In its heyday, the city of Chicago was a unanimous choice to house 1893 The Columbian Exposition, most popularly and affectionately known as The Chicago World’s Fair. The metropolis that lie nearly smack-dab in the middle of North America boasted the tallest building in the world for nearly a century—downtown Chicago’s Sears Tower; those brave enough to climb to the top can glimpse the peak of four states at once (Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan). Unto today, the shops of State Street and its neighboring Magnificent Mile draw millions of tourists. Attractions such as Navy Pier and the Museum Campus swell in the summertimes. And of course, there is the Chicago Bulls Dynasty and still The Taste of Chicago—a summer feeding extravanganza featuring some of the best corner and gourmet cuisine any world-class city has to offer.

For Black Americans, Chicago holds a heartfelt stature as one of the most populated resting spots for Black migrants from the South after the World Wars. The city produced some of the most innovative and legendary jazz and blues artists of the world, cementing America as capable of giving rise to its own unique musical genres. It was a hotbed of suffrage, Civil Rights and Black Power activity, with none other than Minister Louis Farakhan, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama calling it home.

But a few outspoken souls are now questioning whether Chicago can continue to compete as a world-class city that tourists want to spend their vacation, money and time to visit. It is not only the near artic temperatures that surround the city in the winter months. It is also a state of fear which hovers around the largely urban neighborhoods and the rise in street crime in the central downtown tourist districts.

HayOn January 29, 2013, a bullet pierced 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton in the back while she gathered with her high school friends in a park just one short mile from President Obama’s home. Much has been made of this fact, and it is hard not to. Ms. Pendleton had just come from a trip she earned with her school band to perform as a majorette at Obama’s Second Inauguration less than 10 days before. The ironic connection not only stirred conspiracy theorists, but it also thrust a death that may have just been a local news soundbite into the national spotlight where it belongs. Ms. Pendleton was an honors student. She was described as highly intelligent, diplomatic and funny by those who knew her. Yet, it took a link to our President to start the conversation that had been somewhat buried: Is unpredictable, chronic violence scaring people away from Chicago?

For many years, the presence of Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo behomoth and Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls dynasty veiled the disturbing secret of their mutual locale: the West Side Chicago neighborhood these entities called home was rife with multiple shootings, drive-bys, gang violence and unsolved murders. Yet, foreigners and tourists were hidden from the dangers inherent in their visits by the spectacular shows that awaited them. Now, with such phenomenal lures having had their time come and go in Chicago, tourism is down and so are spirits. With such events as the famed Chicago Auto Show and Chicago Theatre Week fast-approaching, many are too afraid to get tickets.

Chicago is a “downtown” city characterized by highly compartmentalized and distinct neighborhoods, sprawling across 3 huge regions known as the South Side, West Side and North Side. Chicago’s East Side is virtually non-existent or located in Indiana, with Lake Michigan being the final edge for the city on what could be land to the East. Despite such a spread, the downtown and North Side areas comprise the majority of tourist attractions and business activity. They also have largely White populations. But the South and West Side of Chicago, hotbeds of murder, are economically poor and violent.

Just last year, Chicago Tourism Chief and Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh expressed his wish to the Chicago Tribune that he hopes the violence in the city “sunsets quickly,” as it would surely have an effect on all the city accomplished to spruce up Chicago for visitors, locals and natives. Although he quickly backtracked his statements, he simply uttered what had been on the minds of many for quite some time. The unprecendented skyline, perfect Lake Michigan lakefront, grand Midwest theatre district, and outstanding athletic teams may not be enough to draw tourists to a city known by its chronic killing.

chicagoEarly last year, there was a 38% spike in homicides in the first 6 months of the year. A band of thieves and assailants targeted tourists—often conspicuous due to their large groups or confused orientations—for robberies and attack. Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emmanuel quickly attempted to buttress the growing concerns caused by headlines nationwide; the city had a reinforced police force and rejuvenated landscape, and the incidents of violence among tourists and residents were minimal compared to overall safety. But now, with Ms. Pendleton’s death providing a renewed platform to share stories of violence and fear in Chicago, the concerns have returned and have grown.

Pop culture, hip-hop and Hollywood depict Chicago’s mob history as a vintage scene of old to provide prime fodder for books, song lyrics and films. But recently, ABC News, tracked that Chicago’s current murder rate (42 killings in January 2013 thusfar, or more than one a day) makes Al Capone’s “gangland” Chicago look safe. However, that level of glorification has come with the cost of masking what truly goes on in the city today.

 Along with Hadiya Pendleton, 6 more teenagers in Chicago were murdered with gunshots or violent assault—yet, Ms. Pendleton’s link to the President insures her name became known while the other young victims are barely announced. No matter the sights of the city, if its reputation for violence continues to make news more than its reputation in arts, culture, entertainment, and athletics, Chicago may be put to rest as a tourism has-been.

About Hadiya Pendleton: Hadiya Pendelton (1998-2013) was a 15-year old King College Prep High School sophomore. She was a band majorette and popular honors student. She is survived by her mother Cleopatra Crowley, her father Nate “Anthony” Pendleton, and her little brother Nathaniel Pendleton. She had no arrest history or gang affiliation. Ms. Pendleton’s dreams included attending Northwestern University to become a pharmacist and journalist. The Chicago police department reported 506 homicides in 2012, and the recent tragedy of Pendleton has prompted local authorities to move an additional 200 officers on to street patrols.

First Lady Michelle Obama attended the teen girl’s funeral.

ABC 7 News: (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/02/hadiya-pendleton-funeral-attended-by-first-lady-michelle-obama-city-officials/)

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My Ugandan Adventure at the Source of the Nile in

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2

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Friday, 8 April 2011 Comments

3

Must-Do Tour: Visit the Holy Land In March,

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Friday, 23 June 2017 Comments

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In part one of a six-part series on Ghana for AFK Travel, Starrene Rhett-Rocque, a first-time visitor to the country, blazes a trail through the capital city of Accra in

Wednesday, 18 March 2015 Comments