Bringing Together The Players

A visit to the Allegheny County jail in Pittsburgh used to be riddled with stress for inmates’ loved ones and their children. The sounds of frustrated guards and harried parents yelling at children rebounded off the walls in the lobby of the 16-floor hoosegow. The area resembled a 1940s Greyhound bus station; rows of steel chairs faced vending machines that provided a constant temptation during waits that stretched out for hours. A result: Many parents chose not to bring their children to see their fathers, mothers, uncles, siblings and grandparents. A visitor from the old lobby might not recognize the new one.

Hitting The Wall

Maxine Johnson’s first day in prison in 2005 remains seared in her memory. She remembers the shackles on her legs binding her to another prisoner and the guards barking commands at inmates during the intake process. But mostly she remembers her fear of the unexpected as she began her three-year stint and her visceral anxiety about the four grandchildren for whom she was the legal guardian. The grandchildren, ranging from 11 to 17 years old, had gone back to live with their mother, Johnson’s daughter. She had a gambling addiction, and Johnson didn’t think she could handle the responsibility.

More On The Road

DATA: Click here to download an Excel spreadsheet showing five areas with the highest percentage of long-time commuters. The Chicago region has seen tremendous expansion since 1990 with many people spending hundreds of hours commuting to and from their jobs each year. For years, Nicol Lee was one of them. She drove from northwest suburban Algonquin to her job as a nonprofit executive in Chicago. But in late 2007, Lee decided to switch to public transportation–”a move many others across the country are making in the face of soaring gas prices.

Commuter Convert

For 12 long years, Nicol Lee was a perpetual driver. A nonprofit executive, pastor’s wife and mother of two young children, Lee spent dozens of hours weekly in traffic during her two-hour commute from northwest suburban Algonquin to her office in downtown Chicago. The traffic jams came in threes. The first occurred right before Hubbard’s Cave, the second kicked in shortly before O’Hare International Airport and the last one snagged her right before Schaumburg. Driving in her blue 2005 Nissan Pathfinder–”the car, which she bought new, already has more than 80,000 miles–”Lee listened religiously to radio station WBBM to try to avoid getting snared and worried often about being hit by other drivers doing office work while on the road.

Not Quite A Freeway

For years, Nicholas Harrison loved darting in and out of traffic with his touring bike on his way to work as a French professor at Kings College London. The cool morning breeze rustling his brown, grey-flecked hair, Harrison resembled a downhill skier expertly slaloming in between the cars crawling at snails’ pace on the road alongside London’s Thames River. It’s a different story now. Far from stationary moguls, the cars now move briskly along, leaving Harrison little opportunity to do his customary bobbing and weaving. There are a lot more bikers with whom he also must contend.

Car Sick

This is the first installment in a three-part series for Chicago Matters: Growing Forward. This year’s Chicago Matters–the award-winning multimedia public affairs series made possible by The Chicago Community Trust with programming from WTTW 11, Chicago Public Radio, the Chicago Public Library, and The Chicago Reporter–will examine how the choices we make today impact our environment and the future of our region. For more information, visit www.chicagomatters.org. The Rev. Oscar Carrasco of Hyde Park spends up to 60 hours a week at his job in northwest suburban Elgin and about 20 hours commuting there and back. The traffic on Interstate 94 is heaviest on the morning trip near downtown.

Tracing history

As he marched along Jackson Boulevard on May 1, Pablo Anguiano toted a white sign with neatly printed red letters that read: “We also have a dream.” The Mexican native joined the throngs of hundreds of thousands, including immigrants from Poland, Ireland and Senegal, converging on Grant Park. A laborer who lives in the Pilsen neighborhood, Anguiano explained that the sign was a conscious tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C.

Speaking 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, King said he and the other 250,000 marchers had come to redeem the nation’s lofty but unfulfilled promises. “And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” King said. The May 1 march, Anguiano hoped, would help demonstrate that immigrants are tax-paying, law-abiding people worthy of full membership in American society.

Passing the torch

On July 10, 1966, more than 30,000 people streamed into Soldier Field for a kick-off rally held by the Chicago Freedom Movement. It would be that year’s largest civil rights demonstration. After listening to gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, and a young Detroit talent named Stevie Wonder, the predominantly black crowd welcomed Martin Luther King Jr., the keynote speaker, with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. King spoke about the open-housing campaign that had become the movement’s focus. In the weeks following the rally, King and hundreds of others braved angry mobs of thousands—including some that hurled rocks and threats—to open real-estate markets in white neighborhoods to blacks.