July 11, 2014

So Fresh Saturdays: Public Events and Building Collective Action

Teresa gonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

One of the few reasons I keep a Facebook page is so that I can keep up to date on the various community-building activities within Chicago. These range from hyper-local block club parties and various neighborhood festivals, to citywide events and music concerts held in the downtown Loop area.

In his book, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, Robert Sampson highlights the importance of community building activities as ways to increase collective efficacy. Put simply, collective efficacy means social cohesion (or connectivity) combined with shared goals and expectations regarding group behaviors.

For Sampson, public activities are particularly relevant in poor communities, where he argues that a history of concentrated poverty leads to a decrease in collective efficacy, and diminishes civic action. He argues, and I agree, that these events, and the increased relationships between neighbors that result from these events, can improve citizen involvement and lead to what Archon Fung terms “empowered participation” or innovative problem-solving and civic action by and amongst low-income residents.

One such event that I recently heard about was from an informal resident collective, the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (or R.A.G.E.) regarding its annual summer long arts and music festivals “So Fresh Saturdays.” Dubbed an “edu-tainment” series with support from the Chicago Parks District’s Night Out at the Parks, the events host a variety of local poets, musicians, dancers, film screenings, and opportunities for residents to interact and create things together – open mic, call and response, and collectively-made art pieces.

During the summer months when crime rates tend to be high in the city, R.A.G.E. hosts these free festivals at each of the five major parks in the neighborhood. And, according to members of the collective, the events are both about building community and also as a way to “reclaim” open park space within the neighborhood. In a community plagued by violence, negative publicity in both the local and national news media, high unemployment and poverty rates, and an abundance of abandoned and vacant lots,  R.A.G.E. undertook a massive campaign in order to deliberately create venues that celebrate what the resident organization views as “what’s good in Englewood.

This is done via several media outlets and events. For “So Fresh Saturdays” celebrating the good means the promotion of local African-American talents (with a particular emphasis on Englewood-based artists), providing various forms of entertainment with a focus on social justice, and via positive loitering. Introduced by the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) initiative, positive loitering is a way for community members to combat gang presence, criminal activity, and drug use.

In the case of Englewood, positive loitering is also about reclaiming abandoned space and reframing the presence of black bodies within public space as cause for celebration rather than suspicion.

This promotion of local talent, reclaimed space, and black bodies also serves as a tool for R.A.G.E. to rebrand Englewood within the popular imaginary from a space solely plagued by violence to a more nuanced space of celebration. In their email and Facebook blast, R.A.G.E. shouts out “Chi-Raq is dead…So Fresh Saturdays in Englewood Lives on!!

The thought is that if people (current residents, potential residents, visitors, city officials, real-estate developers, and business owners) begin to view Greater Englewood as a space of opportunity, growth, and “good things” rather than a war zone then they will begin to invest – money and time – into the community. Furthermore, through these events and in their attempt to rebrand the neighborhood, R.A.G.E. members and Greater Englewood residents are also improving collective efficacy and engaging in civic action on their own terms.

I first attended one of R.A.G.E.’s public events in the fall of 2011. And, I should note I grew up in a similar part of Chicago and have witnessed my own share of gang-related violence. In addition, growing up I was often frustrated by the overwhelmingly bad publicity that my own South Side neighborhood received.

I painfully understood the ways this image effected how people perceived me growing up. As various scholars who study neighborhood effects remind us, people and the spaces from where they derive can become synonymous. Spaces speak and “mean” through bodies, and the reverse is also true – bodies speak and signify due to the spaces from where they originate. In other words, neighborhoods have the power to define behavior and public identity.

Yet, even with this history, I was not immune to the fear that all of the negativity around Greater Englewood initially instilled in me when I attended that first event. I made sure my family knew where I was going, I borrowed a car instead of taking public transportation (I hate driving), and I parked closest to the entrance.

It was only after doing work with residents in this community and attending events like “So Fresh Saturdays,” that my own fears and biases began to dissipate. I say this because these types of public events coupled with positive news story campaigns do more than build collective efficacy within poor communities, they also have the ability to transform the perceptions of outsiders and work to increase our appreciation for the creative ways that marginalized communities, despite having a lack of resources, forge ahead and make community via public events.

As Wilson Valentín-Escobar highlights in his forthcoming book, Bodega Surrealism: The Emergence of Latina/o Artivists in New York City, the arts and other public events become a tool of activism, or what Valentín-Escobar terms “artivism,” where residents of impoverished areas rely on internal talents to create new ways of building community and increasing civic action.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference So Fresh Saturdays: Public Events and Building Collective Action:


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for everydaysociologyblog.com please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

Terrible Magnificent Sociology

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More


Learn More

« Hotels and Stratification | Main | Advertising Co-opts Social Science »