Violence has claimed the lives of far too many young people in Chicago.
Saturday morning, the Rev. Robin Hood of Clergy Committed to Community brought together about two dozen people at Pastor John Drummond’s New Grace Emmanuel Church in the South Chicago neighborhood to figure out how to stop it.
The crowd in the pews was mostly black women. Some had children with them, and many wore green t-shirts proclaiming their membership in Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere, or MOVE. Four Latino mothers who belong to Mothers for Peace in the Back of the Yards neighborhood sat in a pew in the second row.
The late November morning was sunny and temperate, but the content the speakers discussed was not.
Derek Brown, formerly known as “Shotgun,” spoke after Rev. Hood gave introductory comments. The formerly high-ranking member of the Vice Lords talked about the work he has done with the youth in his native North Lawndale community to reduce the violence that has been so rampant.
“It’s easy,” said Brown, who has a shaved head, full beard and thickly muscled arms covered with tattoos. “Give them something to do and keep them focused.”
One of the somethings Brown has done is get a boxing club started. This past week he helped organize a talent show that hundreds of kids attended.
Brown explained that funding thus far has come partly through grace and also through his and other young men’s visits to businesses in the community.
Lisa Rivera of Mothers for Peace talked about the importance of loving children unconditionally. Her shoulder length black hair flashing as she spoke, she explained that she has come to realize that judging and condemning her son’s behavior may have pushed him to the street corner, where gang members were waiting for him with open arms.
Rivera, whose 20-year-old son has been incarcerated for two years, visits him every week in prison. Her group has held meetings with gang members in the community, and the word is spreading.
James Thindwa spoke last.
The Zimbabwean-born former head of Jobs for Justice acknowledged the importance of taking responsibility for children’s actions. But he also talked about the necessity of holding politicians accountable and recognizing the devastating impact job loss has had on black and Latino communities.
“Let’s have both conversations,” Thindwa said, his voice rising as he spoke about Mayor Daley’s 2006 veto of the living wage ordinance that passed the City Council and the $14 billion the United States spends monthly on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many questions remain.
An elder in a black three-piece suit asked Brown how others who have less street credibility can intervene with the young people in the community, and did not appear completely satisfied with the answer Brown gave to “show no fear.”
Several speakers passionately denounced violence in the community while at the same time appearing to condone hitting children as an acceptable form of discipline.
Some of the statistics speakers mentioned were of questionable accuracy.
But a start was made.
On a clean and quiet street in one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by violence, black and brown people came together to talk, to support each other, to forge alliances and to design solutions.
They spoke from their hearts.
They listened with respect.
And they gave each other strength to continue the fight.