Nearly two years after the shooting, REALTOR® Michael LaFargue can barely talk about Judge Raymond Myles without breaking down.
Myles, a Cook County, Ill., jurist and respected member of his tight-knit neighborhood, West Chesterfield on Chicago’s South Side, was murdered outside of his home in early 2017 during a robbery attempt. If any small comfort can come from this tragedy, it’s that one of the 45 or so surveillance cameras the West Chesterfield Community Association had installed just months before helped police identify the two suspects. Those men are now awaiting trial.
LaFargue, president of WCCA and an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Residential, is dogged about protecting and growing the middle-class African-American neighborhood, which, its tagline proudly notes, is “a great place to live and raise a family.”
Keeping a Watchful Eye
After an uptick in crime in the neighborhood, LaFargue spearheaded the push for community surveillance cameras. (Fatefully, Myles was a big supporter of the idea, too.) It’s a testament to his reputation that LaFargue was able to secure $400 each from about 60 residents for the three-year, $25,000 investment. Community members who paid for the system have 24-hour access to camera footage from their computers or cell phones. Most importantly, they work together to keep each other safe.
“He’s good at pulling people together. It takes a lot to do that, and to keep them going on the same mission,” says Dr. William T. Briggs Jr., chairman of the Red Line Extension Coalition, another of LaFargue’s endeavors. (More on that later.)
Take, for example, the morning a resident noticed a suspicious person in an alley. He called LaFargue to check the camera feed, which showed people breaking into a car. The resident followed the perpetrators in his car and then turned over the chase to LaFargue, who kept an eye on the suspects (they got a flat tire!) until another neighbor—a cop—apprehended them.
Besides being the community’s eyes and ears, LaFargue, over his 12-year WCCA presidency, has overseen block clubs, hosted events such as dog walk socials and garden walks, and sponsored the annual Curb Appeal awards, in which a WCCA committee picks the home with the nicest curb appeal, designating the accolade with a yard sign. “That program keeps people involved in the community; they take pride in [where they live], and it maybe sets up a little friendly competition,” LaFargue says.
As a real estate professional, he has a unique perspective on the community, notes CeCe Edwards, who works with LaFargue on a parks group. “He’s not cloistered. He sees the bigger vision,” Edwards says. And that vision includes property value. “He’s a big proponent of [the community’s] involvement in neighborhood schools, whose quality directly affects property values,” says Alonzo Anderson, a vice president of WCCA who was also instrumental in bringing in the cameras.
To that end, LaFargue organizes career days and toy drives for students, and he encourages school council members to join community associations like WCCA to create a vibrant circle of participation and connection.
Leading by Example
LaFargue is also president of the Red Line Extension Coalition, a group of about 27 grassroots community associations he brought together to help drive the $2 billion, 5.3-mile expansion of one of Chicago’s rail transit routes to the far South Side. This would give people in underserved areas easier access to jobs, schools, worship, and recreation. The group keeps up steady pressure on legislators and city planners while galvanizing the community to make their voices heard. The project depends in part on federal funding, which hasn’t yet been approved.
“As president, you’re the driver of fundraising and getting people to knock on doors, and making sure message gets out there for dues. If the president doesn’t push, it doesn’t get done.”
Meanwhile, as chairman of the 95th Street Panel Development Committee, LaFargue is also actively shepherding development in the low-income area around the 95th Street Red Line station, the transit line’s current terminus on the South Side. Phase 1 of the development is finished, and the much-needed $280 million rehab of the transit station will be complete in 2019.
LaFargue knows the secret sauce of leadership: Get out of folks’ way. “Michael empowers people to do their job,” Anderson says. “Once he gives an assignment, he then allows you to complete the task as you see fit. He’s delegating, not micromanaging.”
That collaborative philosophy is the hallmark of another group LaFargue heads, the Chicago Parks Consortium, which helps create and train neighborhood Park Advisory Councils. Through CPC, these citizen groups learn how to petition the Chicago Park District for long-needed improvements, such as public Wi-Fi access, more trees, and park maintenance.
Edwards, vice president of the Consortium, says once the Consortium got off the ground with 10 PACs, they had more success getting services and budget than in the 10 years she was trying to do this alone. “LaFargue is one of the best advocators I’ve ever met,” she says. “He’s tenacious. He perseveres.”
How does he run a full-time real estate business and dedicate himself to community activism at such an intense level—more than 1,000 hours in 2017 alone? LaFargue doesn’t have a secret system in place: “I burn the midnight oil. I’ll get stuff done at midnight or 4 a.m.,” he says. “I joined these community organizations selfishly—maybe I’ll generate some real estate business from them—but it went the opposite way,” he laughs, musing that he’s had to forgo deals because of his commitments.
He’s had to limit his vacation time, too. One year, LaFargue and his wife were heading to Michigan for the Labor Day weekend when the mayor’s office called, asking him to represent his community development agenda at a 95th Street station press conference that day. Postponing the vacation, LaFargue quickly put together a speech to stress that the community is looking for quality-of-life development around the station. “We want good business neighbors,” he says.
“Sometimes, he’s overstretching himself, but that’s his passion—this community,” Anderson says. “Anything he sees that will help this community, he gets involved.”