One year ago, Mothers Against Senseless Killings was telling Block Club Chicago about their plans to open a community school on the corner of 75th and Stewart in the Gresham neighborhood. At the time, the plan was to run after-school programs for school-age children as well as GED and job training for older teens and adults who had not finished high school.
What a difference a year makes.
Last Thursday, I stopped by 75th and Stewart with a load of school supplies donated by Chicago Community Tools. Kendra, a youth educator and mom of seven, welcomed me to the site. For the moment, The Block Academy is helping K-12 students keep learning through the pandemic.
The school has grown from a single shipping container in a lot on Stewart just north of the corner, to this beautiful three-room center.
Kendra showed me around inside one of the classrooms.
These classrooms opened the day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered schools closed due to the pandemic. As MASK founder Tamar Manasseh told Block Club Chicago, “This pandemic can’t stop us. We have to build a bridge to get to the other side,” said Manasseh. “There’s always going to be a threat. The world doesn’t stop for these kids just because it’s stopped with adults. We have to be proactive.”
For two months, MASK has been meeting academic needs for kids at every level, including the youngest elementary students.
Last week, Kendra told me that once the Chicago Public Schools year wraps up, they intend to hold their traditional summer activities for children as best they can, plus develop academic support for young people making the transition from eighth to ninth grade. These students worry that pandemic learning loss could leave them unprepared for the big transition to high school.
It has been a rough year for MASK. Two moms died last summer during a shooting on the corner. There were setbacks and red tape. The pandemic forced a big change in the original vision. And yet, they keep on keeping on.
This morning, I checked in with Kendra. “We’re ok! We don’t need anything I can think of right now,” she texted me. But you can bet they will need lots of things in the weeks and months ahead. You can learn more about them and donate here.
This piece first ran here at Chicago Unheard.