Alumni Charles Pickett Co-Creates 'Save the West Side Chicago' Initiative

An influential UIC Business alumni that you should know is Charles Pickett ’17. When the city was reeling from the effects of mass protests and looting incited by racism and police brutality, he saw an opportunity to invoke change by restoring local communities. Charles operates a non-profit organization called Earth’s Remedies where he serves as vice president & chief business development director. His sister, Mercedes Pickett, is the president of Earth’s Remedies. The sibling duo created a fundraiser to rehab damaged Black and Brown businesses on the west side of Chicago.

Describe your non-profit organization, Earth’s Remedies.

The unemployment rate, scarce affordable housing, lack of fresh produce and high crime rate indicates the strategic disinvestment of Chicago’s west-side communities. Earth’s Remedies connects residents in these neighborhoods to free educational, career, financial, wellness and conflict de-escalation resources. Seeing the results of this work led us to support the larger west-side Chicago area. 

Was there anything about your experience at UIC that inspired the Pickett family to form Earth’s Remedies?

Yes, seeing my UIC African American colleagues come from struggling and disadvantaged environments with little to no assistance encouraged my sister and I to form Earth’s Remedies and practice social activism. Hearing my African American friends and classmates share their stories showed me that we’re all in the same fight against inequality and with collaboration we can make a change! Earth’s Remedies’ goal is to redevelop low-income Black communities in Chicago.

What was your vision for the West Side Community Development Project?

‘Save the West Side, Chicago’ is an extension of Earth’s Remedies’ call to action. Low-income communities are disproportionately targeted in terms of loan discrimination and a lack of economic development. These areas have a lesser chance of successfully developing their businesses. The ‘Save The West Side, Chicago’ movement sought to close this resource gap. We gave financial aid to Black and Brown businesses affected by COVID-19, riots and looting. Unfortunately, many of them did not receive assistance from the city, state or federal government.

To provide Black and Brown businesses with financial support, you created the ‘Save the West Side, Chicago’ GoFundMe fundraiser. What was the community’s response to this initiative? How much money did this effort generate?

The response from the community was amazing! Local entrepreneurs loved the fact that others were working to uplift them. When you have lived on the west side of Chicago all of your life and then travel to other parts of the city, you quickly realize how disadvantaged that area is. Seeing Earth’s Remedies come to aid small businesses was exciting to many business owners, community leaders and residents.

Once word of our efforts spread, we gained additional support from other non-profits, churches, businesses and even news outlets! We generated a total of $43,000. We kept the GoFundMe page open to help support future grants, projects, and endeavors for the redevelopment of the west side of Chicago. Our next goal is $100,000.

Which local businesses were awarded funding? How much was each grant worth?

26 businesses applied and we awarded grants to all 26 of those businesses! We distributed those funds amongst 6 west-side communities. Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Austin, Douglas Park, Homan Square, and North Lawndale. Every business within west-side city limits received $1,700. Those located in the suburban west-side area received $500. Among those we assisted, we are proud to highlight Storefront Events and Gone Again Travel & Tours.

Owned by Noel Duckworth and located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, Storefront Events is a venue to host memorable and stunning occasions of all kinds. Owned by Crystal Dyers and located in the Austin area, Gone Again Travel & Tours plans custom travel packages with affordable payments.

Other companies that received grants included: So Bella Beauty Bar, The Diamond Dancers Dance Team, Ashford Oliver and Associates, ATD Cleaning Services, 2nd Hand 2nd Chance Inc. and A28 Tax Consulting.  

Explain the reactions from business owners who received assistance. How do they plan to use the funds?

It was an overwhelming feeling for all of us. The business owners we contacted were in complete and utter disbelief. The majority of them told us that no one has ever reached out to offer developmental or financial assistance. Many cried or got emotional when we presented the aid. Others stated that they cried when we left. One owner, who has been in business for over 30 years, explained that she has never received financial assistance at the city, state or federal level.

We understood the complexities of balancing personal life and being an entrepreneur, so we told the business owners that their grant should be put toward anything that will support their business or help their livelihood. If paying rent, a past due car note, stocking up on inventory or revamping their building is what they wish to use the funds for, then by all means do it!

In acknowledgement of Chicago’s Black Lives Matter movement, what is the next step to ensuring that Black businesses in the city continue to thrive?

Earth’s Remedies is very engaged and determined to support the groundwork that uplifts marginalized west-side communities. For example, we share information about business grants and connect entrepreneurs to professionals who can address their needs. Also, we look forward to highlighting Black and Brown businesses on our website in the form of a ‘Save the West Side, Chicago’ mini-documentary. The goal is to be a community pillar, a structure that our neighborhoods can turn to for help.

If you would like to advance the mission of 'Save the West Side, Chicago,' click here to donate.