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Connect with Willie Thompson
December 23, 2014
Interview with Willie Thompson, Levin Park Neighborhood Resident
Levin Park Advisory Council President
By Thomas Moes
Building Community One Family at a Time
For nearly 16 days in a row, Chicago has experienced gloomy and dreary weather. But today, the sun was out and shining brightly over the Austin residence of Willie Thompson in the Levin Park Neighborhood. Mr. Thompson recently moved back to Austin and is currently the President of the Levin Park Advisory Council, President of Black Construction Alliance of Chicago and Advisory Council member for the Small Business Administration at Bethel New Life.
When I arrived at Mr. Thompson’s house I was greeted at the front door, on the new porch by his father-in-law, who just traveled here from Mississippi. Mr. Thompson was in the kitchen installing a new electrical outlet behind the stove so he could make an omelet for his father-in-law. This is my third time meeting with Mr. Thompson for the Austin Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP) grant incentives project in the Levin Park Neighborhood. This time was different because I was inside his house and enjoying the wonderful scent of morning breakfast, rather than discussing marketing strategies for Levin Park Neighborhood. Since I was there for a resident profile interview and knowing his father-in-law was eagerly awaiting his breakfast, I let Mr. Thompson know he should continue fixing the electrical outlet and start cooking while we begin talking.
Mr. Thompson was born and raised in the neighborhood a few blocks west, on Midway Park near Austin Boulevard. Midway Park is known as a historic district with distinctive Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes over 100 years old. Now, Mr. Thompson makes his home near Levin Park on W. Ferdinand Street, between Long and Lockwood Avenues. Chicago has reliably documented the meaning behind naming streets. These streets and avenues around Mr. Thompson’s house primarily get their names from a subdivision developer, government surveyor, and most interesting, Lockwood is named after a former of Secretary of State of IL in 1822.
Mr. Thompson moved back to Austin and the Levin Park Neighborhood in 2013 after living for the past 6 years in Wheaton. He’s was disturbed by the reported gang violence and visually witnessing the steady decline of the neighborhood so he decided to move his family back to his neighborhood roots to make a difference. His background is in construction and one of his home renovation projects involved working with two nearby residents involved in gang-related activities. “I took these two guys and taught them not only trade skills but showed them another option to have a better life,” Mr. Thompson said.
He is passionate about the potential for new growth in the neighborhood. While there are existing community groups and block clubs, Mr. Thompson believes Levin Park is one of the key ingredients of creating a positive social space for residents. As the President of the Levin Park Advisory Council, he was instrumental in getting a new playground built.
Mr. Thompson does not want to stop with just building a new playground. He hopes there will be opportunities to get a covered gazebo, wall art on the bathroom facility, a new basketball court, water feature, improved lighting and other amenities. Mr. Thompson knows that new park improvements will not solve the neighborhood problems, nonetheless, he strongly believes this communuty is long overdue to instill some new pride in residents.
Before wrapping up our interview in his kitchen, I asked Mr. Thompson his take on the name change from Austin MMRP to Levin Park Neighborhood: The Heart of Austin. “Affectionately, the park itself is known as Little Jack. But jack, or jacked, has a negative connotation. Most people don’t know the park is named after a family that operated a restaurant in the area. By naming this neighborhood after Levin Park, it will help get the word out that we keep the old tradition and continue to be a constant gathering space where we all go to socialize. We also have to spread the message that there are housing grants available to assist in down payment and rehab of vacant housing, resources to assist in the stabilization of the area and a commitment from stakeholders who want to improve the quality of life for all residents in the neighborhood".