The promised land

Scouting for a seat in the crowded lecture hall of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, it’s difficult not to notice the unusual heterogeneity of the people who are making the task so difficult. Their nametags identify them as University students, neighborhood schoolteachers, pastors, and parents, and all of them are here to learn about a new organization known as the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Zone.

Modeled after the highly successful Harlem Children’s Zone, the WCPZ has first and foremost endeavored to improve the educational situation in the neighborhood. The organization maintains frequent contact with Woodlawn’s ten elementary schools, and also stays in dialogue with the Chicago Public Schools system, social workers, and various community members–all of whom have been eager to become involved. “[The WCPZ] is a call to action,” said Rudy Nimocks, Director of Community Partnerships at the University, and former chief of the UCPD. So far this beckoning has produced a substantial increase in social work in these schools, as well as the genesis of several community-based tutoring and mentorship programs in the area.

But at this point, most of the WCPZ’s efforts are invested in preparing for the next few years. Next spring, the organization will submit a proposal to be considered as one of fifteen to twenty nationally recognized “Promise Zones.” If selected, WCPZ will receive a grant of $25 million, and will be obligated to raise a matching sum through other non-federal means. Eventually, the WCPZ hopes to extend its influence beyond education. Joyce Nimocks, wife of Rudy and board member of the organization, said that in order to deepen their impact, WPCZ must apply a more “holistic approach to what we can do for the whole community.”

As is often the case with many of the more influential organizations on the South Side, the WCPZ has some ties to the University of Chicago, But, as Nimocks was quick to reveal, the University is really a junior partner in this venture. If Woodlawn gets pulled up, it’s going to have to do it itself.