CHICAGO—The South Shore community has what should be an enviable position in the city: It is within walking distance of the city’s famous Lakefront, with beaches, great views, a park, a beach house, bikers, walkers, runners and, in the summer, a drum circle. 

Click here to view print version 

South Shore boasts a beautiful cultural center, churches, the Nation of Islam’s headquarters Mosque Maryam, parks and a golf course. It includes the historic Jackson Park Highlands, beautiful homes, mansions and mini-mansions where Black professionals and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have homes.

State of Emergency

Click to Enlarge

It includes hospitals and shopping. It includes easy transportation downtown going North and to Indiana going South. It includes commuter trains that easily connect with the Chicagoland-area, Indiana and Wisconsin. It includes direct
bus transportation and express transportation to downtown.
But this unique mix is often inaccessible to South Shore youth often boxed in by street conflicts and insecurity. South Shore has one of, if not the highest, violence rate in the city. It has problems with education, unemployment and poverty.

But not all youth are lost or hopeless; a cadre is emerging that is learning the ways of leadership, social change and community action.

These youth were front and center May 6 for an evening rally and march beginning at 71st St. and Jeffrey Blvd., a major intersection and thoroughfare and a major east-west boundary for street organizations and crews who stake out
their turf.

Youth marched, chanted, sang and handed out fliers and information as part of a new group, State of Emergency, housed at ABJ Social Services. State of Emergency, a community organizing and community building effort to “solve the violence,” is new. But its active youth were taught and trained by longtime youth advocate and trainer Victoria Brady, though MOPP (Movement of People for Peace) and Ray of Hope Center for the Arts, which seeks to inspire social change through the arts. She has formed and forged numerous groups and campaigns but youth are always at the center. She builds their spirits and skills and offers ways to find and express their voices. She is also executive director of ABJ Social Services. Here are a few youth voices and emerging leaders in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood.

Hello my name is Marquise and I am a high school student that participated in a program at
Ray of Hope Center of the Arts called After School Matters. My experience at the program
which was held at ABJ was and still is awesome because I got to meet new people and I got to do
things that I never got to do before in high school. 

I was in a play that called “Pieces of a Shattered Dream” and when I say it is wonderful I mean it was wonderful. I played the father and I was encouraging my son to do what is right and stand up for what he believed in as far as the Civil Rights Movement. I had a great instructor named Victoria Brady and she taught me how to act and how to get into my acting mode to build my character. We had to research historic facts about the Civil Rights Movement and watched a documentary called “Children’s March.” The documentary was very powerful and I learned
that children and teenagers played a major role in changing conditions in Birmingham, Alabama. So I am so glad that I got the opportunity to do something that so many children and by children I mean teenagers choose not to do and or want to do it. 

Even in the program some youth only wanted to play around but after awhile they really got into the project and our performance was better than we thought it would be.

Marquise Bender, 16

One of the aims of State of Emergency is to back other groups and their peers from other groups and the neighborhood . The “Village Take Back” rally and march was organized and led by Pastor Jedidiah Brown of the Young Leaders Alliance, an organization of community stakeholders on a local network that expands to a nationwide network, and Chosen Generation, an organized Christian family. The street action included a march through several blocks in South Shore to show concern for Black life and call for an end to violence and the underlying inequality that feeds and supports violence. The action included caskets to dramatize the State of Emergency and the need for immediate, united action. Gardener Funeral Home supplied two caskets, an adult casket and a child’s casket, which were wheeled through the streets.

“This is part of our state of emergency response to the senseless and unacceptable murder of our children, youth and young adults! This is a community response–everyone is urged to come out,” said Village Take Back organizers.

Residents expressed approval by waving and shouting from windows and buses. Drivers honked horns in support. Community groups and activists including Dirk “Don Dirk” Acklin, a co-founder of the Black Disciples street organization, longtime anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, Black motorcycle riders, direct first responders to violence and other organizations and pastors supported the peace movement. And, for young leaders, it was an important moment:

The 71st Jeffrey Village Takeover: a United Movement.

This event occurred on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 6 p.m. The people came out and participated in this event. The police were there, a motorcycle crew, and more importantly the community came out. We had poets there and inspirational speakers. I appreciated the crowd that came out
that day.

The peace walk was real nice. The crowd was ramped up and ready to solve, not stop, but SOLVE the problem. Our message was to come united with our village of people. We want peace and we want it now. We had each other’s back and nobody was left behind. We started the movement and this will not be the last time you hear from us again. We were United as One.

A. Butler, 17

The Movement on 71st Jeffery

The Movement was a powerful statement for everyone that came, 

To see us as part of something great and unique and rarely seen on 71st, it made me feel good. To be around positive people and have the Chicago Police Department to keep us safe & not let anything stop us from doing the right thing for the South Shore community was great but it was a long process. We got it done so we can send a message to those that don’t pay attention to television or the killings on the street. I hope the caskets were a clear message for the people that were around at the time. I was happy to be part of a movement that was powerful. It was something that I can remember, something I can tell people in the near future about.

C. Wilson, 21

State of Emergency meets every Thursday at ABJ Community Services, Inc., located at 1818 E. 71st St. Join us call ABJ at 773-667-2100 for more information. Let’s Solve the Violence problem. Let’s rebuild our community.