Community members march during a May 12 peace rally organized by numerous West Side organizations, including a group of mothers. | Igor Studenkov/Contributor

It all started with a group of young mothers.

Jamila Lawrence, a mentor at the West Side branch of SGA Youth & Family Services’ Young Chicago Parents program, said that they were having a conversation about what they could do to make their communities safer for the children. Not long afterwards, numerous organizations joined in with the mothers to plan a march.

About two months later, on a warm, sunny morning on May 12, a procession of kids and adults marched counterclockwise around the block from the Garfield Park Community Service Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave, to cheers and honks of the passing drivers.

Afterwards, they convened for a short rally at the center’s back yard, where some of the mothers in attendance read poems. The participants who were interviewed said that the march was a great experience for them, one that they hoped to build on in the future.

Young Chicago Parents is one of several non-profit and community organizations that meet at the center. Lawrence said that the group members who planned the details and designed t-shirts and signs. She and her fellow mentor, Shawntale Myles, provided support and supplies. Lawrence hoped that working on the march would empower those who participated.

“I’ve been encouraging people to step over the hurdle of fear, because there’s nothing wrong with speaking out loud, as long as you’re respectful,” she said.

Lawrence also felt that the march would spotlight something that doesn’t get as much coverage as crime and poverty.

“You hear many truths about this side of Chicago, and some are negative,” she said. “And this is another truth that we don’t really get to see.”

As the march came together, other organizations joined in, including Catholic Charities, Chicago Police Department’s 11th District CAPS, West Garfield Park’s Legler branch library and Austin’s Good Neighbors Campaign.

Katrina Young, an administrative assistant at the YMCA, said her organization did its part to spread the word.

“We just helped with networking, helped with flyers, getting out the word, encouraging parents to attend and offering support,” Young said.

Many organizations from outside East Garfield Park found out about the march through word-of-mouth.  Marilyn Pitchford, of the Institute for Nonviolence, said that Mildred Wiley, the chair of the Austin Community Action Council, told her group about the march.

Latorria Brown, a member of the Good Neighbors Campaign, said that her group found out about the march from the Institute for Nonviolence.

After the march concluded, the participants held a short rally. The organizations talked about their work and several people, including Young and parent Shaquita Bell, read poems about their hopes and experiences.

Lawrence encouraged members of various groups to mingle, get to know each other and see what they could do for each other.

Leonore Harris, of North Lawndale, was one of the parents who took part in the march. Her participation was for deeply personal reasons.

“[Marching] was great for me, because I lost my kids’ father to violence,” she said.

Myles said she was pleased with how the march turned out.

“It was a great day and it let [young mothers] showcase what they do in the group, and how they feel about the community,” she said, adding that she was pleased at how many organizations participated.

Brown said that she was pleased that the march brought together organizations that otherwise wouldn’t interact with each other.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “It’s all about connecting. We want to stop the violence in these streets and we want all of the organizations we have [in the community] to come together.”

Ana Lyn, the site director for Ellis Head Start, had an equally glowing response.

“I felt that we had brought our voice out to the community, [a message] that we want a peaceful community for our children to grow up in,” Lyn said.

Young said that there will be another march next year.

“Our go is to go bigger, have more organizations, and have more community [involvement],” she said.