Latitude: 42.27 N; Longitude: 89.09 W

The Rock Guardians

Therese Agnew, Rockmen Guardians, granite, 1987

Rockford, Illinois, is a city with a reputation. Type “rockford il” into a Google search and the first option it gives you is “rockford il mugshots.” The Atlantic voted it the ninth most dangerous city in the USA in 2010 because it has a high rate of aggravated assault. There’s a fair amount of crime in general but let’s not focus on that today.

Let’s talk about what makes Rockford sparkle. Here are 10 things I’m excited about:

1. In response to Rockford’s less than glittery reputation, a Rockford documentary filmmaker created Our City, Our Story, a community storytelling project aimed at capturing the beauty and creativity of the community.

2. Ever seen A League of their Own with Gina Davis and Madonna? Rockford was home of the Rockford Peaches from 1943-1954.

3. Thanks to Rock Cut State Park, the riverfront and numerous city parks, Rockford’s nickname is “The Forest City.”

4. Rockford Art Museum is awesome. The gallery space is beautiful and, when I went the other day, there was an exhibit of work by artists with developmental disabilities like autism. The artists are residents of an adult care facility in a town nearby. There was also a show of Manual Carrillo photographs from Mexico in the 1930s.

There is also the Discovery Center Museum and the Burpee Museum of Natural History, which displays Jane, a complete juvenile T-Rex skeleton named after my younger sister.

5. Colored Sands Forest Preserve has a bird sanctuary. I used to want to be an ornithologist. I’ve been told that the park is spectacular during bird migration seasons.

6. There’s a conservatory.

7. Street art. There are murals all over the place downtown.

8. One of Rockford’s founders was Lewis Lemon, who was born into slavery in North Carolina circa 1812. He eventually made his way north, purchased his freedom and settled in Rockford. His tombstone, which I intend to find in Greenwood Cemetery says, “Born Slave–Died Free.”

9. Restaurants. Mexican, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and, hopefully, Vietnamese. Compared to Columbus, this is a culinary Mecca. Woodman’s Grocery Store carries at least fifteen types of rice and multiple kinds of fish sauce so I suspect there is a decent amount of Asian food. (Yes, you’re allowed to laugh at a girl who gets excited about shopping for food).

10. Anderson Japanese Gardens, which is conveniently located at the end of my parents’ street.

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