Dancing For Peace In Englewood

“We wanted to do something that almost anybody could do that would be fun and positive. We wanted to let kids show what they are capable of doing if they are given the opportunity.”  – Pierre Lockett


Englewood, located on Chicago’s South Side, is a community often overshadowed by relentless gang violence that leads residents to seclude themselves indoors during the summer days to avoid being another fatal statistic of the crossfire.


“When kids wake up and go to school, there’s always some type of death, some type of negative activity,” says Pierre Lockett, executive director of Forward Momentum Chicago, an organization that provides high-quality, affordable dance education programs in the classroom and in the community. “We wanted to do something that almost anybody could do that would be fun and positive. We wanted to let kids show what they are capable of doing if they are given the opportunity.” 


Lockett was awarded the Safe and Peaceful Communities grant in 2016, and again in 2017. The program, entitled “Dance 4 Peace,” strived to do more than it accomplished in the previous year.


“We wanted to target more adults than previous years,” Lockett says.  “It’s usually geared toward kids, so I was able to reach out to other individuals who had connections with fitness to bring everything together around dance.”


About 250 people, including children, parents and seniors, participated in a Labor Day weekend event filled with fitness classes including praise dance, line dance, Zumba and hip hop. The week concluded with a public performance in Hamilton Park’s auditorium.


On the final day, a young, unexpected star dazzled the audience. In previous renditions of the performance, a young boy took the lead.  However, some participants were unable to attend the last performance, so it was in this moment that Lockett realized the cohesiveness of the various groups of children and adults as a girl stepped into the spotlight.


“When the little girl came out, the audience wasn’t expecting it. She started dancing and the audience was like ‘Oh wow,’” Lockett says, laughing as he recalls the moment.  “So the audience reaction to that performance was the highlight for me.”



Cassaundra Sampson is a writer with Rudd Resources.


This is a story about the Promote Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

Mentor Teacher Brother

Creating defining moments in the lives of at-risk, high-school students


Mentor Teacher Brother is an organization with a clear motto: Leaders of Today Working to Preserve a Better Tomorrow. Located in the West Pullman neighborhood, its goal is to create defining moments for at-risk high school students and help them find their way to college.


Thanks to funds they received from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the organization was able to extend its services through the summer months with its “Summer Enrichment Camp.”  The 12-week camp was filled with group activities and field trips for 25 young men.


Mentor Teacher Brother Executive Director LaMont Taylor says that one of the most exciting activities was the “Black and Blue Conversation.” In this event, the students met Chicago Police Department District 5 officers for an open dialogue. Taylor says the event allowed both parties to see things from the other’s perspective and find things in common.


“They understood that at the end of the day, everybody just wants to go home and be safe,” Taylor says, adding that the conversation allowed kids and the organization to create a relationship with the police officers. “It´s an opportunity to see that they can affect change by being part of the solution.”



Another event that has a special space in Taylor´s heart is the golfing trip. He says one of the kids had never played before, but he was a natural at it. Taylor says the youngster mentioned he wanted to join a golf team.


“I just reflected on that,” Taylor says. “This is what it is all about, exposing them to opportunities and experiences they have never had.”


Summer is over, but Mentor Teacher Brother has one more activity left: a trip to Tennessee. The organization plans to take the students to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  And with expectations that more kids will participate in the 2018 camp, Taylor is already thinking next summer’s plans.


Raquel Venado is a writer with Rudd Resources.

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

A party plus authors and food equals lasting community impact

“Rocking the Block to bring Woodlawn together”


Block parties can be very valuable for communities, and Sunshine Gospel Ministries outdid itself this past summer.  Through a partnership with the Soulful Chicago Book Fair and the first Woodlawn Food Truck festival, Sunshine presented an event like no other to the neighborhood.


On July 16, people of all ages got together to have a good time, support more than 70 local authors and enjoy delicious food.  The event attracted members from Sunshine´s programs along with visitors to the community.


Sunshine Gospel Ministries has been helping its community since 1905. The hard work the organization has done over more than a hundred years was rewarded earlier this year when it was named one of 2017´s Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities grant recipients. Sunshine leveraged the funding to help expand the book fair into a block party.


Pastor Pete Blodgett of Sunshine Gospel Ministries recalls greeting a neighborhood woman whom he had never seen as she was having a good time with her children. She represented the type of family that Sunshine is trying to reach, Blodgett says.


“What we did was greater than just one block,” he says, “and it was invaluable in strengthening the neighborhood and those bonds between people.”


Sunshine´s regular programs focus on children and young adults, but Executive Director Joel Hamernick says one of the outcomes of these kinds of activities is the meaningful and productive interaction between kids and adults. “Summer events do that in a really unique and remarkable way,” says Hamernick.


Sunshine Enterprises Director Ethan Daly says the movement and excitement this brings to a block that normally lacks commercial activity attracts more attention to its programs and local businesses. The team hopes to make the event bigger and better next year. “I want to bring this to Woodlawn to show that the neighborhood and the people here are valued and that the power of the written word should be accessible to everyone, of every age,” says Daly.


Beyond a block party, Sunshine also tries to keep its community engaged through physical activities for elementary and high school students several times a week, according to Sunshine´s high school Program Coordinator Donnell Williams. Williams says Sunshine’s kids and neighbors are invited to this program, where they take over the block for a couple of hours and have activities. He says the goal is to give them as much exposure as possible and to keep them busy.


Raquel Venado is a writer with Rudd Resources.

Primo Center Camp Builds Character, Understanding

“Everyone wants to have a peaceful city, and a place to live and grow.” – Shelly Cooper, The Primo Center


At this time in Chicago, the relationship between youth and police officers isn’t always easy. That’s exactly why The Primo Center took on the challenge of creating a space where the two groups could come together and have conversations over the rigors and rules…of basketball.   


With funding from The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, The Primo Center launched a four-week summer camp for kids, managed by young mentors called “coaches,” many of whom were from the Englewood community. The camp offered fun, character-building activities, including basketball, to help create good relationships with the officers of the Chicago Police Department’s 7th district, which serves Englewood.


The Primo Center is a well-regarded nonprofit organization that provides permanent and supportive programs for homeless families, and mental health services for the broader community. With established facilities on Chicago’s West Side, the center moved to Englewood in early 2017 and saw a big opportunity for youth programming in its new home.  


“The campus we’re on was a former school, and it had a magnificent gym, a lot of outdoor space and classrooms,” says Shelly Cooper, chief community relations officer for the center.  “We wanted to use this facility to offer an engaging program for the community and our residents toward ending the violence this summer. We wanted to give youth a safe place to gather.”


By reaching out to Teamwork Englewood and Greater Englewood Community Development and recruiting youth from churches, parks and other places, the center attracted nearly 300 to the camp. It met three times a week and offered breakfast and lunch.


One of the camp’s most important activities was the peace circle, where children shared their feelings and concerns about the violence in Chicago, and police officers listened to them.


“There was no judgment and they could express what they truly feel, and the officers were part of it,” says Cooper. “That was an opportunity that they might not have otherwise had…to see each other as human beings, without fear.”


Cooper says that it also went beyond the sessions, because even after them, the children and police would play together. “It helped fill the gap between the youth and the police,” she says.


Cooper says the coaches got a lot from the camp as well. She recalls one young man, a Chicago native, who had moved to Atlanta.  There, he felt hurt every time he was asked about the violence in Chicago; he didn´t want others’ perceptions of Chicago to focus on its violence. So, he returned to Chicago to volunteer his summer with The Primo Center.  


“Everyone wants to have a peaceful city, and a place to live and grow. Everyone wants that,” says Cooper.  She says that hearing that young man’s motivation “was a moment to step back and to really just think about how we would like things to be and how one individual can affect change.”


Raquel Venado is a writer with Rudd Resources.

Young People and Police Start Talking at Elijah’s House

Elijah’s House kicked-off their anti-violence activities in August with an event to mend the walls of communication between Chicago’s youth and the Chicago Police Department. Venita Williams, Executive Director and planner of this event, said the idea was born from conversations staff members often had with teens about their daily concerns. They found that many teens had questions about the state of their communities and wanted to know the roles these officers played:

“…it was something that youth were always asking about… ‘why did this happen,’ ‘why am I perceived a certain way,’ ‘why are there drugs in my school,’ or ‘why am I targeted when I dress a certain way?”

The idea to host a round table conversation where Chicago police officers and young people from the community could sit down and discuss the issues face to face was born from these questions.

Elijah’s House staff understood that youth involvement in the process would be essential to achieving a successful event and their desired outcomes. With this in mind, they identified several avenues for young people to influence the event profoundly. First, students from the culinary program were recruited to cater the event. They spoke with their peers and planned a menu that both the police officers and the students would enjoy. Next, students from the journalism and broadcasting program conducted field research on youth violence, focusing their efforts in Humboldt Park. They wrote short articles on their findings and published them in Urban Teen Magazine which is produced by Elijah’s House. Their findings led to several follow up questions that later became core questions in the round table conversation.

On the day of the Round Table, students stood outside peeking through the crack between the closed doors. Once open, they rushed through to the registration tables, where they found personal name tags and their seating arrangements. As students grabbed food and took their seats, officers from the 11th and 15th districts arrived dressed in plain clothes and began mingling with the teens. Each table was composed of 8 to 9 youth and one officer; there was no facilitator or another adult present. The youth had full control over the dialogue and eagerly dove into their questions.

As staff walked the room, there was a sense of calm as the intimacy and openness of the conversation allowed for an amplified safe space for honesty and the ability to converse with ease. Venita Williams, Executive Director of Elijah’s House,  observed, “…you have these kids perceiving authority one way, but then they’re reconnecting in a different way.” Williams says even the shyest kids had something to say. As the event went on, the topics of their conversation broadened to include favorite school subjects and auto parts, as the youth and officers began getting to know one another on a more human level.

The feedback on the Round Table was unanimous amongst students and officers; both identified that there is a need for these conversations to continue. The goal of this event was to improve the interactions between officers and teens. However, Elijah’s House recognizes that this is only the beginning. To truly make an impact, conversations such as this must continue, as it is important these relationships are maintained. For Williams these connections can and will truly make the difference:

“…If I say hi to you every day, you begin to know me. And I begin to build that familiarity; then I do begin to feel safe within my community. I do know that if something happens, I have a direct link to an individual who can make an impact, who can help me turn a situation around.”

Elijah’s House hopes that similar Round Tables will spring up in other communities to further the conversation and engagement amongst the youth and the Chicago Police Department. For more information on their event, including a video check out the Elijah’s House website in the coming weeks at https://www.elijahshousenfp.org/.