Nearly 100 men took to the streets on Saturday March 23, in protesting the Chicago Public Schools’ decision to close more than 50 schools across the city, including some in the Austin community.

“We were just ordinary guys looking to make a difference in the community,” said Kerry Owens, vice president of Daddies of Shorties, an organizer of the march.

“The seniors have always been there. The women have always been there. We feel as men, we need to do our part,” Owens, a father of a 3-year-old, said.

Daddies of Shorties, a support group for men — many of whom have criminal backgrounds — is a division of the Westside Health Authority. Organized by the group’s members, the march was meant to encourage black men to be more engaged in their community.

CPS’s recent decision to close schools was another focus of the march, which began at the former Brach’s candy factory at Cicero and Lake. Chants of “Save our Shorties” and “Educate our Children” echoed among marchers.

“I came out to march because I’m tired of this community being left behind,” said John Lighthall, who brought his 9-year-old cousin, Taylor. “Jobs being taken out of the community is already a travesty and then … they have the nerve to take the schools out of the community.”

Theodore Davis, 25, came out with his 5-year-old son Kevon. Davis didn’t mind giving up his Saturday to show that black fathers are involved.

“This is an important movement. It is about our kids’ education,” he said. “I love being a father to my son.”

And while the march targeted men, poet activist Malcolm London, said it was a call for everyone to step up. Young people, especially have to make a stand against violence and school closings, which London called slow genocide.

“We are being affected by this,” the 19-year-old said. “We are the ones being shot down. We are the ones being locked down. We are the ones going straight to prison. We can’t rely on nobody else to save us but ourselves.”

The march stepped off in front of the sprawling, shuttered Brach’s factory. The marchers snaked their way onto Lake and Laramie Streets before ending with a rally behind the Austin Wellness Center at 4800 W. Chicago Ave.

There Daddies for Shorties members outlined a five-point agenda to improve the community. They urged individuals to volunteer on planning committees focusing on education, entrepreneurialship, activities, fundraising and jobs.

Charles E. Perry, WHA’s director of community organizing, said Saturday’s event is not a “one moment movement.” To rebuild a community, Perry said residents need to have access to job, have good education, and have activities beyond basketball for youth.

The idea for the march grew out of a causal conversation during one of the group’s bible study talks. The 20 members wanted to find a way to engage black men in their community.

Though only a year old, Daddies of Shorties is making inroads. The group has a mentoring program at John Hay Elementary School, and is involved in a training program with Openlands, a nature conservation group, to build a community garden.

A few members also sit on the local school councils and are part of the safe passage program that monitors students walking to and from school. Owens noted that organizing is new territory for many of the Daddies of Shorties members. But they, he insisted, are up to the task.

“We are hopeful that this will bring about a positive hope.”

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