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CHICAGO – The one idea that the Great Society programs weakened severely in the black underclass was the idea of homeownership. Prior to the 1960s, many blacks migrated from the south to northern cities. Owning a home, no matter how dilapidated, was seen as a key stepping stone to a better life.
However, when the first government housing projects began to be built in the 1950s and 1960s on a massive scale, the lure of a brand new shiny home was too much to resist. Many blacks moved in, unaware that they had stepped off the ladder of upward social mobility. Without the valuable asset of property, many of these blacks who made up what William Julius Wilson called the “permanent black underclass” became trapped in the horrible cycle of intergenerational poverty that we see to this day.
Tuwanna Dennis, a real estate agent on the South Side of Chicago, drives by these projects every day, as well as shoddy residences that house renters. She has made it her mission to help members of her community learn the financial literacy skills needed to become a homeowner.
Inspired by her actions as well as her impressive track record, Pastor Corey Brooks invited Dennis to the rooftop on the 118th day of his vigil to raise funds for a community center that will promote homeownership as one of its core principles.
“Why is it so important that we talk about homeownership and why is it so important that we have a business like yours in our community?” the pastor asked.
“I once lived on a block where we were named the top crime block of the world — not of just Chicago, but of the world,” Dennis began. “My parents, in particular, never even had the opportunity of owning a home. So we’ve always lived with someone or rented a home or something of that sort. Growing up, I had nothing to mirror off of. Economics wasn’t taught in Chicago Public Schools. There were a lot of things that we didn’t know to prepare us to go out into the world. And I feel like that also increases the poverty levels in Chicago” and “why there’s so much violence right now.”
“I agree wholeheartedly that one of the reasons we experience so much violence is because of the economic situation, along with other issues that we all know, that we talk about every single day, like fatherlessness, hopelessness,” the pastor said.
“It’s so important because this is our land,” Dennis said. “Our neighborhoods look like they look because there is no one there to teach them home preservation. If you go to the suburbs, there are subdivisions, there are homeownership associations that keep their areas together. And when we go through our neighborhoods, we see 20 houses on the block abandoned. The ones that are still there probably are close to being abandoned, just because they have no way of keeping the preservation of their homes up. So I think homeownership is key.”
“Just not buying a home, but how to keep your home, how to preserve your home, how to preserve your neighborhoods, how to keep value in your home.”
“That’s what I’m passionate about because that’s the career I chose. And that’s the path that I’m going down: to enlighten and to teach and also to help the community become a better community. I feel like when things look good, people do better,” Dennis said.
“One of the things I like about what you’re doing is that you’re not waiting on government to come in here and fix our problem,” the pastor said. “You’re saying, ‘Listen, I want to establish some business. I want to get in free market capitalism. I want my community to get involved. I want us to get involved in homeownership. I want to teach financial literacy.’ Why is it so important from your perspective that we don’t wait on government to fix our problems, but we learn to come together to do it ourselves?”
“We’re on a block called O-Block. This is now known as a big murder area in Chicago,” Dennis said, looking across the street at the sprawling projects known as Parkway Gardens. The Chicago Housing Authority “should have a better influence and a better handle on the situation, but they don’t. We can’t force the city, we can’t force the county, we can’t force anybody to come in and change an area. It starts at home. It starts in our own backyard. We have to show them that we care in order for them to care.”
“You’re going to be the first sister on the South Side to own a title company,” the pastor said. “How important is that into what we’re trying to do in our communities?
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“We have no title companies [in our neighborhood]. When we close, we have to go downtown. We have to go to Orland Park. We have to go to Oak Lawn to close properties in our neighborhood,” Dennis said. Having a title company here “will bring such a presence to where this is important that we do business in our own communities. The money stays in our own community. And with my title company, I’m kind of going off of a concept where every title policy that we close, we’ll take $50 of that and then we’ll put it into an escrow or a reserve account, and we’ll also help the homeowners in the area who are suffering financially from preservation. That’s something big that we need to start helping with, to not drive them out of our community.”
“We are so glad that you’re helping us to transform our neighborhoods and Chicago is all the more better because of you.”
Follow along as Fox News checks in Pastor Corey Brooks each day with a new Rooftop Revelation.
For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.
Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is “What Killed Michael Brown?” Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.
Camera by Terrell Allen.