Imagine being able to take an exciting tour through the ghetto. You get to see where people actually sold crack on the corner and park benches where the winos slept. You could visit the old run down urine-smelled buildings and where someone was brutally murdered over a gang fight. These are probably the things you would expect to see on a tour of the ghetto, but in reality this was once a home to Beauty Turner, the bus tour guide of the Chicago Housing Authority projects. The Ghetto Bus Tours consists of a four-mile tour of State Street which was once a thriving community providing a residency to tens of thousands of public housing families. However, most of the community is gone now and only the memories and a few new flats where more poor and working class families will begin to live are left.
Beauty Turner wants people to see how the lifestyle of growing up in the ghetto really is. She wants to break down the many stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about the ghetto by leading the Ghetto Bus Tours. For three full hours, Turner leads 40 tourists having each paid $20, through the Chicago Housing Projects on a yellow school bus. Her main goal is to let the public know what is really happening to the residents. She stated she wants people to know “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” She wants the outside world to hear the voice of the voiceless. The many people who have been forced our of their homes for the Chicago’s Housing Authority’s $1.6 billion “Plan for Transformation.”
The “Plan for Transformation” started in the 1990’s and has destroyed 50 of the 53 high-rise public housings, which includes Cabrini Green, which was made famous as the setting for the movie Candy Man. These communities are now being replaced by mixed-income housing. Turner is convinced that the same city who failed to help the residents who were being ambushed by gang and drug violence have also pushed the same people out of their homes without giving them a place to go.
One of the many stops of the Ghetto Bus Tour is to a resident of the CHA community, Joyce Smith, who shares with the tourists her thoughts and feelings of living in the projects. The housing projects are more to them then what the media has always perceived them to be. Yes, the Chicago housing projects have had to suffer the backlash of the media spreading news about the intense gang and drug violence, once so intense residents had to sleep in their bathtubs in order to avoid stray bullets flying through the housing projects. However, people fail to look at the strong bond the residents had among the community and how this was the only home for many.
Turner stated, “I have people becoming homeless behind this plan, people that’s living on top of each other with relatives. For some it has improved their conditions, but for the multitude of many it has not.” Carol Wallace, another resident living in the housing projects also speaks to the tourists on how she feels about the “Plan for Transformation.” Wallace strongly believes that she and others will be left out of the plan and forced to leave just like everyone else. Wallace stated, “I think it’s just a way of getting us out of here, because they are not letting everyone back in.”
The housing project brings back many memories to the residents. Turner remembers how neighbors would always watch out for each other’s children and how the projects were once beautiful with fresh green lawns that looked like putting greens. She also recalls all of the strong single Black women who raised children in the homes. She stirs away from the violence of the Chicago housing projects. “All the horror stories that you heard about in the newspapers, it was not like that at all,” she said.
At Cabrini Green a bullet hit a boy senselessly as he walked and held hands with his mother. A 5-year-old was dangled and then purposely dropped to his death from a 14-story window by two other children in the Ida B. Wells project. And at the Robert Taylor projects a rookie police officer was shot to death on a stakeout outside o f a gang drug base. Turner throws in her own story about how she witnessed a teenage boy get shot on the very day she arrived to the Robert Taylor Homes in 1986.
Some of the tourists listen closely to the stories; however, some remain skeptical about the glamorization of the ghetto life. Mark Weinberg, a 44-year-old Chicago lawyer said, “Are they romanticizing these communities? These were drug-ridden, violent neighborhoods where people wanted to live a good life but couldn’t.”
D. Bradford Hunt, a Roosevelt University professor who is writing a book about Chicago’s public housing believes that Turner’s approach to the situation is a good perspective of the lifestyle, however, he is not really sure of what he thinks about her commentary. He stated, “People got killed. You don’t make that story up.”
Turner believes that it is the city of Chicago’s responsibility to make sure the former residents of the CHA is able to afford the new housing and that they have a place there too.
My own personal thoughts on the “Ghetto Bus Tours” is that I understand where Turner is coming from, however, I too believe that the city of Chicago is making an effort to clean up the mess they left to dwell in the housing projects. I think that by building new homes and neighborhoods, the once violence filled projects can return to it’s initial state as being a wonderful residency filled with good people. It is sad that many people have to suffer at the hands of what violent drug and gang members did, but just like the saying goes, “One bad apple spoils a bunch.”