South Side Chicago business owner wants neighborhood to bloom with flower business

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CHICAGO (CBS) – An Englewood business man is using flowers to build community.

CBS 2’s Ryan Baker met a South Side business owner whose mission in life is helping young people blossom.

At first glance, one would never guess what’s inside a modest building at 62nd and Morgan, but if they come inside, they can smell the flowers and enjoy.

“We’re growing beautiful flowers here in Englewood,” said Quilen Blackwell, co-founder of Chicago Eco House/Southside Blooms.

That’s right, in Englewood, where roses grow from the concrete at Southside Blooms.

Baker: “This is the inner city. A lot of people wouldn’t think this is fertile ground to build a blooming, pun intended, flower business.”

Blackwell: “Right. It’s like Derrick Rose. People didn’t necessarily think you could get a player of his caliber out of a community like this, then he goes on to become a great MVP, and that’s really a nice little metaphor for what we’re trying to do here.”

What Blackwell and his wife and co-founder Hannah are trying to do is build community and alleviate poverty. They run five small flower farms on the South and West sides.

“We’re like, wait a minute, we have all this vacant land right here in our city,” Blackwell said. “Why can’t we grow those flowers here?”

And they did, creating beautiful buds and colorful creations for events at top locations throughout the city. Blackwell said they create products for weddings, corporate events, and retail deliveries.

They’re also planting the seed to help young people grow a budding career by teaching them the trade and then watching them bloom.

Blackwell: “There’s many young people here who are incredibly talented, incredibly gifted who have MVP-level skills.”

Baker: “They just need the opportunity.”

Blackwell: “Exactly. They need the opportunity. They need the support and they need the platform, and that’s really what we do here at Southside Blooms.”

“I was just like, I mean working on a farm ain’t my thing,” said Dionta White. “Especially in Englewood? I’m like ‘Nah.'”

But White soon changed his mind about working at Southside Blooms.

“My first day, when I started actually getting my hands dirty and actually see a vacant lot turn into a whole flower farm, it was just life-changing,” he said.

Talk about life-changing, Blackwell’s life took many unexpected twists and turns. He was raised in an affluent family in Madison, Wisconsin, and came to Chicago to go to divinity school after a stint in the Peace Corps.

But, Blackwell said, “To come back to the United States and see how bad it was here, I’m like, ‘Man, we need to do something about this. To develop some sort of solution to bring these communities back to life.'”

The Blackwells decided the best way to help Englewood come back to life was not just to work in the neighborhood but to live there.

“We’re fully committed to it,” said Blackwell. “It’s very important that we live here. I’ve got three kids. They’re growing up here. So yeah, this is my life.”

The irony isn’t lost on Blackwell.

“My grandfather was a sharecropper in Arkansas,” he said. “My mom has made the comment it’s kind of funny, because you look at our family history, and we did everything we could to get out away from the farms.”

Blackwell wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This is bigger than just a job,” he said. “This is my life’s calling.”

And he’s helping his Englewood neighbors find their calling.

“I actually changed a vacant lot into a flower farm. I really was part of it,” he said. “Southside Blooms can make a change in the community that I was raised in. I know I can do it too. I want to see Englewood change and I want to be part of the change.”

Blackwell added, “I feel like Southside Bloom has become more of a symbol of hope for the neighborhood.”

To learn more about Southside Blooms, its products and opportunities, visit SouthsideBlooms.com.

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