Deondre Rutues is looking to clean up the Austin community one spoken word performance at a time. In May, the 29-year-old launched UnRivaled Aura Presents: A Legend In The Making. The monthly performing arts showcase highlights numerous performing artists, such as spoken word artists, rappers, singers and musicians from the South and West Sides.
Each showcase, Rutues said, takes place on the fourth Friday of the month at Afrikan Village Chicago Cultural Center, 5840 W. Madison Ave., with some performers in competition for monetary prizes and for an invitation to perform at the season's final event in October.
Admission is $10 for general audience members and $5 for performers, although entry is free for performers who bring five or more guests. Attendees can also eat the events for an extra $5. So far, Rutues noted, around 60 people have attended past events and the feedback has been increasingly positive with each showcase he hosts.
The showcases themselves, however, are the sideshow to what the ambitious West Side native considers his primary goal — cleaning up his old neighborhood.
One of eight children, Rutues, who is currently pursuing his master's degrees in business administration and industrial organization at Roosevelt University, spent most of his pre-teen years in Austin before moving with his family to West Pullman and later Dolton. He attended Frederick Douglass High School in Austin before moving to Oak Park. He now lives in Belmont Cragin.
"Austin is a neighborhood I have a lot of love for, but it feels like all I ever read about are the shootings," Rutues said in a recent interview. "Seeing areas that I frequented in my youth like Central-Lake and Waller-Washington going through this spike in crime, I felt I needed to get involved."
Rutues said he plans to take a portion of the proceeds from the showcases in order to pay men from the community to clean up unsightly hotspots in Austin. It may seem like a small endeavor, he conceded, but he hopes that the incremental measures become preludes to a tipping point, a concept the bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell popularized in his 2000 book of the same name.
Rutues said he read Gladwell's book in January and was struck by its narration of the controversial broken windows theory of policing. The criminology theory — which maintains that if communities are vigilant about preventing minor crimes like vandalism and toll-jumping, they'll establish cultural norms of law and order that help prevent more serious crimes — was first introduced by social scientists in the 1980s and was widely implemented in the 1990s in New York City.
The theory has recently come under fire from critics, particularly activists and thinkers associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, who claim that it provides a justification for abusive policing methods like "stop-and-frisk," which are pervasive in low-income and predominantly minority communities.
Rutues, however, emphasized the theory's emphasis on positive cultural norms and habits that are less reliant on policing than on male residents taking initiative themselves.
"I feel that the presence of men working to clean up the community would be the psychological symbol that residents would respond strongly to," he said.
"Our women have worked so hard and carried such a heavy load to help address the problem of violence and crime in our communities. I feel that if the residents of Austin see men becoming more involved, it would go a long way in sending the message that we all care about the state of our community."
Rutues's next showcase is July 22. For more information about the project, contact Deondre Rutues at email@example.com.
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