Though Englewood lies in the shadow of the Sears Tower, the roughly three-square-mile neighborhood has a crumbling infrastructure and 44% poverty rate. Two years ago, it was named the police district with more murders than any other in the city. We spent time with 19 year old Leon Cunningham, who has been shot on four separate occasions, even though he is not affiliated with any clique. Recently his left leg was amputated. We also visited the home of Alvin Henry, an employee of the city of Chicago who opens his door to neighborhood children in an effort to keep them off the streets.
Leon [Cunningham] has been shot on four separate occasions. How was he so repeatedly in the crossfire? Leon’s story is so insane. On some level I think it’s straight up bad luck. But his situation is compounding that bad luck. He lives on a hot block. People stay in their houses because there’s a lot of shit going on all the time. Everyone I talked to in that situation was ambiguous about the circumstances, but the one thing that was made very clear, from his family and from his friends, who wouldn’t admit to being in a clique, was that Leon was just guilty by association. He’s your classically good kid. Just lived on that block. His friends and family were involved in some stuff and he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The image of Leon’s friends, the kids he is guilty by association with, hanging out in his mom’s basement after he was shot for the fourth time, really struck me. Why are those kids still around? How are Leon’s parents reacting to this situation? The world isn’t as expansive as you might imagine if you are a kid growing up in Englewood. It’s not like you can suddenly just go to a different high school or move to a different block. These are impoverished neighborhoods that are affected with violence. It’s not just an issue of one block to the next, or getting out of it or hanging with different people. The roots are too deep.
How is Englewood different than another section of Chicago? What is the feeling on the street, that your photos can’t necessarily communicate? There are spots in Englewood that feel alive and there are people and there’s culture and things happening. I don’t want to paint it so darkly. The people that I met were very nice almost always. But it doesn’t feel like the neighborhoods in Chicago that have stronger economies. There are a lot of boarded up homes. Previously thriving business districts are not doing so well. At night, you get a sense that it’s not safe to be outside.
What was it like to be at home with Alvin, surrounded by kids? Who is this guy? What compels him? Alvin is a working class guy. He takes care of his kids and brings in the neighbors’ kids because a lot of them don’t have father figures present. His kids and their friends are going to be in his house on a Friday night and if not they are going to be getting into some shit. He seems like a man of conviction. He’s soft spoken. He just wants to do the right thing and he’s not in anyone’s face about it. He let’s his kids be kids. He’s not this super authoritative father figure.