August 30, 2021
The Paving the Way Project, Incorporated, is a 501©3 non-profit, community-based outreach program for violence prevention and intervention. In addition to providing services to victims of gang violence, the Project also advocates for community resources; nurtures relationships to increase community revitalization and resilience; fosters agency collaborations, and conducts community outreach and educational forums to support families victimized by gun violence, trauma, and other prevailing community concerns.
During his interview with Daymaker's VP of Products & Storytelling, Dr. Ariana Brazier, Paving the Way founder, Antonio Davis, discusses how the "togetherness" he witnesses in his city is commonly overlooked. He states, "The city of Chicago is notorious for not working together... [but] everyone looks out for each other. Everyone tries to collaborate when they can. They are very supportive of each other. Most of the time, the media concentrates on the negative stuff. That's what they put out every weekend... They don't talk about this community that's feeding the community."
Antonio's comment gestures towards his personal experience in the community in which he was not only born and raised, but is now serving and growing. Simultaneously, he emphasizes an oft-forgotten and/or buried history of cultural communalism that has long-defined that particular section of Chicago. Located in the Washington Park area of Chicago, Illinois, the work of his nonprofit can be situated within an almost 100 years-long legacy of Black grassroots organizing innate to that area.
During the height of the Great Migration, Black migrants moving into the city of Chicago were concentrated into a narrow stretch of land on the south side of the city due to blockbusting practices and racially restrictive covenants (as well as redlining in the following decade). Thus, forming the "Black Belt," also known as the "Black Metropolis" and "Bronzeville." The Black Belt was "the narrow chain of neighborhoods with a high concentration of Black residents on the South Side... It housed 78% of Chicago’s Black population during the Great Migration." Over a short period of time, "[o]vercrowding had become rampant in the Black Belt... and apartments were being built in communities like Washington Park. By 1930, the neighborhood was 92% Black.
"In the 1930s, Washington Park, specifically, was the site of the "street car riots," anti-eviction organizing, and the last stop on the Chicago Negro Chamber of Commerce annual parade which honored over 50 Black owned businesses. In the 1960s, Black parents and students participated in mass walkouts, protests, and letter-writing campaigns to protest severe overcrowding in Black schools. More recently, during the mass school-closings under Rahm Emmanuel, students at Dyett High School began a 34-day long hunger strike to save their school from closure and demand a curricular focus on global leadership and green technology.
Currently, the population in Washington Park remains over 90% Black. Paving the Way responds to the disparate needs resulting from the history of racially discriminatory housing and educational policies that precipitated the aforementioned public demonstrations.
While the nonprofit initially focused on engaging, educating, and empowering the youth of Washington Park to understand and address the root causes of gun/gang violence, they have expanded their services to include homocide response, crisis intervention, housing and food assistance, and general community building. Like the historic work that precedes them, Paving the Way is creating safe spaces for Black residents to see and be seen by each other.
As Antonio explains that "[p]art of why I created Paving the Way was because I originally I was one of the persons that basically took from the community, I was one of the ones causing the violence in the community." Today, Antonio is responsible for giving back to his community and contributing to its history in incredible ways. Click the link to hear more about their impact on and presence in the neighborhood in the full length interview. You can support children at Paving the Way by purchasing a backpack, interesting book, or educational toy at https://www.daymaker.com/g/paving-the-way/c/backtoschool-2021.