Skip to main content

Grassroots Wisdom Book

Turning Around a Neighborhood by Building Trust

Asiaha Butler (right) standing in a formerly vacant lot that was transformed by residents of Englewood into a community garden and gathering space.

Others gave up on her neighborhood – she couldn’t

For three generations, Asiaha Butler's family has called Englewood – a neighborhood in Chicago, IL – home. Her grandparents settled there to start a business and raise their children in a community filled with opportunities. But, over time, the opportunities and hope vanished.

When Butler and her husband were looking to buy their first home, friends told them to move somewhere – anywhere – else. The neighborhood was too dangerous and a tough place to raise kids. 

One day, Butler watched a group of kids throwing bottles in an empty lot across the street. One of them was a young girl, wearing a pink dress. She was playing in the dirt. Butler decided she couldn’t be one more neighbor to give up on those kids and move away. So she and her husband bought a house.

She started reaching out to neighbors. First, she launched Docs and Dialogue – weekly documentary screenings that got neighbors talking. Then she went door to door. “I started meeting more and more residents who were like, ‘What can I do to help?'” she says.

They’ve done a lot. They convinced the city of Chicago to sell the many vacant lots in Englewood to neighbors for a dollar - and turned them into playgrounds, gardens, homework stations, and more.

They started R.A.G.E. – the Resident Association of Greater Englewood - and have taken on bigger and more ambitious projects to rebuild the commercial main street and get access to health and other services. Butler quit her job with a real estate trade group to work full time for her community. “To build trust, to build camaraderie, it takes time,” she says.

“You need to be very patient with the work, not to rush in and not to rush relationships. Our motto with R.A.G.E is ‘connect, build, take action’, because we want to connect first… and strengthen these relationships to build trust.”

You can hear Butler tell her story and see her community in this video by Weave and Nationswell. Butler is also part of Weave’s Speaker Bureau.



←  Go back                                                  Next page