Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Vora Long Williams

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Meet Vora Long Williams...Vora is a lifelong resident of Englewood who has witnessed many changes in the community. Despite the changes, Vora is dedicated to the Englewood community and to connecting people to each other and resources. In 2017, Vora found Sweet Water Foundation during a walk through the neighborhood. She has had the opportunity to get to know the team and see changes at The Commons. After retiring from the US Postal Service, Vora became a community leader and hopes to be a Life Coach someday. Sweet Water Foundation is excited to share Vora’s story and looks forward to continuing the relationship. We invite you to read more about Vora.

Tell us about your background:
My name is Vora Long Williams. I’m a lifelong Englewood resident - that means 59 years. I was born here, and I raised my two children in Englewood. I worked for the US Post Office for 33 years, and after that I became a community worker. I got involved with Chicago Cares, the Englewood Quality of Life Plan, and the CAPS program.

In October, my husband and I officially adopted our great grandson. He’s two years old. It’s been a bit challenging raising him this late in age, but I’m getting used to it. My husband and I knew adopting him was the right thing to do because he was in foster care in Iowa. It’s like starting all over again with him! He just got potty trained which is a small thing for some people, but it’s very exciting for us!  Since he had challenges when he first came to us, he has a speech, occupational, and developmental therapist and I’m assigned a social worker. I’m excited to raise him in Englewood. It’s going to be different to raise him here than it was to raise my kids here because Englewood is changing.


How did you find Sweet Water Foundation?
I go for walks with my girlfriends from Halsted Street over to McDonalds on 55th Street. During a walk two years ago, the artwork on the Think-Do House caught my attention, and I fell in love with Sweet Water. One day, I met Emmanuel and he gave me a tour and told me about all the things Sweet Water Foundation is doing. Sweet Water is a fabulous place. I love the pictures and the people. Every time I come over here, something is different. I find out more and more things. And now I know the SWF team, which is great!


What changes have you seen in Englewood?
I remember the positive and the negative parts of Englewood. When I was growing up, we had a shopping mall, we had 3-4 movie theaters, we had a hospital, we had restaurants. I remember when Englewood was a middle class area - everyone had a job and the area was really nice. As more blacks moved in and more whites moved out, the area began to change - the stores began to close, the houses began to be boarded up and torn down, people my age began moving out, and they began to rezone. When there are a lot of vacant buildings and lots, that’s when you begin to get all kinds of people. When I was raising my children, there were people who would sell drugs in the neighborhood and use those vacant buildings for all kinds of things. I have two children. My daughter moved to South Holland, and my son moved to Georgia because of what they experienced in the neighborhood growing up.

It’s hard to get people to stay or move back to Englewood with what they say in the media. Lots of people my age moved out, and people my children’s age moved out to. I’m one of the people who stayed and bought my parents house. In fact, many of my friends are surprised I’m still here. When their parents died off, they didn’t want the house, so the city took the houses and tore them down or boarded them up.


What are your thoughts on gentrification?
Gentrification is going to happen. We need to make sure that the people who live here can afford to stay here. I saw gentrification firsthand in Wicker Park when I was working for the Post Office. When older people began to die off, their kids didn’t want their home, and now Wicker Park has half a million dollar homes. When gentrification starts happening, one of the reasons  homeowners like myself have to leave is because the city raises taxes. I may be able to afford my mortgage, but as taxes go up, I can’t afford my taxes. There are lots of people like me - 59, a retiree, and on a fixed income - how am I going to afford taxes on my home? I’m NOT and that’s the point. One of the reasons gentrification is taking so long to happen in Englewood is because we have 5 aldermen. When you have 5 people with 5 ideas, you’re going to have a problem. What if one alderman wanted to hang lights on one side of the street, and the alderman on the other side didn’t want to? People passing through would be like “What’s going on?” To me, they’re holding us hostage - the city has a master plan for Englewood, they’re just not ready yet. Within the next 5-10 years, gentrification is going to happen.

The way to keep people here is to put a tax freeze on our houses, to encourage educated people to move here, and to reduce the number of aldermen to 2 or 3 instead of 5. Gentrification isn’t a bad thing if it’s done correctly. It brings up property value. Another thing that needs to happen in Englewood is that we need to teach older people how to prepare for the future. Classes on how to write a will, or how to remortgage your home, and how to understand the ins and outs of taxes.


Why is it important to you to be a community leader?
I got involved as a community leader because I wanted people to know the great things about the community. I remember the way Englewood was when I was growing up. Englewood gets a bad rap in the news, but it’s not like that. Many of the stories that are told on the news are not even about Englewood - it’s just on our border.  We’re a loving community, and we’re building Englewood up block by block. Many people have lived here their entire life and care about their block and community like I do.

I also want to be a Life Coach in the Englewood area. We have a lot of single mothers, mothers whose children have been murdered, people who are grieving. As a Life Coach, I want to connect people with resources. I think there should be other life coaches too. Like the mentors at Sweet Water! That way we become a village - everyone helping everyone and everyone connected to everyone else.


What are some of your hopes for Sweet Water Foundation and Englewood?
The more I come by, the more I learn and take things back to the other side of Englewood. There are a lot of people who don’t know all the great things Sweet Water is doing. I want to try to make connections between organizations like SWF and others in the area. One such connection is with Chicago Cares. We may be standing individually, but we aren’t individuals. Whether we know about each other or not, we’re all connected. Englewood is on the rise and the more we get involved with the community, the better we’ll be.


Do you have a favorite memory of Sweet Water Foundation?
I like buying produce here - my favorite is turnip greens. I can’t wait until turnip greens are ready! And the puppet show this past January in the Thought Barn. I brought my grandson for the puppet show. I’m looking forward to more events for kids.


If you could describe Sweet Water Foundation in one word, what would it be?
SWF is peaceful and beautiful. SWF has made me feel welcome and at home.

Courtney Hug