Joyce Chapman was born in Japan to an African American dad and Japanese mother. Her father, a soldier with the Army, met her mother while stationed in Japan. Joyce’s early years were that of a typically ‘Army brat’ living in various places throughout the world. In June of 1968 when Joyce was twelve, her parents settled in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. Pullman was a bit of a shock to Joyce and her brother. They had never lived in a solely black community before.
Ten months after moving to Chicago, on April 4th in Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots broke out in Chicago. For Joyce, Martin Luther King’s assassination felt deeply personal. “I remember my brother and I being scared afterward that we might get shot too.”
This little girl born in Japan saw herself in Martin Luther King, Jr. and in her neighbors. Her neighbors, who had provided a model for the civil rights movement of the late 60s by forming The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. This union of all black workers successfully stood up to The Pullman Rail Car Company and showed how blacks could effect change if they stood together and persevered. In fact, the impact was so profound, Joyce said with a laugh, “It wasn’t until two years ago, at close to 60, that it hit me that I’m bi-racial.”
Joyce has remained in Pullman to this very day. After finishing school, she began a career in social services advocating for children caught in the criminal justice system. She didn’t think she could have children of her own. So, when, at the age of 31, she had her first daughter, she was thrilled. For Joyce being the mother of three daughters and having nine grandchildren, one who sadly passed away on May 1, 2017, has been the highest honor.
When her eldest was ten, Joyce’s frustration with the court system reached a boiling point. “The system just keeps warehousing kids,” she explained. “Courts are only allowed to hold a bed for a juvenile parolee for a maximum of fourteen days. It became about moving the kids around, not servicing them.” Joyce wanted to do more to change the system. She left her Child Welfare/Social Service agency as a Case Manager Supervisor and dedicated herself to being a community activist.
“Politics is one of my passions,” explained Joyce. “In the late 1990’s I saw the need for a leader to galvanize our community.” Joyce became that leader, that voice for her community. She focused on finding ways to bring resources to the people who need it – ways to make two plus two equal ten, as she puts it.
Today, she serves as the President of the Pullman Community Development Corporation, Vice President of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, President of the 5th District Policing Advisory Council, Chairwoman for the Far South Community Action Council for Chicago Public Schools, a member of the Chicago Police Superintendent Advisory Panel and more recently the President of the Gately Park Advisory Council. “Basically,” Joyce explained, “If you’re helping the kids, I’ll be involved with you.”
In 2010, a good friend basically dragged Joyce to the Gately Park Advisory Council. The parks are a key hub for servicing the youth of Chicago, but Joyce was arguably already over committed. Gately Park’s field house is shared by a school and the park itself only gets two rooms plus the supervisor’s office limiting the amount of park programming possible.
Joyce’s first goal was to draw more attention to Gately Park. She started a Grill Off. The first one had 5 grillers. This summer Gately Park’s Annual Men Grill Off had 40 grills, close to 300 people and music provided by the city’s Night Out in the Parks Program.
Joyce also advocated to bring Midnight Circus in the Parks to Gately and is excited to have the Circus back for a second year on August 26 and 27th. “People now really understand what the Circus brings,” she said. “They appreciate not having to go downtown to see this high-level of entertainment. Plus, it’s practically free.”
The attention paid off in a big way this June when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Gately Park would be the site for a new NCAA regulation indoor track and field building – a $28 million investment. Joyce quickly comments that the new track/field was in the works with the City of Chicago for three decades and she can’t take the credit. However, one can’t help but notice that when Joyce is involved, big things do tend to happen.
Since Obama designated Pullman a National Park Monument, it has been an ongoing delight for Joyce to see increased services coming to the community. However, the northern part, where Joyce resides, is often forgotten. When Wal-Mart located their Supercenter in northern Pullman, Joyce was thrilled. She felt the community’s voice had been heard. “At the end of the day,” said Joyce, “what I relish is effective change.”
Over the past twenty years as a community activist, Joyce has accomplished an awful lot. Recently, Joyce was shopping at the supermarket when a woman approached her. The woman asked if Joyce remembered her. Joyce did not. The woman said, “I wanted to thank you. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have my home.” For Joyce, it’s moments like these that carry her along. To know that this woman is safe and has a home makes all the time and effort of advocating, educating and agitating for the good of the community worth it.