The power in the ability to party in peace
Food and fun flowed from a West Pullman lot as Kids Off the Block (KOTB) hosted a Summer in the Streets party, one of eight taking place simultaneously in various parts of the city.
"We're doing it at the same time on the same day to make a bigger impact regarding youth violence, said Diane Latiker, who founded the Kids Off the Block program in 2003, opening her home to neighborhood youth and providing activities to avert at-risk youth from gangs, drugs, truancy and violence. A beloved community-builder in Chicago's Roseland community, Latiker has been heralded nationally for her work in providing safe spaces for children and teens as a respite from the violence around them.
Feeling safe while having a good time was a motivator for most attending the gathering.
For 14-year-old Oni Haygood, the day meant enjoying the music from DJ JQ and chatting with friends as her mother taught double Dutch.
"This is somewhere I can have fun and also feel like I'm safe at the same time, versus going out somewhere around people who don't really care about your well-being," Oni said. "Being here, I feel like I have some type of safe haven to come to just have fun."
Her mother, Faith Haygood, a Roseland resident, is a supporter of the program.
"I've been knowing Ms. Diane Latiker and her daughter for almost 20 years. I've seen the growth, I've seen the vision, and I've seen how Ms. Diane has changed her community one child at a time," she said.
"This mission is to gather those that are in the community so that we can know one another — I think we've lost the values of children playing and children coming together and teenagers communing together in a healthy and safe environment. So this gives the young men and women somewhere to retreat."
"This is a safe haven," Faith declared.
It's also the site of some good memories for Faith. Last month she won $100 in a three-point basketball shootout on the KOTB court (which was built on the KOTB site in 2011 during ABC's "Secret Millionaire"). Edward Fleming, 18, played in a basketball tournament during Summer in the Streets.
"This is about cleaning up the community, and getting the little kids off the street, and stopping the violence, and coming together and having fun. There's a lot of stuff that's been going on," he said.
"This is about going positive, not negative," Fleming added.
Immanuel Jones was among the little kids Edward referenced — the six-year-old jumped from the basketball court to a pogo stick during the festivities.
"I'm just here to party. And make friends," Jones said.
Sponsored by Fierce Over 40, the Summer in the Streets multi-site effort to reduce youth violence was the second of two this summer. On August 31, eight of the participating groups will have one large 24-hour Peace Jam back-to-school event.
"The goal is to decrease youth violence, to keep people safe citywide," said Latiker, who founded Fierce Over 40 in 2017 to galvanize women within their communities.
"We're trying to show how important the community is. Especially now," she affirmed.
This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.