African Heritage Garden

Contact Information: Dr. Shemuel Israel at
Address: 1245 S Central Park Avenue
Neighborhood/Community Area: North Lawndale
Garden Established: 2001
Protected by NeighborSpace: 2013
Social Media/Website: African Heritage Garden
Community Partners: North Lawndale Greening Committee  

About the garden: One of the African Heritage Garden’s most important features is so subtle that it is often overlooked by the first-time visitor surveying the vast corner space. Attention is easily drawn to the garden’s thriving vegetable beds filled with watermelon, tomatoes and kale, or one of two wooden trellises covered in flowers during the late summer. However, it is the large bed of flowers in the shape of the African continent that defines this space as much more than a community garden – it also serves as a community space that provides a direct link to cultural information and ancestral pride for the predominantly African-American North Lawndale community.

Prior to its transformation into a garden, the five-lot area served as a haven for gangs and drug dealers. Through a consortium of local and city-wide organizations the land was acquired and a plan developed to turn the area into a dynamic green space that could be utilized by the entire community. Before ground was even broken, a community-wide research project was conducted to determine the relationships between African history, art and culture, and those found among African-Americans in North Lawndale. The findings from this study eventually took root in the development of the African Heritage Garden, and are visible throughout its overall design, the plants that grow there and numerous artistic features. And, in 2005, the African Heritage Garden was recognized citywide as an “official” place of culture and community. “In July 2005, the Chicago Council of Elders blessed the African Heritage Garden with a traditional African Ceremony,” said community leader Blanche Suggs. “This Ceremony requires a select group of community elders to give permission to establish (the garden) as a family place of enjoyment, education and cultural awareness. We reached out to the entire Lawndale community and the ceremony was truly amazing.”