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Auburn Gresham boosted by annual festival

The Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side is known for a lot of things and one of them is the annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival. Now in its 14th year, the free, outdoor festival will run Sept. 7 and 8 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the corner of 79th Street and Racine Avenue, and is sponsored by the nonprofit Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. Last year, 20,000 people attended the festival and thousands more are expected to attend this year, according to organizers.

 And despite Auburn Gresham being known for its crime rate, Carlos Nelson, executive director of the organization, said there has never been an incident of violence at their festival.

“Knocking on wood because we have never had any incidents of violence at our festival. People come out to have a good time and that’s exactly what people get when they attend,” Nelson told the Citizen. “I know the news media would have you believe that Auburn Gresham is a dangerous place to live, work and socialize, but that’s just not true. It has challenges like any other neighborhood but it’s a good place with some good people.”

In the past Nelson said more than 100 volunteers from Auburn Gresham volunteered, including members of the Nation of Islam.

“The police already do a fine job making sure nothing gets out of hand, but with the addition of private security guards we hired and having familiar faces from the neighborhood volunteering, I think that really adds value and keeps everything peaceful,” he said. “This event is not political or faith-based. It is truly a neighborhood event that is open to everyone.”

Nelson added, there will be something at the festival for everyone from children to adults.

 There will be a petting zoo with animals; performances by the Jesse White Tumblers and the South Shore Drill Team; gospel, jazz and R&B music will be played along with legendary DJ Farley “Jack Master Funk” Keith playing house music from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 7.

“For all those ‘old schoolers’ out there, you don’t want to miss one of the most popular DJs in Chicago doing his thing,” Nelson said. “All of the entertainment is home-grown talent.”

Keith, a 57-year-old DJ and music producer, has been a Chicago mainstay since 1981, when he became a member of the “Hot Mix 5” DJ team at the former WBMX-FM (102.7), which today is V103.

Local restaurants, such as BJ’s Market and Bakery and Harold’s Chicken, will be among the vendors selling food. And residents said they look forward to the festival each year because it shines a positive light on a community known for many negative things.

 “I have lived in this community for 42 years and I do not regret it. I am proud to call Auburn Gresham my home,” said Gertrude Davis, 89. “I know we have folks getting shot up and an abundance of vacant lots, but so what. It’s still home for me and I for one am glad that each year this festival shows people how good our community can be when we all come together in peace.”

The overall purpose of the festival, said Nelson, is not only to provide a family event for the community, but to also promote all the wonderful things about Auburn Gresham.

“The intent for the festival is to promote our community as a great place to live, work, play, pray, and owning a business,” said Nelson. “We want people to know that everything they might hear about Auburn Gresham is not true and there’s more good than bad when it comes to our neighborhood.”

Keywords: 79th Street Renaissance Festival, Auburn Gresham, community engagement, gagdc, RenFest

Posted in Education, Local Businesses, Auburn Gresham in the News, Community Highlights


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