NATO's guide to the South Side

OPINION

May 17, 2012|By Lenox Magee, For RedEye

The NATO summit is almost upon us. And while leaders from all over the world will huddle in McCormick Place, solving the world's problems, I am most excited about something that will be happening outside the convention center: On Sunday, first lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to lead spouses of NATO dignitaries on a tour of the Gary Comer Youth Center on the South Side.

I was, frankly, surprised—yet pleased—to hear Obama is planning to show off my side of Chicago. The only problem: They're visiting only one place, when there's so much more the South Side can offer.

Why not visit more of the neighborhoods that have been transformed over the years and have strong, community-based organizations, such as Pullman, Beverly, Chatham, Bronzeville, Hyde Park and, yes, even Englewood? Despite Englewood's alarming crime rate, there are some great places and good people to meet.

Here's my proposed itinerary for the first lady and her guests.

7 a.m. Wake-up call! With only one day for touring, there's no time to sleep in.

8 a.m. Arrive at the Old Fashioned Donuts in the Roseland/Pullman area. There, NATO spouses will indulge in the most delicious doughnuts and cakes the South Side has to offer. The apple fritters are the perfect combination of doughnut and apple pie drizzled with icing.

9:30 a.m. Next destination: Englewood. It was once a stop on the Underground Railroad and now is the home of Urban Prep Academy, one of the South Side's most famous high schools. Urban Prep is an all-male charter school where—for the third year in a row—all of its graduating seniors have been accepted to four-year colleges. They are African-American and male, and they come from poor Chicago communities. NATO spouses will appreciate hearing the struggles and achievements these amazing students have experienced.

11 a.m. On to the first lady's first choice, the Gary Comer Youth Center in Greater Grand Crossing. The Center offers young people extracurricular activities and support to help prepare them to graduate from high school, and continue on to pursue college and meaningful careers. Good stuff.

12:30 p.m. I've got the perfect place for lunch (the readers who enjoy some good fried chicken in Chicago will understand why this location cannot be passed up): Harold's Chicken Shack in Roseland/Pullman. Here's how I suggest they order, verbatim: "I'll have the four-piece wings with salt and pepper and mild sauce, fried hard." It's absolutely delicious.

2 p.m. Time to work off some of that scrumptious lunch. In true South Side fashion, no dignitary's spouse may leave until he or she has mastered the art of Double Dutch. With help from the Pink Panthers Double Dutch team (and even the first lady, who's been known to jump rope), NATO significant others get some of the finest training, and now can leave Chicago with some true cred.

4 p.m. After a long day of dining, exercising and schmoozing, the day will wrap up with a trip to Washington Park for a little pampering at one of my favorite spots: Amazon Natural Essentials Salon & Spa. The deep tissue massage and aroma therapy will put even the most stressed-out foreign dignitary at ease. Now, who's up for some fun tonight?

LENOX MAGEE IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.

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