Editor’s Note: The Cure Violence program in Chicago is called CeaseFire . This post come from Nathalie Lagerfeld, a volunteer blogger from Groupon.
“What do we want?” “Peace!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
These chants echoed through the streets near Frederick Funston Elementary School in Humboldt Park this Saturday, as more than a hundred marchers participated in the Walk for Peace, the finale event of the 14th annual CeaseFire Week. Dressed in white Alliance of Local Service Organization (ALSO) T-shirts, the mix of activists and community members held signs that read “Stop the Killing” in both English and Spanish.
They were joined by dozens of students from Funston, many of whom held handmade posters they’d made in class on the subject of “what peace means to me.” Curious neighborhood residents popped heads out of windows or stood out on front stoops as the crowd moved through the mostly quiet neighborhood.
Given the peacefulness of the scene, it was hard to believe that this community had been subject to serious—and very recent—violence. At around 3 a.m. the night before, a young man was shot at the corner of Lawndale and Shakespeare Ave., along the planned Walk of Peace route. When we spoke before the march, ALSO Executive Director Lori Crowder had just come from a meeting with the police, who had confirmed they would take down the crime-scene tape in time for the walk to proceed as planned.
Dedicated to the memory of Schanna Gayden, a 13-year-old who lost her life there in 2007, the playground at Frederick Funston Elementary School had already seemed like an appropriate spot for the Celebration of Peace that was to follow the walk. But now, Crowder said, the location seemed particularly meaningful.
“We feel like we’re in the right place,” she said.
The theme of CeaseFire Week 2014 was “Your Life is my Life: Ending Violence Starts with Me,” a message that Crowder said encourages members of the community to take responsibility in addressing violence in all its forms. It was a message she reinforced when she took the stage with Kimball Ave. Church pastor Bruce Ray and CeaseFire Program Manager Jorge Matos to give her opening remarks before the walk.
Though Crowder encouraged attendees to leave the street-level mediation to trained Violence Interrupters, she said there were numerous ways for the rest of us to make a difference “without threatening our safety.” These include keeping kids in school, hiring youth workers at local businesses, and mentoring young people in the neighborhood—anything to foster positive ties to the community.
But the most important thing anyone could do, Crowder emphasized, was to speak up. Everyone present that day had seen things that made them uncomfortable in their community. But too often, neighborhood residents stay silent about their concerns.
“Maybe we didn’t know what to do. Maybe we didn’t think it was our business,” Crowder said. “But if my life is your life, then it is my business.”
In his turn, Pastor Ray described how “the fight became personal for me again” with the death of Leonore Draper, a Chicago Public Schools employee and anti-violence activist who was an worked closely with his wife. Leonore was shot “for unknown reasons” while sitting in her parked car this April. Ray encouraged the assembled crowd to take this and other tragedies as reason to step up the fight against violence in Chicago’s communities. “We have talked the talk—now it’s time to walk the walk,” he finished.
Upon their return from the Walk for Peace, marchers were treated to hot dogs, water, and snacks from a buffet set up at one corner of the playground. Then the Celebration of Peace truly got underway, as local artists took the stage for live music performances that lasted into the afternoon. In gratitude for the school’s participation in the event, ALSO also raffled off a week of summer camp to a lucky Funston student.
But even as festivities were in full swing, the Walk for Peace’s organizers were already looking ahead to 2015. Though violent-crime statistics in many neighborhoods of Chicago are down from last year, everyone agreed there was more work to do. Already in 2014, there had been 154 homicides—almost one each day so far that year. Crowder said that this number showed the continued need for CeaseFire’s street-level mediation work—and for more community events like the Walk for Peace.
“We won’t be done walking until there are no more shootings and no more homicides in this community,” she said.