Last month, the Leaders Network, an ecumenical group of West Side clergymen focused on social justice issues, hosted a Chicago Safe Summer Summit at Rush University Medical Center on the Near West Side. The June 27 event, and the Safe Summer initiative after which it was named, were created in order to seek solutions to what’s become a seasonal problem, the organization’s leaders noted. How do we decrease the violence this summer?
“There are community organizations, individuals and community leaders who have hands on deck and are doing great things,” said Rev. Cy Fields, the Leaders Network’s president. “We want to be a resource and a clearinghouse for families and individuals looking for safe passages and places for young people this summer,”
Rev. Marshall Hatch, co-chairman of the Leaders Network who moderated the July 27 discussion, said the Safe Summer initiative was incubated from a quote made by Austin pastor Rev. Ira Acree, also of the Leaders Network.
“He said, ‘If we don’t do something radical in Chicago, we’ll have another bloodbath this summer,'” Hatch recalled, adding that the quote generated national news. It was made a quotation of the day by the New York Times and published by Time Magazine.
Hatch said that, in addition to the media attention generated by Acree’s quote, the Leaders Network also authored a letter addressed to state and national leaders. The culmination of their immediate efforts, Hatch noted, was a challenge to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to increase the number of summer jobs available to young people. Ultimately, Hatch said, Emanuel added another 5,000 jobs — a development that was likely a response from the West Side clergy’s agitation, many in attendance at the Rush town hall said.
The town hall event convened at least 150 attendees and a panel of clergy, experts and institutional heads. Below are summaries of ideas and initiatives for creating a safer summer and safer communities presented by the panelists and guests.
“We need to create safe spaces for Chicago,” said Larry Goodman, Rush University Medical Center’s president and CEO. Goodman noted that, as a physician and healthcare provider, his conception of healthcare has expanded over the last two decades from simply the provision of medical services to patients, regardless of need, to something much more holistic.
“Healthcare is a bigger term than many people in healthcare think of,” he said. “It has to do with jobs, homelessness, education, safety, food — all of those things. It’s basically the fabric of living and they’re all related to one another. There are a lot of resources we can bring to bear. By working together, we can do more.”
David Ansell, a Rush physician with nearly 40 years of experience in the field, reinforced Goodman’s opinion that healthcare is more expansive than the provision of medical services. Both he and Goodman also pointed out the disparity in healthcare that exists between communities on the West and South Sides, and those in higher income neighborhoods.
“Our mission is not just about patient care, but improving health and to do that we have to address hardship,” Ansell said. “We decided we’ll do this in a way we haven’t done before. There is more (Rush) needs to be doing. We have lots of wonderful programs … but we don’t believe we’ve done enough to move the dial on the hardship that is driving the high mortality. Gun violence occurs in the same neighborhoods with low birth rates and where there’s high mortality from breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. We’ve got to get to the underlying (problems).”
Ansell said Rush is beginning to leverage its position as an anchor institution to “think about focusing on the West Side,” partnering with the local community and employing more West Side residents. He cited a program that entails 100 students from Chicago Public Schools “working with our nurses” over the summer.
“How do we get to 1,000 kids?” Ansell said. “As a place that employs 9,000 people and has 2,000 students, there is more we can give, but we’ll need the community organizations’ help.”
Mary Howard, the Chicago Housing Authority’s chief resident services officer, responded to a Chicago Sun-Times investigation into the agency’s alleged stockpiling of as much as $400 million in federal funds while “while tens of thousands of low-income seniors, families and homeless people languish on waiting lists for housing assistance”
“Clearly, there are always two sides of a story with respect to what you read in the newspaper,” said Howard, who was filling in for the CHA head Eugene Jones, Jr.
“The CHA, under (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) guidance, has an allowable amount it can keep for reserve and the remaining overage is planned for a few-year capital plan.”
Howard said Jones plans on spending the reserves on “jumpstarting developments that had stalled after the housing crisis” and on new development commitments.
She also pushed back on the claim that former mayor Richard M. Daley’s controversial Plan for Transformation — which entailed demolishing some of the city’s most notorious high-rise public housing projects and replacing them with mixed-income developments — helped cause an uptick in violence across the city by displacing thousands of project residents.
“We haven’t seen that from a data point of view,” Howard said. “When we had a research entity come in and take a look at crime, (they found that) crime in the city had actually started to go down.”
Howard also touted the CHA’s “robust resident services program,” noting that residents throughout the city who are in CHA housing have access “to social service providers that is not like any other housing authority in the country.”
“Nine providers throughout the city provide core areas like youth services, employment training and placement,” and housing stability services, which also include on-demand clinical services,” Howard said, adding that the CHA employs over 2,600 youth, ages 13 to 15, in its Learn and Earn program. She said an additional 1,500 to 1,800 young people have summer employment with the CHA in a variety of jobs.
Howard also noted that CHA partners with universities throughout he city on boutique youth programs, such as a documentary course for young women at DePaul University. The agency, she said, sets aside $250,000 a year to provide scholarships for 220 college-bound young people.
“There are a lot of misperceptions and stigmas about our residents,” Howard said. “We have a great group of residents who are on their own path to self-sufficiency and housing stability.”
Shari Runner, the new president of the Chicago Urban League, emphasized the economic desperation among many young people on the city’s West and South Sides.
“The inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness remain too out of reach for far too many African Americans in Chicago,” Runner said. “Nearly 9 out of 10 young black and Hispanic men in Chicago are unemployed.”
Runner said that “reversing the impact of policies and practices intended to create and maintain inequity requires an equally intentional effort to reverse them,” before announcing the unveiling of a10-year plan created by the Urban League this month that will focus on the areas of education, employment and asset-building.
“In parallel, we are tackling the gun-trafficking and gun violence, which are symptoms of inequality that are increasingly impacting the health and well-being of our communities,” Runner said, before touting a the Urban League’s Opportunity Works Youth Job Initiative.
The program, she noted, involves several area employers who have committed to offering jobs and opportunities to young people, ages 16 to 24, who are neither in school nor working jobs.
Alonzo Williams, the Chicago Park District’s chief program officer, reinforced many of the panelists’ sentiments about employment, noting that “the key to culling the violence” are by providing young people with jobs. Williams said the park district hires around 5,000 young people each summer, tripling its paid staff.
Williams also touted the park district’s number of summer activities. He said over 40,000 kids are enrolled in activities at more than 230 park facilities across the city. Roughly 10,000 of those kids, he said, participate in activities for free. The city spends up to $1.3 million paying for children from low-income households to participate in the activities.
Tio Hardiman, the executive director of Violence Interrupters, addressed the Chicago Police Department’s approach to violence prevention. Prefacing his comments by complimenting the police for their current efforts, Hardiman said that, nonetheless, police have “been in a response mode to come after (homicides have happened).”
“It only takes four to five seconds to shoot and kill somebody,” Hardiman said. “If you want to stop the k killing, you have to understand the dynamics of the blocks in Chicago … You have to have a relationship out here with guys on the blocks.”
“There really have been times when we stopped the violence,” said Rev. Walter “Slim” Coleman, the director of the Familia Latina Unida Medical Reserve Corps and a longtime Uptown pastor and activist.
“We shut down shooting entirely in the old Cabrini Green for two years. We stopped it for a long time on the South Side. It was done by organizations which opposed everybody that’s here. They were in resistance to everyone here and therefore they had enough play to organize a structure in the community that could change behaviors.”
Coleman said that current organizations offering young employment opportunities, such as the CHA and the Urban League, often provide jobs only for a marginal number of young people and, moreover, those jobs often involve young people ceding their sense of ownership and agency.
“Nobody will give them jobs that allow them to administer and run their own show and that’s pretty typical of everything we do,” Coleman said. “Old people like me are so busy trying to look good and saying, ‘We’ve got to do this for a few of you.’ It’s gratifying when you get four or five kids and give them opportunities, but that’s not solving any problems out there except for those four or five kids. You’re not helping to support the development of an alternative organization.”
“We do have a program we think works pretty well,” said Coleman, who noted that his organization, in collaboration with Rush, works with 1,500 students in five high schools who receive training in five diseases and are responsible for “going out and screening relatives and neighbors in the community and following up with them when they get positives.”
“The philosophy is that youth aren’t the problem, they’re the solution,” Coleman said. “We got leaders out here, but you guys don’t trust them, the money doesn’t trust them and the mayor doesn’t trust them. Hell, the mayor doesn’t even trust me. This is an issue of self-determination, not agency determination. You’re enriching and holding onto the nonprofits and these structures and the youth don’t got nothing of their own.
“The organizations they have are the MLD’s and SD’s and the Kings, and those were disintegrated by the police when they busted all the leadership. Now, it’s the 2-3’s and 2-4’s and 2-5’s; but that’s the only thing they got, because you took everything else away from them and you would not trust them to run their own stuff.”
“We have summits and do a lot of things, but the people who are affected aren’t at the tables,” said Carl Brinson, the president of the West Side Branch NAACP. “More young people have to be part of these discussions,” he said, before Rev. Hatch noted that there were several high school students in attendance.