Goodbye Quakers, hello Frappuccino

Peter Slevin of The Washington Post has written such a moving profile of two Quakers’ long-term work in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing development that you may end up wishing this once notoriously violent community would stay together forever.

Slevin reports that Steve Pedigo was an innocent seminary student when he began working among the children of Cabrini-Green, and that Pedigo and his wife, Marlene, never left. (They will, however, move away to take positions in what Slevin calls “the Quaker hierarchy in Indiana”).

The article lacks the richer detail that a religion writer might have brought to the assignment — basic things like what seminary Pedigo attended, whether he completed his studies and why he and his wife joined the Society of Friends.

Here are some of the more informative paragraphs:

“We weren’t here to build the church. We were here to help in the community. The church was a tool to facilitate it,” Steve Pedigo said. “A lot of times people measure success by whether the program is getting bigger. I measured it by the progress we were making.”

Sam Boens, now 31, attended the Pedigos’ program, which recruited college students and paid local high schoolers to help the younger ones. When things became especially grim in Boens’s home in Cabrini, he moved in with the Pedigos for several months — one of about a dozen kids to do so.

“Marlene and Steve practically raised me. They’re like a mama and daddy. Back in the days, I used to hang out and do things I wasn’t supposed to do. Thanks to them, I stopped doing it,” Boens said. Steve is “just like an ordinary person. You could talk to him and he’d listen. He’d never say he had no time.”

Three of Boens’s own children were in the Pedigos’ program when it closed late last month. Randy, 7, won school honors each of his three quarters this year “thanks to that man right there,” Boens said, nodding toward Pedigo.

Vanessa Dosie, whose son Israel has been in the program for three years, calls the Pedigos “inspirational, truly godly believers. Their rep is that everybody loves them. If you need something, if you need prayer, you can come and ask them.”

“They’re black. They’ve been here so long, they’re part of us. Because they’re Caucasian doesn’t mean anything,” Dosie said. “We do have people who came into the community to do it for tax purposes; it’s not genuine. For them, it’s genuine.”

. . . Pedigo believes many Cabrini youths suffer what amounts to post-traumatic stress syndrome from gunfire, violence, frustration, anger. “Terrorism has been going on in this community for a long time,” he said.

Cabrini-Green is entering a new phase. As Zoneike Boens, Sam’s wife, put it, “Cabrini is fading away.”

Today, 495 apartments are occupied, down from a peak of 3,152 in the 1960s. A portion of the property will be redeveloped with public housing or a mixture that includes affordable and market-rate dwellings. Starbucks has taken root nearby along with a large supermarket.

Photo credit: Copyright 2005 by Ronit Bezalel Productions and republished, with permission, from the Voices of Cabrini website.

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  • Jerry

    As a native of Chicago, who has visited areas near the housing projects before, I find it funny that this article was lachrymose about the loss of this community without ever alluding to the de facto racism of these high-rise developments, which is what I’ve usually heard with regard to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s work on developing them.

    God bless this couple for their work, but I am not sorry to see those complexes go.


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