Chicago Sun Times Story “From The Emptiness I Find A Visionary”

I knew something special had to be going on if my dear friend was calling before 8 on a
Sunday morning to invite me.

Still, that didn’t mean as I was agreeing that I wasn’t also thinking to myself, ‘‘So I am
going to just show up at 57th and Perry without an exact address, only with the
reassurance, ‘you’ll know the house when you see it.’ ’’

But as I drove through well-worn streets where so many homes and businesses are no
more, I could see she was right: there was no doubt which house it was. On the side of
the house is an almost-finished mural of regal-looking African Americans.

The building gives off this aura of “Yeah, I’m in the middle of emptiness; so what?” Once
inside, I realized that if the people who congregate here have their way, that emptiness
won’t be forever. And what you or I might see as emptiness, they see as opportunity
waiting to happen. It’s all in your perspective.

The answer to a host of urban problems — jobs, hunger, education — could very well
be right inside the front door. Literally. The walls are done in blackboard paint so ideas
and possible ways to implement them can fill them. And they do.

Oh, and the living room? It’s “living” alright. Herbs under grow lights sit in what was a
fireplace. An aquaponic system (a setup that basically grows plants and fish using the
same water) stands near a window.

Upstairs, along the stairway, downstairs, in the kitchen — something’s going on. Then
there are the two acres of land being farmed outside. The energy here is incredible.

And at the hub of it all is Emmanuel Pratt , a Chicago State professor and founding
director of the Sweet Water Foundation. You don’t run into true visionaries every day,
but Pratt , he’s the real deal. He looks at all of what’s going on here as a way to put an
end to the blight. But his ideas spring not from tearing down what’s left and embracing
gentrification (which, let’s face it, usually means moving out the poor people). He uses
what’s already here and gets kids, veterans, seniors involved in urban farming, green
initiatives and a lot more, not just at this location, but in other struggling neighborhoods.

One of the ways he’s doing that is by tapping into his incredible network of “doers.” The
day I’m here, so are others from Chicago Ideas Week. But Pratt doesn’t want to just
tout his programs; he gets the people in the room talking to one another about their
involvements, to get connections going. You connect the dots (err, people), and then
you’ve got a solid network going on.

The farming, the aquaponics. They’re not just to feed people well, although that’s a
good part of it. Pratt ’s trying to get kids and others to see the money-making
possibilities in green initiatives, to turn them into “eco-preneurs.” And why not?
Remember, Whole Foods is coming to 63rd and Halsted. Connection made.

Pratt doesn’t have trucks to haul the produce grown here around. Ah, but Washburne,
the culinary school at nearby Kennedy-King College, does. And there are connections
there. Who knows what’s next?

Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done. But Pratt and the Sweet Water Foundation can
see ways to bring people together and get things accomplished. Being able to see
solutions; why, that’s half the battle.

Email: sontiveros@suntimes.com

Last edited by James Godsil.   Page last modified on March 28, 2015

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks