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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