Our Land. Our History. Our Name.
We are named after the dwarfed black oaks, an endangered species that thrives in the remnants of the once vast black oaks savanna. This unique area, formed by retreating glaciers during the last ice age, serves as a transition zone between forests and prairies.
The sand dunes and ridges created by the proverbial west winds now provide a habitat for various rare and endangered plants and animals. Alongside the dwarfed black oaks, the savanna is home to 22 other rare plant species, including the endangered orange fringed orchids and yellow false indigo. Additionally, you can find the western glass lizard, race runner, and plains pocket gopher here.
The residents of Pembroke Township/Hopkins Park have been the dedicated stewards of what is now known as the
Kankakee Sands, one of the most cherished ecosystems in Illinois. This tradition of stewardship dates back to the indigenous people, the Potawatomi, who carefully maintained the savanna through controlled burns.
Hopkins Park, located in Pembroke Township, holds a significant place in history as one of the oldest black rural townships. Its founding dates back to before the Emancipation Proclamation by a courageous runaway slave named Pap Tetter. In 1861, Tetter and his family of 18 children escaped from North Carolina and settled on 42 acres of land, known today as Old Hopkins Park. This became a safe haven not only for runaway slaves but also for the Potawatomi people who chose not to go to reservations.
Hopkins Park played a vital role in the underground railroad as a terminal, offering refuge to those seeking liberation. Over time, it became a diverse community, attracting indigenous people and migrants alike. In fact, during the northern migration, Pembroke became the largest black farming community north of the Mason Dixon Line. During World War II, these farmers answered the nation's call for hemp production, making Pembroke the third largest hemp producer in the country.
The name "Pembroke" has Welsh origins, meaning "aqueduct." It held strategic importance as a trading route connecting Fort Dearborn in Chicago to Vincennes, Indiana.
Pembroke was renowned as a favored area for hunting due to its abundant wildlife. It is said that even celebrities and presidents would visit for this purpose.
While Pembroke has often been labeled as one of the poorest areas in the nation, it is undeniably rich in history, heritage, and generations of individuals dedicated to caring for the land!
Our Journey to Low Carbon Living
In 2005, the Wright-Carter family made a pact to reduce their carbon footprint after becoming aware of the threats posed by global warming and resource decline. It was Akin, the youngest son at the age of 8, who challenged the family to take action and "not continue to mess up his future."
As a united family, they committed themselves to do everything possible to prepare for an energy descent. They started by wearing coats and hats indoors, setting the thermostat to 65 degrees. They also traveled to hold workshops, spreading awareness about the impending reality that would soon dominate their lives.
In 2006, the family established Black Oaks Center as a non-profit organization with a mission to equip youth and families with sustainable skills, turning them into beacons of resilience for the future. People of all ages participated in collective design charrettes, envisioning a 40-acre eco campus in Pembroke Township that would serve as a hub for community skill-building.
In 2009, the family took a bold step by moving out of their luxurious 3000 square foot Beverly Chicago Bungalow. They embraced a low carbon life by settling into an off-grid, 580 square foot Mennonite storage unit on the eco campus. Their new home featured outdoor compost toilets and a wood stove.
Their motivation? To immerse themselves in an alternative reality, experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a low carbon lifestyle. By doing so, they aimed to guide and support others when the impacts of an unstable environment would inevitably shape more aspects of their lives.
Today, the Wright-Carter family continues to master sustainable skills, driven by their desire to assist others on the same journey towards resilience and sustainability.