‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Community Leader in North Lawndale | Chicago News

Two flagship North Lawndale institutions welcome the newly appointed leadership.

In the fall, UCAN announced that Christa Hamilton would be the first woman and first black person to lead the organization. More recently, Lifetime Resident Pastor James Brooks became the CEO of Lawndale Christian Health Center.

“North Lawndale has been vital in my growth as a person and that’s close to my heart,” Brooks said.

North Lawndale, on Chicago’s West Side, is a historic community. He was at the forefront of civil rights, race relations and injustice. And that’s where Martin Luther King Jr. lived when he came to Chicago in 1966 to protest discriminatory housing practices.

Interactive map: More information on our community reporting series

The area has suffered decades of divestment and, like other parts of the West Side, faces health disparities, including a significant gap in life expectancy compared to the Loop.

Lawndale Christian Health Center opened in 1984 as part of the Lawndale Christian Church. The Founders wanted to address health inequities by making quality health care affordable and accessible.

Brooks says being part of the North Lawndale community helps inform her work.

“Being close to the people, close to the pain, close to the issues that exist in your community because it’s not just their problem, it’s our problem when you’re part of [the community]. So there’s no separation there,” Brooks said.

Today, Brooks says more than 75,000 people call Lawndale Christian Health Center home for primary care.

During the pandemic, the health center worked with residents and other organizations to help share information about COVID-19 and vaccines. Brooks says collaborations with other institutions in the area, like UCAN, and existing relationships with community members have been key to getting more residents vaccinated.

“It happened through partnerships. We believe in the power of relationships. We are one of the anchor organizations in North Lawndale, but it is essential that we partner with others so that we can have a greater impact on our home community in North Lawndale. It’s vital that we link up with others,” Brooks said.


UCAN is a social service agency based in North Lawndale, but serves youth and families statewide. It started as an orphanage 152 years ago. Today, it still serves youth through its transitional housing program, but it also offers other programs such as violence intervention and prevention, and professional development.

The organization works to support young people who have experienced trauma, helping them to become leaders.

“We plan to expand our program offerings to other community areas outside of North Lawndale that face similar challenges,” Hamilton said.

The pandemic has been particularly difficult for young people in UCAN’s transitional living program, Hamilton said.

“Our children who live in our residential facilities would normally be able to return home for visits, but due to COVID we could not allow this… There has not been the normality that we would like them to be able to experience,” Hamilton said.

Contact Marissa Nelson: @ByMarissaNelson | (773) 509-5368 | [email protected]


Community Report Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.


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