The First Ward hosted a new event of its kind: a Community Stability Forum on rethinking safety by showcasing community programs involved in violence prevention.
The first-ever “Re-thinking Safety: A Holistic Violence Prevention Resource Fair” at Moos Elementary (1711 N. California Ave.) on Nov. 21 had a small attendance but was full of information and resources for First Ward residents and partners wanting to engage with the community and work against violence.
Including myself and my colleague, fewer than 10 non-presenting, non-staff guests were in attendance. La Spata began the event by speaking to the people sitting in a classroom on the school’s second floor. He called the event “the first in a series of community conversations we want to have around stable communities.”
“For every dollar our city spends on policing, it spends less than a penny on violence prevention,” La Spata said, challenging the city’ budget priorities. “We need to broaden how we’re thinking about what makes a community safe, what makes a community stable.”
He praised the work of Chicago police officers, but mentioned that by its nature policing is “essentially reactive.”
La Spata referenced a meeting he attended at Chicago Police Headquarters on 35th Street and Michigan Avenue, where he was shown footage of a man being shot in the first ward two years.
“It’ll never get out of my mind,” he said of the upsetting footage. This incident got him thinking on the importance of funding comprehensive programs to “get to these young men six months or a year prior to an incident.”
Featured Community Violence Prevention Organizations
Five violence prevention organizations in the ward then presented their work and mission to the attendees. First up was Hannah Jones, director of economic development for the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago. Jones referenced ICNC’s mission statement: “To strengthen companies in the Kinzie Industrial Corridor and to facilitate economic and community development.”
ICNC’s Make City is a 416,000 square foot business incubator that focuses on industrial employers. Make City houses about 100 product-based business at any given time. Jones referenced the employment assistance arm of ICNC, which seeks to place workers with industrial jobs that tend to hire well above minimum wage and promote from within, which “promotes personal and familial wealth” for its workers. The purpose of the workforce development arm is to “create livable wage jobs with low educational barriers for city of Chicago residents.”
Jones spoke about ICNC’s efforts to assist women by preparing them for the EMT exam. They train about 60 women a year for free, she said. Many have become paramedics and some have become registered nurses. Jones also spoke about ICNC’s Impact Culinary Training, which prepares people aged 16–24 for an entry-level career in a restaurant. This program is in partnership with Rick Bayless, the founder of giant restaurant company Lettuce Entertain You, who works to place Impact graduates with internships and jobs in the city’s high-end restaurants. ICNC offers business consulting and international trade consulting as well.
The next speaker was Ana Wright, program director for Young Chicago Authors. YCA is located at Division Street and Milwaukee Avenue, primarily serving young people aged 12–25. YCA offers free poetry writing workshops, open mic events and serves as a safe space free of hate for anyone who comes in. YCA’s marquee event is Louder Than a Bomb, the world’s largest youth poetry festival in the world. Wright spoke about YCA’s efforts to get their writer’s poetry published for monetary gain by working with booking managers. YCA gives speakers a space to express themselves, develop themselves personally and professionally and works to be a “call in, not call out” culture.
With violence prevention, Wright said YCA seeks to avoid police involvement in conflict resolution as a first resort and stressed that YCA makes attendees say out loud that they must conduct themselves in a manner free of hate and bigotry while onsite. YCA runs the city’s longest-running open mic event on Tuesdays.
The next speakers were Javon Gregoire, deputy director and Kimeco Roberson, community project manager with Readi Chicago, a Heartland Alliance Program.
“We are driven to decrease shootings and homicides among those at highest risk of gun violence; create new opportunities for these same individuals to change their life trajectory and decrease their involvement with the criminal justice system; and help build an infrastructure at the community level to promote long-term safety and opportunity in Chicago’s most impoverished communities,” reads the organization’s mission statement.
Readi focuses their work with the approximately 3,000 people identified by the Chicago Police Department as the most at-risk to be a victim or perpetrator of gun violence. Outreach workers get the names and information on these individuals through the University of Chicago Crime Lab, and work with this information and their own knowledge to attempt to reach them. Once found, outreach workers try to get the individuals to come onsite and connect them with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, work solutions and employment and other supportive services.
Gregoire called the outreach workers “relentless” in reaching the primarily young men, many of whom are distrustful at first. Gregoire said many of the people benefitting from CBT have begun calling it CAD, for Control, Alt, Delete, in reference to criminal and harmful behavior and experiences.
He said 80 percent of Readi staff have “lived experience” with the issues facing those they serve; Readi works to get those they help to be their own advocates and ultimately reduce gun violence. It works with the people where they are, giving second chances when needed with altered plans for personal development in the hopes that “each one” can “teach one.” Roberson stressed Readi’s values of “real love, real hope, real talk.”
Amber Kirchhoff, public policy manager at Thresholds, said her organization provides services and resources for persons with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders in Illinois.
“We work with many populations, including youth and young adults, veterans, young mothers, deaf, and individuals experiencing homelessness, among others,” reads its mission statement.
Kirchhoff spoke to Thresholds’ work with getting affected people living independently, connected to job training and development and in touch with mental health assistance resources. Many of Thresholds’ clients are transitioning out of nursing homes and hospitals, she said. Kirchhoff referenced the organization’s “team-based treatment,” where multiple professionals of different occupations work on the same caseload to provide clients with comprehensive treatment and assistance to reach a better place in life.
A specific program Kirchhoff mentioned was in partnership with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where musicians assisted mothers in writing lullabies for their children. Thresholds provides Crisis Intervention Training to police officers, which stresses de-escalation of mental health crisis events. Kirchhoff stressed that Thresholds is not a crisis intervention organization; the best route for a crisis is to call 911 and ask for a CIT trained officer to assist.
The last speaker was Tony Raggs with ALSO, the Alliance of Local Service Organizations. Per its website, ALSO believed that “oppression is the foundation that supports violence; government and community are equally responsible to solve issues of violence; no one is free from the threat or act of violence until we are all free from the threat or act of violence.”
ALSO was founded in 1998 and worked within Logan Square to coordinate assistance for families in the area. Now, ALSO workers participate in street intervention, acting as first responders in crisis situations and after incidents of violence. Caseworkers are trained to identify red flags in relationships and identifying those who are at-risk of violence victimization. They seek to assist these individuals through mediation, supportive service connection and first-hand visits and phone calls. Raggs said that caseworkers with ALSO strive to get clients back into school, whether high school if the client is young or GED programs to increase opportunities and get people off of the streets. Another service ALSO provides is funeral payment assistance to families of violence victims. ALSO seeks to “change the face of violence in our community,” and works locally and nationally.
Allison Carvalho, community development director for Alderman LaSpata, said the ward hopes to hold more violence prevention forums to offer residents with resources for violence prevention and thanked each of the organizations at the fair for their community work.
“We hope to continue to hold one per quarter to highlight our partners and continue to give residents multiple holistic options for what to do in instances of real and perceived violence,” Carvalho said.
LaSpata offered closing remarks, stating that he will speak to Mayor Lightfoot’s team about stressing violence prevention in order to bring about a more stable Chicago.
If residents have questions or would like to connect with any of these organizations more directly, email [email protected]
Featured photo: Tom Vlodek