Protesting violence on Austin streets, marchers took to Madison Street. (Courtesy Austin Talks)

West Side residents and other advocates for peace marched down Madison Street recently to take a stand against the violence that plagues the community. Led by Minister Chris Burton, a crowd of about 40 people walked down the busy West Side street.

Burton, a minister of God’s Heritage Full Gospel Ministries, grew up on the West Side. As a former gang member, he said he used to be a part of the violence in Austin, but now he’s on the other side of things and trying to improve the community.

Burton said this was the first time he’s organized a march. Growing up in the neighborhood makes him concerned about the West Side of Chicago, as well as the entire city.

“We want to bring together all the churches and ministers and organizations on the West Side to show there are resources here, and there’s no excuse for the violence,” he said. Both youth and adults joined the movement chanting “stop the shooting, stop the violence, stop the killing.”

Some of the younger participants carried signs that read, “Stop killing our future,” while others walked alongside the road asking those who drove by to “honk for peace,” prompting many passers to blast their horns in support.

Darlene Barber, a former Austin resident, said she’s seen a major difference since she left the area. There used to be more diversity, she noted, and there wasn’t nearly as much gun violence.

“The difference is the violence was nothing like what I’m seeing today; people weren’t afraid to come out of their homes,” said Barber, president and founder of Scream Ministries. She works with women in domestic violence situations and said what’s going on in the home trickles out onto the streets and vice versa.

“If you can get a handle on the home violence, it would help violence on the street,” she said.

Andrew Holmes, a community activist, said many kids are on the street because there’s no hope in the home. Holmes walked with the group, chanting “put down the guns.”

Kimberly Bright, an Austin resident and march participant, said what’s going on in the community right now is outrageous.

“What’s going on with African Americans, these young kids are killing themselves, they’re killing each other,” Bright said. “I just don’t get it.” 

Born on the West Side, she said the most dramatic change has been that nobody seems concerned about anybody else. People can’t sit at home and lament the violence but do nothing about it.

“What are we doing? What is each individual doing?” Bright said.

After the march, Burton said he felt like the event was a success and the community is engaged.

“There could have been more people, but I’m satisfied,” Burton said. “We came out and did what we wanted to do.”