Karanja, 54, who lives in a rehabbed home in the Gap neighborhood, works nearby as director of the Centers for New Horizons, a "human and community development network" built around 14 day care and family assistance centers that give a focus to often disjointed social programs. "We put the family at the center of everything we do," Karanja explained. "We help people achieve self-reliance by melding social programs together."
That effort over nearly a quarter-century laid the groundwork for the key role he played during three years of grass-roots community planning meetings starting in 1990 that resulted in the vision of restoring "Bronzeville." This fabled Black Metropolis, as it was called in St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton's study of black life in Chicago, was centered around 35th and State Streets in the 1920s and 1930s, a neighborhood now known as Grand Boulevard.
The revival plan includes restoration of historic buildings (the Bee building is being converted into a Chicago Public Library branch), construction of new and rehabbed single-family housing, partial demolition and reform of public housing high rise buildings, and encouragement of local business, such as tourism oriented to black history and music and an "Africa in Chicago" ethnic marketplace. The plan aims to attract middle-class residents (and not only blacks) as well as to train existing neighborhood residents and link them to jobs in the nearby Loop and McCormick place or in more distant suburbs.