Margaret Village’s Block Party attracts young and old to 73rd and Yale

“We want people to re-think what’s normal. Nonviolence is normal.” – Geri Kerger, Margaret’s Village



Development Director Geri Kerger paused to catch her breath. She had been in the midst of describing the activities – the many, many activities – that comprised her organization’s September Safe and Peaceful Chicago block party, and the list had become so long that she needed to take a moment to fill her lungs with fresh air to continue.


“Alderman Roderick Sawyer opened the event, and representatives from the Mayor’s Office and State Senator Jacqueline Collins’ office addressed the crowd of more than 150,” she began. “Activist Andrew Holmes gathered the children around and gave a compassionate demonstration on staying safe walking to school. Chauncey Harrison from Teamwork Englewood, a frequent collaborator with Margaret’s Village, presented information on the advocacy his group offers.”  She went on, mentioning the involvement of the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, the Jesse White Tumblers and others.


“A DJ had people line dancing in the street, kids were making a nonviolence mural, and others were drawing peace signs in chalk on the sidewalk,” Kerger said.  “A free lunch was provided and each child received two new books.”  Additionally, representatives from programs such as After School Matters, YWCA Tech GYRLS, Metro Squash, Totally Positive Productions, TrueStar, Eat 2 Live Community Garden and YogaCares were present to talk to participants and offer registration information.


“If you feel that you can be empowered, and you can take control, and that there are things that you can do, then you’ll do it. This is a way to really change things up.” – Geri Kerger, Margaret’s Village


For Margaret’s Village, a full-service social agency in the city’s Englewood community, days like this don’t happen often. While the agency has planned health fairs for some 15 years, it had never before hosted an event centered on the subject of peace.   The grant from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities made it possible.  


Margaret’s Village had two goals for its event: To provide information about making the community safer and empowering people to take action, and to highlight healthy, positive activities available in or near the community for people of all ages.


“Idleness in this community leads to death,” said Angela Hicks, executive director of Margaret’s Village. “Whether it is a teenager on the street corner or the senior citizen who is socially isolated, human potential is wasted if we don’t continually engage in positive and healthy activities.”


Violence is a big challenge for the Englewood community, where almost everyone is impacted one way or another according to Kerger. “When people hear Englewood, they don’t think about the quality services that we and others provide, or the good things that are happening here,” she said. Margaret’s Village has served the Englewood community since 1989 with its homeless shelter and senior center.   


Reflecting further on the block party, Kerger described the palpable excitement of the day. “When the Jesse White Tumblers performed, it was mesmerizing. There were little kids who were watching, along with the elderly from our senior center, and you’d see the little kids standing with the older people just watching with amazement, hardly moving,” she said.  “Those inter-generational connections gave me the feeling of community. It was nice to see that sense of community because I think that’s really a key to peace in a neighborhood.”


Margaret’s Village is already making plans for 2018. “We’ve had a great start with this year’s peace fair,” said executive director Hicks.  “We hope to work together with our new partners and neighbors throughout the year, and make next year’s event bigger and better.”


Kimberley Rudd is a writer with Rudd Resources.

Police show their handiwork through puppets

“This  gave me an opportunity to meet the police and have them get involved.They really didn’t know what we were doing so that was really awesome, and they’re always looking for activities for the youth and they were unaware of how much we were doing.” – Omar Torres, Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center


For 45 years, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center has provided Afro-Latin arts and culture to a neighborhood surrounded by gang activity and crime. In 2017, Executive Director Omar Torres applied for the Safe & Peaceful Communities Grant to extend the stay of  artists in residence through the MacArthur International Connections program, Y No Había Luz, a leading masks and theater group from Puerto Rico.


We got amazing news late that May that we were getting this grant, so we extended the stay of these professional artists to a point that they could present at the Puerto Rican parade,” says Torres.


In addition to a summer filled with puppet-making workshops for the community hosted by Y No Había Luz, the extension also fostered a partnership with the 25th district of the Chicago Police Department. The collaboration included a series of meetings between the center and the  district’s community relations staff. Officers even participated in the puppet-making workshops.



“This  gave me an opportunity to meet the police and have them get involved,” says Torres. “They really didn’t know what we were doing so that was really awesome and they’re always looking for activities for the youth and they were unaware of how much we were doing.”


Torres says the workshops were filled with participants ranging from children to elderly, including the busload of individuals the officers brought from their neighborhood. The officers supported the initiative by rolling up their sleeves to partake in puppet making so the center could complete its visual display for the Puerto Rican parade.


“We were creating these butterflies that were going to be on sticks and have some movement, so they thought that was something they could take on,” Torres recalls. “All their people gathered at tables and worked tirelessly on the butterflies. That was really incredible because, thanks to their work, we ended up with a lot of butterflies. It was a really nice visual.”


The center not only led the Puerto Rican parade but was invited by the district to perform at National Night Out, an annual campaign to promote and enhance relationships between police and communities.


“We were a huge hit over there,” Torres says. “Now, we’ve committed to go every year to the National Night Out and spend some time with police. We can give back for everything they do for us and fortify that relationship.”


The Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center has partnered with The Puerto Rican Agenda’s Hurricane Relief Effort:Pallets and Planes to provide hurricane relief for those affected by Hurricane Maria. The center  hosted Puerto Rico Artist Hurricane Relief Fundraiser on October 19th to support professional artists affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Cassaundra Sampson is a writer with Rudd Resources