Growing up in Englewood – I can’t believe I lived past 19

Posted: August 13, 2012 by Keith Townsend in Uncategorized

One of the interesting things about growing up in the inner city is that you fear death in ways that other kids don’t.  I grew up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.  It is one of the most violent and notorious neighborhoods in the nation let alone Chicago.  What’s interesting is as a young child in the 70’s and very early 80’s, I never perceived the neighborhood as being dangerous.  Back then my block was full hardworking families.  The block was full of well-maintained homes with friends whose memories I cherish to this day.  Not much different than the environment that I was able to provide for my children.

I have very fond memories of the block parties hosted by the foundational families of the block.  They were really great times of celebration of community.  The annual tradition has held intact even if there are not nearly as many families and homes on the block.

With the introduction of crack cocaine in the late 80’s what I perceived as my slice of Americana changed in what felt like overnight.  Don’t get me wrong there were and are still a lot of good hearted people in Englewood but, I don’t think that I would be lying if I told you that 50% of the adults I knew was on crack cocaine.  This epidemic had a tragic effect on the fabric of the families in the overall city and especially my block.  I had family and friends that were directly impacted by the economy, addiction, incarceration, and violence associated with crack.

One of the many direct effects on my life was my life expectancy.  I can tell you almost to the date when life changed for me.  I say I grew up in Englewood because that’s where I spent the majority of my time even when my immediate family lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood.  I and my brothers hadn’t spent a ton of time at my extended family’s house in Englewood in the summer of 1987.  When we returned to go to school in the fall things had obviously changed.

My best friend and cousins had joined gangs and a good deal of my family was enthralled in the drug world.  I would later learn that life was very much like this for the past couple of years, I was just shielded (or blind) from that part of life.  What I also learned – even good kids get killed.  This frightened me to no end.  I was convinced that I wouldn’t live past the age 19.  Not because I was personally involved in things that I shouldn’t be involved but because just walking home from school was dangerous.

I’ve had more than my fair share (if there is such a thing) of encounters with death as a teenager.  Arguments would break out on the basketball court and someone would pull a gun.  I’ve had a van full of thugs pull up to me with guns blazing saying “now what?” (that’s never good).  I can think of too many life or death situations I found myself in just doing what kids do.  It just seems like I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time, but gratefully God has protected me to survive and tell my stories.

I remember turning 20 years old and looking back on my “long” life and being grateful for being 20.  I honestly didn’t believe it was going to happen.  This sense of hopelessness is something that I’m sure has grown over the years in other kids in countless urban neighborhoods.  I was fortunate that I had a spiritual mother and a strong father to help me not contribute to the stacked odds.  This was the only thing I felt I had in my control.  I may not be able to avoid random violence, but I knew what activities would contribute to the probability of my early demise.

There’s not much of a lesson in this post, not today at least.  It’s just a look into my story and what events helped shape me as a person, parent, and husband.  It’s one of the things that pushes me and why I don’t take life for granted.

  1. Nina says:

    Great stor

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