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From Exception to Norm

Chasing23's Darius Ballinger writes about how he's channeling pain to elevate potential

I went through a lot growing up, had real pain: When I was five, my father died from a seizure; I'm the oldest of two, raised by a single mother. I spent most of my adolescent years in West Pullman. I didn't see black men do anything other than be entertainers, athletes or criminals. There were men who worked regular jobs and did for their families, but you didn't see them often. My view of life as a black boy in Chicago was sports, music and crime— my male family members were engaged in criminal behavior, and I looked up to them as a my father figures; as a young boy, I couldn't understand and didn't experience trap or drill music as separate from my reality because it reflected my reality. And life got real, real challenging…I was a high school dropout, expelled from two CPS high schools; I became a teenage father; I lost three friends to street violence; and I was a convicted felon, on the verge of giving up on life.

My homie — Wayne "Chase" Marion Drummer — always inspired me to think beyond my present struggles. Like all kids, I wanted to be somebody, do something; I believed that I could be an entrepreneur, be prosperous, be happy…and as I got older that dream was fading away. But he affirmed my dream, let me dream even when my mistakes and struggles made me doubt myself.

Then Wayne was fatally stabbed at the age of 23. He was gone.

I founded Chasing23 in the wake of his tragic loss. I may be uniquely positioned to do the work of bringing peace to communities because I was once part of the destruction of communities, but this work will take more than just me. I think it's funny when people attribute the word "activist" to me; no doubt that activism is necessary, and in my mind, those are the folks who demand that institutions, that society, fix the wrongs of our communities, while I'm more concerned with building communal infrastructure that protects, promotes and creates positivity. Then, when we have that communal infrastructure, we can protest together, and when society says "no" we, together, can say, "YES!" Every resident of these communities plagued with gun violence, poverty and deficit, they are the solution, they can bring peace — I'm just one individual who's overcoming insurmountable odds, with the No. 1 goal of inspiring and believing that others can to do the same. Peace will take all of us, and I hope the possibility for change can start with me.

Change is not an easy thing, especially when our culture suffers from generational trauma. It's a constant struggle to make your voice heard when people — conservative, wealthy, educated, religious, whatever — have ignored or degraded you for so long. And then you must constantly humble yourself when helping other brothers and sisters overcome the challenges we face. When Chasing23 youth managers make follow-up calls, home visits and school visits, we have to remember how fragile things are, how volatile things can become. Leading in the midst of this requires a great sense of humility and responsibility, we must bring that to the work we do daily.

That's part of why I started Chasing23 as a nonprofit; I definitely didn't have tons of money I could dump in to it, but it also isn't about having it survive only on philanthropic dollars, either. I just knew that I wasn't going to make a for-profit venture off the passing of my friend, and I had to keep the spirit of what inspired me.

That means Chasing23 is for the world to embrace, and that can be hard. All my life I wanted to start something (that's what I would talk to Wayne about), but I didn't know that I wouldn't "own" the first thing I built, and worst case scenario, that I can be voted out by the board! But the mission is bigger than profits, and if any at time I act in a manner that doesn't benefit the organization, then I deserve to go: It's about saving lives and developing the next generation of men, families, and communities.

I recently hosted my second Chicago Community Trust On The Table event, focused on improving life outcomes for black boys and helping them live to their full potential despite their circumstances. It was inspiring to see people come out, to know that I wasn't the only person who truly cares: I'm only one man, but there are thousands of black boys who need help. Just before On The Table I'd attended the BME Genius Conference in Washington D.C., a gathering of black males from across America; it was an inspiring and affirming event, and one major insight I took away from the meeting was that philanthropies and organizations must use an asset framework when providing direct services and reaching out to communities. Put another way, people should be defined by their aspirations, not solely by their circumstances, and given my story,that really resonated with me.

And meeting President Obama in 2017 also was a great experience, something I'll be able to tell my sons about when they get older.

On the Table is about listening. I heard from these young men that they love one another. They love their families. This emotional connection is forming a shield that is, at the moment, protecting them from a hostile world. There is an enormous amount of emotional pressure on these (if not all) young men; for example, the young men who participated in the Chasing23 On The Table talked about the pressure to NOT be a "goofy,” someone who's bullied or intimidated. They talked about being disrespected by teachers to the point that they want to lash out; specifically, one young man wanted to punch his physics teacher, but he didn’t…again, this is a black male teenager taking PHYSICS, and a teacher is provoking a reaction from him. And if he had hit the teacher, everyone would focus on the young person’s reaction instead of thinking about what the teacher may have done to make HIM feel bullied, put down, unsafe. Thankfully, the young man had the opportunity to decompress with Darius and the group about how he felt in that moment — we need to support Darius and these young men, but we also need to create a world that sees them as young men who love, who think, who dream. Darius is a clearly the type of "rocket" we need in our community; his own personal journey propelled him to be at the center of a group of boys and young men who need the ear of someone who's been where they are. The discussion is not possible without Darius.

—Daniel Ash, Chief Marketing Officer, The Chicago Community Trust

My platform isn't about me. It's about writing a new narrative for black boys in America. My story of redemption is one that I hope inspires other young brothers who face adversity and gives them confidence that they can overcome what we're dealing with here in Chicago — our challenges are rooted in a history of segregation and corruption, I think that feeds the violence; local residents like myself are doing work to heal and build communities, but we're fighting against large systemic forces that overshadow the good work that happens on the ground, AND we're fighting in our communities. But Chicago is a global city, and what happens here can have an impact on the country and globe at-large: We're making progress daily, and that's what we need to hear about more.

For now, I may be an exception: In the future, I hope to be the norm.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace and Street Outreach, Support Services and Jobs strategies of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Two Chicago Organizations Soothe the Pain of Loss on a Celebrated Holiday

Source: Chicago Tribune

The Saturday before Mother's Day, for three years running, Tamar Manasseh has thrown a party. It's on the corner of 75th Street and Stewart Avenue in Englewood. There's a band. There's a DJ. There's a photo booth. There's a whole lot of food.

Manasseh is the founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Killings, a 3-year-old group that sits watch and builds community in one of Chicago's most violence-plagued neighborhoods — the neighborhood where Manasseh grew up. Volunteers gather in lawn chairs, talk, listen to music and serve as a block club of sorts. They're out daily in the summer, and they take the fall, winter and spring months off. The Mother's Day party is a bit of a "We're back," as well as a chance to honor moms on a holiday that, for many, is tinged by grief and loss.

This year, in addition to music and photos and food and friendship, there will be flowers.

Flowers for Dreams, a West Loop-based florist that donates 25 percent of its profits to a different charity each month, selected M.A.S.K. as its May charity.

"It made sense to really put them on a pedestal in May," Flowers for Dreams co-founder and CEO Steven Dyme told me.

But here's the really beautiful part. Also for May, Dyme's shop offered customers a chance to buy a $15 bouquet to donate to a mom who has lost a child to gun violence, which Flowers for Dreams staffers will hand-deliver to Saturday's party.

"It's a chance to send a bouquet to a mother who may not have someone to send her flowers," Dyme said. "I don't want to overstate our impact. I'm sure it's very little. But I think what flowers do really well is let you know someone cares. Some of the moms may not be getting a lot of those signs on a regular basis, so I think it's kind of cool that we can let them know someone in the community cares."

The bouquets, 80 of them, sold out in four hours. 

Read the full story.

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

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Guardians of Garfield Park

A couple finds divine purpose in serving and safeguarding the children in their neighborhood

Victoria and Daniel Allen have a classic love story: 25 years ago they met in church as young adults, became best friends, got married and grew their family. But their desire to build a loving home for children didn't stop at their doorstep — it extended to their Garfield Park community, where for the past 18 years, they've led Divine Purpose Youth Performing Arts Center (DPYPAC), a 501c3 organization.

DPYPAC's mission is to support young people who have dreams related to the arts, dance and music; the organization positions participants to realize those dreams through academic tutoring and character-building education that emphasizes strong relationships with peers and family. The Allens are unique because they tap into the students' creativity and energy to shape DPYPAC offerings; being connected to children lives in their souls.

"I've always had a passion for children, even when I was a child. I always brought kids home, combed hair and gave away clothes, doing anything that I could do to try to help someone else. My husband has such a big heart for youth, too, and so we just shared our dreams and our ideas," Victoria says. "When it came to forming DPYPAC, he said we need to go for it."

Each weekday during the school year, DPYPAC picks up 45-50 students from five elementary schools, provides snacks, and then sends the kids to performing arts classes or helps with their homework. Older students receive support, too. Three days a week, Daniel Allen, a music teacher and Chicago Police Department 11th District sergeant, manages Beyond Rhythm and Rhyme, an initiative for boys (14–18 years old) established through After School Matters. It taps into the teens' interest in rapping and affords Daniel a platform to talk with them about their broader dreams and goals.

Other weekdays, DPYPAC is running Safe Haven After School Program, where enrollees play video games, or write and listen to music in a studio, letting the teens interface with the recording equipment and learn engineering skills

"We just let them 'do them.' If it's going to keep them safe and off the street, it's no problem," Victoria says.

Nestled in a Garfield Park building (shared with two other nonprofits: United for Better Living, who collaborates with DPYPAC to run the Safe Haven After School Program, and Fathers Who Care), DPYPAC is in its 10th year of year-round programming. It recently opened summer camp registration, giving working parents five weeks of daylong, structured and engaging activities for $150 per child — Victoria acknowledges that the rate is well below market yet affirms that DPYPAC intentionally set it to be as affordable as possible for Garfield Park families.

"(This is) one of the best jobs that I've ever had, but the hardest job (too). It's such a struggle financially, sometimes you just want to throw your hands up and say, 'Lord, I tried,'" Victoria confides."But then, when I look back at them (the children), I keep fighting. I keep going when I see them come through the doors and (receive) the little hugs, all that. I say, 'OK, God, something has got to happen.'"

May 5th, something is happening: The organization will host a pre-Mother's Day fashion show and luncheon fundraiser : open to the public, $15 donation, and guests will see DPYPAC youth perform, model and dance with their moms.

"We started off doing this at the local park, before we moved to our own facility — we have young people who are now college students, married and have children," Victoria triumphs."I must say that it's just a blessing to see all of these young people doing well: working, taking care of families…it's good to see that we had a big part in that."

For tickets to the Mother's Day event, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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

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Education That is Far from Elementary

CPS students primed to channel their tragedies into activism and advocacy 

Thousands of students across the country participated in the National School Walkout to demand stricter laws against gun violence; for students at Henderson Elementary in West Englewood, this marked their third walkout.

Henderson's peace marches are born from pain that hit too close to home — within the last three years, the school has seen three of its students die from gun violence. So when Henderson students march, they walk down the very streets where fellow classmates lost their lives.

"We've had a shooting or homicide every day for the last 37 months," said Dion McGill, a program manager at the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence."[The April 20 march] This one is the first one that actually isn't in direct response to the killing of a student."

About 60 students, teachers, and parents participated in the march. As they walked down the streets carrying symbols of peace, such as cardboard doves, and signs that commemorated those who passed away, neighbors stepped outside to cheer on the marchers and join in their "increase the peace" chant.

"When we began to have murders with our kids and shootings here [on the school's grounds], it became really important to teach the kids about activism and advocacy," said Ylonda Ware, a Henderson counselor for nine years who organized the peace march. "I think it raises their awareness, that there is something that they can do and that people will come out and be a part of their movement and listen." 

"It's helpful for them to see what's happening in the news as it relates to handgun violence; it's helpful for them to learn about the root causes of violence and how it impacts them and their community and their future," Ware continued. "[Marching] This is one of the ways you can raise awareness and get the alderman, the state representative, and the police department to come out and listen to what you have to say, to hold your elected officials accountable."

15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez attended the April 20th march. He's been connected to Henderson's marches since their inception and hopes that the students can see peaceful activism as a way out of the cycle of violence.

"The only way to truly break that cycle is to go to the source of where that next cycle starts, and that's the children," Lopez said. "These marches are student-driven and organized in-house; this helps embolden them to go home and say, 'Violence is not an option for us,' there's something more that we need to live for — if we can have them embrace a new direction, it will have a lasting impact on changing that cycle."

"I tell students that activism is an ongoing process: Nothing is stagnant, it's something we have to do," McGill emphasized.

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

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Young But Mighty

"Where I Stand" teens have a clear vision of safety, security and opportunity in Chicago

When it comes to peace and justice, are you a burner or a builder?

For 21 Chicago teens who met at Uptown's Institute of Cultural Affairs (USA), it boiled down to constructively burning down barriers and building new relationships, emphasizing ways and means for families, schools and communities to do better.

The occasion for such deep thought was the Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab Youth Lock-In, "Where I Stand." April 13–15, multiethnic adolescents hailing from Englewood, Little Village, Bronzeville and Uptown met in solidarity to talk about their roles in addressing myriad issues: gun violence, a perceived lack of support for public education, and development (for example, what Chicago communities get to benefit from new technology, jobs, etc.)

"They talked about the 95th Street Red Line expansion and how it will create job opportunities, but also may displace people," said Jhmira Alexander, a South Shore consultant who attended Where I Stand and shared social media strategies to help the participants amplify their causes. "They know a lot about gentrification and are concerned that it could happen here, and they don't want families to feel pushed out of the city."

"They expressed their ideas clearly and with great understanding," Alexander added, noting that while young, the group knew the power of its values and voices.

The burner/builder concept was born during a session with Olatunji Oboi Reed, head of Equiticity, which focuses on racial equity and justice through increased mobility. Following the #Enough National School Walkout (March 14) and The March for Our Lives (March 24), Where I Stand teens are eager to be included and highlighted in discussions that affect them where they are; "they wanted to be involved 'in' and not dictated 'to'," Alexander said.

Yet Journey Jamison, 16, knows that being young and taking on the responsibility that comes from caring about your community can be challenging — she is active in Ujima Medics, which trains community members to respond to emergencies. So she highlighted the necessity of self-care in her Where I Stand conversations.

"You have to make sure you're good because you cannot be giving from no empty well," said Journey, a street medic who has learned how to control crowds, and what to do before police and paramedics arrive. With her training she has actually saved a life; Journey was profiled by WBEZ and on and , and she received a Twitter shout from actress Alyssa Milano.

Journey continued: "You have to understand what you want because if you are trying to help everyone, and not replenishing, you're going to be stale and mean by the time you're 25."

In discussing how they might leverage social media for causes and hot-button issues, Alexander challenged the teens to develop a framework for a messaging campaign that they plan to use for a Facebook sustainability campaign: "They gave me the tone of voice to help them make their case," she said.

"They're looking at themselves as a constituency within the city. They're positioning themselves as a group of youth thought leaders in Chicago." 

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

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RFP seeks safe, peaceful programming ideas from Chicago communities

RFP seeks safe, peaceful programming ideas from Chicago communities


Nonprofit organizations and engaged residents are invited to apply for grants of up to $10,000 to support summer and early fall violence prevention programs

The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities ("the Fund") opens its 2018 grant application period on Thursday, March 15, calling for proposals from organizations to develop programming in one or more of 19 prioritized Chicago communities. Nonprofit organizations, that are formally or informally organized, must have annual operating budgets of no more than $500,000.

Grant applicants can apply for awards ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, to fund programming such as educational events, youth activities, resident leader stipends, recreational activities, residential block parties, public performances and street festivals. The application process is straightforward and grants will be awarded before Memorial Day, reflecting a rapid-response process intended to support grassroots organizations that are working with keep communities safe. The total funding pool is $850,000.

The Fund will host free, in-person sessions to review the application process and answer questions. Sessions are scheduled starting the week of March 19 at Chicago Public Library sites. Visit for details. Applicants are not required to attend a review session. Accommodations for people with special needs will be provided upon request.

The application deadline is April 17, 2018. Grant awards will be announced in mid-May, and all activities related to the grants must be completed by October 31, 2018.

Applications must be submitted online via the Grants Central portal; go to to begin. Funded programs must be held in the 19 Chicago communities prioritized for support based on data compiled by the University of Chicago Crime Lab for the highest number and rate of homicides: 

Austin, Auburn Gresham, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, West Englewood, Gage Park, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Greater Grand Crossing, Humboldt Park, Lower West Side (Pilsen), New City (Back of the Yards), North Lawndale, Roseland, South Chicago, South Lawndale (Little Village), South Shore and Washington Park.

To qualify, organizations must have 501(c)3 nonprofit status or partner with an organization that has that status,and an annual operating budget of no more than $500,000.

The Fund was launched in 2016 by the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a coalition of more than 30 Chicago funders and foundations aligning their funding to support proven and promising urgent responses to reducing violence in the next two to three years. The Fund supports grassroots organizations to sponsor events and projects in Chicago's neighborhoods that build community cohesion and promote safety and peace. In 2017, 120 organizations received funding.

Interviews are available with:
Deborah E. Bennett, Advisory Committee Chairperson and a Senior Program Officer at the Polk Bros. Foundation
Anna Lee, Program Officer at the Chicago Community Trust
Marsha Eaglin, 2017 grant recipient and Executive Director of the Impact Family Center in Chicago's Roseland community


Monday, March 19: Legler Branch
1:00 PM – 2:30 PM session time

Tuesday, March 20: Sherman Branch
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM session time

Wednesday, March 21: Thurgood Marshall Branch
12:30 PM – 2:00 PM session time

Saturday, March 24: Little Village Branch
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM session time

Wednesday, March 28: Woodson Regional Library
6 - 7:30pm session time

To attend a session, register by clicking here.

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

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Chicagoans Crowding Out Violence at Block Level

Chicagoans like Natalie Perkins spent last summer building community cohesion and promoting safety and peace on Chicago's South Side. As education coordinator for South Merrill Community Garden, she helped run an entire summer of Saturday activities for neighborhood kids called Planting and Playing Summer Garden Arts. The effort was one of 120 projects funded by the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, which offers rapid-response grant opportunities to support community-based actions and activities that make neighborhoods safer.

Curbed Chicago's Patrick Sisson reports how community gardens and block associations are helping stem Chicago's gun violence.

Community gardens, and other neighborhood-level organizations like block clubs and arts groups, aren't typically viewed as direct solutions to violence. Decades of "broken window" policing persuaded many cities to adopt top-down crime-prevention plans focused on punishing small offenses (recent research, however, indicates that this strategy had the opposite effect).

Instead, a growing body of evidence suggests that community groups have actually played an outsized, and under-recognized, role in the significant decline in urban crime across the United States and that programs that benefit local, bottom-up urban organizing may be the solution.

According to a recent study by New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey, these groups were "fundamental" to the massive nationwide drops in crime over the last 25 years (the national homicide rate, for example, shrunk by 50 percent between 1990 and 2015). His work even determined a formula for their impact: Every 10 additional organizations in a city with more than 100,000 residents creates a 6 percent drop in violent crime, and a 9 percent drop in homicides.

In line with the growing consensus, the [Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities'] work is swift and strategic; it's community action at the street level. Over the last two years, a coalition of 30 charities and foundations pledged more than $1 million to underwrite small, community-oriented grants between $1,000 and $10,000, part of a $30 million investment in strategies to reduce gun violence.

The grants will support temporary programming and events to increase neighborhood unity and safety in under-resourced Chicago neighborhoods, like Englewood, Auburn Gresham, and Austin, located on the city's majority-black South and West sides. The funds also empower local actors already working in their communities, doing away with long vetting processes required by some nonprofits and one-size-fits-all solutions.

Read the full article.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace and Street Outreach, Support Services and Jobs strategies of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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As shootings and homicides drop in Englewood, a new optimism grows

Chicagoans are stepping up to meet the challenge of our city's gun violence crisis. They are hosting block parties, engaging in police reform, conducting street outreach, and more. The Chicago Tribune reports that optimism is growing in Englewood. A variety of urgent responses is helping transform the neighborhood, which has long been synonymous with violence and is now leading the city in declines in shootings and homicides.

The Tribune's Annie Sweeney explores this transformation and what led to it in an article, "As shootings and homicides drop in Englewood, a new optimism grows."

You can see the change in Englewood in the raw numbers. You can hear about it from the Chicago police commander here, a neighborhood gas station owner or a community leader.

But if you want to feel the difference, stand in the neatly trimmed grass at 66th and Union with longtime resident Asiaha Butler, who will show you how Englewood is already a safer place for her to live.

"It's absolutely quieter," said Butler, who this summer converted a vacant lot on her block to a community space. "I never walked around in a fearful state, thinking I was going to be shot, but it's a really great energy now. A great mix of active people. That is what I feel when I am in the community."

Violence in the Englewood police district has dropped dramatically in 2017, with shootings falling 44 percent and homicides down 45 percent over 2016.

It's only one year, experts, cops and even residents caution.

But it's happening here in Englewood, a neighborhood whose name has long been synonymous with violence, gang warfare, poverty and despair.

Read the full article.

This is a story about the Promote Community Safety and Peace and Street Outreach and Violence Interruption strategies of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Margaret's Village Block Party Builds Strong Sense of Community

 By Kimberly Rudd, a writer with Rudd Resources

This is an excerpt of a post from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities blog.

Margaret's Village Development Director Geri Kerger paused to catch her breath. She had been in the midst of describing the activities – the many, many activities – that comprised her organization's September Safe and Peaceful Chicago block party, and the list had become so long that she needed to take a moment to fill her lungs with fresh air to continue.

"Alderman Roderick Sawyer opened the event, and representatives from the Mayor's Office and State Senator Jacqueline Collins' office addressed the crowd of more than 150," she began. "Activist Andrew Holmes gathered the children around and gave a compassionate demonstration on staying safe walking to school. Chauncey Harrison from Teamwork Englewood, a frequent collaborator with Margaret's Village, presented information on the advocacy his group offers." She went on, mentioning the involvement of the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, the Jesse White Tumblers and others.

For Margaret's Village, a full-service social agency in the city's Englewood community, days like this don't happen often. While the agency has planned health fairs for some 15 years, it had never before hosted an event centered on the subject of peace. The grant from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities made it possible.

"We want people to re-think what's normal. Nonviolence is normal," says Kerger.

Read the full post.

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

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How Art Built Bridges Between Police and Community

By Cassaundra Sampson, a writer with Rudd Resources

This is an excerpt of a post from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities blog.

For 45 years, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center has provided Afro-Latin arts and culture to a neighborhood surrounded by gang activity and crime. In 2017, Executive Director Omar Torres applied for a grant from the Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities to extend the stay of artists in residence through the MacArthur International Connections program, Y No Había Luz, a leading masks and theater group from Puerto Rico.

"We got amazing news late that May that we were getting this grant, so we extended the stay of these professional artists to a point that they could present at the Puerto Rican parade," says Torres.

In addition to a summer filled with puppet-making workshops for the community hosted by Y No Había Luz, the extension also fostered a partnership with the 25th district of the Chicago Police Department. The collaboration included a series of meetings between the center and the district's community relations staff. Officers even participated in the puppet-making workshops.

"This gave me an opportunity to meet the police and have them get involved.They really didn't know what we were doing so that was really awesome, and they're always looking for activities for the youth and they were unaware of how much we were doing," says Omar Torres, Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center.

Read the full post.

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

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The Unsung Role That Ordinary Citizens Played in the Great Crime Decline

Local nonprofit groups that respond to violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men have a real effect on the crime rate, says Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University. His new research suggests that people in communities where violence plummeted the most were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves. It is the focus of Emily Badger's recent New York Times article, The Unsung Role That Ordinary Citizens Played in the Great Crime Decline.

Most theories for the great crime decline that swept across nearly every major American city over the last 25 years have focused on the would-be criminals.

Their lives changed in many ways starting in the 1990s: Strict new policing tactics kept closer watch on them. Mass incarceration locked them up in growing numbers. The crack epidemic that ensnared many began to recede. Even the more unorthodox theories — around the rise of abortion, the reduction in lead or the spread of A.D.H.D. medication — have argued that larger shifts in society altered the behavior (and existence) of potential criminals.

But none of these explanations have paid much attention to the communities where violence plummeted the most. New research suggests that people there were working hard, with little credit, to address the problem themselves.

Local nonprofit groups that responded to the violence by cleaning streets, building playgrounds, mentoring children and employing young men had a real effect on the crime rate. That's what Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, argues in a new study and a forthcoming book. Mr. Sharkey doesn't contend that community groups alone drove the national decline in crime, but rather that their impact is a major missing piece.

"This was a part that has been completely overlooked and ignored in national debates over the crime drop," he said. "But I think it's fundamental to what happened."

Read the full article.

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

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Mentor Teacher Brother

By Raquel Venado, a writer with Rudd Resources

This is an excerpt of a post from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities blog.

Mentor Teacher Brother is an organization with a clear motto: Leaders of Today Working to Preserve a Better Tomorrow. Located in the West Pullman neighborhood, its goal is to create defining moments for at-risk high school students and help them find their way to college.

Thanks to funds they received from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the organization was able to extend its services through the summer months with its "Summer Enrichment Camp." The 12-week camp was filled with group activities and field trips for 25 young men.

Mentor Teacher Brother Executive Director LaMont Taylor says that one of the most exciting activities was the "Black and Blue Conversation." In this event, the students met Chicago Police Department District 5 officers for an open dialogue. Taylor says the event allowed both parties to see things from the other's perspective and find things in common.

"They understood that at the end of the day, everybody just wants to go home and be safe," Taylor says, adding that the conversation allowed kids and the organization to create a relationship with the police officers. "It´s an opportunity to see that they can affect change by being part of the solution."

Read the full post.

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

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Apprenticeship Program Engaged Teens to Repair and Give Away Hundreds of Bikes this Summer

This is an excerpt of a post from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities blog.

The big warehouse at 24th and Western could easily go unnoticed in the Pilsen neighborhood; there is no dominant signage, no colorful mural and no sweeping awning on the former furniture warehouse. Instead, like a great book with a mediocre cover, the good stuff is within this building's plain façade: thousands of bicycles and parts, and hundreds of helmets and locks, handled by scores of mechanics and volunteers. This is Working Bikes, a Chicago nonprofit organization that "rescues" and refurbishes old and unwanted bicycles, and gives them new life as vehicles for transportation, enjoyment and economic sustainability for people across Chicago and the world.

Paul Fitzgerald is the operations manager for Working Bikes, and it's his job, among many duties, to look for funding to support the expansion of programs. Fitzgerald applied for a grant from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities to launch a summer apprentice program for Chicago teens. "I'm a lifelong Chicagoan and south sider who feels strongly that our global mission is important but we (also) need to be service oriented and engage with young people as best we can," he said.

Working Bikes received a grant from the Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, and Fitzgerald was able to hire eight young adults from the Little Village, North Lawndale, South Shore, Roseland and Brighton Park communities. Each apprentice each worked 24 hours a week repairing bikes and distributing them at community events; funding allowed four apprentices to extend their work with additional hours, said Fitzgerald, and "a few are still coming back as volunteers" this fall.

Read the full post.

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

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Pilsen Peace March

 Safe and Peaceful Communities grantee, Mujeres Latinas en Accion, hosted a peace march in Pilsen in response to the recent shootings in their community. Over 100 participants joined the march to show their solidarity for peace. They marched from Mujeres Latinas office on 2124 W 21st Pl to the Boys and Girls Club on 2157 W 19th St. Along the way they stopped at parks and community organizations that support peace and gave speeches about their experience.

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Dance Makers are Peace Makers

As part of the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, Dancing with Class will facilitate "Dancemakers are Peacemakers" workshops at 20 schools or community sites this summer and early fall.

These workshops provide a platform for participants to develop self-confidence, relationship skills and social awareness through a group dance activity. Participants will learn a collaborative circular dance form that requires engaging in basic moves with all other participants as partners. The steps taught will be based on patterns from popular urban social dances of the past and present (examples: salsa/bachata, chicago steppin'/freestyle). 

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One Corner at a Time

Tamar Manasseh and a group of volunteers put on hot-pink T-shirts, got their lawn chairs, some hots dogs, went to the corner of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue and cooked dinner. That is how Manasseh, the founder and president of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), reclaimed one of the most violent corners in Chicago. After three summers on the block, violent crime and gun-related incidents in that census tract have declined dramatically, Manasseh writes in compelling op-ed.

"Every single day in the summer, especially on weekends, we sit in lawn chairs on the corner of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue in Englewood, one of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. Each day, volunteers cook dinner for 75 or so neighborhood kids, who range from infants to teenagers.

I give them chalk so that they can create their masterpieces on the sidewalks, scold them when they fight over the blue and orange foam football, and take great pains to make sure that the child with the racing strip down the center of his head doesn't sneak a morsel from the treats the other kids patiently line up to get, because he can't eat sugar.

These children are now my children, too. For the past three years, the volunteers in an organization I founded, Mothers Against Senseless Killings, have made it our mission to give them their childhoods back — the kind of carefree childhoods so many people in our generation had but too many children in poor neighborhoods are denied.

What we do is simple. We sit on the corners and watch over the children in the neighborhood. My two children always behaved better when an adult had eyes on them. So I thought this would work for the other kids here, too.

This is not exactly an avant-garde idea. I learned it from my mom, who learned it from hers, and so on, back until what I would imagine was the dawn of time. This has always been the role of the black mother in the community. We watch the kids. All of them. This is that "village" that we hear so much about but that has somehow been forgotten. All I've done is try to revive its spirit."

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

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A March for Peace in Pilsen

On Saturday, September 23rd, over 100 people gathered at the headquarters of Mujeres Latinas En Acción (MLA) for the Pilsen Peace March. Men, women, and youth marched in solidarity to promote peace and nonviolence for teens. Upon arrival, individuals gathered in the basement where they greeted their fellow participants and continued to prep for the day's events. The march began at MLA's headquarters and ended at the Union League Boys and Girls Club, making a few stops along the way. At each stop, a representative from a local community organization showed their support with words of encouragement. For Martiza Rocha, Director of Youth Services at Mujeres Latinas, letting the youth know that they have support in and around their community was very important, "I want to make sure that these kids are aware that they have allies and they have a support system behind them."

Walking through the community, some residents came out to see who the voices were ringing for peace outside their doors. Others joined in, chanting along with calls for nonviolence. Reaching the community and becoming more visible was another goal for the march. Gabriella Fuentes, a Youth Program Advocate, said there was a desire to let the people know that there are "community members who are actively trying to raise awareness and doing the work behind it. We had a lot of residents come out of their houses today to observe the march and ask us about it." This support continued throughout, as drivers waved and honked their horns as we passed. On several occasions people joined in the march, walking alongside us until we reached our final destination.

The planning of the event took input from adults and youth. With a Youth Committee in place, preparation for the march included more than just meetings; there were also in-depth conversations and training involved. They wanted youth to have healthy and informed discussions about violence, more specifically where and how it starts:

"Having them understand, why gun violence happens. So that they know there's some content to it. It's not just our community. There's so much more to it. It's about access; it's about resources. It's about, oppression, it's about so much more than we see in the news. I want students to see how multifaceted gun violence is."--Gabriella Fuentes.

Each week, the committee would meet and engage in a variety of learning activities. To prepare, they read articles, watched short films, conducted research and shared their findings. Through this work, the youth took time to learn from one another as well. Giselle Rico, a High School sophomore and Youth Committee member, said that plans and conversations are starting about the next peace march. She, along with her other cohorts, hope that the march will open the doors for more youth to participate and join their movement, "We might have another march. We could bring more kids, more youth so that they have the option to go to a program instead of into violence because the youth are the future. And if youth are invited, the violence won't go on. They can come to our program and help stop the violence."

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Introducing Kufi Club


"I wear the Kufi Hat a lot. One day a 6-year-old kid asked me 'Man, what's that your wearing on your head?' I explained to him what it was, he was like how can I get one?' I said well you gotta join the club, because when you wear this crown, this Kufi, you have to carry yourself with self-pride, self-dignity, and self-respect."

David Mohammed, a teacher on the Westside, launched The Kufi Club in May 2015.He started the club because something was missing within the African-American community, "The Kufi Club is filling a huge void in programming of African-American children when it comes to teaching them, thoroughly about their African and Black heritage."

The Kufi club operates under a model based on traditional African principles and morals, with the Kufi, or "crown" representing a successful understanding of that knowledge. With each lesson learned, participants receive a different color Kufi to represent their progression in the program.

This summer the Kufi Club found a more permanent home by repurposing an old grocery store, in Chicago's Roseland community, near the corner of 122nd and Michigan. The block is lined with other residents as well, including a barbershop and several clothing stores.

The rehab of the location took about 3 to 4 weeks, as construction workers transformed the space, removing shelves, installing laminate flooring, adding carpet and painting the walls ivory. Panels of red, black and green were also incorporated into the design to represent the African American Flag.

On August 26th, the grand opening of the new location brought in current club members, but it also caught the attention of many Roseland Community members. "We talked about some things that were going on in the community and got feedback from residents of the community, and they expressed their support," said Mr. Mohammed.

There are a few more updates in the works for the KUFI club's new home as they recruit their next cohort of youth. Programs and other events are expected to begin this month. The Kufi club is also a resource for adults. Parent engagement is a desired aspect of the club as their involvement also aids in their efforts to improve the community.

As Mohammed put it, "I saw this as an opportunity for me to acquire this place and establish a base in the Roseland community to grow and develop our programs and make a difference."

The generous donations from the Safe and Peaceful Communities program helped David and the Kufi Club provide a safe space for Southside children all summer long.

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The Road to Peace Is Through Dance


Students of Lindblom Math and Science Academy were given the option of learning Swing, Steppin', and Salsa during a "Dance Makers are Peace Makers workshop" held at Lindblom in late Septemeber. Their dance of choice, Steppin', a well-known partner dance in the city of Chicago involves an easy to learn two-step.

As the rising vibrations of Beyoncé's "Love on Top" permeated the space, students stood attentively with their eyes glued to instructor Chris Van Houten's feet. Each holding steady grins of determination, they watched and investigated their reflections in the wall of mirrors ahead of them. Following each step and practice run with the music, the excitement and joy in the room rose with laughter and congratulatory high-fives as these dance makers became peacemakers.

In coming up with the theme of their workshop, the staff of "Dancing with Class" had one goal in mind: to make peace by spreading joy. Executive Director, Margot Toppen, said that they specifically chose partner dancing because of the organic human connection that comes with dancing. As an organization whose mission is "to energize schools and communities through the joys of dance" this summer's workshop was created with the intention of bringing together people who may start out not knowing each other well, but find that their feet move in the same way. The workshop's title and theme were also heavily incorporated, with leaders and followers transforming into peacemakers and joy makers.

After the students learned the dance in its entirety, Van Houten announced that each pair would be split, with one person being a peacemaker and the other a joy maker: "By using the labels peacemaker and joy maker, it's reinforcing this idea that we can spread peace and joy through this activity." With their new roles in place, and the music playing, the pairs took spins and glided across the floor, adding their twist to the original basic step. Students were then prompted to gather and make a circle, moving and rotating as one.

For the participants who may have started out simply as classmates, they ended as friends with a memory they will always share. The hope for Dancing With Class is that these students go on to share this experience with others as well. Whether it is the dance itself that they learned or just the experience, the goal is to continue to spread this joy long after the workshop has ended. Margot Toppen sees the impact of the workshop extending well beyond the time the students spend in the workshop, "Our vision of what we wanted to do, was really to create ambassadors throughout the city, through the students who participate. That they can experience the joy that dance brought them and encourage them to carry that forward."

At the end of each workshop, participants were given a pin/button that held a QR code, which connects them to images and short videos of each workshop. In providing this code, it allows participants to relive the joy of their experience as well as share it directly with others. 

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Chicagoans Gather in Douglas Park for Chicagoland United in Prayer Event


On August 19th hundreds of Chicagoans gathered in Douglas Park for the Chicagoland United in Prayer event. Organized by a variety of the city's Christian Leaders, this event called for members of diverse communities to come together in prayer for the City of Chicago. The event was organized by a myriad of religious leaders and organizations including Pray Chicago, Latino Ministries Alliance, Chicago Prays and Chicago Peace Campaign. In an interview with Apostle Ed Peecher of the Chicago Peace Campaign, we gained insight on the vision and goals that he and other organizers had for this project.

"The vision and goal was to have as many active church members - across denominational, ethnic, and geographic lines, to lay aside those differences between us and concentrate on the stronger connections we had which is our connection to Christ as His Body in the City of Chicago, xand our common burden for the welfare for the city, and our common faith in the power of prayer."

Saturday morning hundreds of community members, young and old, began this event with a prayer walk from their designated areas to Douglas Park. The walks began at 10 am from three different locations: Marshall High School, Lawndale Christian Health Center and Saucedo Academy. As they walked down the streets of these neighborhoods, many carried signs with the name of the communities they represented. This included members from Roseland, South Shore and West Garfield Park, along with 74 other communities that were represented that day.

Upon arriving at Douglas Park, people gathered in front of an outdoor stage, quickly filling the seats positioned in the grass. As they entered the park, members also carried large handmade crosses some of which had community names written on them, and others adorned with the names of community members who lost their lives to violence. Crosses, along with some of the neighborhood signs, were placed at the head of the stage. Dr. Walt Whitman and The Soul Children of Chicago led the formal worship service. All across the park, smaller prayer circles were formed, as individuals were moved to engage in corporate prayer.

"During the actual prayer time in the park - I saw unity that I had not seen before. I have been heavily involved with several citywide prayer initiatives in the past, but I sensed a spirit of unity more at this prayer gathering than any of the previous gatherings. Some were larger than this one - but none had the oneness of this one." - Apostle Peecher

After the scheduled prayer time had ended, the celebration of unity and the "spirit of oneness" continued. In addition to food trucks arriving, school supplies were handed out to the younger attendees in preparation for the new school year; there were also immunization services for students.

This display of community and support for the City of Chicago comes at a time when many are blinded by difference. However, the tremendous number of people who participated and spread the word about this event, is evidence that there is a resounding need for this type of union in Chicago. When asked about the plans for the future, Apostle Peecher made it clear that this is only the beginning as he and other leaders continue to pursue the goal of oneness and unity for Chicago and its people:

"We, the planners of this gathering, are already in full swing planning for a Soldier Field gathering next July 14. Ultimately my expectation is for a greater connection between congregations in the city, so that the Church in the Chicagoland area begins to operate like one single unit." 

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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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