Englewood Barbie: A bold activist with a bolder vision

On a recent April night that felt like Summer, a woman known as Englewood Barbie makes her nightly dinner call to her neighbors — one of the last ones she’ll make for a while.

“Let’s go, friends!” She calls out, strolling down a line of orange tents nestled under a viaduct that supports a stretch of the Dan Ryan Expressway in East Pilsen. 

“Mr. Raymond, you eatin tonight?” She asks, directing her question into an open flap of a tent.

She hears a response, but it’s hard to make out the words. The rumble of engine noise is ubiquitous around this Southside Chicago outdoor community where cars, trucks, and on this unseasonably warm night, motorbikes constantly traverse the roads — the one adjacent to them and the other up above on the Ryan. 

“Okay, well, let me know if you want me to bring it to you,” she finally says before strolling further down the line to see if anyone else wants to eat.  

Through the city’s harshest weather months, Englewood Barbie has slept in a tent in solidarity with the people in this community, which she refers to as “The Friends.” And don’t you dare describe them using the “h” word, the one that rhymes with “boneless.” 

Because Englewood Barbie, one of the most daring and outspoken advocates for the unhoused, ensures that her staff, visitors and herself serve them in a manner that affirms their dignity.

It’s an experience they call “Club 51.”  

“The people who participate in Club 51, along with the staff, they speak to us,” said Mister Aaron, who lives in the community. “Mister, that’s a sign of respect. You feel the respect. You feel the love. With me, that’s in conjunction with being on the road to becoming a better man, a better human being.”


Englewood Barbie and Mister Aaron


But Club 51 will temporarily close its doors when Barbie makes her yearly departure on April 20 to live with her family. She won’t return until next October when she and her friends reunite under the viaduct, and she’s back sleeping in a tent.

Even though she’s been leaving this community and returning for several years, departing never gets easier. 

“I do have separation anxiety. It’s very emotional for me,” she said. “I cry every year because I know for 210 days (while she is with them) they good. But I don’t come back until October.”

On this night, the tears, anxiety and whatever else comes up when you have to leave your family has to wait. 

The friends need to eat. Plus, she’s returning with an even bigger goal that seems far away but is worth waiting for. 


Englewood Barbie’s real name is Aleta Clark. But she earned her nickname because she was from the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, and people thought she was cute. 

Her story is well documented. At 18 months old, her mother dropped her off at a Southside police station and walked off. From there, she spent her youth in foster homes and endured abuse. 

Yet, with the help of some strong mentors, Englewood Barbie became one herself to young girls in her community. She also became an activist, focusing on people in need. 

Yet, two unfortunate events compelled her to form a nonprofit called HugsNoSlugs that would be the foundation of her future work: the 2015 gang execution of a nine-year-old child in Chicago and the untimely death of her biological mother. Through HugsNoSlugs, she formulated the vision to instill love and respect where there is no hope through acts of service.

Her desire to feed the unhoused occurred when she visited a police station on 51st and Wentworth on the Southside six years ago. The station doubled as a warming center, which opens when temperatures dip below freezing.  

While there, she noticed men and women with nowhere else to take shelter there. She felt compelled to feed them and kept coming back. It was there that the first “Club 51” was founded. 


On the night when The Defender visited the newer Club 51 in East Pilsen, about four miles north of the old location, Englewood Barbie and her team started their rallying cry. 

“Man, y’all know what time it is, and y’all know exactly where we at and what we doin. We at the hottest club in Chicago doin’ what we do best — serving God’s people! And we’re gon be out here every night until April 20. So if you haven’t had the opportunity to come out and be a blessing, please come out. Cause when I tell you we lit, boy, we stay lit! Ayyyyyyyye! GANG GANG, GANG GANG!

Englewood Barbie, her team and the Chicago Defender at a recent Club 51 event under the viaduct.


By this time, the lids are taken off the trays, and the music from an SUV stereo gets turned up. A mix of Gospel and soul fill the air alongside the sounds of zooming vehicles. 

Englewood Barbie quickly makes up the plates, stacking them with fried chicken, candied yams, collard greens, dinner rolls and cinnamon swirl pound cake on this night — real food anyone would want to eat. Not the spoiled or half-eaten kind that some places serve to people in need. 

The food that Englewood Barbie recently served at Club 51

Team members take those plates to her neighbors in the tents. The food she serves at Club 51 comes from her pocket or through donations. 

“You know, a plate was just my introduction,” said Englewood Barbie. “This is just my finesse. You know everybody think clearly when they got some food on they stomach.”

“So after a good meal, they want to talk about life, we could do that,” she said. “If they want to talk about nothing, we can do that. Whatever they want to do for 210 days, that’s what I’m doing.”

But with her departure looming, much work is left to achieve her true goal: getting her own shelter for her people. Things are moving slowly. She wants to raise a million dollars but has collected $143,000. She vows to continue sleeping outside with the friends until she can meet that goal.  

“You can’t rush God. You can’t rush greatness,” she said. 

It may not be the right time, either. 

“It’s a lot of things God want me to experience being under here that I may have not experienced,” she said. “Because, when I get my shelter, it’s a one-hit. I got one shot, and it’s gotta be right, and it’s gotta be better than anything that’s ever existed.”

“God gotta make sure that when I step into that realm, that I’m 100% ready,” she said. 


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