Our Land and Our Name
The story of
We are named in honor of the endangered dwarfed black oaks that thrive on what remains of what was once thousands of miles of black oaks savanna. This transition zone between forest and prairie was created by retreating glaciers of the last ice age.
Proverbial west winds formed sand dunes and ridges that are now a habitat to rare and endangered plants and animals. The dwarfed black oaks are just 1 of 22 rare plant species that grow on the savanna including the endangered orange fringed orchids and yellow false indigo. The western glass lizard, the race runner and the plains pocket gopher can be found here as well.
The residents of Pembroke Township/Hopkins Park have been the succeeding stewards of what is now one of the most prized ecosystems in the state of Illinois referred to as the Kankakee Sands. This tradition of stewardship dates back to the care of the savanna by the indigenous people, the Potawatomi, who did controlled burns that maintained the savanna.
Hopkins Park is in Pembroke Township. Pembroke is one of the oldest black rural townships. It was founded by a runaway slave named Pap Tetter before the Emancipation Proclamation. Folk history tells us that he and his family of 18 children escaped from North Carolina around 1861. He originally acquired 42 acres of what is now called Old Hopkins Park, created a safe place for other runaway slaves and the Potawatomi who did not go to reservations.
Hopkins Park was a terminal for the underground railroad and became a secure space for ethnic diversity among the indigenous people and those who migrated there. In the northern migration, Pembroke came to be the largest black farming community north of the Mason Dixon Line. During World War II, these farmers answered the nation’s call for hemp. Pembroke was the 3rd largest hemp producer in the nation.
The name Pembroke has Welsh roots and means “aqueduct.” It was a key spot along a trading route that linked Fort Dearborn in Chicago to Vincennes, Indiana.
Pembroke was known as a favored gaming area due to the abundance of wildlife. It is said that celebrities including presidents would frequent the area to hunt.
While Pembroke has been said to be one of the poorest areas in the country, it is rich with history, heritage and generations who have committed 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 learning about global warming and resource decline. Akin, the youngest son, 8 years old at the time, challenged us all to "not continue to mess up his future."
As a family, we vowed to do all we could to prepare ourselves and others for an energy descent. We wore coats and hats indoors upon setting the thermostat to 65. We traveled to hold workshops to inform others about this imminent reality that would be front & center of our recent future.
In 2006, we established Black Oaks Center as a non-profit with the goal of equipping youth and families with the skills of sustainability to be lifeboats in times to come. Young and old engaged in collective design charrettes of the 40-acre eco campus in Pembroke Township. Envisioning it to be a place where the community can build skills.
In 2009, we moved out of our near 3000 square foot deluxe Beverly Chicago Bungalow into an off grid, 580 square foot Mennonite storage unit we re-purposed to be our home on the eco campus complete with outdoor compost toilets and a wood stove.
The motivation? To fall down the rabbit hole into an alternate reality of a low carbon life so we could help others do the same when the impact of a destabilized environment would tailor more and more of our lives.
We are mastering skills of sustainability to support others in doing the same.