Latoya Winters

I had the pleasure of talking with Latoya Winters for our People Issue. Latoya works with kids at Marillac House, a venerable social service agency in East Garfield Park. Marillac offers engaging programs for children in the neighborhood, and, as Latoya says, it also serves as a safe haven for them—to the extent it can.

In her early years, Latoya, who’s now 24, lived in her grandmother’s two-flat down the block from Marillac. One May morning in 1997, when Latoya was eight, a fire swept through the first floor of the building where she and most of her eight siblings and some of her cousins lived. Latoya escaped, but two of her sisters, ages six and ten, didn’t.

Imagine the impact on an eight-year-old.

Such tragedies aren’t unusual in East Garfield Park, and in Chicago’s many other poor black neighborhoods. That was true in 1997, it was true decades earlier, and it’s still true today.

In 1988, I wrote a Reader story about another young woman from East Garfield Park—19-year-old Laverne Williams, who perished in a fire in her apartment on west Flournoy. Laverne died heroically: she managed to hand her three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter out a first-floor window to her brother before she succumbed to the smoke.

At Laverne’s funeral, the preacher told Laverne’s friends and family: