Safe & Peaceful grantees embrace the power of partnership
Ending the cycle of violence one community at a time is the goal for both Peace Makers Worldwide and A Work of Faith Ministries, who have come together as The Violence Prevention Consortium, or VPC. Together, the organizations want to cease the violence in Chatham, with a focus on the 79th Street corridor.
Kenneth Wesbrooks, founder and chairman of A Work of Faith Ministries (AWOFINC), says his organization works in several neighborhoods, such as Englewood, Gage Park, and Rogers Park. It partnered with Peace Makers Worldwide because its members saw the opportunity to collaborate. Many AWOFINC softball team members live in Chatham, so the organization decided it was time to branch out. "There is a need for violence prevention initiatives in the Chatham community," Wesbrooks says.
Erica Dunn, president of Peace Makers Worldwide, which has been a presence in the community for almost three years, agreed that Chatham needs help. "The biggest concern of all ages right now is the violence," she says. "People are afraid to just walk down the street. People are afraid, but overall the cry is 'I need a job, I need to be able to work."
Peace Makers' resource center hosts hiring events twice a month, and even with a criminal background, everyone leaves with a job, Dunn says. "The little brothers on the street, they come in here and they're ready to work, especially when given an opportunity where their background won't be a challenge," she says. The organization also offers a safe space for youth by hosting community events, such as arts and crafts projects.
Keeping the children safe is one thing, but the solution is really about pinpointing the root cause of the violence, say both group leaders. Dunn says that poverty is the underlying issue — if people can pay their bills and feed themselves, they wouldn't find other ways to "get by."
Wesbrooks agrees, adding that he views violence prevention as a public health issue. "When we have a conversation with people that are involved in, let's call it 'extracurricular activities,' it's always financial."
"No one has aspired to be the next 'Scarface' — the issue is 'I need to feed my little brother or sister,' because maybe the dad is incarcerated, and the mom is drug-addicted; or maybe she's working so much that she's never at home. So they [the kids] have that financial responsibility, and this is the only way they see to put food on the table," he adds.
The VPC approach is old-fashioned, going door-to-door and introducing themselves in a new area. From there, they host regular meetings and events, bringing together community residents, business owners, clergy and educators to discuss and implement solutions to violence in the community.
Wesbrooks said it's going to take everyone working together to see the desired change, and it's worth fighting for.
This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.