The Run Down

Welcome to the very first edition of our newest Project Nande series. It’s called My Block, My Hood, My City. You might be familiar with that name because it’s also the name of a Chicago-based non-profit that’s helping us produce this series. The My Block, My Hood, My City (MBMHMC) organization works with students from under resourced communities, and takes them on city explorations throughout Chicago — exposing them to new communities, arts and culture, food, and different industries operating in the city. It’s a powerful and important mission that we, as travel photographers and writers, understand and really get behind.

For this series, MBMHMC will be helping us tell Chicago’s story. For each guide in this series we’ll be visiting different neighborhoods, but instead of exploring on our own, we’ll be led by someone from that neighborhood. These guides will be part city guide and part spotlight on the people of this city. It’s a chance for us to get to know our city and our neighbors.

First up is Jahmal Cole, founder of MBMHMC. He takes us to Chatham on Chicago’s South Side for chicken and waffles, a tour of his block, and donuts.

1. Captain’s Hard Times Dining
(AKA Josephine’s Cooking)

We begin this guide at Captain’s Hard Times Dining (now known as Josephine’s Cooking), a soul food diner near the corner of 79th and Martin Luther King Dr. We’re here to have breakfast with Jahmal, and we’re doing breakfast the proper way — with a plate of chicken and waffles, coffee, and good conversation.

This is Jahmal. As we dig into breakfast, he has a story to tell me. “I go on jogs down 79th street everyday…when I think of Chatham, I’m reminded of community groups, activism, brick bungalows, manicured lawns, and African-American home ownership,” says Jahmal. This is the narrative about Chatham that tends to get overlooked. Underneath all the stories of violence and crime that have damaged the community, there’s a story of hope and sacrifice from an even larger part of Chatham that’s working to do good and effect positive change.

Take for example the diner we’re sitting in. As Jahmal points out, this diner has been serving Chatham for over 30 years. Today, however, it’s more than a diner, it’s become a community institution through the efforts of its owner, Josephine Wade — otherwise known in Chicago as Mother Wade.

For as long as Mother Wade has been running this diner, she’s opened up her doors offering food and jobs for anyone in need. There are multiple generations of families whose lives have been deeply impacted by Mother Wade’s outreach, and as she puts it in a recent interview, “there’s not a person that’s on this corner that I haven’t tried to encourage them to either come in here and work or take a job with someone else.”

On the diner walls hangs a portrait gallery of people who have shaped Chicago’s history. And it’s in Mother Wade’s diner where many met to broker deals, organize, and seek political power. In an interview with the Washington Post, Wade says, “A good many of the judges elected in Chicago got elected right here in my dining room.”

You know you’re a somebody when you get your picture hung up next to the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harold Washington, and Aretha Franklin.

Any of our city guides aren’t complete without a closeup food picture. As for the chicken, it stacks up well against the fried chicken of any other restaurant in town. It’s nicely seasoned, crispy, and when you throw in waffles, well, you got yourself a balanced breakfast.

2. Architecture Tour

After breakfast, Jahmal took me to his block. This is a picture of the community that Jahmal wants to show me. It’s one where neighbors all know each other, there are scores of block clubs, and it’s a picture of a community that watches out for one another. As you scroll down to the pictures, that’s especially the case when it comes to your lawn. If your lawn isn’t looking as nice as it should be, then somebody will surely let you know.

2. Dat Donut

On our last stop, we’re taking a short drive over to Dat Donut, another Chatham landmark that’s been making donuts by hand 24 hours a day, 6 days a week since 1994. The shop is named so because when kids look through the shop’s display case, they say, “I want dat one, dat one, dat one, and dat donut.”

Chicago has seen a bit of a donut renaissance over the past few years, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a Dat Donut regular who’ll tell you of a better donut anywhere else in town. The donuts are rolled, cut, shaped, fried, and glazed by hand every day. It’s that sort of commitment that has given this shop all sorts of local and national press proclaiming just how good their donuts are.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, then their donut named the “Big Dat” might be what you need. It’s a giant sized donut about 5x the size of a regular donut, and according to my math, you almost need to order this from just a purely economic standpoint. Any regular donut is $1.05. The Big Dat is $3.35. With it being the equivalent to 5 donuts, the Big Dat comes out to $0.67 on a per donut unit basis. The math is sound. Get the Big Dat. 

As Jahmal and I were walking into Dat Donut, one thing Jahmal pointed out to me was the bulletproof glass you had to order through. Most businesses in the area have it, and they have it for good reason. But he explained that for kids growing up in this community and seeing this everyday, it’s a subtle reminder that “we don’t trust you.” It’s a discouraging message to receive, and for anyone on the receiving end, it has that troubling ability to put limits on one’s own potential.

For many of the kids that Jahmal mentors, this is the only reality that they know. But by taking part in MBMHMC, they have a chance to go on educational field trips, explore all parts of Chicago, and connect with the city. That can be an empowering feeling.

That’s the power of travel that both Jahmal and I have experienced — it has a tendency to unite people, because when we visit each other’s community it’s hard to ignore the goodness and humanity we all share. That’s the lesson I was reminded of when Jahmal invited me to Chatham.