches, sororities and fraternities.

Rashanah at 5 years old

Love Thy Black Self

As a girl growing up in Englewood, I remember reflecting on what doll I would choose to play with.  I didn’t have a choice because my mother reinforced my beauty and ensured that I had an array of black dolls.  I don’t know if my mother was familiar with the Clarks study. I do know she insisted on me knowing that “My Black Is Beautiful” and I was a “Beautiful Brown Baby Doll” was a constant affirmation.  My mom encouraged me early to embrace my beauty.  She was determined to make sure I knew that white women were not the standard of beauty for little black girls growing up on the South Side of Chicago.

My mom, a single parent, gave me no choice but to appreciate my sandy brown hair, statuesque physique, dark complexed skin, full lips and hips throughout my adolescent years.  I was always engaged in enriching activities such as African dance, modern dance, cheer-leading and Girl Scouts of America. I had teen-age insecurities, I was the tallest in my class, the youngest in my class and I was teased on everything from the complexion of my skin to the texture of my natural hair. I struggled emotionally while in High School. I wanted to change my appearance often.  However, I remained steadfast because my Mom’s emphasis on “My Black is Beautiful” was echoing in my soul.

Rashanah and Her Mother

My struggle with a poor self-concept and esteem associated subconsciously with a “white” standard of beauty, despite having a “Strong Black Female Mom” as a role-model, led me to start mentoring young girls within my community and church. I was determined to make sure young girls coming up behind me regardless of being light skinned, dark skinned, tall, short, big or small they would know that beauty came in all forms.

Rashanah 9 years old, Girl Scouts Father-Daughter Dance

As a teen I heard common phrases: “If you’re light you alright, If you’re brown you stick around and black you step to back” was very disheartening.

Defining Beauty

Beauty is defined by what we watch on the TV and see in the news. The standard of beauty in America is often defined by what we also see on the newsstands in the grocery stores. The images of white reality stars such as Kim Kardashian are the overarching theme.

I didn’t recognize my mom was empowering me to be a beautiful black woman inside and out. She made sure to engage me in all aspects of activities that spoke to beauty. If I were not in: African Dance, learning the importance of body movement; cheerleading, learning the importance of  teamwork; and Girls Scout learning survival skills I would not be the woman I am now.

My mother’s affirming my black identity beauty facilitated a sub-consciousness interest in me of how beauty looks via dance, service and cheerleading. This inspired me to participate in pageants as a young woman and take the leap of faith to express my beauty in competition.

Who Dares Step Up To The Pedestal of Beauty:

In 2017, it takes much courage, faith, tenacity, and inner beauty for whomever dares to stand on a pedestal and assert their beauty in a culture of body shaming and aspirations to achieve perfection. The beauty to see one’s self in the image of God and proclaim “I Am What Beauty Looks Like” in a society in which beauty is defined historically by images of Farrah Fawcett, Bo Derek,  presently Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and Kylie Jenner.

It wasn’t until my mom showed me gorgeous pictures of Dorothy Dandridge, Beverly Johnson, Iman, and Janet Jackson that revealed to me what beauty and elegance looked like.

“Growing up seeing my cousins, sisters, girlfriends, I witnessed the challenges of black girls struggle with self-concept, worth, image and esteem because of their body, length of hair, complexion, etc. Rearing two girls coupled with educating hundreds more as a school principal and pastor I always remained a bit sorrowfully heavy because of the pain that black girls experienced about trying to fit into a rubric of beauty created by the media and the likes of Kardashians and Hiltons. The irony today when you watch shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop and other reality shows depicting self-hatred aligned to a white standard of beauty. These sister girls spill out a venom towards one another that reinforces the negative stereotype by beating down one another and criticizing one another’s hair, skin, and body image, it is a pain that haunts millions of black women in our communities today.” says Pastor K. Andre Brooks of Greater Saint John AME Church.

Rashanah Baldwin, Ms. American Elegance Woman 2016-17

(American Elegance National Pageant) 

In 2017, I decided to step on this pedestal to take opportunity to compete national to become the national Ms American Elegance Woman. I did this knowing that my own family, friends and community would minimize and look down on my efforts and find ways to tear me down because of their own ugliness associated with self-hatred based on a with white supremacy psychological under pinning.
“We must salute and support modern American Super Black Woman who are courageous enough to step out on the stage of white supremacy and redefine the standard of beauty.”, states Pastor K. Andre Brooks.

 The Role of Pageantry

Many remember Vanessa Williams the first African American to win the Miss America Beauty Pageant in 1984. This was record breaking and a huge win for many around the country.  However as gorgeous as she is, she still had the blue eyes, sandy brown hair and was fair skinned. As we celebrate her as a black woman, she was far removed from the standards of black beauty because she was a close representation to the whiteness the world wanted to see for a beauty queen. Part of the challenge with black girls with their interpretation with their blackness is the association with the standards of beauty often times correlated with whiteness as possible. Vanessa Williams, like many fair skinned African American woman often faced a double-edged sword, for they too were teased for being fair skinned by their own counterparts while at the same time being lifted up by whites.

However the image hangs on the theory closely related with the lighter they are the prettier they are and this leaves our little girls with the dichotomy of blackness.

Mentoring and Monitoring Beauty

The Illinois American Elegance Pageant, a division of the American Elegance Pageant, embraces all shapes, sizes, ages and certainly does not take race into consideration for participation. According to Lauren Ransom, State Director for the Illinois American Elegance Pageant “we celebrate women of all ages, sizes, and ethnicity showing the many ways women are BEAUTIFUL!”

I’m excited to continue the mantra “My Black Is Beautiful” through the young girls mentoring initiative I oversee called “Tea With A Queen” and the newest Girl Scouts Troop  I launched in the Summer of 2017  Troop #25672.  These initiative covers a variety of topics while providing leadership and mentoring to young girls across Chicago. The work and commitment to youth mentoring and women empowerment continues!

Rashanah and The Englewood Princesses

FBI Association Honors Englewood Native

Englewood Gets A New Neighborhood Hero.

Raydell Lacey of Not Before My Parents continues to perform acts of #GoodInEnglewood  and #GoodInTheNeigborhood throughout Chicago. She was awarded The 2018 Community Hero for outstanding service to others and the community. Recognized by the #FBI Citizen Alumni Association on July 19, 2018 at Union League Chicago.

(L-R) Rashanah Baldwin, Raydell Lacey and Erick Lacey
(L-R) Erick Lacey, Rashanah Baldwin, Raydell Lacey, Officer Janice Wilson and Commander Kenneth Johnson (007th District CPD)

Not Before My Parents mission is to empower the youth through the game of chess. Chess promotes healthy competition and it motivates as well as introduces the game to youth who may not have otherwise considered playing. Rather than choosing violence, members of the chess teams will sit down and work out their differences using stategic moves over the chess board.

“Youth in today’s society are so tied up into social media and electronics that the tradition of outdoor play has become lost. Youth are not being physically active nor are they learning the skills of how to interact in team settings, we believe from skills learned from chess they can apply in everyday life,” says Raydell Lacey, Founder of Not Before My Parents.

NBMP was established in 2012 by Raydell Lacey, 18 years after the murder of her 21 year old daughter, Elonda D. Lacey aka Ms. Buckey, In January 2016 Raydell’s grandson, Erick L. Lacey Jr., aka E.J. was murdered.

NBMP also offers support to parents and youth who have suffered a loss. NBMP also offers coping skills. If needed, families, parents, and/or youth are referred for additional resources. For donations visit: for more information, call  (773) 231-8163.

The American Dream or The American Nightmare? What is the reality for Chicago South Siders?

Many understand “The American Dream” as having the white picket fence. A home, two children, a dog and spouse. The successful and/or stable career, financial security, owning a piece of land and later passing it down to the children, has been the definition.

In 1931, author James Truslow Adams defined “The American Dream” as “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.” Translation, if you came to America or even are American- if you work hard, you can find a job in order to control your destiny to achieve the ideal life you want in the land of the free.

In 2017, are Chicagoans living “The American Dream or The American Nightmare?” At what point do we look at our success to really analyze if we are living the life James Truslow Adams described in 1931. In order to get a sense of “The American Dream or The American Nightmare”, several Chicagoans who are vested in their careers, communities and families were asked their thoughts. Particularly Chicagoan’s living on the South Side, who like many, experienced the ills of a tough economy, polarized political climate, a plethora of past disinvestments and polices that have worked against South Siders. Factor in ethnicity and demographics, how are they feeling about “The American Dream”?

On Paper It Looks Good: It’s Window Dressing

Brian Barker, 37 resides in Greater Grand Crossing with his wife of 2 years, 6 month old son Bryson and owns a 4,000 square foot home. He’s currently a professor at DePaul University where he teaches hospitality and management. On paper he’s living “The American Dream”, he’s not quick to jump on the bandwagon of saying he’s living “The Dream” but does feel he is doing well.

Brian Barker and his son Bryson

“I remained loyal to my community; I returned to my community, it’s a little disheartening because I want more of my community members to do well. It’s difficult to reach any level of success when you know so many others who are not on that path,” said Barker.  Any level of success he’s obtained is overshadowed by the guilt of wanting to do more for his community and making a systemic change.

Brian Barker, DePaul University Professor

The successful career, the spouse, the nice home and the family are personal success, also known as window dressing, states Mark Harris. Harris is an Englewood native who currently resides in a condo in Hyde Park with his wife of 2 years.  He also happens to be a successful film director.  Several of his films including “Black Coffee and My First Love” can currently be seen on TV-One, B.E.T, Centric and to date, he’s produced several films that are either on TV or showing on Netflix. When mentioning his accolades, Harris adds there is still a concern for blacks. The Black Community and improving the lives of black people is something he cannot overlook.

Mark Harris, Film Director

Harris believes he can equally achieve the success of his white counterparts in film, but also feels by telling blacks that if he can make it they can too is a lie. “I know by telling black people that, it’s like saying this world is not designed to keep us in a certain position or this system is not designed to suffocate us.”  You’re leading them to believe that there are not things set in place to work against them. Harris adds that through unity we can all do it because unity is more important than looking at personal or individual success.

American Sitcoms Shaped Who Lived “The American Dream”

We saw the “The American Dream” on The Partridge Family, Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best and a host of shows that articulated what this “Dream” looked like post World War II. For many Americans, the idea of inclusiveness has been measured by the indicators of a house, a white picket fence, a dog and a family anchored by a man and a woman role in maintaining the house and the child role in growing. In reality there may have been a dream for some Americans, but there are others who have had to work harder to get ahead in hopes of this “Dream” becoming a reality just because of their race. “At the same time while we saw images of white families living the American Dream, we saw blacks struggling in Good Times, Sanford and Son, Julia and various shows that showed the black plight to achieve that hope. What it said for blacks was an “American Nightmare”. A nightmare that had it’s beginning for a group of people kidnapped from Africa and subjugated through institutional slavery,” said Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks.

Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks sees the evidence of African Americans accomplishing “The American Dream” (or let’s call it Black Excellence).  Greater Saint John AME Church is home to many affluent blacks who were doctors, lawyers, engineers and politicians who too were homeowners in the 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950. Many of which are the off springs who are also living “The American Dream” and currently make-up the congregation. Greater Saint John is the oldest African American church located in Chicago’s Englewood community established in 1887.

Pastor K. Andre Brooks and GSJAME Members

Brooks adds, it was not until shows like The Jefferson’s, The Huxtables and Family Matters that blacks started to see themselves as inclusive members in the idea of “The American Dream”.

Whose Is Allowed To Have This Dream?

The American Dreams for Blacks in this society has often been highlighted by what many see in the media, i.e. struggling families, single parent homes and impoverished communities. The fact of the matter is that blacks were much more successful in manifesting “The Dream” despite the American realities.  Black Wall Street was a major example of the African American fulfilling “The American Dream” during the early 1900’s when Tulsa, Oklahoma had over 600 black booming businesses and many affluent black communities. This type of Black Excellence was echoed around the country which prompted the shared prosperity, adds Pastor Brooks. It exemplified, that blacks too are American and can climb the economic ladder. Yet this became a dream deferred or possibly “The American Nightmare” when in June 1921, envious whites bombed the area and killed some 3,000 blacks.

Homeownership plays a major role in defining “The American Dream”. The next best thing was putting down stake in a community by owning a piece of property you worked hard for and a place you could call your own. In the classic novel “A Raisin In The Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry the world was given a glimpse of the reality for blacks in regard to real estate discrimination. Hansberry’s book was based on her family’s story in which she detailed the policies and practices used against blacks to prohibit them from accomplishing “The American Dream” i.e. homeownership.  Such polices included restrictive covenants – which was legal at the time prohibiting black buyers from purchasing homes in an all-white community.

Hansberry’s story was similar for many blacks who faced the struggle in achieving this “American Dream” and was told by way of polices like “redlining” and “restrictive covenants” which in essence stopped blacks from purchasing property in white communities. That restriction led to blacks not being able to readily take part in “The American Dream”.

Many families like my own grandparents still pushed through such redlining practices in 1960’s and fought to purchase in predominately white neighborhoods like Chicago’s Englewood community in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Katherine and Lawrence Haynes (Rashanah’s Grandparents)

A Challenging Dream

There are a lot of mindsets, challenges and variations of what this “American Dream” meant from generation to generation. “I will always be a black man in America,” explains Harris. No matter how successful African Americans are on paper or even in their respective careers, until the community as a whole is operating better; to believe in that dream is a challenge.

While each men expressed his sentiments about living the “The American Dream or The American Nightmare”, collectively they perceived that their communities would have to be thriving in order to really look at themselves as living out that dream. They felt that as a whole there would need to be systematic change, improvement of the quality of life for African Americans and thriving communities in order for them to bask in the glory of living “The American Dream.”

Dream Deferred vs Personal/Bad Choices

Achievement of “The American Dream” has been proven by the noted success of our ancestors (who built America) who had much more to face and overcome.  If they could do it, then so can we.  However, a small part in not achieving “The American Dream” may sometimes be due in part to one’s own personal and/or bad choices in life.  These choices play a pivotal role in how far one can, or cannot, go to make “The American Dream” a reality.

Institutionally, blacks have not been on a level playing field where we did not have the boots or boot straps to pull ourselves up.  This coupled with bad choices really places the odds against us.

So it becomes imperative that we are careful in the choices and decisions we make.  There is not much room for error, i.e. no petty theft, no child-hood pranks, no detrimental FB postings.  The list is endless, yet we are up for the challenge and clear that Black Excellence is the goal to which we strive.

Why Black Church Should Matter to Black Millennials: #WhyBlackChurchStillMatters?

Photo credit: dazzle shot images
Rashanah Baldwin

Why should Black millennials re-engage in Black Churches?

There is an outcry from Black millennials who feel that Church is not the place for them anymore and consequently have disengaged. Many millennials question the relevancy of “Church” and see it as a bastion of yesterdays fight for freedom and religious fellowship for Black Americans.  They are frustrated with the overwhelming number of Black churches in depressed and impoverished communities that are not active socially, economically, and politically.  In recent articles and academic research reports by Pew Research Center, Poynter Institute, and Huffington Post articles reveal that millennials have either disengaged all together from church or have been church hopping.

While doing research on this issue, I ran across statements like “You can’t say you love me but don’t address the massive social injustices we face. You can’t expect us to worship Jesus the Christ but then the church does not speak out against police brutality.”

As a millennial, I set out to get the facts by talking with two pastors on the South Side of Chicago in the Englewood community who are known to have active participation from millennials.

Why Do Black Churches Matter?

“Black Churches have always mattered, the real question is when and why did they stop mattering to Black millennials? The Black Church has always been the number one civil, moral, social, and human rights organization in America for the upliftment and advancement of Blacks since 1787…the problem is that the parents and grandparents of millennials did not emphasize this fact…both institutionally and individually…Black millennials would not be the great critical theorists they are if it was not for the sacrifice of their Black grandparents in churches who created a thriving Black Middle Class through their colleges,” said Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks of The Greater Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African American Church in Englewood, Chicago (Founded 1887).

According to Brooks, the Black churches have been the place where many organizing efforts started, where many civil rights leaders who would have been considered millennials at the time, used the church to convene in privacy and where movements centered on addressing social justice issues were birthed.

Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks of Greater Saint John AME

Church is Compassion and Justice. (We have to do both)

“Church is relevant because it is supposed to be God’s hands and feet,” said Pastor Jonathan Brooks of Canaan Community Church located in Englewood.  The majority of his congregation is made up of millennials and generation x’ers who call him Pastor J.  Similar, to Pastor K. Andre Brooks, he acknowledges how instrumental Black churches have been in shaping civil rights movements. Pastor J implied that many Blacks have hung their hat on that history and rested on it alone. He believes many Blacks became relaxed after segregation ended.  He understands the narrative of why many millennials have disengaged from Black churches.

“It includes caring about their neighbor. You can’t have a food pantry but not march against these food injustices. You can’t sit in a community with closing schools and not engage the community outside the walls of church,” said Pastor J.

Pastor Jonathan Brooks, Canaan Community Church

Pastor Jonathan Brooks, Canaan Community Church

Millennials across the nation and right here in Chicago have been impacted by the death of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile and many more.

With so many churches in the Black communities, millennials are wondering why these Black churches aren’t involved in these social issues.  Pastor J says “they’re in that community and they should be involved in some capacity.”  Social issues and spiritual issues should not be separated. It’s dangerous. An example is slavery and how white slave masters physically controlled the bodies of slaves. Christianity was used to justify the institution of slavery while not acknowledging the contradiction, which is, slavery in a civilized society.

Pastor Jonathan Brooks, Cooking Matter Workshop

Understanding The Role and History of Black Churches.

Black churches, or more specifically, Black pastors became the spokespersons of civil rights movements and even social movements. Black churches enforced cooperative values, instilled the hierarchical approach—taught organizing skills to budding leaders rising up in the ranks about understanding democracy, equality, working together and caring for others. Some of the harshest laws and practices created by the fore fathers of the United States of America under the values of Christianity were overturned by civil rights leaders both religious and non-religious leaders who organized in the church.

Jim Crow-ism and all forms of segregation were abolished by way of the efforts of the Black churches. Young people have always been anchored in the church.  Pastor K. Andre Brooks points out the establishment of fraternities, sororities, Chicago Urban League, NAACP, SNCC (student nonviolent coordinating committee) and the Black Panther Party were organized by the efforts and support of the Black churches.  “These churches created a since of black organizational excellence and civic engagement in the community…. led primarily by young people i.e. millennials of that era,” said Pastor K.  Brooks.

Get In Formation. Segregation Birthed Black Unity

“Don’t Break The Line, Don’t Scream and Holler. We have water, we have medics and minsters on the line.  We’re going to bend down and pray. If a rock is thrown at you try to catch it. Wear strong hats,” recalls Jacqueline Baldwin, Englewood Native and activist. These were the words she members Jesse Jackson saying to her and young activists in Chicago who were bused from Englewood to Marquette Park as well as other racially segregated areas in Chicago to protest during the 1960’s.  Jackson organized ( by then Operation Bread Basket now known as Operation Rainbow Push Coalition) workshops where he taught young activists like Baldwin on how to prepare for these protests, how to prepare for the attack and the negative remarks. She says, attending church was a way of life, you had no choice but to go to church, you got your upbringing and morals from church.  If the parents did not go to church the children still were sent to Sunday school.  As a teenager Baldwin, remembers watching the horrific images of dogs being unleashed on young children, men and women in the South. She recalls watching bricks being thrown at Blacks, Blacks being spit on and water hoses being used on them. These images were imprinted in her head and many others who wanted to fight back.

Where did they turn? Who could they trust? Who was responsible for the gathering of these passionate folks like Baldwin who were compelled to do something?  She states, “We didn’t organize in vacant lots, it wasn’t the schools because they were ran by the racists who did not want to end segregation.” The church basements and the pastors office is where we organized.  These were the safest places for Blacks to go, to strategize, to plan the next rallies, to create fliers, create slogans and meet other churches as well as pastors who were doing the same thing.” She adds this is why Black Church matters and still should matter.

Segregation forced blacks to unite, celebrate each other and fight together, this came from Black churches, both Pastor K. Brooks and Baldwin stress.

Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks

“How many marches would have taken place if it wasn’t for the churches?  We stood up for those people who got hurt, got hit, and we prayed.  Dr. King came to Englewood, frequently to New Friendship Baptist Church (71st Green) to organize and rally with the youth led by a young Pastor John Porter. The youth were used at the churches to organize these movements; the churches birthed some of the greatest singers, actors, and teachers. In church you learned about life, Baldwin says. Black churches matter then and they matter now. During this time, Baldwin says church made her consciously aware of who she was, why the fight for Black rights was important, and why blacks need to stand up for themselves.

Engaging Millennials Beyond The Ministry

“Scripture speaks the way of life”-Pastor Jonathan Brooks.

“I was present in the environments that they were in, I was cool and I was hip. I talked like them and spoke their language. I engaged them were they are…. They wanted to know more about me and I told them my pains, insecurities, frustration with parents, God, and the Black Church…. bottom line I went out of the church and built relationships based on sincere interest and love…not dogma, doctrine, religion. I loved them.” said Pastor K. Brooks, when asked how he was able to get millennials to start attending a historic and traditional Black Church.

Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks and GSJAME members

Pastor K. Brooks saw the importance of adapting to the culture of millennials by simply meeting them on their level. Using language, lingo, and an understanding of who they are.  He took it a step further by forming meaningful relationships with them outside of the church. While speaking on fostering relationships with millennials, Brooks says he engaged them at coffee shops, clubs, and at community events. He found out what their interests were and found ways to teach them through ministry. His sermons reflected their language and integrated pop culture with the word of God in the message.  He created a positive attitude and perception about the church, fostered a culture where being a believer is cool and hip, fashionable, cutting edge and trendsetting.

Pastor Kevin Brooks with GSJAME Members

In addition, he enacted a revolutionary zeal for millennials to confront injustice. Greater Saint John AME Church will celebrate its 130th Anniversary in August and will continue to preach the “Good In Englewood”. There have been many initiatives that were led by millennials out of GSJAME such as the Gun Buy Back by Programs, GED Classes, Suit & Clothes Give Aways, After School Tutorials, Social Justices Rallies, Dinner Parties, Water Crisis in Flint Michigan and “Tea With A Queen” (a young girl mentoring series). It’s important that millennials have an active role in the church where they can serve in leadership roles alongside the elders of the church, explains Pastor K. Brooks.

“I just recently started going back to church and it really has been eye opening for me. Instead of being pushed into focusing in on the religion aspect of church. It’s more of a spiritual connection that my pastor expresses towards the members of the church. He does speak from the bible and gives us lessons from it. He wants us to awaken our spiritual awareness.” Jahmel T. Singleton, Greater Saint John AME Church, Member.

In Canaan Community Church, there is an environment in which millennials could challenge the bible and the pastors in a respectful manner, said Pastor J. This is a way of engaging millennials meaningfully and less critically.  He adds, “I didn’t come to abolish ways, I came to embrace it. I don’t judge. I speak their frequency. I speak to their interests.”

Pastor Jonathan Brooks

One Narrative. One Community. One Englewood

“Live Where you work, Worship were you live and Eat where you live,” has been the motto of this millennial who chose to join the Black Church because I observed that my Pastor K.Brooks, was not trying to shove Christianity down my throat but share a meal and spread the life giving message of salvation through Christ together.

In unison, both Pastors assert that millennials who are not feeling the inclusion at church or that their church is not active in social justice issues, should first seek to talk with their pastor.  Seek out solutions before leaving, such solutions include becoming officers of the church, forming youth ministries and also starting their own ministry.

“We want to be a church that serves with the community. I made it a point to engage in the community where the church is housed,” said Pastor J.  Our churches are resources. A variety of initiatives take place at Canaan including  the Continuum around education, Edward T. Dunn Scholarships for college, Hip-Hop (Sunday Sessions) and end of the month Poetry Nights. Pastor J is also active at Henderson Elementary School and participates in Angels of Hope, where he and church members visit the families of those incarcerated.

To the churches and pastors who do not engage millennials, address social justice issues, and who discount millennials, Pastor J says “stop and begin listening to the young folks.”

Pastor J says, “Black churches still matter, because God is still concerned with the plight of black people in America. Any church not concerned is not echoing the heart of GOD.

The Brooks’ of Englewood Chicago are starting a revolutionary youth movement that millennials can be proud of and actively engage in Rediscovering and Redefining the Black Church.  For more information visit  @GoodInEnglewood on  Facebook and Twitter.

Pastor Kevin Andre Brooks and Pastor Jonathan Brooks


How Millennials Are The Saviors of Chicago


Photo Credit: Anjali Pinto

By Rashanah Baldwin

How Millennials Are The Saviors of Chicago

Millennials born between 1981-1997 have grown up in a world filled with electronics, and at the prime time of social media.  Millennials are often labeled overly confident. Many millennials still live at home, struggle with debt and are the generation still giving back to make a difference in spite of it all.

On the flip side, this generation is the one the world is watching, deemed the generation of movers, shakers and innovators of today. Better known as the young adults of the world who want change now, want the outcomes now, and most importantly, will do whatever it takes to get their voices heard. Millennials thrive to make a difference and are determined to make a positive impact on culture, in the workplace and more importantly in government.

Changing the narrative.

As a millennial growing up on the Southside of Chicago, I took a leap of faith hoping to make a positive impact within my community and wanted to change the narrative of Chicago, which is perceived as a dangerous city that is out of control. As a young girl growing up Englewood, my happy upbringing seemed to contradict the depressing media reports of Chicago and opposed the negative portrayal of Englewood. I was raised by a single mom raising two daughters and two sons. My mom was an activist, homeowner, a registered nurse, college educated and mostly importantly, a conscious black woman raising four children in Englewood. She made sure we had the basic necessities, engaged in academics, and remained active in sports/ arts.

I was about 10 years old when I understood how the media reported on communities of color, while failing to address the institutional racism, redlining in the housing market and political corruption that made it difficult for such communities to progress. I often went to school challenging the instruction of my teachers and even the traditions of fellow peers who were only 10 and 11 years old.

I became intrigued with this one simple idea of believing there is “Good In Englewood” – I lived it, breathed it and was convinced that the world as well as fellow Englewoodians needed to wake up to see what I saw. I became fascinated and somewhat obsessed with showing others how I lived and how I did not grow up in fear of my safety. I realized the more I talked about the “Good In Englewood,” the  trickier it became to change the narrative for Englewoodians, Chicagoans and even outsiders who had fallen under the one sided spell of what mainstream media chose to show. Sure there was violence all around me, there were deaths, tragedies and disparities that occurred, but what major city did not experience this? I was in search of balanced reporting. I wanted to learn what caused these social injustices and to show the impact these injustices had on our communities.

The Work.

My work as a journalist, community leader, housing advocate and a national beauty queen, focusing on the importance of civic engagement and raising awareness on domestic violence, has only furthered my desire to change the narrative of Chicago.  Chicago is a beautiful city full of robust communities and residents. Chicago has been overshadowed by the political games of our elected officials, the injustices we face at the hands of overzealous law enforcement, agenda seeking philanthropic groups, and penny chasing investors and developers. Millennials, like myself, know there are many ways to fight a battle and the battle begins within ourselves – doing more than just creating #hashtags, leading marches and doing media interviews.  Instead we must impact  policy, call out injustices, address social justice issues and really raise awareness by being a voice to stand up for what is right.

As a journalist, I’ve been steadfast at creating a dominant narrative of “The Good” that comes out of the 77 communities in Chicago, particular my home of Englewood. Launching the media campaign #GoodInEnglewood and a weekly radio segment “What’s Good In Englewood” on Tuesday’s on WKKC 89.3 FM has allowed me to shed light on all the positive occurrences, movements and people the world never hears about. I believe in the importance of civic engagement and creating the change one wants to see in the world. My platform gives me a national voice.

One of my most meaningful endeavors is the volunteer work I do with a group of beautiful young girls in the Chicago Public Schools and faith based institutions. In my weekly mentor series “Tea With A Queen,” we explore a variety of topics like domestic violence, body image, bullying, self-esteem, financial literacy and volunteerism. One of the ways I remain engaged in giving back to my community is by mentoring and a being positive role model for these girls.

“Tea With A Queen” Prayer Brunch
(March 25, 2017) at Greater St. John AME Church

My service does not just stop there. Millennials like myself want to see results, and want to help everyone.  My goal and mission has been to improve the quality of life of Englewoodians so that they may become viable citizens, stable residents and continue to work to revitalize Englewood back into a booming community it once was in the 1960’s. “40 Acres and A School” is an initiative out of Greater Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Englewood in partnership with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago where I focus on recruiting new homeowners, stabilizing current homeowners and providing residents with leadership training. The goal is to create 40 new homeowners while helping to reduce the student mobility rate, and to increase attendance at local schools in Englewood.

Rashanah Baldwin, Ms. American Elegance Woman 2016-17
Pastor K. Andre Brooks, Greater Saint John African Methodist Episcopal Church


Attention must be paid to the accomplishments of many from my generation. We’re the ones who have garnered national attention for injustices that have happened in Chicago, sought out justice in the most innovative ways, launched kick butt social media campaigns, and are crazy enough to believe we  can change the world in an instant.  “Without Struggle There is No Progress”- Frederick Douglas.

The struggle does not end, but movements led by millennials to save Chicago will continue.

Movements such as My Block, My Hood, My City, From The Go, Good In Englewood, Hugs No Slugs, Black Youth Project 100, Assata’s Daughters and BRAVE are led by millennials who are fighting to change the narrative of Chicago. We are determined to save the communities that raised us and unapologetically influence the next generation and prior generations to get off their butts, call out injustices and work to improve the quality of life in the communities of Chicago.

“Live where you work, work where you worship and eat where you live” is my mantra.

I was chosen to be part of the #OnTheTable2017 campaign for The Chicago Community Trust; I will be among many leading an “On The Table” discussion on What Makes Your Community Great?  #YourVoiceMatters and  #WhatYouDoMatters.  My “On The Table”dinner discussion focus will include the need for Quality Education, Quality Housing and Violence Reduction.  This discussion is to ignite a movement where citizens are engaged in the process of building a new Chicago starting with my #GoodInEnglewood campaign.

For more information on joining my #GoodInEnglewood movement contact me: Twitter: @goodinenglewood  Instagram: @goodinenglewood or Twitter: @ms_shanahb  Instagram: @iamshanahb


This might be shocking to some, but I’m proud to say that I live in Englewood. Yep, uber proud.

Englewood is a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, a place that’s often described in the mainstream media (paraphrasing here) as a piss poor community full of uneducated black thugs who kill each other. According to societal norms, the urban ‘hoods and “ghettos” are a place where good things are not expected to occur.

I’m none of those things, just a 32-year-old professional journalist, a life-long Englewood resident who gets up and goes to work every day, determined to make something of myself, and my life. In fact I coined the term “Englewoodian” and will tell anyone in an instant that there’s Good In Englewood (now a trending hashtag, also created by yours truly).

Yet every morning when I first pick up my I-phone, I anxiously look to see if there are any Google Alerts about my Englewood friends and neighbors. If there are, more often than not they’re bearing bad news.

Despite the fact that many Englewoodians like myself are actively engaged in improving the quality of life in our community, those efforts are rarely covered in the media. They never appear in a Google Alert, or any alert for that matter.

Englewood was once home to Irish and German settlers back in the 1850s. It’s approximately 3.4 miles in size with about 63,000 residents. At one point it was known as the second largest shopping district outside of downtown Chicago. There are blocks full of beautiful Greystones, large Victorian mansions, manicured lawns and community gardens. (Yes, some areas also have vacant lots as well as abandoned buildings.) After white flight in the 1950s, Englewood became predominantly African American; by the 1980s increasing crime and falling real estate values began to erode the community fabric. Today, 42 percent of the population lives below poverty level, 29 percent have no high school diploma and 21 percent are unemployed.

I’m not denying there are serious problems in my community. There are countless headlines that read something like “4 Shot, One Dead” or “Five Shot, Including 2-Year-Old Girl, In West Englewood” – terrible, tragic news. According to Chicago police, of the city’s 77 communities, Englewood has the fourth highest rate of violent crime. There were 49 homicides here in 2014, 22 in 2015, and five so far in 2016 (as of March 26).

In fact, Englewood is often the first neighborhood mentioned when Chicago’s horrific record of overall violence comes up (488 homicides citywide in 2015 and 130 so far in 2016 (as of March 26). When rappers coined the term “Chiraq” to compare the city to war in Iraq, Chicagoans often pictured Englewood. When director Spike Lee jumped on the bandwagon last year and released his film, also titled Chiraq, it only added to the insult to many Englewoodians, who don’t feel they or the community were fully and accurately portrayed in the movie. (Actually, I don’t believe anyone bought the storyline of Chiraq; since release last December the film has grossed only $2,653,000.)

At some point, enough is enough. I simply call it “poverty porn” when the media continues to create a picture of inescapable despair here, all the while giving free publicity to the criminals. In turn, this attention strokes the egos of these criminals; they beat their chests in triumph saying, “Look! I made the news!”

The danger behind a single, negative theme being told over and over again to the masses, about a single community, will no doubt negatively influence those who live in that community–as well as everyone else. Bottom line:

You start to become the perception, if there’s nothing to counter it.

What you don’t see in the media are folks like me: law-abiding residents who are college educated, employed, homeowners, families with both parents in the home, and black-owned businesses that have served the community for decades. You seldom hear about organizations like Teamwork Englewood, Growing Home, or Imagine Englewood IF, that work to mobilize residents and unite stakeholders to make Englewood a viable, thriving and sustainable community.

Increase the Peace In Englewood Movement

What you won’t see on the news: residents enjoying family, fun, and peaceful events around Englewood (Englewood Jazz Festival and the Englewood International Film Festival), or block clubs organizing around important community business developments. You won’t see empowering educational programs focused on technology initiatives for youth. There’s Wood Street Farm the only USDA-certified organic high-production urban farm in Chicago. There are the new economic developments like Whole Foods, community developments like Englewood Codes, a program that offers young children classes on web-coding, and investment projects like LargeLots that enable homeowners to purchase vacant lots for a dollar. Let’s not forget the newly built Kennedy-King College, and the recent additions of sit-down restaurants like Dream Café & Grille and Kusanya Cafe.

Englewood citizens like me are so tired of our community being labeled (directly or indirectly) as nothing more than a place for the poor, the uneducated, and the criminally inclined. We’re tired of the media stories that seem to portray every African American in Chicago as a menace to society. And we’re tired of hearing the stories of other African Americans like Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so many others who died because they were perceived as either a dangerous stereotype or a looming threat. These are the same stories that brainwash all of society against black people everywhere.

What you won’t see on the nightly news, in their minute-thirty segments: stories that explore and investigate decades of institutional racism, massive incarceration, police corruption and brutality, housing and hiring discrimination, unequal wages, predatory financial lending, disproportionate infrastructure funding. And on and on. If you did, some of the bad news coming out of Englewood might make a bit more sense. It might be put in perspective by thoughtful, in-depth reporting, and understanding might develop–as opposed to the fear and loathing created by a seemingly endless amount of mug shots of black men beamed onto our TV and computer screens.

My family put down roots in Englewood in the late 1960s, when my grandparents bought a two-family building (known as a two-flat). Englewood was still thriving economically at the time, and was somewhat racially diverse. Growing up, my childhood was fairly “normal.” Compared to others in the neighborhood, I might even say I was privileged. My single mom (working as registered nurse and later as a case manager for the state of Illinois) raised four kids. I attended grammar school in Englewood, went to high school in the south suburbs to be closer to my cousins, graduated with an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago and got my Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from DePaul University. My mother made sure to keep us engaged in sports, summer camps, educational enrichment classes, karate, African drum and dance classes and Girl Scouts—all of which were in Englewood. One of my childhood memories was participating in the Englewood Back To School Parade as a cheerleader for my then elementary school; this parade has been a part of Englewood’s rich history for more than 50 years.

Rashanah stayed busy with school and sports growing in Englewood

I personally became aware of the violence that occurred in and around my neighborhood at an early age. But as an aspiring journalist, I was also always consciously aware of the media coverage and watched many residents succumb to the narrative they saw portrayed over and over again: We must be no good because that’s what’s being mirrored to us on TV, in the papers, on the Internet.

As I grew older, I knew it was my civic duty as a resident, and my social responsibility as a journalist, to do something about it. Several years ago I began chronicling everything positive about Englewood, including my own day-to-day routines and life experiences, and sharing them in my blogs and on social media—sharing them with the public, with the media, with anyone who would listen. If you follow me, expect to read a post about me doing yoga on my back deck, enjoying a soy chi latte or a delicious meal full of fresh organic veggies bought from the local farm stand and sit down café in Englewood. There’s not a gunshot to be heard, or yellow crime tape to be seen, on my web pages.

I also speak out on WKKC 89.3 FM, a college radio station, during a weekly segment called “What’s Good In Englewood” to showcase all the daily positive occurrences in my community. There are no police scanners broadcasting good things in Englewood, or news wires pumping out feel good stories about Englewood for journalists to jump on and cover. So, I take up the slack. I also Tweet the good news messages, using the hashtag #GoodinEnglewood. I find the most amazing stories from places like John’s Hardware and Bicycle Shop, a black owned business that’s been in Englewood for 50 years, or from teens who’ve been awarded full college scholarships due to their outstanding academic achievements.

My show has recently grabbed the attention of a few mainstream journalists; because I challenged them, and called out their unbalanced coverage of Englewood, I made the front page of the Chicago Tribune, I was featured in a recent documentary about Chicago’s South Side communities, interviewed by two local PBS stations in Chicago, and I appeared in the Huffington Post, among other media outlets.

I also believe, and try to live by, the ideology of always broadcasting positivity, creating positive vibes, and shifting my negative feelings or actions around me to focus on something positive. This same ideology is studied by Positive Psychology Researchers. And, most recently, my Good In Englewood work was featured in the New York Times Best Seller, Broadcasting Happiness.

I find it hilarious (a.k.a. offensive) when outsiders, who hear media accounts about how hopeless Englewood supposedly is, decide to come in and try to “save” the community. As a resident, it reminds me of missionaries who go to “Third World” countries with food and shelter, not realizing that they’re keeping them dependent on the contributions.

This type of “help” is called structural racism. It’s when policies and practices are structured to keep poor people of color with other poor people of color.

Sure, some individuals who come have good intentions but others capitalize on the violence in Englewood by barging in with their own political agendas to create service-based programs and organizations, in the hopes of attaining grant funding. In the end, this more often than not creates economic opportunities for them, instead of empowering the community economically.

There have been attempts to introduce a plethora of anti-violence programs, sports programs, and art and crafts programs as these do-gooders attempt to save the residents from each other. Some of the programs help address the violence temporarily but don’t ever reach the root of the issue.

Many outsiders think the problems can be remedied simply by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even a few million, on summer basketball camps, arts and entertainment or summer antiviolence programs in Englewood. Yet when the summer ends and the camps pack up, nothing is left for the kids to do, and nowhere for them to go. While the effort is admirable, it’s just a temporary fix.

A better idea? Instead, how about creating year-round workforce programs, entrepreneurial programs or educational programs that would in turn uplift and help equip young people with skills needed to be viable and competitive in the workforce. Provide resources, not just services with expiration dates that are dependent on government-based grants.

And please, take it from me, you really don’t have to leave the ‘hood to succeed. In order to change this existing ideology, and these stereotypes and negative portrayals of Engelwoodians, it takes far more people like myself to not leave–to instead invest in buying property, to become more civically engaged, to hold our elected officials accountable, and to create positive events that in turn, create sustainable solutions, positive memories and images for residents of this community.

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