Student Blog: A Healthier Back of the Yards

A Healthier Back of the Yards: Increasing Services to Decrease Violence

By: Angel A. Jimenez

Shootings, death, and drugs: this is how Back of the Yards is portrayed in the media. There is a widely shared opinion that my community does not want to be helped, does not want to change, and is always looking for trouble. The Back of the Yards community is located in the south side of Chicago, which was once home to the Chicago Union Stockyards, most notably known because of The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. Back of the Yards was home to Germans, Irish, and Czechs in the 1870s. Later, Poles, Lithuanians, and Slovaks would become the majority. Small numbers of Mexican immigrants arrived during the 1920s and World War 1. By the 1970s, when the Union Stockyards were closed, the community was primarily Mexican with a minority of African Americans. Today the Back of the Yards suffers from economic decline, social inequality, poor housing, and poor working conditions in nearby factories.

In a recent study conducted by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, 369 people from my community were asked three questions: What are some mental health concerns you have? What are some barriers that are faced? Would you consider receiving emotional support? In this survey, it was found that some of the most prevalent concerns are depression, anxiety, isolation, and trauma. Furthermore, some barriers that were mentioned are the cost of health services, lack of insurance, language, stigma, and the lack of accessible services. Finally, 80% of those who were surveyed said that they would consider receiving emotional support if it was available in the community.  I believe this survey shows that my community wants help, is not looking for trouble, and wants change to happen.


It is very easy to point fingers and blame the violence in my community on the people that live there, however we – the residents of Back of the Yards – would like some answers. I noticed that several helpful community resources have recently been closed. Why was the mental health clinic closed? Why was the Healthcare Alternative Systems (HAS) organization’s office, which provided help to victims of domestic violence, anger management services, youth outreach, and many other services needed in the community, closed? Why do schools have to look for grants in order to better help the children in my community who suffer from various mental and emotional stresses? We ask for support and oftentimes are ignored and told that more police will help reduce the violence in the community because that is the biggest problem. The violence in the community does affect us and the trauma affects every part of our lives, but we also aren’t able to provide the appropriate support to help people deal with grief, anxiety, fear, and depression, among other mental health issues. In my opinion, that is the biggest problem in the Back of the Yards.

Fear and anxiety can make us do things that we cannot understand. Mental health institutions and organizations like HAS exist to help people learn how to cope with their fears and manage anger and stress. Recently, the Donald Trump administration’s immigration policies have incited a newfound level of anxiety and fear in the community. Not to mention, in the beginning months of this year, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were present in the neighborhood. People were afraid to leave their homes and did not feel comfortable participating in routine, everyday activities such as grocery shopping.

Mental health is not being properly addressed in the community and the effects are plaguing its residents, mostly youth. Around 34% of residents in the Back of the Yards are below the age of 19. An article I read for my biology class explained how poor mental health in children can be especially toxic. It can hinder their brain development and can also hinder their academic success in school. Sometimes children find themselves lost, not knowing where to go. As a result, they decide to find a new family on the streets. Children live out the stress and anxieties of their parents and they do not know how to work through and process everyday stressors.

 Call to Action: Creating a More Positive and Healthy Future

If our aldermen would provide funding for programs in schools and churches and create or re-open more programs focused on mental health, like HAS, we could provide a safe and nurturing environment for parents and children. More programs that are aimed at youth will help them transition from childhood to adulthood in an environment void of depression, anxiety, or grief. This will also equip our youth with the skills necessary to identify their feelings and develop a toolbox of strategies that they can use to help themselves and others. Then, when our youth get older, they can continue helping the generations that follow. There are already some existing programs in the neighborhood that are trying to help teens, but they are not able to help everyone. They require more funding, people, and space to be able to reach more families.

Before judging Back of the Yards solely on what is shown on television, I invite you to come visit us. Learn about our struggles, our fears, and sorrows, but also learn about the programs and people already making a difference in our community. Help us by committing time to our neighborhood. Bring workshops on mental health, share information with schools and institutions in the community, or help us develop and fund programs for our youth and families. Back of the Yards should not be known for its shootings and violence, it should be known for its resilience and its work towards creating a more positive and healthy future.

For more information about the Back of the Yards, please visit the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council website:

About Me

My name is Angel Jimenez. I am currently a sophomore at Whitney Young Magnet High School. I am a member of the Holy Cross/IHM Marimba Ensemble which is a group for youth from the Back of the Yards community, who are interested in music. The program was created in the early 90s to bring youth together through music. Each generation of marimba players learns music by ear and are taught by former marimba players. We volunteer our time and play at various events in the Chicagoland area. I am also entering my second year in UIC’s Medicina Academy Apprentice Program which guides and supports high school students in pursuing a career in medicine through seminars about college, medicine, inter/intrapersonal activities, and career opportunities in the healthcare field. I am interested in becoming a physician and possibly applying my love for music by exploring a career in music therapy and medical research.