CHICAGO — He has a Ph.D., in aerodynamics and worked a consulting job. But after settling on Chicago’s South Side, Bernard Loyd changed course and has now dedicated his career to community development.
Loyd loves reminiscing about the rich history of the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood.
“The electric blues, the literature from Gwendolyn Brooks and so many others, jazz took a turn in Bronzeville and Gospel was created up the street,” Loyd said.
Today, this once-thriving South Side community is a shell of its former self, but Loyd is committed to pumping some life back into the historic Mecca.
“Bronzeville has the opportunity to become — once again — the cultural hub of Chicago,” he said. “Celebrating unique black culture, whether that is music or arts visual arts, theater literature.”
A native of Chicago, Loyd was raised in Liberia by his mother. Upon returning to Chicago in 1989, the MIT graduate says he fell in love with Chicago and began working for a large management consulting firm — eventually settling in Bronzeville.
Although he loved the history that surrounded him, he said the area lacked basic necessities — often forcing him to drive outside the community.
“After doing that for years I decided that it was probably now time to shift my focus from serving large corporations everywhere but Chicago to figuring out how to help my community move forward,” he said.
He’s been at it ever since.
In 2003, he quit his job and founded the nonprofit organization Urban Juncture and launched the Build Bronzeville Project, a five-prong approach to revitalizing the community.
In 2005, he purchased and rehabbed a dilapidated building on 51st Street. Today, “The Incubator” is the main hub for the project and also offers a shared workspace for area businesses and entrepreneurs.
Loyd’s revitalization efforts are beginning to take shape along 51st Street. A few doors down there’s a unique retail space designed out of shipping containers appropriately named “Boxville.”
But he also wants the area to be a destination for African cuisine with one restaurant operating, a second is slated to open soon.
“This project was organized around the question of ‘how do we use our delicious cuisine, black cuisine from around the world to revitalize the corridor?’” he said.
“It’s giving me hope for the change that I’ve long to see it’s also given me some comfort, in terms of it’s safe enough to walk home,” longtime Bronzville resident Stephanie Green said.
So far, Urban Juncture has invested $8 million into Bronzville, which also includes beautification projects and community gardens. But what could be one of Urban Juncture’s biggest feats is the planned restoration of The Forum — Bronzeville’s first major assembly hall that was slated for demolition in 2011 until Loyd and his team purchased it.
“It bares so much of the musical history of the civil rights history and the labor history,” Loyd said.
While there are always challenges, Loyd hangs on to his vision of Bronzeville.
“If we do this right in terms of how we invest how we engage folks who are still in Bronzeville, Bronzeville again can become the vibrant hub it once was.”
Loyd estimates the cost of rehabbing The Forum alone will be at least $10 million.
To donate to the project click here.