St. Sabina Annual Peace March & Rally brings together a cross section of anti-violence voices
There was lots of star power amid the hundreds gathered at 78th Place and Throop Street Friday evening for the Faith Community of Saint Sabina's Annual End of the School Year Peace March & Rally.
Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson, Will.i.am and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, an avid gun policy advocate who suffered a gunshot wound to the head in a 2011 assassination attempt, were featured speakers.
At the center of it all, though, were the young people — March for Our Lives figureheads and others — calling for an end to violence, supported by a diverse crowd of Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers.
"They're getting ready to run America," said Michael Pfleger, senior pastor at Saint Sabina, which holds weekly rallies throughout the summer. "Young people are rising up from the north and the south and the east and the west, and they're taking control."
All of the youth emphasized the need for gun legislation — the rally was the official kickoff of the Road to Change bus tour, which will be led by the student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Most of the young speakers were local, and they focused on the more common incidences of violence in Chicago neighborhoods much of it by gunfire.
"I'm so tired of misconceptions that come with everyday shooting; every shooting isn't gang related…people lose their lives every day in Chicago, not because they were doing anything wrong, but because the Chicago community, as well as the officials, have let them down," said Trevon Bosley, a youth leader at St. Sabina who listed a number of young people killed while engaged in routine activities: sitting in cars, riding the bus home, hanging out at parks and playing on basketball courts.
The last name on the list was his 18-year-old brother, Terrell; Bosley said his sibling was shot in 2006 while unloading music equipment outside a church.
The young people expressed anger at the closure of schools and cuts in social services funding — several referenced the need to for resources that address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in neighborhoods where too many suffer the trauma of their communities.
Alex King, a recent North Lawndale College Prep High School graduate, referred to peers as both physical and emotional survivors of a war on violence…a war in which they constantly fear loss of life.
"When war veterans come back, a lot of them suffer from PTSD, and they go see doctors and therapists and get all of this help. But what about the war veterans that don't go overseas? What about us? In our communities, we go through so many traumatic events, but have no one or place to go and get help," King said. "There are so many corner stores and liquor stores and police stations and all these different resources that are not beneficial for our survival. The resources which we need are more mental health and trauma centers in our communities for those who have been traumatized for way too long."
In 2018, about 1,138 people had been shot, 213 of them fatally, in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Politicians and leaders were out in force at the peace march — Illinois state senators Jacqueline Collins and Kwame Raoul; state representative Mary Flowers; former governor Pat Quinn; gubernatorial candidate J.B Pritzker and his running mate Juliana Stratton; Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, U.S. Representative Robin Kelly; Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Chicago mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, Ja'Mal Green and Dorothy Brown. But the young speakers did not mince words, letting leaders know that they weren't currying any favor with their mere presence.
"I'm here to talk about the elected officials who see people dying in the streets every day, and instead of sending us resources, they send us Divvy bikes," Bosley said. "I'm here to talk about a governor who cuts anti-violence funding because he feels it's non-essential spending. I'm here to talk about a president who belittles Chicago's problems and hasn't done anything about any one of them."
"It's not just enough to make a statement, to be here with us today in the pictures. We need the Chicago City Council, we need the mayor, we need everyone to know that we will not stop until we get $95 million dollars for community," said Maria Hernandez, a Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer, who also called for education, mental health and anti-drug program funding. "These people who say they represent us, they don't talk to us. They repeatedly shut us out of community meetings."
"We refuse to accept that the only solution is to put more money into the Chicago Police Department when we have more police per capita than any other city in this whole region, and it's not fixing things. It's not stopping the violence," she added.
Diego Garcia, a 16-year-old organizer from Brighton Park, announced an 8-week "Starved for Change" hunger strike (beginning July 2nd) where sets of southwest side teens will go without food in week-long shifts as part of a campaign for what he called "common sense gun legislation."
"How are we supposed to have proper education when the schools in our communities are underfunded, or we are in danger of losing our lives just by sitting in a classroom?" he asked. "The number of students who have reached out to me for advice that could be given by a social worker is higher than the amount of money Illinois representatives Rodney Davis and John Shimkus are receiving from the NRA."
"Politicians who take money from the NRA do not deserve to work for the people of our communities," he added.
Pfleger praised the youth for their impatience and bluntness. "The hell with political correctness! I love you because of the way you say what's on your heart and what's in your spirit, and that's what America needs right now," he said.
"It's important that we not only gather here, but we also go out into the neighborhood," Pfleger added, announcing a July 7 demonstration that will halt traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway at 79th Street. "We want to make sure Chicago understands we are not sitting down. We are not shutting up. We are not going to be quiet. We are going to push for direction until violence stops in Chicago."
Personal stories of grief and the desire for action came from the both the podium and among the crowd. Englewood-bred Jennifer Hudson reminded attendees that her mother, brother and uncle were murdered in 2008; in a likely nod to increased reports of missing women and a desire for more gender parity in violence coverage and intervention, Chance The Rapper offered, "to the young women of the community, I want to say I understand to a certain degree what's going on out there and I just want to work with you and follow you in whatever direction you guys want to take to ensure your safety and your liberty."
Erma Aragon, who lives in Albany Park, came to rally and march in memory of her son, Israel Aragon Jr. She says he was killed Sept. 7, 2016 on his way from work; he was 21.
"This has happened all over our city, it's not only South Side. On the North Side it happens a lot, but they don't want to talk crime over there," she said, carrying a poster with her son's photo.
"It's time to stand up and raise our voices. I lost my son. I don't want him to be a number: I want change," which, in her assessment, means changes in law enforcement and throughout the legal system. "We need more detectives, we don't need more police. We need better police on the job. And we need judges giving the right sentences," she said.
Lamont Cooley, 37, applauded the procession as he watched from the front of a barbershop with his three young nephews.
"The only way to change things is to give the kids something to do," he said.
During the rally, four teens read the names of young victims of gun violence, which included 12-year-old She'Nyah O'Flynn who was killed in West Garfield Park the night before, after leaving her cousin's eighth-grade graduation party.
"We have just read 147 names: 147 youth who never got a chance to grow up, to reach their full potential. America, you should be ashamed!" said Mariah Mack.
"You allowed the very future of this country to die," she chided.
This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.
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.