Photo of Alderman David Moore and Carlos Nelson at 79th St. Renaissance Festival

Despite proximity, it can be difficult for us to connect with our friends and neighbors. That’s why residents of Chicago’s south side neighborhood of Auburn Gresham came together to celebrate their community and each other at the 79th Street Renaissance Festival.

Thirteen years ago, Carlos Nelson, community organizer and activist, hosted the first block party of food, shopping and music.

Today, he serves as executive director of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), a United Way of Metro Chicago community partner. And the festival is bigger than ever, hosting around 15,000 people who come out year after year to enjoy the festivities.

“We created this event to showcase the great work of the GAGDC and to celebrate all of the local culture in the neighborhood,” Carlos said between running from booth to booth.


Resource connections

The street festival is more than a celebration. It also serves as a resource fair for community members. A variety of booths are available for residents to learn more about resources for healthcare, education supports, senior care, and housing options.

This year, Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs was in attendance, promoting the importance of investing in higher education for children. “We are out here trying to sign some kids up for a college savings program in hopes they can realize their full potential,” Treasurer Frerichs said.

He and other resource providers saw the festival as a great opportunity to help support their neighbors in Auburn Gresham.

“We need time to come together and celebrate one another.”

Community collaboration

The fair and Frerichs’ effort to create pathways to education are just some of the great work taking place in Auburn Gresham.

Led by GAGDC, the Auburn Gresham Neighborhood Network, a United Way of Metro Chicago coalition, works to improve the overall culture and climate of the neighborhood’s five community schools by engaging parents and strengthening community partnerships.

The Annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival encompasses all of this work. It showcases collaboration through organizations that have worked tirelessly to provide resources to those in need. It also fosters community by bringing people together in a fun and lowkey environment.

Father Michael Pfleger, a well-known Catholic priest and social activist in Chicago, has attended the street fest for many years. He appreciates the sense of comradery it creates between neighbors.

“It’s a day of fun in a city plagued with an enormous amount of violence and problems,” Father Michael said. “We need time to come together and celebrate one another.”

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