Scroll Facebook these days and you will see thousands of people pointing out everything that is wrong with everything. It’s pretty annoying when you think about it because pointing out the problem has never been a difficult thing to do. The challenge comes when solutions have to be implemented and actions must be taken. When it comes to that, the timelines get a little thin. So when we notice an individual who has proposed solutions and a track record of taking action, we must take notice and recognize what this person or people are doing in order to promote what is positive and what is making a difference. Asiaha Butler is one of these people. Her dedication to her community and family is an example of what one person can do to help shape and change perception. Asiaha represents Chicago well, and we took some time to speak with her to discuss her organization R.A.G.E. (Resident Association Of Greater Englewood), her community of Englewood and the gang violence in Chicago.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a longtime resident of Greater Englewood and work to uplift, inspire and change the perception of my neighborhood, which is often seen as a death trap. I served on various boards and councils in Englewood including Chair of the Education Taskforce of Teamwork Englewood, a community rep on the LSC for Robeson High School, member of the Englewood Community Cultural Planning Council, Co-Chair of the Englewood Community Action Council, was a founding member of the Greater Englewood Community Development Corp. among other roles in the neighborhood. I recently received my Masters degree in Inner City Studies Education at Jacob Carruthers Center of Northeastern University Illinois. In November of 2010, I mobilized residents and co-founded the Resident Association of Greater Englewood also known as R.A.G.E., and currently serve as the president. I am a natural leader, a blogger, wife, mom and currently work at the Institute of Real Estate Management.
Tell us about R.A.G.E, how long has it been around and what is your goal is with the organization.
R.A.G.E. has been in existence since November 2010 and the mission of R.A.G.E. is to mobilize people and resources to force a change in the Englewood community. The primary focus areas for R.A.G.E. are Education, Youth Development, Arts Activism, and Civic Empowerment. With the use of social media, blogging, and other communication mediums, R.A.G.E. has become one of the most recognized and powerful voices in Englewood.
So much focus has been centered on the violence in Chicago. The youth have re-named the city “Chi-Raq” because of the amounts of killings and violence, and as of late Spike Lee just wrapped filming for a movie called Chi-Raq.
What are your thoughts about the name “Chi-Raq” and how do you feel about a movie being named Chi-Raq?
I’ve never been fond of the label of Chiraq nor the definition of what its supposed to mean, because I personally do not think that I am living in an absolute war zone. I also think it belittles all of the work in Iraq and Afghanistan and paints a very bloody picture of what is happening in our community. I am not taking away the fact that this the reality for some but this is not my reality as a resident of Englewood, and if this was the case, I should be equip with a bullet proof vest, concealed to carry and watch my back every time I am in Englewood. This is just not my reality.
On a lighter note, there is an event that you have been doing for the past few years called “So Fresh Saturdays.” It’s a pretty awesome community event. Can you tell us more about it?
So Fresh Saturdays is an edu-tainment series created by the members of R.A.G.E. The series of gatherings was designed to get residents out into their local parks and reclaiming these spaces in the name of peace. Most residents feel as if they cannot take their children in the park and this shouldn’t be the case. We bring entertainment, workshops, resources, and other activity to show residents that these spaces in Englewood should be used for family-fun activities and should have more peaceful experiences in them especially in the summer.
What can a member of a community do to help bring more investments into the community?
I think the invest of time is important. Volunteer, mentor or just invest in the young people on your block by offering them things to do like cleaning the vacant lots, throwing away trash, etc. You can also invest in a large way by using your dollars to purchase homes or opening a business in a community that is economically distressed. Many non-profits are struggling financially so even making monetary donations to groups working for change is a good investment.
What are your feelings concerning the Whole Foods that is slated to be built in Englewood.
We are getting a Whole Foods in Englewood, and I have mixed feelings about it only due to the process of finding out about this development. Being an active member of my community I believe that dialogue about what residents and stakeholders would like to see at the historic 63rd & Halsted site should have happened first so that we could have way in on other retail options, especially since Tax Increment Financing dollars were a part of the deal. Going from an Aldi to a Whole Foods is a big difference and I believe the community would have wanted something in the middle but not being able to be apart of that conversation was disappointing to myself as well as other residents in Englewood. Some feel this is a sign of gentrification due to the reputation of Whole Foods. I am personally pleased that I and so many others will have access to healthy food options but I think it could have been done a different way. Whole Foods is now working diligently to engage community ever step of the process which I think is a good start to a strong relationship.
What are your feelings about running for a political office?
I have no interest in running for a political office. I feel that my reach and impact can grow far greater if I do not box myself in the political arena. I know some of my work is political, but I am not a politician and have no desire to be one. My work thus far has had far much influence than many elected officials, therefore, I rather stay on this path.
What are your thoughts on the gang problem and murders in Chicago? Where do you think it stems from?
My thoughts about the gangs or so-called gangs is rooted from the structural ills of our society. Gang life was more structured in the 90s with rules and boundaries, however, many of these gang leaders have since been locked up and now have sons, grandsons, nephews who are involved in street/block crews. Violence is just an outcome of a system that is broken. If there is a clear lack of value and respect of areas with concentrated poverty, it is only natural for some of the individuals in these areas to also lack value and respect for their neighborhood and the people in it. Most acts of violence are interpersonal conflicts with one another and usually the only thing these individuals know is how to end these conflicts with murder. These are isolated events but far to common.
What are your feelings on Sandra Bland, the young lady who recently died in a Texas jail?
I think this is another sad case where we do not know what really happen but because a black woman lost her life in jail surrounded by white officers, questions and concerns will arise. In these cases, I can only prayer for the family and our community because I think we are reaching a boiling point to the unjust acts that happen in America.
What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of life to me is tapping into your inner super powers that we all have and enjoying every moment that life brings your way. It is being present in the NOW and doing the things that feeds your soul. Tapping in to your passion and letting that feeling take you on a meaningful journey.
Learn more about Asiaha and R.A.G.E. by visiting the link http://ragenglewood.org/
Eddy Lamarre aka Precise is a hip-hop artist-writer-actor from Chicago. The Chicago Reader recognized “Ladies Love Mixtapes” his latest release as one of the best projects of 2014. Listen/Buy Ladies Love Mixtapes at: https://precise.bandcamp.com/album/ladies-love-mixtapes-the-ep