Bernard Headley, a community justice coordinator for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Community Justice Center, wants Oak Park and West Side residents to know more about what he can do for them. The office, he said, could mean the difference between being stuck in everyday problems or achieving solutions.
“In a nutshell, we’re here to help support and organize any programming around crime prevention,” said Headley during an interview last month. “One aspect of the state’s attorney’s office is prosecuting, but another aspect — which is why we have community justice centers — is to talk about a case.”
Headley, who has been in his role since August, said the community justice center is one of four across the city, with his branch focusing on identifying and brokering preventive solutions in Oak Park and Austin.
“I’m the community liaison between Oak Park and the two police districts, the 15th and the 25th, in Austin,” Headley said. “For instance, if you’re a business owner and someone broke into your store, that person got arrested and you want us to follow up on that case, we can do that.”
Headley added that his job often takes him into community meetings and public discussions on both sides of Austin Boulevard. It’s a task, he said, to which he’s uniquely suited, having served as a community lending specialist for Community Bank of Oak Park and River Forest from 2009 until 2014, and a mortgage banker for BMO Harris from 2014 until 2015.
“My basic job is to try to get out in front of things and show some support,” said Headley, who described himself as an interpreter of sorts — a person who navigates the bureaucratic and legal complexity of modern life in order to find and distill simple solutions to ordinary’s people’s seemingly complicated problems.
“I can develop ways of stopping community problems before they happen,” Headley explained. “If you’re putting on a crime prevention program or a domestic violence program, let me come in to support it. If you’re part of a group of seniors talking about mortgage fraud — whatever it is, if it involves prevention, I’m here to help out.”
Illustrating one case in which his problem-solving translated into someone’s material improvement, Headley offered the case of an aspiring young businessman on the West Side.
[While with the bank], I had a client who [owns properties],” Headley said. “He was young, 27 at the time, when he bought his first piece of property. He wanted to get into real estate and I gave him the same sermon [I give others].”
Headley explained that he recommended to the young man that he maintain a high credit score and pour his earnings back into his business.
“When he refinanced one property, he took the cash out but he didn’t go spend it; he went and put it back into the building he had,” Headley said. “He sold the building, took that money and he kept, literally, stacking money on top of money.”
Since then, Headley said, “I’ve watched him grow his portfolio to over 20 properties over a three-year span. He has properties throughout the West Side of Chicago, now. And he did it the right way.”