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Partners in Arms

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.  

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In This Together

IAMBK1

A mission of shared responsibility guides a Safe & Peaceful grantee who provided programming throughout the summer for South Shore youth

Teens and children in the South Shore neighborhood face the risk that violence may impact them, directly or indirectly, on the daily, says Reverend Bailey Grant, founder of I Am My Brother's Keeper (IAMBK).

Rev. Grant launched the organization in 2009. The same way he believes God spoke to him via the phrase, Rev. Grant uses billboards, public service announcements and distributed materials to spread the sentiment that people within and throughout the community are responsible for one another.

"We're just promoting the consciousness of non-violence [through our name]," he says. "It's to convict the individual who reads it: Once you read a sign, it pierces the consciousness."

Reaching and connecting with young people has been one of the top priorities since IAMBK's beginning, Rev. Grants says. This summer, as part of its citywide anti-violence campaign, the organization hosted a multi-tiered series of events that included a Unity Day kickoff in June; a weekday "I Thrive" camp that provided field trips, educational programming and meals; and a youth rally to conclude its summer programming.

"We bring them together to allow them to have fun and do activities, but we also bring them together to talk about what's happening in their part of the city or in their neighborhood," Rev. Grant says, adding that it's about giving young people a safe space to gather, and having people listen to them with open ears, hearts and minds to recognize the ways violence plagues young people.

"The violence is affecting them. We try to get some type of parameter on how they're feeling, and we are mindful to be particular to the trauma they're having," he emphasizes.

The IAMBK team has a certified clinical psychiatrist who specifically looks for signs of emotional trauma or abuse. Staff members understand that children and teens won't be quick to open up without a strong trusting relationship, so until they reach that point, they look for non-verbal clues to identify potential issues at home or in school.

Youth counselor and minister Star Jordan has been with IAMBK for five years, working closely with the female participants to support the organization's mission.

"I love them dearly, and I care about what happens to them," she says. "I care about where they're going in life. I love them like my own. They are the next generation."

Serrita Hurst has a granddaughter who participates in IAMBK programming. She says that times have changed since she was a child, and she worries about the safety of her family because of the violence. But she stressed that she refuses to hide in fear of the ones causing the violence in her neighborhood.

"There's just too much going on now, we can't even bring them outside. But I'm not scared, the streets don't belong to them," she says, praising that her loved ones are in "good hands" at the IAMBK youth center (1631 E. 71st. Street). "This is a good program because it keeps our kids off the streets," Hurst says.

Krystal Keenan brings her three sons, ages 12, 8 and 4, to IAMBK. "I'm not really afraid to let them outside, but [sometimes] I am," she says, with a sense of relief that there is a place where she feels her boys can be safe. "I Am My Brother's Keeper gives them something to do outside of running around the neighborhood, and it's much safer."

And, her boys' affiliation with IAMBK reiterates a message that Keenan has sought to push: "I've always instilled in my boys, and let them know, that you will be each other's best friend, and you will take care of each other," she says. "With them seeing that concept [at IAMBK], it just makes it sink in more."

Rev. Grant says that his organization will continue to create awareness and do its part to break cycles of violence.

"I Am My Brother's Keeper, the repetition of seeing that [phrase] keeps bringing you back there, consciously. Because if you can change the heart, then you can change that individual." 

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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What Role do Block Clubs Play in Chicago?

Discussion seeks to revitalize, leverage technology, and connect block clubs throughout the city

Norm Whitenhill, a West Pullman resident, says he and his wife were one of the first African-American families to move on their block in 1974.

They moved into their home on 121st and South Prairie and have seen a lot of transformations in the surrounding area…some good, some not so good. He believes that his club has kept his particular block "stable."

"Knowing who's on the opposite end of the block or the other side of the street, and how the two of you interact with each other, being a benefit and not a hindrance; to me, that's the role of a block club," said Whitenhill, whose wife is president of their block club. "It's about how we work together to keep our areas safe, clean, effective and productive."

A discussion on the relevance of block clubs and how they operate given the matters of the day was the topic of an On The Table event held in Chatham at Captain's Hard Times Dining (436 E. 79th St.) — The Chicago Community Trust holds this citywide event so people can engage in conversations on pertinent issues, with the goal of creating change.

For this gathering, the three partnering organizations — The Chicago Bungalow Association, Block Club Chicago, and My Block My Hood My City (MBMHMC) — invited about 15 block club leaders from the city's South Side, asked participants to define a block club, give perspective on how their block club fits in to their neighborhood, voice concerns and share how they've made an impact; positive outcomes around public safety and cleanliness were among the most cited influences.

MBMHMC founder Jahmal Cole was driven to bring the block clubs together for one reason: resources. He intends to apply for the Acting Up Awards, and should he win, he plans to split the monies among the block clubs, adding that he also wants to connect the block club leaders with his more than 4,000 volunteers.

Another goal Cole has is to introduce and encourage block clubs to implement more technology in their daily operations. "I want to connect block clubs to technology like Facebook, so there will be more interconnectivity between their members," he said.

"One of the things I notice when I run through Chatham every morning are the block club signs, and how they are decaying, how the wood and paint is chipping, so I wanted to update the signs," Cole said. Through the MBMHMC One Block At a Time initiative, 15 block club leaders are receiving new signs, and last August, the initiative's application process awarded 10 block clubs with new signs.

Homeowner Gloria Davis has lived on the 8400 block of South King Drive for 25 years. She said she's grateful for what Cole is trying to do, and she appreciates the Block Club's efforts.

"I'm happy to see Jahmal put forth this effort to get people out, to talk about what we would like to see, what's working and what's not working, and putting together some ideas of how we can make it come together," Davis said. "Today our voices are being heard, the people here care and they want to know what we think."

Block Club Chicago's co-founder and managing editor, Stephanie Lulay, said the organization worked with Cole in the past, when she was with DNAinfo Chicago.

"He was a huge supporter of us starting Block Club Chicago, kind of the DNAinfo 2.0. We realized this time around it was going to be very important for us to have conversations like this all the time with communities," Lulay said, noting that the meeting was an opportunity to hear directly from people in the community about potential stories, and the people, places and events they should note in Block Club Chicago's work. 

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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935 Hits

Everyone who cares deeply about Chicago’s future can play a role.

If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer. Reach out to learn more.

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