The news reports from Labor Day in Chicago focused largely on the fact that three people were killed, including a teenager, and that 10 citizens were shot.
But many elected officials and community activists lament the fact that the shootings and killings regularly are reported but far less is broadcast about the work that goes on each day by volunteers and dedicated personnel who work with young people to reduce the level of gun violence in Chicago.
Indeed, there are scores of programs that operate on Chicago’s South and West Sides, the largely African-American and Latino sections of the city that have been the scene of the lion’s share of shootings and gun deaths. Some are fairly well known and others operate largely in the shadows.
“There are some people doing some great things in this city,” said Will Burns, a Chicago alderman, speaking in an interview with BET.com.
“There are a lot of folks who spend a good deal of time as volunteers or as workers who are engaged every day to reduce violence to our communities,” Burns said. “What they do is not tailor made for newspapers or television. But they do the hard work of motivating young people, of dealing with the issues that lead young people to a life of crime.”
One of the best known activists in the field is Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest whose church, St Sabina’s, has been the center of a renowned effort to provide activities and mentorship to young African-American Chicagoans. The church, in the heart of the city’s Black South Side, specifically in the long troubled Englewood section, holds a celebrated nighttime basketball league that includes members of rival gangs.
Under Pfleger's leadership, the community around Saint Sabina has championed the closing of a number of businesses specializing in drug paraphernalia. Pfleger's parish also campaigned for the removal of tobacco and alcohol billboards from their neighborhood. That was later placed into law by the Chicago City Council.
Meanwhile, Stomping Out Drugs and Gangs, is another program that has received acclaim in Chicago. It is an organization founded in 2003 by Marco Johnson, a Chicago police officer who decided to undertake programs that focused on mentoring the city’s youth.
Johnson, who was raised in the Chicago housing developments, had grown wary of the constant violence on the streets of the city as well as seeing young people selling drugs and not in school. He used sports as way to lure young people from the activities of the streets and, in conjunction with activities of the Police Athletic League, provides athletic and mentoring activities for youth.
But there are others, old and new, all based in the city’s South and West Sides. Some, like the Bright Star Community Outreach Family Outreach Center have been around for years. Others are new, such as the nearly year-old Hadiya Pendleton Foundation, named after the teenager who was shot and killed in a South Side playground a week after she performed with her school band at President Obama’s inauguration.
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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)