The Ellen Show surprises Englewood’s Southside Blooms with $10,000 to build flower farm for at-risk youth – 71Bait

ENGLEWOOD – When Quilen Blackwell received a direct message from a producer on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” he thought it was a scam.

Southside Blooms, a non-profit, farm-to-vase florist, is a small South Side organization founded by Blackwell. There was no way the show found out about his work, he said.

Once he had “gone beyond his senses,” he reached out to the producer on LinkedIn and was flown out free of charge to talk about his work on the show on May 31. In an episode hosted by comedian Leslie Jones, Blackwell received a surprise check for $10,000. He jumped out of his seat and did a quick two-step before raising the jumbo check over his head and cheering.

“What you saw was a real reaction. They made no move to give a gift, let alone a gift that big,” Blackwell said. “I was shocked. It was definitely one of those moments that you remember for the rest of your life.”

Southside Blooms will use the money to build a flower farm on recently acquired land next to the Cook County Jail, Blackwell said. The funds will also allow them to hire young people who need a job or community service project and “take them off the streets and into the flower industry,” Blackwell said.

“This opportunity is a way to create a direct relationship with Chicago’s most vulnerable youth so we can get them to be more interested in flowers and farming and making bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages instead of picking up guns and drugs. ‘ Blackwell said.

While many may not see farming and gardening as a viable solution to helping at-risk youth, “getting your hands in the dirt” is a therapeutic activity for most of the youth he works with, Blackwell said.

Harvesting flowers and pulling weeds is an opportunity to be in nature and clear your mind. Creating bouquets and unique arrangements allows them to express their creativity, he said.

When they see the fruits of their labor, the narrative of what they can do and who they are shifts, Blackwell said.

“It’s really hard to describe the impact this work has on a young person who has been depressed their whole life, but it’s amazing,” Blackwell said. “For me, that’s the best part of the job – to see that these young people believe in themselves and that their lives matter and that they have real value to offer people.”

Southside Blooms still has a lot of work to do, Blackwell said.

Chicago Eco House, an organization founded by Blackwell and his wife Hannah, uses sustainability through urban agriculture to alleviate poverty. The organization recently received $25,000 as part of the $1.5 billion omnibus bill signed by President Joe Biden to revitalize their Washington Park farm.

The funds will also help the Blackwells meet Southside Blooms demands. Blackwell hopes to keep the youth busy at the flower shop five days a week instead of the usual two.

And on June 18, Southside Blooms will host its first Street Fashion Flower Show, a collaboration between young florists and fashion students at Columbia College to create streetwear with flower arrangements woven into the design. Tickets with a suggested donation are available here.

“Most people don’t really think that flowers are wearable to put on their clothes,” Blackwell said. “We hope this year will be an opportunity to get our foot in the door, introduce floral fashion to our community and city, and move on from there.”

Chicago Eco House and Southside Blooms have become a “sanctuary for the youth,” keeping them off the streets and preventing them from becoming “another statistic,” Blackwell said.

Finally, he hopes flowers will transform the black community, he said.

“One day I’ll wake up and most of the vacant lots will be flower farms, most of our youth will be employed in the flower industry and the problems we face today with poverty, guns and drugs will go down in history books,” Blackwell said. “The ultimate goal is to become the new bedrock industry in the black community.”

You can support Southside Blooms by signing up for the $40 monthly flower subscription here.

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