A Long Legacy

Today, the South East Chicago Commission stands as an independent voice collaborating with community organizations, leaders, and residents in five Chicago neighborhoods:  Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, Washington Park and Woodlawn.

The legacy of this great organization is a difficult journey that began in 1952, when Chicago was facing complex changes from The Great Migration.

In the early 50s University of Chicago leaders had growing concerns about the safety of faculty and students and the deterioration of the neighborhood. Under the direction of Chancellor Lawrence A. Hutchins, the SECC was established to protect the University’s interest, reduce crime and address housing stock.

Julian Levi, a Chicago attorney and professor, became the SECC’s first Executive Director. In 1958, Levi led the nation’s first large urban community redemption project in Hyde Park. The “urban renewal” plan constructed 2,100 new buildings, but demolished 638 structures, displacing roughly 4,000 families.

Levi’s leadership inextricably tied the SECC to concerns of racial injustice and inequality that plagued the city and the nation during the height of the ‘60s Civil Rights Movement.

In the 1970s, the impact of the SECC’s programs was widely reported.  Crime rates in Hyde Park and Kenwood were dramatically reduced, while crime increased in other areas of the city.

The 80’s marked the start of a new era of leadership for the SECC.  Levi retired as executive director, turning the reigns over to Assistant Attorney General, Michael Murphy.

Murphy continued the SECC’s mission to eliminate slumlords, turn rental properties into safe and affordable housing, and reduce crime.  After a brief five-year tenure, Murphy became an associate judge on the Cook County Circuit Court and passed the torch to John M. Beal, an attorney from the US Department of Justice.

Under Murphy and Beal the SECC established several crime prevention programs and initiatives.

In October of 1990, Robert “Bob” Mason was officially promoted to Executive Director. With guidance from board president, Valerie Jarrett, the SECC was beginning a new era of collaboration with the community.

The SECC introduced the Neighborhood Enhancement Grant, its first endeavor that empowered local resident groups by funding community beautification projects.

In 2006 the SECC would lose leadership from board President Valerie Jarrett and Treasurer Michelle Obama. But the SECC gained a huge champion at the University with the arrival of Robert J. Zimmer.  President Zimmer appointed Shirley Newsome as SECC’s new board President and fully supported funding for SECC program expansion.

Before Mason retired, the SECC expanded its service area to include Woodlawn and Washington Park.  Mason also initiated the 53rd Street Visioning Workshop series in Hyde Park, an opportunity for true civic engagement.

In 2010, Wendy Walker Williams, was hired as the Executive Director to lead the SECC’s new mission — to improve the quality of life for residents and strengthen neighborhoods through economic and community development.

The SECC established the Hyde Park Vitality Committee which produced family-friendly events and festivals like the Celebrate Hyde Park series, which attracted up to 40,000 people a day during the summer.

The SECC also found great success collaborating on business district improvements, expanding the Neighborhood Enhancement Grant, leading the Woodlawn Summit and Washington Park Summit, and developing Hyde Park’s Special Service Area #61, known as “Downtown Hyde Park.”

For 65 years, the SECC was integrally connected to the University of Chicago as a change agent in Hyde Park and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Today, the SECC serves the community as a fully autonomous, self-governing organization with the trusted leadership from the new Executive Director, Diane Burnham.

The evolution of the South East Chicago Commission has been a journey of transformation.  A journey filled with lessons in leadership, community development, economic growth and collaboration.  A journey that is far from perfect… but it’s also far from over.

Welcome to the new South East Chicago Commission!


We believe in teamwork

The South East Chicago Commission has a regional approach to economic development in Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, Washington Park and Woodlawn.