Updated: Dec 31, 2021
It’s 6:30am in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. The July sun paints swaths of orange and yellow along the street. As I get out of my car to meet the man we are here to film, I immediately feel the energy of this community bear down on me. It does not feel good. This area, known as the “Heroin Highway”, is riddled with violence and drugs. It does not seem to welcome visitors with open arms. But, as I look down to my feet trying not to draw attention to myself, I realize my own arms aren’t exactly extended either.
Flying House is here to interview a man appropriately named Love for a short film to be featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network. He is the owner of a soul food restaurant on Chicago Avenue named Turkey Chop and is making waves in this community for all the right reasons. Every Monday, he opens the kitchen, but closes the registers to operate Turkey Chop solely as a soup kitchen: feeding the tired, homeless and hungry as if they’re family; the only restaurant in all of Chicago to do so. And in a place where even the height of a Midwest summer can feel bitterly cold, a warm meal in the stomach has a way of providing hope.
A deep, powerful voice greets me, cutting through the noise of the group of men shouting at one another across the street.
“Drug dealers. Everyone sells drugs here. Right out in the open. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life.”
Quentin Love has a presence about him you cannot miss. His voice commands your attention; his military background commands your respect. He is tall, intelligent, strong and driven. He would, in fact, be very intimidating, if not for the huge heart he wears so disarmingly on his sleeve.
As we walk together through Turkey Chop’s doors, I suddenly feel the weight of the outside world release from my shoulders. This place is warm and welcoming. The walls are bright and colorful, much like the music playing from a small stereo in the back. My crew and I are not from around here, but the moment we enter Quentin’s restaurant, we feel at home.
Within an hour, we have commandeered the front of the building: a film crew, photographer, cameras, lights, stands, microphones, tripods. Quentin’s story demands equally powerful imagery.
As Quentin and I sit down in the interview chairs positioned across from one another, the room begins to fill with the sounds and smells of chicken, black beans, cabbage, onions and peppers being cooked on a flattop in the kitchen. They are the smells of the soul food he learned to cook at a young age from a teacher he holds close to his heart.
“When I think about cooking, I think about my grandmother. [She] always talked to me while she was cooking and it has always been a way for me to clear my head. If I want to brainstorm about how to build a restaurant… or impact the community or anything, I come in the kitchen and I just start cooking.”
For the next hour, the cameras and lights melt away as Quentin takes me around the sharp turns of his life. Here is a man who has every right to be angry at an unfair world: a childhood without a father, a brother left paralyzed by gun violence, an up-close-and-personal look at hell during a Marine tour in Saudi Arabia, a return to life in America that led to homelessness: twice.
And yet, Quentin is anything but angry. He has come out the other side happier, kinder and above all else, determined to make a difference in this community he now calls home.
We are, every so often, interrupted by one of the many volunteers who come through his doors to help in the kitchen (as Quentin says, it takes a lot more than one person to feed an entire community). They are each inspired to create something positive in a place that is most often surrounded by darkness. This is a team constructed by a man who didn’t set out to collect accolades and awards for his work, but instead to spread love to those who have forgotten what it feels like.
“When I think of community, I think of family. We are here to take care of one another. To speak to one another. We have to love one another. When I walk on that corner, I hug people, I’m smacking fives. We’re talking about life and having a good time. It might even be one of those drug dealers you saw, but it doesn’t matter. We may be on different paths, but who am I to judge? It’s my job to love them, because at any moment in time if something goes wrong, they could be the first person to make sure I get home safe.”
For sixty minutes he unsheathes words that cut straight through me, and when our interview ends, something about the air in here feels different. The crew is stone cold quiet as they break down the set. I find myself staring out at the streets I was so quick to pass judgement on when I arrived not 3 hours earlier. But there is still a lot more for us to do today.
It isn’t long before the soup kitchen is open, and a line of people is rolling out the doors. For three hours the restaurant buzzes with people carrying bags waiting to be filled with the warmth and love that Quentin and his team have so generously prepared. Hundreds of chicken legs, thirty pounds of cabbage and countless helpings of black beans & rice have been served. And, though not a single dollar has exchanged hands, it isn’t seen as a hand out. It is, instead, the warm hug these people deserve, and Quentin is here to make sure they get it.
A woman named Vanea tells me Quentin and the Turkey Chop volunteers are “extended family” who ”always make me feel like I am loved and I am wanted.” I don’t believe I’ve ever had a restaurant experience like that before, but it seems to be par for the course around here.
By the end of the line, the kitchen staff is worn out, sweaty and smiling from ear-to-ear. My crew looks about the same. The buzz has quieted for now, so I ask Quentin to take a walk with me and share a couple closing thoughts on our day together. He’s had us in his face for 8 hours by now but agrees to my request and follows me out front.
The sun beats down hottest in the afternoon and I can see the sweat bead up on Quentin’s brow as we walk and talk together.
“A lot of people that live [in this neighborhood] have been here for most of their lives. They’ve never really—"
Mid-sentence Quentin stops, bending down toward his feet. He pops back up with a smile, holding a single penny between his thumb and forefinger.
“See, it’s all about the penny. I never walk past a penny… this is a penny that everyone has been looking past every day. But now I pick it up, and there’s a certain energy to it… and I value that and appreciate it.
I see people coming through the line like I see this penny. At one time, somebody didn’t appreciate them… but everyone has value. This penny has value.”
As I got into my car later that day, I noticed that the nerves and uncertainty I arrived with had washed away. One conversation, had most definitely changed my point-of-view on what it truly means to love your community and care for your fellow man. That’s the amazing thing my line of work has taught me: when you take the time to search for new people from different places, you tend to find yourself.
It has now been several months since Quentin invited my crew and I into Turkey Chop, but the impact he made on me lingers.
“This is my purpose in life. To help as many people as I possibly can. That’s the dream. That’s my fantasy. To make a difference.”
I think of his words often and have shared them with my children more than once in hopes they can see just how powerful each one of us can be if we are determined enough to try. At this point, I don’t know exactly how the impact of that day will manifest itself in me, but I do know I will never walk past another penny again.
Perhaps the next time I find one, I’ll mail it to Quentin with a message:
“You’ve made a difference.”