Hi, I am Marlene Fisher, a grassroots community organizer living in 5th Ward in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. I am the second oldest of six born to Denise (19) and Clester Fisher (21) in Jonestown Mississippi. In 1975, my parents divorced and my mother moved the family to Decatur, Illinois. At 22 years old, my mother was a divorced single parent with four children.
My mother worked a variety of jobs from factory work, catering, fast food and as a bartender. Around 1978, she purchased the home that she resides in today and raised the six of us. My mother’s work ethic helped shape my foundation for having pride in my home and community. She stressed education as the key to moving forward in life and always encouraged us to participate in extracurricular activities. My mother is pivotal in helping me understand the importance of taking care of my home on the outside and inside. My family’s roots are tied to being invested in our community and leading by example. We lived in a community where we were overflowing with support from neighbors and our church family.
In the 1980’s, the neighborhood experienced “white flight.” Our neighbors were moving out of the neighborhood. My mother saw this as an opportunity to purchase rental property. She saved money and purchased the house across from our home. My summers were spent repairing the rent houses after tenants left. After a few years, my mother “sent for” her brothers and sister from Mississippi. They lived in the house she purchased across the street and made their own lives in Decatur and reside there to this day.
In high school, I earned multiple academic scholarship offers. I also received athletic scholarship offers for basketball and track. I accepted an academic scholarship to attend Bradley University. After college graduation, I moved to Dolton, Illinois with relatives. In 1998, I moved to the 5th ward.
I moved to the SouthShore neighborhood because of the lake, beach, amenities and proximity to downtown Chicago. I did not own a car at the time and rode my bike to the beach and grocery store.
In 2003, I was exposed to the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood by working at Hirsch High School as the Junior Varsity Assistant Boys Basketball Coach. One day, after practice I drove, Cortez, one of the players home. I drove down 73rd and turned on University. I turned into mayhem: people in the street, a car sped around me, someone selling drugs and loud music. Cortez saw the look on my face and explained that we were in “The Pocket.” The neighborhood was in stark contrast to SouthShore at the time.
Fast forward to 2009, guess where I purchased a home? “The Pocket”. Guess who is my neighbor, Cortez! Not much has changed with the block. Except there are many new homes built courtesy of the Comer Foundation.
One day while mowing the lawn I hear “Is that Ms. Fisher?” Then yelling “Ms. Fisher, why are you over here? What are you doing?”. My former students were inquiring why I purchased in the neighborhood. They share with me to be careful and openly wonder if I can handle the neighborhood.
At times during my residency I thought the same. The house was under water, zero equity, open air drug market, shootings, my home was burglarized twice and constant violence.
Cognitive dissonance is why some of us chose to fight and live in transitioning neighborhoods.
We see opportunity where others do not.
Following in the footsteps of my mother, I started cleaning up the empty lots in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. I worked with other community organizations to improve neighborhood safety. After a few years I was able to purchase one of the lots through the Adjacent Neighbor Program. I transformed the empty lots into an outdoor safe space where the community can safely gather. Mowing the laws and building a garden has contributed to turning the neighborhood around.
This is a glimpse of why I live in Greater Grand Crossing and what motivates me to be a steward of the community.
Please view the pages of this website for more details of my experience in Greater Grand Crossing.
I am ready to DO MORE!