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Chicago Village Project

Meet Auburn Gresham's John F. Kennedy, founder of The Chicago Village Project —his plan is to teach young people how to use their interests to become "solopreneurs."

"Changing mindsets is one thing, but that doesn't satisfy the primary force that pulls people to the
streets: lack of money."

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

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701 Hits

When Pain Becomes Purpose

The loss of her son motivates Englewood mother to take to the streets

Audrey Wright doesn't want another mother to go through what she went through.

"My son was shot down in a drive-by shooting. He left my house at 15 minutes to midnight. 12:01 he was shot. 12:49 he was dead…it was on 100th and Throop. And the mothers…people don't realize…never get over it," Wright says, pausing every few words.

"A real mother never gets over the pain. I've suffered this every day of my life. That was my only child, and it took me 10 years to have him. God gave him to me for 24 years, and if He didn't remove him, I would not be doing what I'm doing."

Two decades ago, Wright founded Gordie's Foundation, her work focused on trying to reshape her neighborhood and help other children. One of the ways this manifests is via The Englewood Summerfest Back to School Street Market, which has a dual purpose: helping mothers get their children ready for the school year, and showcasing positivity within the community.

"We bring together crisis intervention resources, connections, support, housing and other referral services for mothers of murdered children," says Gordie's Foundation Administrative Assistant Martha Jones, standing under a tent in the organization's parking lot to introduce three "prayer warriors" who blessed the vendors and residents walking along Ashland Avenue. But in addition to the resources, such as school supplies and haircuts for the young boys, it's also about "putting together a plain-old fun day outside, where people can relax and enjoy themselves." 

The Summerfest also featured gospel singers, and guest speakers Tio Hardiman, Gwen Backer, 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez and former Harlem Globetrotter Paul "Showtime" Gaffney.

"They talk about Chicago being a war zone, and imply that people don't care, and that's not true," said Gaffney, who wanted to be a part of the event based on the strength of Gordie's Foundation's work. "Yes, there is violence, but there are a lot of people who want better for their community, people who are fighting against the violence and looking for something better."

"In the media, they push that no one cares, that it's a free-for-all; that's what gets reported, but when you know and see that people, that's not it at all. I love the Windy City, and the heartbreak of what's being reported compelled me, as a human being, to be with the city," Gaffney added.

After speaking with many of the mothers who attended, Gaffney remains in awe of their resilience, commenting on their passion and strength.

 "It's hard being a parent: You don't think about living longer than your child. So you form a group to help other mothers who have gone through that, to try to make sure there are no other victims. They could just grieve and think about what's been taken from them, but they use their experience to help other people, to create a force to so it doesn't happen anymore. They're not being victims even though they've been victimized."

"They won't let the streets take both their children and them," he said.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of a mother never giving up than Audrey Wright. So while she once used her skills with the sewing machine to spice up her outfits or create hospital scrubs and choir robes, she's now focused on stitching together her community, for its collective soul.

"This event is about mothers of murdered children, and I am one of those mothers. I've been here for 20 years helping the community, taking young men with guns off the streets and putting tools in their hands. That's what I'm about, getting out in the streets, talking to gang bangers, pulling in the leaders."

"I wasn't scared then and I'm still not scared," Wright avows.

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

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How Chicago Communities are Trying to Stop Gun Violence


Last weekend was tragic, unacceptable, and a stark reminder of the work ahead. Members of Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities remain committed to working with our partners until our neighbors in Chicago are safer and communities are more peaceful, which everyone should expect.

Sixty-six people were shot over the weekend in Chicago, and behind those numbers are stories of the victims and their families, according the PBS News Hour, which spoke to Tamar Manasseh of Mothers and Men Against Senseless Killings. Manasseh talked about the neighborhood organizations that are making a difference on the ground every day. 

"It's not just me. There are 100 other organizations just like me who are out here every day in their own way making a contribution to making communities better.

(CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson) not once mentioned them. He said it was the technology and it was extra policing and it was actual over-policing that made the difference. But now you need the community's help when you have so many of the resources that could be given to the community.

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

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609 Hits

Real Talk, Real People Hosts SPC Grantees

WVON's Real Talk, Real People with Chat Daddy hosted Safe and Peaceful grantees who introduced listeners to their work; among those featured:

Maynard Welch, on behalf the Museum Shores Yacht Club; the organization partnered with grantee AMP Community Arts Program to establish "Project Helm," which taught young children the basics of boating (sailing and power), emphasizing healthy and respectful peer interactions in the process.

David Rojas, co-founder of The Alliance 98 (TA98) —its "Suited for a Cause" initiative aims to fit young people with suits and provide them with the skills necessary to become entrepreneurs, and the organization has expanded the program with its Safe & Peaceful grant, providing a more "culturally relevant" framework, he said.

The Original 64th Street Drummers, a prominent fixture in the South Chicago community; before giving an in-studio performance, the members explained how its drum circle has long been instrumental in building a sense of community and providing a positive outlet for many young people, such as its affiliation with The Chicago Bucket Boys.

Chat Daddy - July 23, 2018

The grantees were joined by Deborah E. Bennett, senior program officer, Polk Bros Foundation, one of the 30-plus funders and foundations who form The Partnership for Safe & Peaceful Chicago coalition.

This year, The Partnership awarded 132 grants.

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

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426 Hits

Acknowledging Harm, Recognizing Pain

2018 Safe & Peaceful grantee holds a summit dedicated to truth & forgiveness 

Bringing together a diverse audience of people who have been touched by violence as a victim, committer or observer, the Truth & Reconciliation Summit was a moving, daylong event that highlighted the power of acknowledging harm as the first step toward recovering from its lasting effects.

Produced by the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices, with funding support from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the Summit attracted nearly 100 guests, from justice-involved youth to octogenarians.

Lisa Daniels founded the Center in the memory of her son, a victim of gun violence whose murder propelled her into victim advocacy work.Vowing to not allow the circumstances of her son's death to forever define his legacy, Daniels has worked to provide grief and support counseling to families, called for understanding around sentences for youth offenders, and recently accepted a gubernatorial appointment to the Illinois Prison Reform Board.

At the July 20 summit, she said told the audience that she hoped that "this is not the last day that you'll come together and be forever changed."

Heavily inspired by the forgiveness work of South African cleric and theologian Bishop Desmond Tutu, the event featured a panel discussion of people personally affected by violence; a peace circle experience; mindfulness yoga; celebratory music portions; and a closing session during which individuals apologized publicly for harms their systems, or they themselves, had caused. Below are excerpts of some of the apologies.

Chicago Police Department sergeant

"Policing is what I do. It's my profession, a needed profession. [But] while being a police officer, I get a chance to show my many hats, as a deacon, a grandson and husband and a father…. I understand the history of the police department. [I offer] apologies for what has happened in the past…and in the present, apparently…but I can be a part of the solution. I can actually make a difference. I am a part of the community.

As a deacon in this community, I have failed. I have said on numerous occasions that the problem we're having in our community is the people of faith [are] failing to open our doors to people who need resources, who need a prayer, who need a listening ear."

School principal

"I am a coach, mentor, mother, sister. Our education system has failed our kids, and I do apologize for that. We have to change that, and that's through our vote. We can change the system: Our kids deserve it."

Law Office of Cook County Public Defender attorney

"I am a Chicago Public School high-school graduate. A suburban resident. A single parent. A widow. I apologize for the lack of using our [legal] voice publicly on the abuse of power….We are now joining our voices with others to create an awareness of the reality that many face in their interactions with the authorities. We are committed to change.

We have licensed attorneys and paralegals who will be available to any individual detained in any county police station; once a call is placed, one of the attorneys will be there to help an individual assert his or her rights. Communities must know that we are available and help us spread our telephone number. The Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender is committed to systemic change, to using our voice." (Editorial note: The assistance phone number is 844-817-4448.)

Justice-involved youth

"I apologize to the public [and ask you to] keep the word 'hope' in your mind."

Corrections professional

"I apologize for our system — for our incarceration of African-American males, the mentally ill, the homeless. We have not corrected the problem, and many times, we've made it worse. Lots of lessons learned over the years, but sometimes as a system, we've repeated the same mistake, the same mistake, the same mistake. I will commit to being a part of a systems change with what God's given me."

Homeless service provider

"I apologize for homelessness in our city, our state and our country, for every person who has no place to lay their head tonight. I apologize for being in a service industry for 25 years and still not resolving the issue of homelessness. I am committing to staying in this fight to ending homelessness, not only in this state, but in this state and in this county."

African-American male youth worker

"I apologize to LGBT…young black men and not taking the time to get educated on the diversity of black men."

African-American male

"I apologize to children who have been neglected, exposed to violence, alcohol, drugs…for seeing other people engaged in behaviors and activities who asked me for advice, but because I didn't want [to] push back, I chose to keep quiet. I apologize for keeping quiet when I should have spoken up. For misogyny…for propagating the idea that women are weaker than men or less capable than men. I promise to get up and admit my own errors as opposed to pointing the finger."

Caucasian male

"I'm a white guy.I apologize that where I live people don't care enough. I apologize that I helped with donations but didn't care enough until I lost my own son. I apologize that the communities are dealing with the problems the best that they can and that some of the other institutions are not doing everything they can, and we all know when someone's not doing everything they can.

[I apologize] That not a lot of people are afraid to come down to some of the areas where there is a lot of crime. I apologize that "P people" – privileged people – just don't care enough. And in my late, belated efforts, I'm going to do everything I can to make people care and understand."

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

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What Do Youth Have to Do With It?

Thomas Hurley, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for the Department of Juvenile Justice, expounds on the necessity of engaging youth offenders, and former youth offenders, in the development of safer, peaceful communities

Every youth has a parent, two parents (whether they be engaged with them or not) — they're somebody's son, somebody's daughter, and we need to treat all youth the same way, like they're our kids.

How do we get them going in a different direction? I think sometimes the thing we take for granted is the trauma that these young people have incurred. Sometimes we look at them as bad kids, and they're really wounded, broken, hurt. And we need to help to repair that, have that level of concern, of care, no matter what their mistakes, no matter what their situation.

I think we've got to get them to a place where they desire to repair the harm that they've done to the community: acknowledging it first, understanding that they did harm, and then, how they repair that harm.

That's a collective effort. It's going to take that whole-village perspective to accomplish what we need to accomplish, and bring peace to our communities and streets.

The reality is that a very comprehensive approach is needed, so whether someone is in custody, in the community, a perpetrator of a crime at some point in their lives, or Joe Citizen, everybody needs to be engaged in this process…

It's everybody's problem, it's everybody's issue, it should be everybody's concern.

Hurley was interviewed at the Truth & Reconciliation Summit, an event hosted by 2018 Safe & Peaceful Chicago grantee the Darren B. Easterling Foundation 

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

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Chatham, In Two parts


Poet explores life & loss on Chicago's South Side

Part One

I miss you on nights like these

where there is either fireworks

or gunshots in the air

along with July's humidity

As I drive by I see families out playing and laughing with each other and

it's sad because all I can think about is you

How you

had that ability to make every place feel like home

and for that simple reason I never felt


I miss coming to your burgundy house on 87th street

and seeing your chocolate skin

and that great big smile that lit up the room

I miss your cooking and your Famous Mac and Cheese that you used to bake on the holidays Grandma do you remember how we used to go to the




every Friday with Ms. Kittles and her granddaughter after you picked me up from school

We used to make sure we hid the candy we had because we were too cheap to buy the candy at the show

I always looked forward to those days

I remember how you used to take me up to the

Tuley Park Library

and we take more books out than I could read

or on Sunday Mornings when we would get up to go to Apostolic on 6320 S Dorchester Ave back when bishop was preaching I used to watch you put on your lipstick and blush and I always admired how you would put yourself together

I remember my mouth would be watering after church knowing I would be getting something nice and greasy from Church's or KFC down the street

I loved when the Summer hit

and I would wait anxiously to hear the ice cream truck coming down the block as I was getting the little money I had ready

I knew the ice cream man was laughing getting rich off of us kids

I know you remember Ms. Norse your next door neighbor and how her two sons would help you around the house

I used to go to your house after school and you would try to help me with my math Homework but you would end up calling Morgan my cousin for help

I miss the petty little arguments we used to get into

We would always go back and forth

Grandma I wish I could hug you right now and tell you everything that's been going on since you left but I'll see you in my dreams for now

Part Two

I remember the day when we lost you.

It was raining that day and

I remember Auntie Marquita picked me and Kiara up from the hair salon and

we were confused so confused as to what to what was happening

until she tells me that all of the Family is already at the hospital

I think no one actually right out and said that you were close to your last breath

I guess they didn't because they didn't want to freak us out

but it didn't stop the gut feeling that I had known something wasn't right

So we get there and we wait in the waiting area and it's filled with familiar faces

looking as though they were anticipating something

and then we go to your room I see you hooked up on all these different tubes in this big room. On the doors it said "Intensive Care"

I was so shocked that I ended up having a delayed reaction

because everything was happening so quickly when I looked at you

your eyes were wide open

but you seemed like you weren't there

like you seemed disconnected

So I remember I held your hand and by the next day you had passed

Ever since then it's been weird just trying to go through the motions.

I felt so unbalanced and out of place I can't go back and pretend that everything's okay

Cause it's not

No more going to your house and seeing you in the kitchen cooking

Or making your famous green or carrot juices asking me to try it even though I knew it was nasty you told me it was good for me

Or how we used to chill in your room and watch "Friday" as we laughed hysterically or what about those random Target runs we made up the street on Cottage Grove as we were munching on Popcorn from the food court

I'll miss Sunday mornings coming over to your house And getting ready to go to Church

No more visiting your brother Uncle Sonny's restaurant over East on 95th street

I remember we spent your last birthday over Uncle Brent's house on Vernon

That day we just chilled downstairs in the basement

Watching Madea

Eating Cake

I'll miss our summer cookouts in your famous white t-shirt

With your cute brown sandals

Going to Cole Park and walking around the track

Then I thought to myself

"Who will cheer me on on those days were I felt like I couldn't go on?"

Then that thought scared me

and I remember what you would've told me

"Be Strong"

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

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317 Hits

F.U.B.U. — South Shore Edition


 "We should not be refugees from our community seeking asylum in spaces intentionally excluding us. And we should not be demonized for what we do with nothing, either."

Eva Lewis has carefully observed and documented the quest for a grocery store in South Shore, a community that surely eats but can't seem to draw a viable grocer to feed the community. "I have a lot of pride in South Shore," Lewis says. "We're known for having nothing, drug dealing, dilapidated buildings, but still taking something and creating something."

A large part of Lewis' 19 years have been informed by what her community lacks: viable grocery stores, easier access to high quality education, and, sometimes, safety. As an artist and activist from South Shore, Lewis, founder of The I Project, has leveraged these factors into an opportunity to showcase the richness and opportunity that exist alongside the challenges.

The writer and poet aims to create equitable communities directing civic resources to invest in viable solutions.

"Our work is in lieu of the government," says Lewis, whose work and ideas have been widely recognized. "We think advocacy is important, so saying 'vote, this is going to help us out,' is fine. But we are not spending our money on lobbying; we're interested in how we can create communities the government cannot touch."

Lewis' perspective is informed by watching her single mother make decisions that would allow her to thrive. Because being a hands-on mom was a greater priority, Lewis' mom gave up a job in a far-off suburb so her daughter could attend the gifted center she successfully tested into at age 4: Lewis went on to attend Walter Payton College Prep on the North Side, a great opportunity that necessitated a daily hour-long trek across the city.

She was also influenced by her extended family, such as her grandparents, whose roots in Alabama and Mississippi personify Chicago's Great Migration story. After her grandfather passed away in 2016, the family hit the road to tighten loosened family ties.

"I saw the land my granddad grew up on and the house my great-grandmother had. After slavery, my family founded a church. We went to the segregated cemetery in Meridian (Mississippi) where my great-grandmother is buried."

Grounded in the knowledge of what her family has been able to overcome and seeing her friends and neighbors persist in the face of structural barriers to progress, Lewis is dedicated to helping community members be their own agents of social change.

She puts it quite simply: "People who have experienced the problem being solved know what is going to solve the problem."

The I Project hosts online programs and organized an Education Emancipation concert last summer to raise money to provide Google Chromebooks for students at Bouchet Math and Science Academy in South Shore (this was profiled on ABC7 Chicago). Now, the team is promoting education equity elsewhere on the South and West Sides.

Lewis represents a movement among teens and young adults in Chicago (and the nation) to exercise leadership in their communities and tell a different story about what's going on at the neighborhood level. Here, outlets like The Triibe, which chronicles young black Chicago, stories told by late YouTube star Zack Stoner or the upcoming Comedy Central show "South Side" highlights a need for youth of color to frame themselves and their neighborhoods in their fullness, as assets, not a sum of so many deficits.

"Chicago is often viewed in a negative way these days (and) our show aims to find joy in the fuller picture of the city," according to a statement from "South Side" creators.

Lewis' creativity fuels her orchestration of a common song to fuel activism with an intersectional bent. "I combine art and activism in unconventional ways," the University of Pennsylvania sophomore sociology major says. "Art makes things accessible in ways other things can't. Everybody may not understand Audre Lorde or James Baldwin, but we can sing the same song."

She's also studied ballet and tap, she sings, and is also into video editing and photography.

"All the work [I Project does] goes to benefit the most oppressed subset of society, which is the black woman." She explained her approach in an article for Teen Vogue:

"Before I am a girl, I am black. Before I face sexism, I face racism. Before anyone takes note of my gender expression, their eyes focus on the color of my skin, a brown appearing golden in the sunlight."

Thus, Lewis makes a point to spotlight young female artists of color — her national I Project team reflects her stated philosophy, as all seven queer women are African American, Mexican American or Asian American. 

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

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Enough is Enough

St. Sabina Annual Peace March & Rally brings together a cross section of anti-violence voices

There was lots of star power amid the hundreds gathered at 78th Place and Throop Street Friday evening for the Faith Community of Saint Sabina's Annual End of the School Year Peace March & Rally.

Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson, and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, an avid gun policy advocate who suffered a gunshot wound to the head in a 2011 assassination attempt, were featured speakers.

At the center of it all, though, were the young people — March for Our Lives figureheads and others — calling for an end to violence, supported by a diverse crowd of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers.

"They're getting ready to run America," said Michael Pfleger, senior pastor at Saint Sabina, which holds weekly rallies throughout the summer. "Young people are rising up from the north and the south and the east and the west, and they're taking control."

All of the youth emphasized the need for gun legislation — the rally was the official kickoff of the Road to Change bus tour, which will be led by the student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Most of the young speakers were local, and they focused on the more common incidences of violence in Chicago neighborhoods much of it by gunfire.

"I'm so tired of misconceptions that come with everyday shooting; every shooting isn't gang related…people lose their lives every day in Chicago, not because they were doing anything wrong, but because the Chicago community, as well as the officials, have let them down," said Trevon Bosley, a youth leader at St. Sabina who listed a number of young people killed while engaged in routine activities: sitting in cars, riding the bus home, hanging out at parks and playing on basketball courts.

The last name on the list was his 18-year-old brother, Terrell; Bosley said his sibling was shot in 2006 while unloading music equipment outside a church.

The young people expressed anger at the closure of schools and cuts in social services funding — several referenced the need to for resources that address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in neighborhoods where too many suffer the trauma of their communities.

Alex King, a recent North Lawndale College Prep High School graduate, referred to peers as both physical and emotional survivors of a war on violence…a war in which they constantly fear loss of life.

"When war veterans come back, a lot of them suffer from PTSD, and they go see doctors and therapists and get all of this help. But what about the war veterans that don't go overseas? What about us? In our communities, we go through so many traumatic events, but have no one or place to go and get help," King said. "There are so many corner stores and liquor stores and police stations and all these different resources that are not beneficial for our survival. The resources which we need are more mental health and trauma centers in our communities for those who have been traumatized for way too long."

In 2018, about 1,138 people had been shot, 213 of them fatally, in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Politicians and leaders were out in force at the peace march — Illinois state senators Jacqueline Collins and Kwame Raoul; state representative Mary Flowers; former governor Pat Quinn; gubernatorial candidate J.B Pritzker and his running mate Juliana Stratton; Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, U.S. Representative Robin Kelly; Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Chicago mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, Ja'Mal Green and Dorothy Brown. But the young speakers did not mince words, letting leaders know that they weren't currying any favor with their mere presence.

"I'm here to talk about the elected officials who see people dying in the streets every day, and instead of sending us resources, they send us Divvy bikes," Bosley said. "I'm here to talk about a governor who cuts anti-violence funding because he feels it's non-essential spending. I'm here to talk about a president who belittles Chicago's problems and hasn't done anything about any one of them."

"It's not just enough to make a statement, to be here with us today in the pictures. We need the Chicago City Council, we need the mayor, we need everyone to know that we will not stop until we get $95 million dollars for community," said Maria Hernandez, a Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer, who also called for education, mental health and anti-drug program funding. "These people who say they represent us, they don't talk to us. They repeatedly shut us out of community meetings."

"We refuse to accept that the only solution is to put more money into the Chicago Police Department when we have more police per capita than any other city in this whole region, and it's not fixing things. It's not stopping the violence," she added.

Diego Garcia, a 16-year-old organizer from Brighton Park, announced an 8-week "Starved for Change" hunger strike (beginning July 2nd) where sets of southwest side teens will go without food in week-long shifts as part of a campaign for what he called "common sense gun legislation."

"How are we supposed to have proper education when the schools in our communities are underfunded, or we are in danger of losing our lives just by sitting in a classroom?" he asked. "The number of students who have reached out to me for advice that could be given by a social worker is higher than the amount of money Illinois representatives Rodney Davis and John Shimkus are receiving from the NRA."

"Politicians who take money from the NRA do not deserve to work for the people of our communities," he added.

Pfleger praised the youth for their impatience and bluntness. "The hell with political correctness! I love you because of the way you say what's on your heart and what's in your spirit, and that's what America needs right now," he said.

"It's important that we not only gather here, but we also go out into the neighborhood," Pfleger added, announcing a July 7 demonstration that will halt traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway at 79th Street. "We want to make sure Chicago understands we are not sitting down. We are not shutting up. We are not going to be quiet. We are going to push for direction until violence stops in Chicago."

Personal stories of grief and the desire for action came from the both the podium and among the crowd. Englewood-bred Jennifer Hudson reminded attendees that her mother, brother and uncle were murdered in 2008; in a likely nod to increased reports of missing women and a desire for more gender parity in violence coverage and intervention, Chance The Rapper offered, "to the young women of the community, I want to say I understand to a certain degree what's going on out there and I just want to work with you and follow you in whatever direction you guys want to take to ensure your safety and your liberty."

Erma Aragon, who lives in Albany Park, came to rally and march in memory of her son, Israel Aragon Jr. She says he was killed Sept. 7, 2016 on his way from work; he was 21.

"This has happened all over our city, it's not only South Side. On the North Side it happens a lot, but they don't want to talk crime over there," she said, carrying a poster with her son's photo.

"It's time to stand up and raise our voices. I lost my son. I don't want him to be a number: I want change," which, in her assessment, means changes in law enforcement and throughout the legal system. "We need more detectives, we don't need more police. We need better police on the job. And we need judges giving the right sentences," she said.

Lamont Cooley, 37, applauded the procession as he watched from the front of a barbershop with his three young nephews.

"The only way to change things is to give the kids something to do," he said.

During the rally, four teens read the names of young victims of gun violence, which included 12-year-old She'Nyah O'Flynn who was killed in West Garfield Park the night before, after leaving her cousin's eighth-grade graduation party.

"We have just read 147 names: 147 youth who never got a chance to grow up, to reach their full potential. America, you should be ashamed!" said Mariah Mack.

"You allowed the very future of this country to die," she chided.

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

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More than Feeling Fancy

Arts exposure ain't just about entertaining

In a city fueled by a prodigious cultural output — museums, plays, concerts and more — many local youth have never experienced a part of what makes Chicago a world-class city.

Jamani, 17, is one of the lucky local teens who have tapped into the Teen Arts Pass Program (TAP) sponsored by Urban Gateways. Youth ages 13–19 can use the TAP website or app to access day-of-show tickets for $5.

"Kids should have access to art because you can find a passion in something you never knew you had," says Jamani, who attends Johnson College Prep in Englewood. She is a member of the TAP Teen Council, which tested the program before Urban Gateways opened it up to all Chicago teens.

Jamani is on to something…

    • Countries with mandatory art and music education rank highest on math and science scores, according to
    • Youth from low-income families have better outcomes, such as going to college, when they are exposed to arts education, according to the National Endowment for the Arts
    • That same NEA study shows that eighth graders steeped in arts engagement earned higher scores on science and writing, and students with "arts-rich experiences" had higher grade point averages.

Recently, Jamani saw a concert at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Mozart), something she didn't think she'd be into "because it wasn't my type of music."

"But I ended up going, and the box-office guy, he was very nice, and said 'Since you're a special guest, I'm going to give you the best seat in the house.' And I got a great seat, and I actually ended up enjoying it," Jamani says.

Ida, 18, a TAP Teen Council member who attends Whitney Young, says she comes from a classical music background. She feels like there's a widespread belief that classical music is dying, but she knows differently because her school orchestra is thriving.

"Even though going to, like, plays or, like, the opera might seem like adult things, one day we will be adults, and our generation will be doing that," Ida says. "It's cool to get involved early."

TAP allows for companion passes, so teens can take a friend or guardian, though many participants often go alone; Deven, 16, who attends Disney II Magnet School in Lawndale, likes going solo.

"I can see the thing from my perspective and not have anybody else chiming in," he says. "I don't know, it's like a personal time, and then you get to see something really good."

Shows students have attended include Simon Stephen's "Birdland" at Steep Theatre and "Jesus Christ Superstar" at Lyric Opera of Chicago. In addition to seeing shows, they've rated the service they receive as young people, and give venues high marks for being welcoming.

"In the beginning," says Isabel, 17, who attends Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park, "it was only us in the program, and now so many people have joined it, it feels more like a citywide thing, and I'm really happy they're really trying to get more kids involved in the arts."

The all-access pass has also given Jamani a different outlook on arts education: "It just made me step out of my comfort zone and actually speak against the underfunding, and it actually inspired my school to fundraise to raise more money for arts. We just got the 'OK.'" 

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

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United Under an Orange Hue

"Party for Peace" memorial brings together leaders, victims, survivors, family, friends and activists

January 29, 2013, a young student was shot, her life devastatingly cut short: Five years later, Hadiya Pendleton's story remains an important symbol in the movement to end gun violence — National Gun Violence Awareness Day was established June 2, 2015, what would have been Hadiya's 17th birthday.

This year, Moms Demand Action (an affiliate of Everytown for Gun Safety) and the Pendleton Park Advisory Council teamed up to host a "party for peace" at Pendleton Park, (named for Hadiya's in 2015) that also recognized many victims and survivors of gun violence. Hadiya's family; Father Michael Pfleger of The Faith Community of St. Sabina; Illinois gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker; 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell; and Debbie Weir, Moms Demand Action managing director, were all in attendance.

"This park is about being a symbol of hope for our children, where they can come and play and be children, enjoy life, develop a relationship with their parents and with the community," said Alderman Dowell. Children spent the afternoon playing games, dancing, having their faces painted, and eating hot dog, popcorn and ice cream. There was a surprise visit by Chicago Bears mascot Staley Da Bear, and The Jesse White Tumblers and King College Prep marching band (which Hadiya had been a member of) performed.

Orange was Hadiya's favorite color, and after she passed, her family and friends began wearing orange to honor her during her birth month. That small gesture of love was magnified and became Wear Orange, a nationwide movement in the fight against gun violence. According to Megan Kivarkis, a Chicago leader of Moms Demand Action, more than 450 events took place across the country during "Wear Orange" weekend.

"This is our largest event yet," Kivarkis said. "It's important to raise awareness, but [events] also serve as a call to action. Wearing orange is great because it's important to honor the victims and survivors of gun violence, but it also gives people the opportunity to get involved, to take important steps toward real change."

For some attendees, the Wear Orange celebration marked the beginning of a new passion for volunteering and activism. Lisa, a Moms Demand Action volunteer, said she found the local chapter after the Parkland shootings, when she was "feeling particularly frustrated with our gun culture here in America." Davayna, who brought her two children, ages 5 and 8, to the event, noted that "it's important to develop a sense of family within the community, and to be there for the victims and survivors: My kids don't know remember Hadiya's story but I want them to understand it's important to be supportive and care for their neighbors."

Noemi Martinez, a Chicago Survivors crisis responder, explained that gun violence has always been an issue, but the resources to deal with the aftermath haven't always been available. "When my son was murdered 14 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, there were no organizations out here helping anybody or providing any kind of support. I had to survive through family and friends — I learned how to live with it and carry it, and grieving is not easy."

I'm living proof that it does get easy, but it's a process. I'm here to support other families who have lost loved ones. Events like this are so good for emotional support and building new relationships," Martinez added.

"After I lost my brother to gun violence, it was important to me that I stay active in the community and take action in his name," said Isabel, a resident of Little Village who also attended the event. "I want to do everything I can to support and encourage the new wave of young activists. They're fired up and need to be reminded that their voices can have a big impact on the future of senseless gun tragedies in America."

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

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132 Organizations awarded grants for summer and fall programs

David Rojas, the founder of The Alliance 98 will use the $10,000 grant it received from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities to remove barriers to employment for young people of color. The Alliance 98 is one of the 132 organizations that received grants to help reclaim public spaces and build community cohesion.

Rojas and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Program Officer Tawa Mitchell and Chicago Community Trust Program Officer Anna Lee discuss the grants awarded to help reduce gun violence and build bridges between the police and local communities on WGN Radio.

This is a post related to the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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National Die-In Chicago

Student organizer shares her thoughts on the day's event

As an organizer for the Chicago Die-In, a sister demonstration to the National Die-In on the Capitol Lawn, I was so happy to see how many people actually participated — I did not expect so many students to come from all different parts of Chicago, and to see so many adults willing to lie on the ground in solidarity.

We wanted to make a statement about how prevalent and constant this issue of gun violence is not only in Chicago, but in the rest of the country as well. It was important to make our voices heard and to educate passersby. The time is up for our silence: We can no longer wait for someone else to stand up for victims of gun violence and for our lives. Events like these provide us with the perfect opportunity to channel the masses.

Sofia Dekhtyar (@Sofia4Change) is a 2018 graduate of Niles West High School (Skokie, Illinois). She will be attending Loyola University Chicago and hopes to study social work so she can continue focusing on issues such as gun violence. 

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

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Who Are We if We Separate Ourselves from Our Past?

Leon Ford, a motivational speaker, social activist and author of "Untold," recently spoke at Northwestern University. He is also a BMe Public Voices Fellow — BMe is an award-winning network of community builders known nationally for defining people by their positive contributions to society.

I was at a car wash not too far from my home in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, when I heard a man I didn't know call out my name. He was driving a Mercedes, and when he stopped, he wanted to congratulate me on "winning" a settlement on my police brutality case.

I reminded him I hadn't "won" anything; the pain I'd endured, the paralysis I live with daily, was not worth congratulating.

"But you're rich now," he exclaimed, proceeding to rattle off a list of black leaders he thought I should know. I listened politely, but I wasn't particularly interested. He continued to push, then he told me to "stay away from n-----, they always want something!"

Confused, I asked him who and what he meant by that?

He responded: "You know, those fools in Homewood, Garfield, Larimer and East Hills," rattling off Pittsburg-area neighborhoods where black people live, much like I'm sure folks in Chicago often do, since the city is so easily divided by race and residence, as research by The Metropolitan Planning Council shows.

I immediately told him those fools "are the people I love and trust. They're my family and my community."

Until that point, I hadn't realized my new financial circumstances had put me in a different category for people like him. Every week, I hear someone who represents "black excellence" use some form of the same code: "Don't be like them," and much, much worse phrases I hear weekly — it makes me wonder how did black excellence become defined by wealth and materialism, and black struggle associated with shame?

As a black man who has survived an incidence of police brutality that left me in a wheelchair at 19, I understand the power of resilience. I know personally we cannot afford to erase our struggle — from our initial enslavement, to Jim Crow, to the mass incarceration epidemic and quest for education access at every level, mental health treatment and more, any attempt to forget our historical struggle won't erase it from our DNA. Without struggle, there would be no excellence. To truly celebrate who we are, we need to know where we've been and how we got here.

That man represented a vast group of middle-class black people who have embraced a troubling definition of success. Black professionals tend to leave their communities as they climb the ladder, leaving few positive role models for the youth. Andrew Wiese, author of "Places of Their Own" writes: "Between 1960-2000, the number of African-Americans living in suburbs grew by approximately nine million." The common theme of every upward mobility program in urban communities is "I'm trying to get out of the 'hood."

In Langston Hughes' "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain Top," he describes a black middle-class where blackness is rejected, and the ideal is to be as "white" as possible: The book was published in 1926. Almost 90 years later, the black middle-class still seems to subconsciously hate their blackness, as evidenced by the man who wants me to leave my own neighborhood.

To be sure, even black middle-class families are feeling squeezed, especially in cities like Chicago, which is experiencing an exodus. The city has experienced a 28 percent drop in black population, and historic black communities like Englewood, West Englewood and Austin are dealing with violence while managing change.

Great Migration families heading back South.

Black excellence is just as American as the American Dream, and Black struggle, resilience and history are also woven into America's fabric. For African-Americans to truly celebrate our excellence, we need to be honest about our past, wherever we live; we have to acknowledge the political, economic and historical context of the black experience in America, which still carries a legacy of trauma.

There are children counting on our honesty because we are a representation of who they are and could be. Let's show them how we love ourselves.

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

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Pitch for Peace, Prosperity and Promise

Chicago youth present ideas for advancing and protecting the black community

Lisa Beasley, with the Nova Collective corporate learning and communication firm, was calming a team before their pitch.

"It's very scary to talk in front of people. If you start to get nervous and your heart starts beating fast, that's perfectly normal. That's human," she said. "I've been performing for 10 years and my heart still beats fast."

Elijah Jeffries held on to girlfriend Shaniya Washington's purse and phone, and insisted that she have a few nibbles as she concentrated on her pitch ahead of taking the stage.

"I've seen her work so hard," said Jeffries, himself a 17-year-old apparel entrepreneur. "I just told her to have confidence."

The support was overflowing for economic endeavors throughout The Gray Matter Experience 2nd Annual Pitch Black student competition at mHub.

The Gray Matter Experience, a 12-week entrepreneurship program for black high school students, provides resources for young people to start their own businesses and positively impact South and West Side neighborhoods.

Britney Robbins had worked in corporate and moved to a startup before joining a nonprofit that taught students about entrepreneurship; however, she noticed that the organization failed to provide resources to help the students actually launch businesses. In founding The Gray Matter Experience in 2016, she wanted to include a funding element, and to put students in front of black entrepreneurs and business leaders.

"Our goal is to change the face of black and brown entrepreneurship, to make tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem more inclusive and to really give our black kids space to be creative and bring solutions to their communities," Robbins said.

She said that this year, many of the students came to The Gray Matter Experience year with ideas they'd already formulated and just wanted some direction. "They came in with ideas on how to better their communities and they really wanted to bring them to life," she said. "They came in dedicated to bringing solutions. They were very committed to figuring out a way to make it viable."

All teams participating in The Gray Matter Experience get financial stipends for scholarships, internships or seed funding — this year, that covered at least $1,000 per student, along with free branding, marketing and legal services.

The top three companies from the pitch competition will also receive free coworking space at mHub, a tech center for manufacturing.

So while making a profit is important, making a difference also is top of mind. Several participants aimed to keep youth safe and productive, mitigating the violence in some communities. Recruiteen, for example, is an app that uses GPS positioning to address high teen unemployment rates by connecting them with businesses for part-time jobs.

Supported by his mother and younger brother in the audience, both donning logoed t-shirts to match his company's, Jordan Lewis pitched Kids Going Out (KGO) a teen-run event company that provides a safe space for teens to convene. Lewis wasn't even seeking funding but placed second in the pitch competition, won a $1,000 prize and walked away with $20,000 in pledged investments from attendees — Kids Going Out has been running for about a year and said it draws hundreds of attendees per event, which are held in violence-free settings and employ heavy security to ensure the safety of attendees.

This year's 17-student Gray Matter cohort formed six teams, which included Chicago Based, a platform whereby teen entrepreneurs who specialize in beauty and cosmetics, entertainment, arts and food would pay a monthly $9.99 subscription to be profiled on the site, and customers could book services, schedule appointments and buy products through the app.

"It allows teens to put their focus into making money. The main stem of a lot of crime is not having enough resources or feeling like they can't get it, so they'd rather just take it," said Ezekiel Stevens, part of the Chicago Based team that came in third at the competition. "Chicago Based allows you to focus on what you're good at, whether it's customizing shoes or making beats. It allows you to make money and be happy.'

Shaniya Washington, Maya Cooks and Jaleea Henderson touted the idea for the Your Purpose app to link underserved students who need mental health counseling to volunteer counselors. Lameka Hayes and Jakaija Truitt teamed up for Chi-Chic, a custom shop for special occasion dressing that would provide formal wear to underserved students and determine payment based on household income.

Jordan Quinn, a Lindblom Math and Science Academy senior who has a passion for supporting black-owned businesses, envisioned Absolute Black, an online directory and app that connects such enterprises to customers and to each other; he and his team sought $80,000 to launch the business. He came to his idea after watching a documentary about the Greenwood black business district in Tulsa that was destroyed in a race riot — he vowed to support as many black-owned businesses as possible but found only a couple dozen that were mostly restaurants.

He said his Gray Matter Experience put him closer to development and presented him with black business role models. "This allows me to facilitate this dream, as well as help my own community," Quinn said. "It was a no-brainer for me."

In the end, the Food for Thought Aquaponics squad of DeJashana Boyd, McKayla Carruthers and Dartonya Wright took first prize for their idea for a hydroponics (combining fish and plants in a single garden system to feed off of each other) gardening education business.

The project addresses the food deserts in the communities from which all three hail, said Carruthers, who is from West Pullman and attends Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep with Englewood resident Wright; Boyd lives in East Garfield Park and attends Whitney M. Young High School.

"There are 22 food desserts in Chicago, 15 of them in African-American communities," Carruthers said, noting the absence of fresh food choices and a link to conditions such as obesity and diabetes and recalling being a 12-year-old who had to frequently rely on a bag of hot chips from the corner store or gas station for breakfast.

Stacie Robbins showed love to the team vending Lip Locker organic lipsticks. "I'm so proud of you, make millions!" she told the two young ladies whom she didn't know personally but knew that the pair had received $6,000 to launch their business through The Gray Matter Experience…which was founded by her daughter.

"I don't know them, but I know how important it is to Britney," the proud mom said. 

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

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When Art and Activism Collide

Protesters with signs in Ferguson (Jamelle Bouie)

Young people find voice, power and change

The high school generation is galvanizing people worldwide to demand gun reform, and the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of protestors at the March For Our Lives this spring made their leadership clear. Now that the march is over, how can adults who came out for the march continue to support and help build youth power?

As arts educators, we offer one potential answer: To catalyze what's possible, adult writers and artists need to share their tools and platforms with youth.

In our combined 30 years of experience facilitating writing workshops with communities under pressure, we have seen that before people can take action, they must reimagine what's possible. A poem scribbled in a writing workshop becomes human rights testimony before the U.S. Senate. A monologue performed in a tiny community theater leads to a career in documentary film.

If we dedicate arts mentorship time to amplify youth voices, it will radically expand the perspectives heard in our democracy. Artistic practices plant the skills necessary for civic engagement, such as critical thinking, empathy, and using a public voice.

Some have argued Parkland, Florida, students offer prime examples of a creative education paying off. Their fairly wealthy school offered training in drama, creative writing and visual arts that prepared them for this moment by nurturing their courage and self-expression.

Likewise, teens in the Black Lives Matter movement, who have been calling for gun safety for a long time, offer examples of the value of arts—via community-based arts taught by grassroots groups. A recent Youth for Black Lives teach-in in Chicago offered workshops in photography, poetry-as-self-healing, and the study of educational inequity.

Parkland survivors and Youth for Black Lives met to join efforts. Parkland activist Emma Gonzalez wrote in Time, "[w]e stand in solidarity with those who have struggled before us, and we will fight alongside them moving forward to enact change and make life survivable for all young people."

March for Our Lives, March 2018 in Chicago (Spirobolos)

So often the arts are treated as an unnecessary luxury in our education system, and few public schools offer Parkland's array of arts electives. Yet we can't wait for school funding trajectories to change before creative education is accessible. We have resources at hand: community spaces, artists and writers.

The co-founder of Youth for Black Lives, Eva Maria Lewis, 19, was nurtured and mentored through the poetry slams, art, dance. She performed at Chicago's famous Louder than A Bomb youth poetry festival as a teen, and launched "The I Project," which uses art and activism to provide resources for an impoverished elementary school. She also writes for Teen Vogue.

Our intern, Lilli Hime, a 20-year-old poet at St. Edward's University, was nurtured by the Austin, Texas, poetry slam team and her writing professors. She then began hosting literary creative events on her campus, with themes like speaking out against sexual assault. Her desire to make safe space for the voices of others propelled her to found an organization called America I Will to support civic engagement and social justice work among students.

Where are the writers and artists who have time to mentor youth and lead workshops in communities? While many already work with youth (often for free) to contribute to social change, many more are needed. What if the nearly 4,000 people who graduate each year with a master's of fine arts degree in creative writing each reached out to one student? We could begin there.

Arts education alone can't counter all the forces working against our youth, but it can help advance a movement. And while offering opportunities to students, it will also change the adults who work with them. Because if we are committed to having a reciprocal relationship with young people, ready to honor, listen and truly hear, we will transform our own lives as well.

The epidemic of gun violence has brought people to the streets to demand change. It has also offered us powerful young activists like Eva Marie Lewis and Emma Gonzalez, whose powerful speech at the Washington march has gone viral.

Yet we know there are thousands more like Lewis and Gonzalez out there, smart and visionary youth who want to build a better world than the one they inherited. They deserve our support — at their marches and in the offices of our legislators. And also at their afterschool programs, open mics, community centers and face-to-face at a shared table.

For more information about free Clemente Courses in the Chicago area, look here.

Abe Louise Young is a poet and educator who leads story-based social change workshops for advocacy groups nationwide. Vivé Griffith, a Public Voices Fellow, is an essayist and former director of Free Minds, a program offering free college humanities classes to low-income adults.

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

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Love in Lawndale

2018 Safe & Peaceful Chicago grantee Chi-Rise held a "Love in Lawndale" block party; executive director Messiah Equiano offers his reflections on the event.

"We worked with the 7th and 8th grade students of Lawndale Community Academy to produce the event — they assisted us in planning and executing, and the event was a tremendous success!"

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

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Overshadowed Summer

 Source: The Chicago Tribune

For too many in Chicago, the recognized start of summer, Memorial Day Weekend, brings concern rather than celebration.But organizations like The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago are not cowering in the face of challenge — the organization is poised to hold an all-day youth basketball tournament Saturday that aims to be "an oasis for young people." 

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

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Peace Gardens Grow

As spring brings green, a back-to-back Safe & Peaceful Communities grantee illustrates all that can bloom from one planted seed

Each Saturday, 15-20 kids showed up, ready to learn, play and get their hands dirty…

● "Beeology 101" taught them about how important bees are to the economy and ecology

● They imagined having fairies and pirates living in the small gardens they crafted

● During their recycling lessons they made wind chimes from tin cans

They came ready to create.

Located in South Shore, there is a sanctuary, a safe haven for its residents: South Merrill Community Garden. Thanks to a Safe and Peaceful Communities grant, the garden promoted education and healthy eating in summer 2017.

One of the most popular activities was the cooking class taught by chef Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel, co-owner of vegan soul food restaurant Majani, also in South Shore.He'd done demonstrations with and for kids before, so he had a sense what vegan dishes they'd find appealing; Emmanuel chose pizza because the kids were able to get the ingredients—basil, tomatoes, broccoli and peppers—right from garden.

"I think getting the kids involved in the (farm-to-table) process helps, it at least makes them curious," says Emmanuel, whose veganism is rooted in his childhood culture and experiences. "They were more willing to (eat) once they saw it looked like a regular pizza, and that they made it."

Natalie Perkins, who serves as the education coordinator for South Merrill Garden, noted that the core group of children showed up for the community garden classes consistently. "They liked feeling that they could do something in their community where they were safe and could have fun at the same time," she says.

The blossoming of the grantees' 2017 vision came forth on the last day of summer programming, when the two collaborated with the South Merrill Block Club Association to hold a party, something that hadn't been done in 20 years. The gathering featured a bike giveaway and a bike rodeo, where the kids taught each other how to ride. Perkins was touched by the vision, it made her really happy.

The South Merrill garden was also awarded a 2018 Safe and Peaceful Community grant. Based on a survey of what programs the children liked most last year, they're planning to have more cooking classes, and they also intend to implement a Young Growers program, where kids will learn about water irrigation, go to an urban farm and have conversations with chef Emmanuel about the restaurant industry.

Perkins believes that their contributions have led to more positive activity around the garden, reinforcing its place as a safe haven for both parents and kids alike. The parents stayed and did activities with their children, which promoted togetherness and community unity.

"Just because you come from a neighborhood like South Shore doesn't mean everything is bad all the time. You have to know that people in your very own community, and you too, can do something to make a better community; we just illustrated the things our block can do," she says.

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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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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