INVEST South/West is a catalyst for change and hope

It makes it possible for companies like ours, whose mission expands beyond building profits, to show a new model for the construction industry.

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An old firehouse that once housed Engine Company 84 is being repurposed for a new development by the city’s INVEST South/West initiative in Englewood.

An old firehouse that once housed Engine Company 84 is being repurposed for a new development by the city’s INVEST South/West initiative in Englewood.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

At UJAMAA Construction, we have always believed that construction can be more than bricks, nails and drywall. It can be used to rebuild communities, give back to people and provide hope.

When we go out and talk to students who live in our neighborhoods, and when they see people who look like them being hired to build our communities, it shows that we have a space for them in the construction industry. You can show people what the world can be, how this industry can be — and with that shift in perspective, a paradigm shift begins.

For that reason and more, we are so grateful that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West initiative is combatting community disinvestment by funding new developments and enhancements in our South and West Side neighborhoods. The investments delivered via INVEST South/West are not only meeting our needs as residents, but they develop our businesses and employ our neighbors, from the communities we work in.

Brick by brick, dollar by dollar, we are working with the city to build an inclusive, brighter future.

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INVEST South/West is the city’s signature community development initiative that couples public and private dollars and channels them towards the South and West sides. These investments support both city-issued request-for-proposal developments and ongoing community-led developments, as well as other programmatic and commercial enhancements needed in the neighborhoods.

Community input and involvement is a key pillar of this program, and a high priority is placed on working with Black and Brown-owned development and construction firms like ours. We do believe this is the first time in city government’s history that leadership is working with us and listening to us to do work in our neighborhoods.

UJAMAA Construction was founded on the premise that a business can pay equal amounts of attention to social responsibility and corporate governance. We continue to operate in that manner, striving to bring diversity to the workplace and provide employment opportunities to the underserved.

INVEST South/West aligns with this mission and shows Chicago the possibilities that spring forth when investment is given to neighborhoods and businesses who have historically been overlooked.

Finally, thanks to this program, shovels are breaking ground and ribbons are being cut on mixed-use developments that answer countless needs for residents and neighborhoods. We are reminded of our work on the West Side with the North Lawndale Employment Network. With the city’s support via grant funding, UJAMAA Construction provided interior demolition services to renovate a bank building to make way for a social enterprise, small retail banking, Sweet Beginnings (a firm that manages bee farms to create products for Beelove), computer labs and retail spaces.

Through the renovation of this facility, neighborhood residents have access to economic development resources and quality-of-life improvements. In the process, many minority and women-owned firms were able to further build their capacity as companies and create jobs for our neighbors in the community.

It won’t be long until cranes stretch into the sky across the South and West sides bringing housing, retail space, entrepreneurial hubs, health clinics, new dining options and so much more to our neighborhoods.

Opinion Newsletter

INVEST South/West acts as a catalyst for change not only across the neighborhoods that make up Chicago’s South and West sides, but for the construction industry at large. It makes it possible for companies like UJAMAA Construction, whose missions expands beyond building profits, to show a new model for the construction industry. A model that puts the needs of communities at the forefront and creates jobs for our neighbors in the process.

It also incentivizes companies to make long-term hiring commitments to the local workforce and helps to increase the visibility of workforce organizations that train and prepare workers to become employees in this industry.

That is what hope looks like for communities that have been running low on it for a long time.

Jimmy Akintonde is president and CEO and Justin Dwaun Redding is marketing manager of UJAMAA Construction.

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