“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.