Gov. Pat Quinn seemed to be getting an early start on his re-election campaign as he made the rounds at several churches Sunday, including New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.
Quinn’s visit to the church, located at 4301 W. Washington Blvd, was part of an effort to rally community leaders to urge common-sense gun laws at the national and state level.
Quinn spoke briefly, but he evoked the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, who spent six months living on the West Side battling against squalid tenement housing of poor blacks.
The governor noted that during King’s stay here he was met with violence. He said King responded with tolerance and non-violence. Quinn encouraged the congregants to follow King’s lead and “take on the violence and the silence about the violence.”
Quinn said the death of six-month-old Jonylah Watkins last week should spark people to become “drum majors” against violence in their communities. Watkins was shot in a van while her father Jonathan Watkins attempted to change her diapers in the city’s Woodlawn community on the South Side. His daughter died from her injuries a day later. Police have made no arrests in connection with the case.
“This is not right and we know it is not right,” Quinn said. “We are here on God’s earth to do something about it. Everyone can be a drum major for justice on this movement of ending violence, taking on the gangbangers [and] taking on those who believe violence is the path.”
Dr. King, he added, understood the power of nonviolence and the power “of people coming together and saying, ‘We will not tolerate a violent society.'”
Pastor Marshall Hatch said residents’ hearts are heavy over the senseless violence that claimed Watkins’ short life. But he noted disinvestment in infrastructure and lack of values create “issues of violence.”
“We simply will not have a future as along as we are closing schools and building jails,” Hatch said.
Hatch was critical of the Chicago Public Schools’ effort to close more than 100 schools deemed “underutilized” and predominantly located in black and Latino communities on the South and West sides. He noted that continued disinvestment only adds to the “sense of hopelessness and despair,” which fuels violence.
Hatch criticized CPS’ formula for determining which schools to close. He said the formula designates a school as underutilized based on the number of empty seats in a classroom.
“The formula calls for 30 children in a classroom. That is too many. Poor children need to be in small classrooms,” Hatch said. “So the logic is faulty. Not only that, there’s never been a projection that there will be a saving this year. In fact, the only losers are going to be the poorest children in our communities.”
Hatch encouraged the state to retool its priorities, especially when it comes to its pension system. He said school funding should be a priority.
“Our state is challenged, and we know we will not have a future if we spend more money in pensions than we do in education,” he said. “We have to find a way to invest in the future, which means all of the young people, particular those who are most vulnerable.”
In his remarks, Quinn also stressed the importance of education, including early childhood education.
“Dr. King talked about an educated person is key to a democracy, and we’ve got to understand that … education is for everyone, not just the elite,” Quinn said.
Quinn stressed the importance of having mentorship, after-school and intervention programs to encourage kids to go to college and then come back to their community to make a difference. More summer jobs are also need so youth can “learn the value of hard work,” Quinn added.
“Our state is committed to that,” he said.