Most of the pews at West Garfield Park’s New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd., were filled on Feb. 24 as the congregation celebrated the unveiling of the Sankofa Peace Window.
For the past 20 years, the church has been working to replace the building’s three rose windows. The building was originally home to St. Mel’s Irish Catholic Church. When Mount Pilgrim acquired the building in 1993, they wanted to put in windows that would better reflect the culture and experiences of the now mostly black, Baptist congregation.
The North Star window on the northern side reflects black experiences during the Great Migration, while the eastern MAAFA Remembrance window honored the memories of enslaved Africans that died while being transported across the Atlantic, as well as the descendants of those who did survive.
The term Sankofa refers to learning from the past in order to imagine a better future. The peace window tries to imagine a better future for black youth by honoring young people who died by violence.
In an interview a few days before the unveiling, Rev. Marshall Hatch Sr., the church’s head pastor, said that the idea to honor contemporary victims of gun violence came directly from the church’s youth group.
“We wanted to do a tribute to the four girls that were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963,” he said.
The Sept. 15, 1963 bombing by four Ku Klux Klan members was in response to the church’s support for the civil rights movement. Fourteen-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, along with 11-year-old Denise McNair were killed while more than 20 people were wounded.
Hatch added that the group also wanted to honor five modern-day “young martyrs” who were killed in Chicago — Laquan McConald, Hadiya Pendleton, Blair Holt, Derrion Alber and Demetrius Griffin, Jr.
Griffin Jr. was killed in 2016. The teenager was burned alive, his body stuffed in a trashcan. Griffin Jr.’s murder, which is still unsolved, resonated with the Mount Pilgrim congregation deeply. The teenager’s family are members.
Days before the unveiling, on Feb. 19, church leaders and other West Side clergy announced that they were increasing the reward for any information leading to the capture of Griffin Jr.’s killers to $15,000.
The final window design features the portraits of the four 16th Street bombing victims framing the top half of the window, with the portrait of modern martyrs forming the bottom half. They surround the image of Jesus leading black children to a “beloved community.”
Hatch said that about two years passed between the initial idea and the installation, adding that the memorial “is a call to action for the community where children are dying before reaching their potential.”
Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot was among the crowd that filled the pews. After Hatch invited her to speak, she said that while she found the window beautiful, it represented something tragic.
“[It’s a call] to protect our young people and a challenge to everyone who is an elected and appointed official to keep our community safe,” Lightfoot said.
Rochelle Sykes, Griffin’s aunt, said that, while the fact that the case remains unsolved haunts her and the family, she takes comfort in God.
Marshall Hatch Jr., the pastor’s son, delivered Sunday’s sermon. He said that, when enslaved Africans were first brought to North America, they tried to support each other.
“We need to reach back and [look] to the answers that responded to oppression with the love ethic,” he said. “We can change those conditions to restore the spirit of the people as we celebrate and plan these children’s future and not their funerals.”