In spite of the rain and chilly temperatures, members of several West Side churches gathered last Wednesday, joining hands in prayer at Laramie Avenue and Lake Street to pray and take a public stand against violence, crime and gangs in Austin.
“I believe anybody can stay in the walls [of church] and talk about how they can make a change, but to actually step out and show the community that you care, that’s how it starts,” said Rev. Lynetta Majors of Original Providence Baptist Church, 515 N. Pine Ave.
Since the beginning of June, participants in the annual “100 Blocks, 100 Churches” program have gathered in prayer and song for an hour every Wednesday night from 6 to 7 p.m. and will continue do so through July 30.
It’s part of an ongoing effort with local churches and the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District CAPS to bring a positive spiritual presence to troubled corners while providing useful resources for the community, said Tim Brown, CAPS community organizer for the 15th District.
Participants wear red T-shirts and hand out information about employment opportunities, counseling and housing, he said.
“Hopefully by doing that, it will help address some of the not only so-called crime elements, but we also know there’s a lot of social economic stuff tied to it,” Brown said. “So it will take care of some of the social ills and the crime.”
Last year’s event was held during the month of June, but it was extended this summer until the end of July in hopes of reducing loitering on corners that will last into the school year, Brown said.
This is the fifth year of the 100 Blocks, 100 Churches campaign, which started in 2010. Participants hope this year’s effort will help quell the violence that has hit Austin hard.
There have been 19 homicides reported for the first six months of this year in Austin, according to the Chicago Sun-Times Homicide Watch. That’s an increase over the first half of 2013, according to Red Eye Homicide Tracker.
Mildred Bracatt of Rhema Word Church, 5460 W. Ohio St., wants peace within the community and an end to gun violence, which has taken the lives of too many young people, she said, adding that she also wants lost souls to be saved.
“Somebody will get the message,” she said. “With so much happening out here, if one or two get the message, then our coming out isn’t in vain.”
Bracatt said she wants to see people in the community take a stand and be consistent.
“Everybody always says what the church isn’t doing, but I think people should come out of their houses and get involved,” she said. “I would just really like to see more community people come out, not just when something happens.”
Tracy Siska, executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, said events such as peace walks and prayers may be effective on a smaller scale, but they don’t have a long-lasting effect.
“It’s not about the community members helping other community members make a systemic change; it’s about community members getting [active] politically, and voting and holding political officials accountable,” Siska said.
“In really under-served communities and under-resourced communities, there is only so much community members can do for each other,” she said. “It’s about larger issues and where we invest our money.”
The solution to the problem can be found in job creation and education, he said.
The public is invited to participate tonight, Wednesday, July 9, at one of several locations, including Laramie Avenue and Lake Street; Laramie Avenue and Adams Street; Madison Street and Central Avenue; Chicago and Central avenues; and Division Street and Central Avenue.