US (IL): Flowers and futures bloom in Chicago as nonprofit helps keep youth away from crime

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For Southside Blooms owners Quilen and Hannah Blackwell, who run the Chicago floral nonprofit staffed by at-risk youth and young adults, their biggest competition isn’t other flower shops. It’s the constant draw of the streets.

“(There were) kids that were in our after-school program that we heard joined a gang when they got older,” said Hannah Blackwell, one of the young participants once involved in their program. “I don’t know if Shawn is still alive,” the Kansas native said, referring to a former program participant.

The Southside Blooms floral shop – with its slogan of “flowers that empower” – rests in South Side Chicago’s majority Black-populated Englewood community. The impoverished food desert plagued by vacant lots, few job opportunities, and gang and gun violence is where the Blackwells, parents to three children, have lived for a decade. “There’s truth to what you see in the media,” said Quilen Blackwell said.

Chicago, with its reputation as one of the nation’s most violent cities, reported 617 homicides in 2023. That same year, New York saw 386 homicides, while Los Angeles witnessed 327. Englewood’s shootings have become less frequent, the Blackwells say. By February, the Chicago Police Department said the city had seen double-digit drops in homicides, shootings, and shooting victims this year compared to the same period in 2023.


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