Steven Rogers works to support Evanston Black community on historically Black-owned lands


Photo courtesy of Steven Rogers

Professor Steven Rogers (center) was a professor at Harvard Business School, where he highlighted Black entrepreneurship in his classes.

Lily Ogburn, Reporter

In 1929, white property developers forced seven Black families to leave their land in Evanston just as the Great Depression started.

Steven Rogers — an Evanston resident, entrepreneur and former Northwestern professor — said learning about that displacement and subsequent loss of Black wealth broke his heart.

So when he saw previous attempts to develop the land at 2715 Hurd Ave. falling through, Rogers decided to act. He acquired the land in December, placing the land back under Black ownership. 

Rogers plans to create a memorial garden commemorating Black families who lost their land. He also wants to host choirs from historically Black colleges and universities, with the ultimate goal of using the space to benefit the Black community.

“I know the history of Blacks in America. But when something comes close to you like that, it becomes personalized,” Rogers said. “It made it real.”

The Second Church of Christ, Scientist and a parking lot currently inhabit the land. Rogers, a former professor at Harvard Business School and Kellogg School of Management, lives just behind the parking lot. Since the beginning of his career, he’s worked to highlight Black entrepreneurs and preserve Black homeownership in the Chicago area.

In 2011, Rogers formed the Englewood Railway Coalition to oppose the Norfolk Southern Corporation. The company sought to buy Englewood houses in Chicago for a freight yard, pushing predominantly Black homeowners out of the neighborhood. 

Rogers, who grew up in Englewood, owned his grandparents’ home in the neighborhood. He formed the coalition to fight for selling prices that reflected the gravity of uprooting the community. 

“I was able to use all of my Harvard Business School experience, all of my corporate experience, all of my entrepreneurship experience, everything that I had been endowed with to help these people fight a Fortune 500 company,” Rogers said. “And we won.”

Rogers helped the community receive fair financial compensation, improving residents’ lives, he said.

Patti Beals, a member of the Englewood Railway Coalition, said Rogers was a “voice of reason.”

Beals explained Rogers taught her to use her resources effectively as a single mother of four children. 

“Because of the positive change that he helped provide, I know that in the future I have a place now for my children to come and stay,” Beals said.

Rogers also collaborated with Sheelah Muhammad (Kellogg ’95) on the TULSA1920 project, an initiative supporting economic development with established Black-owned businesses in North Lawndale. 

She said the project showed her how much Rogers cares about Black business owners.

“We were thought partners on the project, but I will always look at (Rogers) as a mentor,” Muhammad said. “He’s unapologetically Black, unapologetically focused on helping Black entrepreneurs.”

Last year, Rogers also published “Successful Black Entrepreneurs,” highlighting Black achievement through case studies. His book also explores the challenges of Black entrepreneurship, such as limited access to capital and discrimination among employers. 

Garry Hutchinson, who edited Rogers’ book and graduated from Williams College with Rogers, said he felt “honored” to edit the work.

“(Rogers) is a real man, a real American, a most dependable friend and a phenomenal brother,” Hutchinson said. 

Though Rogers is continuing to work on initiatives that highlight Black history and success, he said that he isn’t “pollyanna-ish about the realities of what Black people face.” 

He is hopeful about developing the property on Hurd Avenue but said he doesn’t want to exaggerate the singular impact of his specific project. 

“It’s been over 246 years of slavery, 60 years of Black Codes, 40 years of redlining. That’s 346 years, and 346 years later we’re still fighting for equality in terms of being recognized as citizens of the United States,” he said. “I’m saddened about the absence of greater optimism.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LilyOgburn

Related Stories:

City looks to redevelop land around Mayfair railroad, considers history of segregation 

‘Too little, too late’: Black residents disillusioned by pace of Evanston reparations program

Evanston events commemorate Black History Month