Saturday, September 27, 2008

Making a difference in the Community

(This is a picture of an altar in my home. It is a simple one with a saying by Audre Lorde, "When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." Audre Lorde 1934-1992)

In preparation for Meadville Lombard Theological School's move into the 20th Ward I am attending meetings and forming alliances in my role as Director of Contextual Ministry. I am identifying an array of organizations in an effort to get our name into the community and to meet our future neighbors. The Peace Rally below is one of many efforts initiated by the community to interrupt the rising tide of violence. Unfortunately I was not in town to attend. Sadly, this will not be the only one because the violence continues unabated. The Mayor's Office announced that this year was one of the most violence ridden years in history.

What are you doing to make a difference in your community and the larger world?
Blessed Be! Rev. Qiyamah

March, rally pushes a day of peace
By Richard Muhammad on Saturday, August 4, 2007

Zakryscha Hayes’ uncle founded the 6300-6400 S. Ellis Block Club some 40-years-ago in Woodlawn where she grew up and still lives. The block club isn’t as strong as it once was, but Hayes and some neighbors are determined to bring it back – and combat violence.

With a park on her block a place for numerous attacks and shootings, Hayes grew fed up. “Over the years there have been a number of murders in the Mamie Till Mobley Park in the playground. It’s just gotten out of hand and it just seems like everyone has become accustomed to the violence,” she said.

The violence was especially disheartening because the playground is named in honor of the mother of Emmit Till, the 14-year-old Chicago youth whose brutal murder by whites in a small Mississippi town helped ignited the modern civil rights movement. That spark might not have happened without Mamie Till Mobley’s fight for son’s body and her decision to conduct his funeral with an open casket. The young boy’s grotesquely disfigured face seemed to represent the horrific abuse Blacks had suffered for centuries when Jet magazine put the image on its front cover. The image sent shockwaves across America.

It seems almost inconceivable that 52 years later Blacks would still be dying, not at the hands of white oppressors, but at the hands of their own misguided brethren.

‘Stop the killings, save the community!'
Hayes wanted to hold a peace rally to remember the victims of violence and begin to make the park safe for children and youth. She turned to local leaders, like Bishop Arthur Brazier, who referred her to Warren Beard, the organizer for the New Communities Program at The Woodlawn Organization, one of three NCP partner groups. Beard went right to work.

Out of the meetings came an Aug. 4 march and day of peace on the playground.

The march for peace was led by Woodlawn’s Ceasefire program, which operates out of TWO offices and strives to bring youth out of lives associated with gangs, crime and violence.
Beginning with prayer and several statements from community leaders outside of the Harris Park District building. The march kicked off with chants, “Stop the killing!” “Put down the guns!” “Save the babies! Save our com-mu-ni-ty!”

Youth carried banners for Ceasefire and the New Communities Program as Rev. Leon Finney, of the Woodlawn Organization and executive director of Ceasefire TWO Woodlawn, and Alderman Willie Cochran led the way. They were followed by residents active in community policing groups, Harris Park board members, block club members and youth. Officers from the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago police, who have worked jointly on neighborhood public safety issues, escorted marchers down Drexel Avenue to 63rd St., and then south on Ellis Avenue to the playground. The University of Chicago is the third partner in the NCP Woodlawn trinity.

Marchers assembled on the playground, joining hands as Rev. Finney led off with a prayer, followed by words from Alderman Cochran.

Emmit Till’s family set off a storm of activity after his death, said Rev. Finney. There is no greater place to kick off an effort at non-violence and peace than this playground, said the longtime community activist.
Cochran recalled how as a very young child one of his earliest memories is the excitement and adult activity connected with the death of Till. He talked about pushing through the legs of the adults to see the Jet cover with that now famous photo.

The photo had an impact, Cochran said. Just before the march, the 20th Ward alderman called the fight against violence the new civil rights movement. “People have a right to live,” he said. 'You have the right to walk down the street and the right to sit on your porch."

Laura Lane, executive director of the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp., the second of three NCP Woodlawn partners, congratulated march participants for getting involved. It takes partnerships with schools, the Chicago Park District, block clubs and people to improve things, she said.

We need to come together to provide programming for adults who need a second chance, opportunities to keep youth on the right path, and activities to keep senior citizens active, Lane said.

It takes persistence and courage to guide young people and end neighborhood violence, she said. “We can reclaim 64th St. and Ellis Avenue and move block by block to reclaim Woodlawn,” Lane added.

'We need to fight this thing together'
As chips and rinks were handed out, grills set up for cooking, balloon animals twisted into shape, basketball competition heated up on the court and music poured out of speakers, talked turned to the march and peace rally.

Tieria Munson has lived in Woodlawn for a month and moved to Chicago from Atlanta. She lost a cousin to gun violence and came out to show support for Ceasefire, at her aunt’s urging. “Me and my cousin were really close and since her life was taken, I was like ‘well I should get involved, just to help out a little to do my part,’ ” said the 11-year-old.

“We need more eyes to pay attention. And regardless of race we need to fight this thing together,” said Roger Harris, 28, who has lived in Woodlawn for 25 years. Harris said he has been racially profiled, which is wrong. Still, he added, the focus needs to stay on joint efforts to end violence.

“They (youth) need to know, it’s not the way to go. We need to start as a village. I was raised in an older environment. I remember when, if I went next door and my neighbor saw me doing something wrong, they would call my mother. I think we need to get that village back together and raise our children as a village,” said Harris.

Taking small steps toward big victories
“This type activity brings about awareness to the problem and sometimes you need to bring about awareness so that you can get to solutions,” said John Reynolds, Area 2 coordinator with the CAPS office.

Christine Perez, a CAPS community service representative for the Third Police District, said getting some residents to move beyond talk to action is a challenge. “Their commitment is important. Their participation is valued because they’re the ones who live in the community. So if they participate that makes it have a great impact, that they are actually taking this seriously,” she said.

A recent shooting was on 15-year-old Darrius Lightfoot’s mind when he decided to support the march and rally. Getting involved is important to stop the killings, he said.

Cierra Williams, 15, feels the community is getting better because people are marching and doing things. “I would like to see the children happy, and able to play outside without running in the house, telling their momma it’s shooting and stuff. I just like to see the people happy and stuff,” she said. Williams says she is active in neighborhood rallies and also helps out at a youth center.

Lightfoot also thought it was important not to condemn all Black youth. “We are not bad kids. We do really good stuff to help out this ‘hood. So I think they should stop stereotyping us, saying that we are bad kids, and we’re not,” said the young man. He is a youth leader with STOP, a local community-organizing group, and helps younger children at a program run by the NCP Woodlawn.

Warren Beard, NCP organizer at TWO, helped Hayes put the event together. The day will include food and entertainment and highlights senseless crime and youth issues, said Beard. “We are trying to let the community know through events like this that it’s going to take a collective effort to make a change. It’s going to be one block at a time, combined together as an organized community, to make the changes we’re looking for in Woodlawn,” said Beard.

“Just to look out on the basketball court and see the same guys that were just, a couple days ago shooting at each other, playing basketball together that is what we are trying to get accomplished,’ said Charles Hilliard, an outreach worker for Ceasefire TWO Woodlawn. The group has 65-75 regular clients, who may be gangbangers or tied to the drug trade, who are being taught their activity is unacceptable, said Hilliard. Some are back in school, pursuing GEDs and seeking jobs, he added.

Hilliard is a former gang member and has lived in Woodlawn over 35 years. “I am just trying to put something back in what I created,” he said. “It was easy for me to touch and tap into their system and let them know look we’re trying to do something else now, and you all need to create a whole different program.”

Ceasefire TWO Woodlawn is about a year and a half old, he said.

The work isn’t easy but the group is having success, Hilliard said. Ceasefire programs from Englewood, Auburn-Gresham and Humboldt Park also participated in the march and rally.

Zakryscha Hayes hopes revitalizing her block club and block will be the beginning of greater success and activity on other blocks. But in the 6300-6400 block of Ellis, her plans are to help residents learn about and tap into city services and resources and open up more options for youth. An immediate goal is to work with the Chicago Park District to do a $1 million renovation of the Mamie Till Mobley playground and maybe annex a bit of a vacant lot to add a tennis court, said Hayes.

1 comment:

J Porter said...

This was an unspeakable tragedy. This young man was martyred so that our community could move forward. God bless the till family!

J Porter