‘This is Heartbreaking; I Needed to Do Something’

June 11, 2020

CleanOut and BoardUp 2020 volunteers gather to help local businesses

© CleanOut and BoardUp 2020

Whitney Hampton recently was showing properties on Chicago’s South Side when the looting associated with some violent protests she had witnessed on TV suddenly hit close to home. That day in late May, she watched as nearby black-owned businesses were damaged. “It was really heartbreaking to see,” says Hampton, a broker with A. Progeny Global LLC. “I had to do something.”

She was saddened to think such chaos could overshadow the message of mostly peaceful protests nationwide in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. She also grew concerned about the long-lasting impact the looting and property damage could have on residents and businesses already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

volunteer clean up broken glass from storefront

© CleanOut and BoardUp 2020

She sought to counter the negative events and ignite positivity to help the community heal. On social media that evening, she vowed to help rebuild the local businesses she witnessed being damaged that day. Her message was shared quickly throughout social media. She was up until 3 a.m. responding to phone calls and texts from others who wanted to help.

Fellow real estate pro Lutalo McGee, GRI, SRS, owner and managing broker of Ani Real Estate in Chicago, was among those who saw Hampton’s message that evening and teamed up with her to help spread her message even more.

crew boards up storefront windows

© CleanOut and BoardUp 2020

More than 60 volunteers showed up the next day—and again throughout the entire week. Crews helped clean up and board up 35 businesses, keeping them protected if any subsequent waves of violence occurred.

“There were so many from the real estate community that stopped what they were doing for the entire week to come out and help the community,” Hampton says.

The call for help on social media had a ripple effect that spread throughout the community, and “others contacted us to find out how they could assist or donate,” McGee says.

Food drive

© CleanOut and BoardUp 2020

Hampton and McGee started a Facebook group, CleanOut and BoardUp 2020, which attracted more than 1,700 members within a week. Those who couldn’t volunteer in person started donating money. The group accumulated more than $10,000 in one week.

They were inspired to do more.

Since businesses had closed during the violence, the group learned of seniors in nearby senior centers who were unable to get food and prescriptions.

17 cart of groceries were bought with donations

© CleanOut and BoardUp 2020

Volunteers did the grocery shopping, loading up 17 grocery carts full of food multiple times a day to deliver to individuals at the senior centers. As they checked out, cashiers cheered and applauded them for their commitment to help those in need. The group was able to deliver groceries to 300 seniors in the nearby senior centers.

Hampton and McGee also recently coordinated a response through the Facebook group to assist low-income mothers in the community with baby items like formula and diapers. So far, they’ve helped 125 single mothers who were unable to get baby necessities due to closures from the violence.

“We’ve already started coming together to figure out our next move,” Hampton says. “This all started as being very reactive and responding to the immediate needs. Now we have time to think about what are some proactive initiatives we can do to create sustainable change in these communities. That could be anything like financial literacy courses, community development and beautification, and more. The pride remains in these areas, and we want to help make sure it remains.”

Others in the real estate industry have called Hampton and McGee “heroes” for their quick response during the violence to help the community. But it’s a badge Hampton and McGee shrug off.

“We just want to show that people care,” McGee says. “We’ve gotten inundated with negative messages in America. But that does not really reflect who we are in the community. This response and then the people that supported us in this, it was like a loud yell—we love one another and are willing to commit our money and time to help. … We hope this is a catalyst to show what good we can all do in the community.”