He’s Got High Hopes
By Ivana Hester
John A. Cook is not leaving Bronzeville.
He believes in a Bronzeville long forgotten by many. The historical Bronzeville, once referred to as the Black Metropolis. The Bronzeville that was the original home of up and coming black owned businesses.
That is how most people remember Bronzeville, back when it was thriving with life and innovation.
And as Block Club President and the founder of the Bronzeville Community Club House he plans to play a big role in the resurrection of this historical community. He knows what Bronzeville was and has faith in what Bronzeville can still be.
“People’s perceptions and fears do not validate Bronzeville. The reason why I am drawn here is because of the ancestors that were here before me. I like to think that I am a Renaissance man. In other words when Bronzeville was in it’s hey days in the 20s and 30s when blacks first migrated here and opened up their own businesses, that is when Bronzeville was at it’s greatest potential. My perspective is to come back here and try to relive that, because this is where it all occurred.”
Cook has been living in Bronzeville for about 17 years. His ancestors are a part of Bronzeville’s rich history and he will not let it die. He is the nephew of Miss Bronzeville1946, a pageant that was a really big deal back when.
“Life is like that, you have your ups and downs.” Cook said when asked why has Bronzeville fallen to the state it is in now?
Bronzeville is a community with historical prominence, now frowned upon by so many as just another rough patch on Chicago’s south side. But, to the residents of Bronzeville it is so much more.
Cook made the decision to move back to Chicago and to Bronzeville because of an article he read in 1994 while residing in Wisconsin. It said Bronzeville was on the way up. However these dreams of a new start for Bronzeville were not seen through, and whatever was supposed to begin has obviously been forgotten.
So what happened to Bronzeville?
Why is what we now know Bronzeville to be today so different from what it once was, or even the expectation of what it was proposed to possibly be in more recent years?
“There are a lot of things that could have contributed to the fallen community. One major issue has been the migration of businesses out of the South Side,” he says.
“Family makes a strong community and once the essence of the family was broken, the community went with it.” he adds.
The reason why Cook got inspired to build the Bronzeville Community Club House is because of so many broken families. A youngster had lived next door to Cook wandered into trouble once his parents split up.
He began to hang around the wrong crowd and his life tragically ended in street violence, a story all too familiar in Chicago’s South-Side.
This inspired John to establish a place where youth could come and get structure to lead them down the right path.
The Bronzeville Community Club House provides a safe haven for the community with a home-like feel. It is the meeting facility for the block club, Sunday morning church service and bible study. The community comes together at the Community Club House for graduations, baby showers, birthdays and much more.
He has also provided school programs for students such as tutoring and etiquette classes. Although he wishes he could do a lot more after school programs, the club house has also become a place where the community comes together to communicate and celebrate.
Recently the Club House’s property taxes have been raised and Cook fears that he may not be able to afford keeping the Community Club House. Although the future of the Community Club House is not completely certain right now, John still has faith in the revival of Bronzeville.
He plans to start a new business venture located not too far from his first, this new plan brings back that good old time feel that Bronzeville is known for. A Jazz Club and Coffee House all in one.
Cook is taking the risk on what is now just an empty lot. He sees the potential. With faith, determination, and help from possible investors that share his same vision and passion for Bronzeville, Cook plans to see his dream come to life. He will be naming the place after his famous aunt, Miss Bronzeville1946 Madelyn Smith.