Sankofa Wellness Village On West Side Wins $10 Million Chicago Prize

Credit: Bureau Gemmell | The Sankofa Wellness Village won the second-ever Chicago Prize awarded by the Pritzker Traubert Foundation Wednesday.

The village will be a sprawling, $50 million campus that includes a wellness center with a credit union, an art center, business hub and pop-up markets bringing fresh food to West Siders.

WEST GARFIELD PARK — A West Side campus that will bring critical resources back into a disinvested neighborhood has won the second $10 million Chicago Prize.

The Pritzker Traubert Foundation awarded the Sankofa Wellness Village the coveted prize Wednesday, according to an announcement Thursday afternoon. The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, which includes several West Side groups, is steering the development.

The project was chosen from six South and West side finalists. The remaining finalists will each receive $500,000 from the foundation to further their plans, officials said.

The Sankofa Wellness Village will bring pivotal, interconnected services along the Madison and Pulaski corridor, organizers said. The village will include:

  • The Sankofa Village Wellness Center, a 60,000-square-foot facility that will provide more than 170,000 residents with a health center, gym, early childhood development programs, community-owned credit union, small business support and other services.
  • The MAAFA Center for Arts and Activism, a residential leadership, workforce development and arts center to be built inside a renovated New Mount Missionary Baptist Church, 4239 W. Washington Blvd.
  • The K Entrepreneurship Development Hub, a business incubator and entrepreneurial support center.
  • The Community Grocer Initiative, a community-led effort to bring grocers and healthy food to the neighborhood with pop-up markets until a permanent grocery store opens.

The completed project is expected to cost $50 million, said Kemena Brooks of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative.

“We all know that West Garfield Park has been the stepchild of the city for far too long,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, co-founder and executive director of the MAAFA Redemption Project. “… But I like to refer to this as a renaissance of West Garfield Park and the West Side. This is a movement. It’s something that’s been brewing in this neighborhood for a while.”

The Sankofa Village Wellness Center could break ground by the end of the year and the entire village could be complete by 2025.

“In choosing this remarkable project, we were struck by the enormous disparity between life expectancies in West Garfield Park compared to other parts of our city,” Bryan Traubert, co-founder and trustee of the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, said in a statement.

Leaders of the collective said the name, Sankofa is an ancient Ghanaian Akan concept that means “to move forward, we must first go back and recover the valuable things we lost,” which includes that life expectancy gap.

“This strong grass roots community-led proposal inspired us with their bold vision to address those disparities by bringing needed and essential services to West Garfield Park that are frankly taken for granted in many other parts of the city,” Traubert said. “We found the vision for the Wellness Village — led by an exceptional team with a transformative idea — so compelling because it provided both a safe space for young people as well as so many key community services for adults.”

Credit: Moody Nolan/Bureau Gemmel | A look at the $50 million Sankofa Wellness Village created by the West Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative. The collaborative won the $10 million Chicago Prize Wednesday.

The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative has long worked to advocate for neighbors, pushing for the renewal of the area’s Madison and Pulaski commercial corridors and giving free food to people in need after the local Aldi shuttered suddenly in 2021.

The Sankofa Wellness Village will build on the collaborative’s efforts by providing essential needs that appeal to “the whole person,” Brooks said.

Neighbors will no longer have to leave West Garfield Park for necessities and amenities, Brooks said. They’ll have access to child care, educational resources, art classes, banking and healthy food in one central location, Brooks said.

West Garfield Park residents are expected to live an average of 69 years, according to a 2015 Virginia Commonwealth University report. By comparison, Loop residents are expected to live 16 years longer, to an average age of 85.

That’s what happens when a community doesn’t have access to what other neighborhoods easily have, like fresh food, Brooks said.

“The Sankofa Wellness Village is about bringing up and uplifting the community and ensuring that the community is a tribe and that they feel empowered to initiate a vision and be a part of implementing a vision for the community,” Brooks said.  “We’ve got to play a role in impacting multiple facets of individual households and families in the community, both young and old.”

Credit: Moody Nolan/Bureau Gemmel | A look at the $50 million Sankofa Wellness Village created by the West Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative. The collaborative won the $10 million Chicago Prize Wednesday.

The Sankofa Wellness Village will have a team of supporters to make its dream of reinvestment a reality.

The West Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative includes New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, Rush Medical Center, the MAAFA Redemption Project, West Side United, The Community Builders, the YMCA, the Institute for Non-Violence, Erie Family Health Centers, Bethel New Life, Bobbie E. Wright CBHC, the Garfield Park Community Council, and others.

The strong support from so many community partners is one of the reasons why the project was chosen for the top prize, said Cindy Moelis, president of the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.

The foundation weighed projects’ leverage, potential impact, feasibility and team, Moelis said. The West Side group checked every box.

“We’re really inspired by the collaborative and by the fact that everybody’s all in,” Moelis said. “The second piece is that they are addressing the lack of access to things that are as important as health care, banking and fresh food. All of these things are critical to getting a neighborhood to thrive, and that’s where we want to partner.”

Some of the remaining funding will come from YMCA, Erie Family Health Centers and Rush, officials said. Moelis said organizers hope city and state leaders and private investors will contribute, as well, as they did with the inaugural Chicago Prize winner: the Auburn Gresham Healthy Hub.

Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago | A playground outside of The MAC, home of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church’s MAAFA Redemption Project, one of several community organizations that are part of the Sankofa Wellness Village.

Always Growing Auburn Gresham, a healthy living center and renewable energy and urban farm campus, won the first $10 million award in 2020. Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation and nonprofits Urban Growers Collective and Green Era Partners developed the projects.

Leaders cut the ribbon on the Healthy Lifestyle Hub in October, welcoming restaurants, a medical center, banking and educational resources to the South Side after years of disinvestment.

Heading into Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, this win spells the future of West Garfield Park, Hatch said. There is only greatness and collaboration ahead.

“West Garfield Park has always had a lot of promise,” Hatch said. “My hope for the future is that the young people in this neighborhood take the reins and pick up the mantel to do more in the civic space and fight for this neighborhood more.”

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