Contents of Community: Cambridge Street and the last block of the Cabrini-Green housing projects
For over five years, I have photographed the remaining residents of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Homes. I began this project not only to document the faces of those who live in one of our country’s most vilified public housing projects, but also to serve as a response to the many who assumed the neighborhood had already been wiped off the map.
At its height, Cabrini-Green was home to 15,000 souls. Today, only one half of one street on one partially fenced city block remains. Specifically, the Francis Cabrini row houses are left, with a mere 145 of the 583 units suitable for occupation.
I captured images from an area that most in the city would prefer not exist in order to strip away preconceptions until you, the viewer, forget what you may have heard or read, and simply see humans as humans. These boys in the park? They could be your boys. These grandmothers could be your grandmothers. Their struggles could be your struggles, and by nothing more than the accident of birth, these row houses could be your homes.
For most, such a notion is inconceivable. After all, the narrative of Cabrini-Green has long been dominated by stories of rape, murder, and gang warfare against a backdrop of abject poverty. The area remains best known for violent accounts like the killing of seven-year-old Dantrell Davis or the rape of 9-year-old ‘Girl X’. Cursory searches of Cabrini-Green’s history mention murdered police officers and the Spring of 1981, when, in response to eleven killings over the course of three months, then-mayor Jane Byrne showed her support by taking up residence in a Cabrini high rise – for three weeks.
I don’t seek to naïvely ignore these violent accounts or minimize their impact. Some of my photographs feature gang members, drug addicts, and violent criminals. Admittedly, two men I photographed now sit in custody, accused of separate murders on the west side of the city.
Individual examples like these have always been used to define Cabrini-Green. These days, when depth of analysis is limited by the length of a sound bite or the confines of 140 characters, presenting the whole truth requires time and a dedicated effort to overcome the depressing ease with which memories vanish forever amidst our collective lack of historical awareness – a phenomenon that historian and author Studs Terkel described as our “national Alzheimer’s.”
Those who remain in what is left of Cabrini-Green deserve the chance to present the whole truth of their community. To that end, this series focuses on the fundamental humanity of its subjects: parents who want the best for their kids, young people who look forward to growing up, and all those who manage to find hope in the midst of struggle.
This project would not have been possible without the help of my dear friend Brother Jim Fogarty. For over 30 years, Brother Jim has walked the housing projects of Chicago, providing assistance and ministry to anyone in his path. His interventions of presence as well as his tireless efforts to soften the hardest of hearts is some of the most admirable work of anybody I've ever encountered.
To learn more about Brother Jim and his organization 'Brothers and Sisters of Love' please visit brothersandsistersoflove.com.