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The Unconditional Love of Grantparents

Reflections-Black-Star

At the close of the 2018 Safe & Peaceful Chicago grant cycle, we asked select grant recipients to offer words of reflection about their work and the larger mission of the Initiative.

Gloria Smith, executive director, The Black Star Project, used her 2018 grant funding to support financial literacy and wealth-building programs for teens this summer.

“The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on, is when the reins are in the hands of the young who dare to run against the storm.” 

-“Ella’s Song,” Sweet Honey In the Rock

Every fall, we hand off our children to the brave men and women who work in our schools, and hope and pray that they will come home just a little bit smarter and a little more ready for life. But some of the greatest life lessons I ever learned were in the home, thanks to my grandparents.

My siblings and I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, in a family of educators and activists. Our wonderful grandparents — Dock and Ella Lee Harris Freeney, or “Mama Freeney and Daddy Freeney” — taught us to be wise, witty and kind. 

I remember my grandmother saying to me, “You’re the smartest child in the world.”  I really believed that…until I heard her telling my brother Phillip, sister Jean and cousin Rachel that they were the smartest in the world!

I now understand that a child becomes what he/she hears and believes. 

I've spent the last 20 years directing two social justice nonprofits, working with many wonderful young people in Denver, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Brazil. When I lead workshops or teach classes, I use a model I learned from my aunt and uncle, Vincent and Rosemarie Freeney Harding, who were historians and activists in the 1960s southern freedom movement — I ask people to introduce themselves by telling a story about their grandmother, or about an elder who encouraged or mentored them like a grandmother might do. These introductions prompt wonderful conversations about the wisdom of grandmothers and explorations of family history.

My brother, Phillip Jackson, was also deeply influenced by the combination of education and activism in our family. He founded the Black Star Project here in Chicago to offer educational mentoring services as well as entrepreneurial and economic literacy programs to people of all ages, but especially to Black youth. The motto of his organization is “Educate or Die.”

Today, I am the mother of three sons and a daughter. I am the grandmother of 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren; I am also grandmother to any child in need of encouragement. These are my life lessons:

First, even in today’s unsettling world, there is always hope.  I will never stop believing that a healthy, just, multiracial American democracy is possible, even in the face of racism, violence, poverty and family breakdown.

Second, peace and justice does not come easy. You have to work for it and nurture it every day. “Ella’s Song” reminds us of that: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” The song was written for Ms. Ella Baker, mother of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); in the face of brutality, they fought for equality, risking their lives but believing in their cause.

Third, there is no love greater than the love of family. Hold your children and grandchildren close, and let them know that your love will never fade. Our children don’t hear that enough — they get the opposite message from over-stressed parents, that love is conditional only if they behave.  

In their wisdom, grandparents understand that true love is never conditional, but rather eternal.  This is one grandmother’s call for love to end the violence in our communities. Hug your children. Hug your grandchildren.

Finally, let us look to the next generation of young people in Chicago: my grandchildren and yours.  I believe that they will have the courage to succeed where we elders have failed and lead us through the storm.

It is their world now to make of it what they will; their hopes and dreams matter most. And my greatest hope is not only that they find a path forward to a rich and rewarding life in a more just and fair world, but that they live long enough to experience one of life’s greatest gifts: being a grandparent.

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

 

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Forgiveness is the Path to Healing our Communities

Reflections-Darren-B.-Easterling

At the close of the 2018 Safe& Peaceful Chicago grant cycle, we asked select grant recipients to offer words of reflection about their work and the larger mission of the Initiative.

Lisa D. Daniels, founder, the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices, used her 2018 grant funding to produce and host a summit dedicated to truth and forgiveness.

The ongoing gun violence in the Chicago region not only causes hundreds of fatalities and thousands of injuries each year, but has also made victims of thousands of others who lose family members.

I'm one of them.

My youngest son, Darren, was shot and killed six years ago during a drug deal that went terribly wrong. Darren made many poor lifestyle choices, and this choice cost him his life. In counting those costs, my family and I paid dearly, and it would take two years before I finally found a path forward.

In 2014, I saw a play, "The Gospel of Living Kindness," that told a story of gun violence on the South Side of Chicago. However, while telling this all too-familiar story, the play also gave the audience a rare glimpse into a backstory often overlooked by the media: a clear picture of both the death of the victim as well as the humanity of the assailant.

That afternoon, I forgave Darren for his choices. I began to believe his life could still have meaning and be a force for good, and I founded the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices. Our mission is to help survivors pick up the pieces and move forward.

In 2016, I was given an opportunity to read a victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing of the man convicted of my son's murder. I asked the judge for leniency on his behalf; his 15-year-sentence was cut in half, and with time served, he is scheduled to be released next year, in 2019.

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

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Pass the Torch

Reflections-CBR

At the close of the 2018 Safe& Peaceful Chicago grant cycle, we asked select grant recipients to offer words of reflection about their work and the larger mission of the Initiative.

Ceola C. Henderson-Bryant, president/CEO, C.B.R. Tranquility Development Home NFP, used her 2018 grant funding to support a series of summer events for youth. Her nonprofit also is working to establish a transitional living facility in Chicago.

Our West and South Side communities are worth their weight in gold, and Chicagoans need to see their value, not just the violence. A big part of that value is youth, and we older adults must trust them to accept the torch of responsibility.

I am an educator and longtime resident of these communities, and I also work with youth through my nonprofit organization. Seniors like me can give young adults so much more than judgement and blame: We can give them knowledge, integrity, caring and compassion, tools to help them develop alternatives to violence.  We can give them dignity and respect, helping set the tone for building alliances, strong families and cohesive communities.  We can show them how to be resilient and courageous in the face of adversity and violence.

I’m a true believer in passing the torch to youth: We should not place the blame for violence on their backs. I want other older adults to join me — teach yourself something about restorative justice, recidivism circles, the 7 Key Principles of Dr. Carl Bell, character-building and social-emotional learning and curriculums, and then teach it to a young person in your life.

Do what you can to bring peace to your home, block or community. Find a young person to receive your torch of knowledge.

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

 

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North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCC) Tree Planting

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Safe and Peaceful grantee North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCC), held a tree planting in Unity Park to commemorate community organizer Arthur L. Fair III. The park was founded by area residents who, with support from multiple community partners, maintain and landscape the space so it may serve as a gathering place for both recreation and  

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Wakanda Where You Are

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Safe & Peaceful grantee FOUS Youth Development helps kids be superheroes for their community

A couple of Wonder Women, a Black Panther or two, and a fairy ladybug decided to stand up against violence in their community.

Their wings and weapons may have been fabric and costumes, but nonetheless, the children participating in the 4 Us Youth Development (FOUS) "Everyone is a Hero" program actively sought to better their community through fellowship and artwork.

"Kids and other grown-ups die every day," says Shamayra, a 13-year-old involved in planning "Everyone is a Hero" day. "So me and my team decided to do a black lives matter-type event and let people know that everyone needs to be treated equally. And we have the right to do what other kids do."

When FOUS founder Annette Kelly received her Safe & Peaceful Chicago grant, she immediately began crafting "Everyone is A Hero" for rollout at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The program, held at West Pullman's Edward White Elementary Career Academy (with whom FOUS has an ongoing partnership), focused on teaching youth that they have the power to combat violence in their neighborhood.

Central to the program were 26 essays written by students in grades 4-8 that explained how they would help their community if they were a superhero. In reading these stories, Annette "realized that there is so much trauma in our young people's lives, and sometimes when I see them acting out, I know it's not even about what happened with another student; I know it's because of something that has happened in their lives" she says.

"Everyone is a Hero [day] sort of gave them the opportunity to think about and put on paper what they wanted for their community," she added. "Young people should believe that their events, their schools, their community matters."

Annette wanted the students to feel empowered in identifying actions they could take to make their communities better, so she had them participate in as much of the program's creation as possible. In addition to writing essays, the students created two stations that spread across the school's gym. One section, titled "We Will Know Their Purpose," included heart cutouts that symbolized people who had been lost to gun violence in the community; the other section was an art wall that displayed the students' anti-violence mission.

After the FOUS youth completed the display, Annette opened the gym to the rest of the school, giving the students a chance to share their work with others to promote inclusivity and, according 11-year-old Deja, make them feel happy to have participated.

"I'm happy that I'm here because people always say I should grow up to write a book. So if I know I can write a whole essay, or a whole page, then I know I can write a book," Deja says. "There's something about this school that makes me feel like I belong here, like now I have a school that makes me feel worthy."

These moments inspire Annette, who founded FOUS after 20 years in corporate America (banking). For her, programs like hers are simply revolutionary — a structured extracurricular program that allows youth to develop their voices and gives them agency to make the changes they desire. Looking forward, Annette hopes to continue working with and within schools before expanding the scope of her work to the city at-large.

"We always say that young people are the future, but that's so hypocritical. When I think about the state of Illinois and the funding issues, and local, underfunded, under-resourced schools…we're not investing in them," 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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Partners in Arms

Safe & Peaceful grantees embrace the power of partnership

Ending the cycle of violence one community at a time is the goal for both Peace Makers Worldwide and A Work of Faith Ministries, who have come together as The Violence Prevention Consortium, or VPC. Together, the organizations want to cease the violence in Chatham, with a focus on the 79th Street corridor.

Kenneth Wesbrooks, founder and chairman of A Work of Faith Ministries (AWOFINC), says his organization works in several neighborhoods, such as Englewood, Gage Park, and Rogers Park. It partnered with Peace Makers Worldwide because its members saw the opportunity to collaborate. Many AWOFINC softball team members live in Chatham, so the organization decided it was time to branch out. "There is a need for violence prevention initiatives in the Chatham community," Wesbrooks says.

Erica Dunn, president of Peace Makers Worldwide, which has been a presence in the community for almost three years, agreed that Chatham needs help. "The biggest concern of all ages right now is the violence," she says. "People are afraid to just walk down the street. People are afraid, but overall the cry is 'I need a job, I need to be able to work."

Peace Makers' resource center hosts hiring events twice a month, and even with a criminal background, everyone leaves with a job, Dunn says. "The little brothers on the street, they come in here and they're ready to work, especially when given an opportunity where their background won't be a challenge," she says. The organization also offers a safe space for youth by hosting community events, such as arts and crafts projects.

Keeping the children safe is one thing, but the solution is really about pinpointing the root cause of the violence, say both group leaders. Dunn says that poverty is the underlying issue — if people can pay their bills and feed themselves, they wouldn't find other ways to "get by."

Wesbrooks agrees, adding that he views violence prevention as a public health issue. "When we have a conversation with people that are involved in, let's call it 'extracurricular activities,' it's always financial."

"No one has aspired to be the next 'Scarface' — the issue is 'I need to feed my little brother or sister,' because maybe the dad is incarcerated, and the mom is drug-addicted; or maybe she's working so much that she's never at home. So they [the kids] have that financial responsibility, and this is the only way they see to put food on the table," he adds.

The VPC approach is old-fashioned, going door-to-door and introducing themselves in a new area. From there, they host regular meetings and events, bringing together community residents, business owners, clergy and educators to discuss and implement solutions to violence in the community.

Wesbrooks said it's going to take everyone working together to see the desired change, and it's worth fighting for.

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

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Center for Advancing Domestic Peace, "Drop the Gun, Pick Up the Tools" Awards Ceremony

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Safe & Peaceful grantee the Center for Advancing Domestic Peace partnered with Neighborhood Barbers for Peace to hold a talent contest throughout the summer. At its culminating award ceremony, the placing contestants shared their thoughts on how the contest impacted their lives, inspiring them to forego violence and spend their time learning tangible skills that can provide both income and a productive hobby.  

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See What I See

SPC grantee uses the power of the pen and lens to highlight West Siders perspectives so they can tell their own stories.

Richard Marion was just a youngster — 6th or 7th grade, he can't recall — when he discovered The Westside Writing Project (WWP).

"We used to go to Chicago Commons, going up there just after school, getting on computers, wasting time after school," he says. There he and his friends met Frank Latin, WWP executive director, who offered them a little cash to produce stories for a neighborhood newsletter.

Since then, Marion's learned "pretty much everything" about video production, and media is the career path that the now young man has fixated on. "It was just, 'we put the tools in your hand and then you go make it happen,'" he says.

This is WWP's precise aim. Latin describes the organization as a community media outfit meant to engage both local residents and youth. "At the heart of Westside Media is storytelling, and we provide the tools and resources for our students and community members to tell their own stories," he said. "We have students working behind the camera, crafting their own story."

Over the summer, Westside Writing Project fellows filmed various interviews where individuals discussed violence in the community; those works became two projects that the organization screened in October — "Summer of Life," which was filmed over the course of about four weeks, and "16 Shots and a Cover-Up," a look at the West Side as the city prepared for the verdict in the Jason Van Dyke trial.

"Community members came together talking about the impacts of violence and solutions to violence," Latin says. "It fits our narrative because community members were coming together to discuss and create solutions to our own problems, as opposed to someone from downtown coming in and trying to tell our story."

"We know what's going on in our community and we're trying to shed a better light on the coverage," Latin emphasizes.

Cedric Frison, born and raised on the West Side, had seen parts of the documentary beforehand, but seeing the completed project was a much different experience.

"It was powerful: different approaches to solutions, different perspectives on what causes the violence. Hearing all these different residents, who live it and who see it every day, breaking it down," he says.

For Frison, life on the West Side hadn't been pretty. "I got a lot 'ex-s' on my name," he says, noting himself to be an ex-drug dealer, ex-drug addict, ex-gang member and ex-college drop out who is now a changed man: a recovery and outreach specialist, community activist and Northeastern University student pursuing inner-city studies. He sees stark differences between what things were like when he was growing up and how things operate for kids today — through his activism and work with READI, he is always thinking about ways to lure young men away from street life, and he says WWP offers a fresh spin and new route.

"The culture has shifted; one thing about the gang culture in Chicago is that it had some structure [but] I'm not justifying anything…there's stuff our youth is doing now that wouldn't be tolerated [then]," he said. "[Storytelling] is something that's needed, and it's going to bring awareness because a lot of people don't know…we get so locked in our situation that we're dealing with, and it's hard to see what's going on outside of that."

"A lot of people don't want to deal with it, [they want to] recoil and isolate," Frison says,

The real world implications of the work — refusing to let people recoil, ignore or be voluntarily or involuntarily isolated — is what has kept Marion coming back to WWP for a decade now, returning from Iowa State University just in time to edit the entire "Summer of Life" project.

"I was used to hearing people come in and tell these raw stories, telling stories you hear every day, you hear in passing, you hear growing up. But now you're seeing it, seeing it in a different setting; you see all this emotion pouring out of people," Marion stresses.

"The stories here are the stories they don't talk about on the news. It's the stories that a lot of people know, that's why there's a lot of familiarity from the people watching the videos: They relate to it because it's the stuff they hear," he says. "I learned that the same things have been going on [over time]…it's basically the same things happening so it gives you some kind of perspective that a lot of this stuff is just repeating."

While there's an allure to grab that big media job downtown after college, Marion is lured back to his neighborhood to break up some of that monotony. "You're able to tell [stories] from your own perspective and you're able to make change: other organizations, they're doing it for business purposes." 

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

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If You Build It...

Safe & Peaceful grantee uses baseball and softball as a way to come together and celebrate South Shore youth

While sports/competitive participation are the core drivers of Lost Boyz Inc. offering, program coordinator Lee Smith recognizes that, too often, South Side youth need to have opportunities to just "be."

"I take the kids on local field trips to broaden their horizons — I once took them to UIC (University of Illinois-Chicago) and they thought we had gone out of town," Smith recalls.

Since its 2008 founding, Lost Boyz has sponsored a banquet to say "thank you" to its participants, an acknowledgment of their athletic-related accomplishments but also a celebratory nod to their grit as they keep a positive focus on life.

"We use sports, high-intensity mentoring, intervention, and social entrepreneurship activities as a way to decrease violence among youth," Smith says. "It's important to have this banquet every year because it shows the kids how much we appreciate them for all the hard work they have done. These kids have to go through [a lot] just to get here and practice for their games. Kids nowadays need an incentive to go that extra mile outside of school, and that's what we try to do at Lost Boyz."

Each year, nearly 100 youth participate in Lost Boyz programming, says office manager Frank Sartin (After School Matters is a sponsor.) While most of its participants live in South Shore, the organization is open to all youth, and they can remain active until age 24. "Sports is our way of reaching young people and getting them involved in something that excites them," he says, and they hope to add hockey to its activities.  

This year's banquet was held at the organization's headquarters, 1818 E. 71st Street. Dozens of youth and their parents attended. Tieara Lesure and Jalil Anderson, junior coaches for the softball and baseball teams, respectively, were among the attendees.

Lesure, a senior at a South Side alternative school, has been involved with the Lost Boyz for five years; she got interested after coming to watch her friends play ball. She says she found redemption in the organization after circumstances required that she leave her first high school.

"My sister got into a fight, and I jumped in to help her," Lesure said. "I was not kicked out of school but my sister was, and when that happened my mom decided to transfer both of us."

"It feels good to be part of something positive like the Lost Boyz," she said.

Lesure went on to recruit Anderson, who is studying criminal justice at Olive-Harvey College. "I am a pitcher on the baseball team, and I want to play professional baseball eventually," he said. "If baseball does not fulfill my needs, then I would like to be a police officer."

Parents at the banquet said Lost Boyz is a blessing to youth, especially those living in South Shore.

"I have two sons, ages 12 and 13, that participate with the Lost Boyz, and I thank God for this organization. Being involved with the Lost Boyz keeps them out of trouble," said Mionka Kennedy, a single mom. "Kids are getting shot every day in South Shore, they walk around doing nothing. I don't want to see my boys end up like that."

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

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Little Garden, Big Vision

All photos by Hex Hernandez

Second-year Safe & Peaceful grantee Jardincito Nature Play Community Garden uses nature as a conduit to showcase and serve the spirit of Little Village

Located at 23rd and Whipple, Jardincito, or "little garden", is one of the very few greenspaces open to residents on Chicago's Southwest Side.

"A lot of the gardens that we're used to seeing around Chicago are usually places where food grows," says Sara Cortes, Jardincito community programs coordinator. "Jardincito was established as more of a recreation and play space for the neighborhood," she adds, pinpointing nature play, environmental science, art and gardening as the main drivers of the organization's research, outreach and project management.

Established in 2015 through coordinated efforts by community groups and NeighborSpace, Jardincito Nature Play Garden was created with particularly children in mind. In addition to its plants and flowers, the garden has a wooden stage at its center, surrounded by boulders for climbing and logs for leaping. "It's like an obstacle course for the kids, with interactive, natural elements," Cortes says.

Since receiving its first grant from the Safe and Peaceful Communities Fund in 2017, Jardincito's Advisory Council has maintained its focus on developing programs that instill a sense of pride in the Little Village neighborhood and continue to strengthen residents' bonds with nature. Last summer the community garden held a season-long nature play series for children (guided by a young naturalist and educator); after eliciting community feedback, the council expanded and established this summer's offerings around three themes: summer solstice, back to school and the arts as a conduit for healing.

¡Saludando al Sol! brought neighbors of all ages together to welcome the new season while they enjoyed food, gardening activities, and special performances by Mexica dance group Maizal Macuil-Xochitl.

"One thing that I think ties into neighborhoods feeling safe is having these public programs that are a reflection of the community and the culture that exists within the community. Having the Aztec dance group there helps with continuing to observe our cultural traditions and also makes people feel like the public programming really reflects our values, our culture, and what we want to see present in the neighborhood," adds Cortes.

The Back to School celebration built upon what Jardincito debuted last year, providing free school supplies for all the attending youth and also holding educational workshops where kids learned about birds and their habitats, caterpillars and butterfly migration, and how to pot plants. While the kids participated in various nature-related activities, the adults enjoyed snacks and a performance by A Flor de Piel, a music group that has ties to the Latino neighborhood and plays various genres of music from Latin America.

The highlight of Jardincito's 2018 programming was "Healing Through the Arts," where children were invited to participate in various artistic activities, such as music, theater, and dance that incorporated the garden's nature elements. The inspiration for the summer-long series was giving the young participants outlets and strategies to cope, and manage stress and anxiety.

"It's a really important asset to the community because there's a lot of gang violence, poverty, and a lot of residents are from low-income, immigrant families," explains Isaura Flores, who created and implemented the 10-week Healing Through the Arts curriculum which included creating collages and spirit guide dolls, writing songs, and curating garden bundles. Flores emphasizes that having programming in the garden allowed for both the accessibility and flexibility that is very important to the families involved, "in case something happens and the parents want them [the children] back home," she says.

"The garden is such a healing place so the pure benefits of just being around greenspace and pairing that with the arts, bringing those two things together seems like such a perfect experience for the kids in our neighborhood," Cortes concludes. "A lot of kids aren't used to playing in spaces like this because they spend so much time indoors —kids come to the park, and at first they're a little lost on how to really use the garden and engage with the elements there, but we are guiding the kids and using the available features to help them become imaginative again."

"Nature has such a big impact on social, emotional, intellectual development, and if we can help highlight that, and have Jardincito be a place where the community can come and experience those benefits, that's our ultimate vision," Cortes explains.


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

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Indelible Images, Infinite Impact

Safe & Peaceful grantee uses decorative arts as a conduit for relationship-building built on peaceful connection.

Harlan Community Academy junior ShaQuia Carmona and her classmates spent their Saturdays working to complete two murals, the newest additions to a series of projects now dotting Harlan's hallways.

The murals — music-themed silhouettes of students in mosaic and gesso — were officially unveiled at the school's curriculum night, and Carmona is excited that she got to contribute to her school in such a tangible way.

"It's kind of monumental for us because we're going to actually be a part of Harlan's history: We're not just going to be a class, we're going to actually be a part of the school," she says.

Steve Weaver, executive director of Chicago Public Art Group, understands and affirms the salience of "having a piece of your art on the wall" that Carmona articulated. He and his team have been working at Harlan for the past two years, and through art, he believes that they've offered students a new dimension to define and express their identity. "I think art helps you think about what is important, and it helps to humanize," he says.

Local mural artist Marcos Raya attended the unveiling, commenting that the murals have helped to transform the look and feel of the halls. Raya shared that murals like this, along with others around the city, have a unifying effect on their communities. "It helps create a consciousness of unity among the people, makes a collective dialogue," Raya says.

Through funding like the Safe and Peaceful Communities grant, Harlan has been able to sustain these projects that improve the environment for both students and the surrounding community.

"It's really great — even though the dollar amount is not huge, it really does make a difference. It's been a real resource for us to be able to expand the work we do, it allows us to partner and work in neighborhoods where we may not be able to work [otherwise]," Weaver says.

"It's about a sense of connection to the school, and to the community — the process of art-making cultivates trust, and that results in more peaceful neighborhoods," Weaver adds. 

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

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AGAPE Werks, Mini Maker Faire

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Through an atmosphere of technological and artistic innovation, the Chicago Southside Mini Maker Faire offered community members a chance to learn from and inspire each other while showcasing their wares and works. Safe & Peaceful grantee & event organizer Jackie Moore proclaims: "The Mini Maker Faire is a celebration of the people, of those folks who like to create things on their own: the do-it-yourselfers, the makers, the hackers, the scientists, the artists."

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Check[In], Mate

Safe & Peaceful grantee structures chess as a conduit to counteract the cycles of violence, conciliate its casualties, and connect police with communities

Eight-year-old Terriah Pascal is always eager to challenge the cops. She has been doing it monthly for the past year.

She's no troublemaker, though.

Terriah is among the youth who participate in Not Before My Parents (NBMP) Chess Moves Against Violence: Bridging the Gap with CAPS. An expansion of the NBMP chess club, Bridging the Gap with CAPS aims to use chess as a way to help youth to consider potential outcomes of their daily choices, bringing community members and police together at the Englewood District police station for both chess lessons and matches.

Raydell Lacey founded Not Before My Parents in 2012, prompted by the 1994 killing of her 21-year-old daughter, Elonda D. Lacey. She added the chess club in 2016 after her 19-year-old grandson, Erick L. Lacey Jr., was killed. she'd observed how her son, Erick L. Lacey Sr., used the game to cope with the violent death of his son.

"I said, [here's] a tool that can help children avoid violence — it keeps their minds in a strategic method of thinking before they act; if you make this move, that's going happen," Lacey said, extrapolating that mode of thinking to real-life situations that young people may face. "If I hang out with my friends, what's going to happen? Suppose the police show up, what's going to happen?"

It started with weekly sessions at Lafayette Plaza, then expanded to other locations. On September 11, the NBMP-CAPS partnership celebrated its one year anniversary of monthly lessons and matches at the 007th District Police Station, 1438 W. 63rd St.

Sergeant Janice Wilson, who'd met Lacey at a 2016 Coffee with a Cop event, lobbied to get her to bring the program to the Englewood police station last year.

"We welcome everybody to come and be a part of it, all ages," Wilson said. "We wanted the police station to be a positive platform in the community, someplace that you're not afraid to come, someplace we welcome you."

District Commander Roderick Robinson greeted the participants at the anniversary event. "It's great to have the community as a whole come together and make this something we can really be proud of — Englewood kids and parents and residents can come together and do something really nice as far as chess and teaching them how to play chess," he said.

Lacey said she hopes it will also help officers better relate to young people in the community, making them less likely to be heavy-handed in their enforcement.

 "We want officers to see their children in our children, to have a positive outlook on our children, especially since you guys are going to be working in our community and growing up in our community," she said. "When the officer is playing chess with the kids, they're growing up with the kids — I wanted them to take time and dialogue with these kids, and mentor these kids."

"If a situation occurs with the kid, they can handle it without pulling out their guns or a stun gun," she added. "You don't all the time have to pull out your weapon, you don't all the time have to put your foot on their neck."

Bridging the Gap with CAPS participants range from neighborhood tots to community organizers to veteran players, and the program has allowed them to discover other connections that help relationships cement and thrive. For example, Officer Cametia Middleton, who brings her children to the meetings, has a brother who plays in a chess club with Lacey's son.

"Hopefully they can build relationships with us and use them through life," Middleton said.

Officer Cortez Cox said he's sharpened his skills playing chess at the events. "It was a blessing to see all the kids and the adults. Everybody can learn, [even] people who've never played before. And they have professionals who can help you; there are some people here who have played 20 or 30 years."

"I'm pretty good, but some of the kids who've never played before, I teach them a little. And by teaching them, I'm learning too." Cox continued. "I teach them chess and then start talking to them so they're comfortable with me. So if they see me on the street I've got a relationship with them."

Middleton stressed that those relationships can form expectations that influence whether or not a young person entertains scenarios that may encourage or lead to violence. And those strategic lessons can come early and often.

"Sometimes it makes a difference," Terriah said, noting a time when she did not physically retaliate against a girl who hit her. "I was going to put my hands on her, but I'd get in big trouble."

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

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285 Hits

Brothers Standing Together (BST): Redemption, Love, Peace & Unity After Tragedy

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An interview with BST founder Brother Richard Raymond, who reflects on forgiveness after his 3rd annual back-to-school "Peace in the Hood" basketball tournament was interrupted by gun-violence.  

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Kufi Club of Chicago

The KUFI Club of Chicago - through 2018 Safe and Peaceful grantee the Love Foundation - celebrated its first Crowning Ceremony this summer. This rites-of-passage coronation served as an important benchmark to acknowledge the power that young people have to be leaders and anti-violence activists in the Roseland community. "Rather than looking at children as problems to be fixed in our communities, we see children as agents of change," says founder David Pruitt 

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434 Hits

Regroup, Relate, Release

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SPC grantee’s back-to-school event readies children for the academic year and reinforces deeper ties to the community it serves.

Community members descended upon Oakdale Covenant Church for a day of free food, celebration and connection at Community and Family Partners’ Back-to-School Community Bash.

“The purpose is to feed into the community and let them know we’re here,” says Josandra Polk, president of the organization’s parent-teacher organization. “We’re trying to put food in their stomach, some fun in their day and a smile on their face.”

But the collective was serving up more than just barbecue; they also offered prayers in the form of a balloon "peace release," a way to address "what's going on with the violence", says Jameca Lott, who leads Community and Family Partners fundraising.

 While the main focus of the day was getting students focused and ready for school — "We want to start the school year off in a peaceful way, start the year off right," Lott says — they also had fun activities for the children, such as basketball, hopscotch, sidewalk chalk and two bounce houses.

“[We’re] building a relationship with the community, school and church. It's an opportunity for the whole community to get out and have some fun," says Yvonne Burnett; her organization, the Center for Community Academic Success Partnerships, handed out the book bags.

Kiyana Salome, Community and Family Partners manager of programming, sees this event, and others like it, as a link between the daily after school programming the organization provides on the South and West Sides, and a deeper way of connecting with the community.

"When we have the kids after school, they're escaping the violence, [coming from] where violence can happen to them. So we have to acknowledge the lives lost in the community,” Salome says. “Doing this event is kind of a violence prevention thing…it's all linked together."

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

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83 Hits

In This Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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272 Hits

West Side Peace Parade

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Two Safe & Peaceful Chicago grantees —Major Adams Community Committee and West Humboldt Park Development Council — partnered with tens of other West Side organizations, block clubs and nonprofits to host a daylong festival at Union Park. Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. praised the collective for showing how redemption can come for making things better for the generations that follow. "The community recognizes that we believe in peace," he said.  

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59 Hits

Framing the Picture

Safe & Peaceful grantee charged its participants to focus on the beauty of resilience in the face of abuse and oppression

The Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC), a first and (heretofore declared) only community center of its kind, seeks to offer healing and wellness resources for survivors of police torture. In its outlined history, the organization cites that it was established as a result of a historic Reparations Ordinance passed by the Chicago City Council in May 2015 — the ordinance provides redress for racially-motivated police torture that occurred between 1972-1991, a time in which more than 120 African-Americans were coerced into giving false confessions.

"The Chicago Torture Justice Center was won, basically, off the sweat and tears of torture survivors and their family members. This was the center that I fought for, and it's the center that the city of Chicago did not want to give us through torture reparations," explains Mark Clements, who spent 28 years in prison before being released and exonerated.

With its summer Photo Voice Workshops, CTJC, in partnership with Civic Projects, sought to provide healing for survivors of police violence by encouraging participants to photograph emblems of positivity, fortitude, and happiness in their lives and communities. The workshops were led by Clements and another police brutality survivor, La Tanya Jenifor Sublett, who encouraged participants to talk about their life experiences and explain why they felt compelled to define and document resilience through images. The program provided participants with cameras to capture their submissions.

"The news markets don't capture the positive of this society because what they focus upon is the crime," Clements says "I think this was a project that was very much needed, to show the good in the community, and I hope it's extended: The African-American community needs some type of healing."

People gathered at Experimental Station in Hyde Park to celebrate the workshops' conclusion, "Resilience For Justice and Healing," a showcase and exhibit that featured photos and quotes contributed by the workshop participants. Attendees ate and danced at the convening, and they were also informed about ways to support victims of police brutality and given resources, such as CTJC's Illustrated Guide on Coping with Police Violence.

"Resilience…you can't really define it, it's different for each person. That's what we learned," Sublett says. "Resilience is different for every person because you don't know what they've been through — you don't have to 'get it', but every photo is something in somebody's life that says, 'In spite of, we make it. In spite of, we survive.'"

"While I spent two decades incarcerated I learned about the system, I learned a lot about myself, and I am free. I have nothing to complain about,"' she adds. "Being a part of this community, the social justice community, the 'We're Not Going to Take It' community, it continues to fuel me. So I know that for such a time as this, I'm supposed to be here."

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

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127 Hits

Yes to Life, Yes to Peace

Grantee brings hometown rapper Lil Durk back to his Englewood neighborhood to participate in peace festival

The J. Minor Allen Peace Movement, Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE) and Save Our Community Coalition, three Englewood-based groups, recently collaborated to produce the Say Yes to Life, Say Yes to Peace outdoor festival, aided by rapper Lil Durk.

"It was good he [Lil Durk] made it here — the children enjoyed seeing him and posing to take photos with him," said J. Minor Allen, special events coordinator and program manager for the J. Minor Allen Peace Movement, a division of the National Black Wall Street Chicago.

"The goal of this festival was to bring people together from Englewood, Auburn Gresham and surrounding communities for a safe and peaceful gathering, and we did just that," Allen added.

Part of RAGE's annual "So Fresh Saturdays," the August 25 event at Hamilton Park (513 W. 72nd Street) was said to attract more than 300 people. According to RAGE co-founder Asiaha Butler, Lil Durk donated book bags for the school supply portion of the festival, allowing event organizers to give away "nearly 500 book bags" that were filled with school supplies, she said. Kids could also get free haircuts at the festival, and there was a mobile video game van on-site for their enjoyment.

Englewood resident Princess Wallace attended with her four children. "This is my first time coming here. I came this year because I received a flyer from someone," she said. "I like what I see here — there are a lot of games for the kids, good music for adults and plenty of resources for the community."

Other attendees like Englewood resident Melvin Taylor said he's been attending So Fresh Saturdays since its inception. "I'm an outdoor kind of guy, and I like to stay in my neighborhood to party; I have always enjoyed myself when I come here, that's why I keep coming back," he said.

Imagine Englewood If was among a dozen resource vendors at the event. "I like to describe 'So Fresh' as a community barbecue, where kids have a safe space to play, where a platform is available for local talent to perform and get exposure, and a place where residents can hear directly from elected officials," said executive director Michelle Rashad.

J. Minor Allen added that one way to combat crime is developing partnerships among local organizations, stakeholders and residents, with a common goal of ridding their communities of violence. The Chicago Park District, Hamilton Park Advisory Council, Teamwork Englewood and the Neighborhood Heroes organizations were among the Say Yes to Life, Say Yes to Peace sponsors.

"To see so many police officers out here with nothing to do but stand around and look bored is a good thing. That means no one is misbehaving," said Mark Allen, chairman of National Black Wall Street Chicago. "I am glad we are one of the partners for this event."

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

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817 Hits

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

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