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."
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.