Three young men were killed and one seriously wounded in broad daylight on Chicago’s West Side. That would be the news headline, if in fact this story had been the top news story on Thursday, Sept. 19. It was not. Another woman on her lunch break on the city’s north side had been wounded inexplicably by a gunman riding a bicycle that same afternoon. 

That was the lead news story in mainstream media. We were sure that the young men killed and wounded a block from our church would fit some standard narrative about documented gang members. The motive for shooting the north side women would be much more mysterious. And so it goes in Chicago as the summer ends. More violence, different circumstances on different sides of town, and different values put on the human lives.

West Garfield is a tough neighborhood. It tends to be near the top of the city statistics in all the bad categories. We are at the top for crime and violence, joblessness and poverty, returnees from prisons, and infant mortality. And closed public schools. Illegal drug cartels operate in public open air and provide one of the community’s most dynamic economic engines. It’s a difficult place to come of age. 

Our church developed a program called the MAAFA Redemption Project for at-risk young men ages 18 to 30. We offer small cohorts of 12 to 20 young men employment at $11 an hour, dormitory residential housing on our campus, life coaching, counseling, career guidance, and cultural and spiritual enrichment in a nine-month cycle. 

In three years, with three cohorts, we have learned much from our participants, and had successes and many challenges. But all of our young men, alumni and those who did not complete the project, are alive and yet benefit from access to the ongoing life of our holistic community. All souls are yet alive. Thank God. 

On the day of the mass shooting, our church volunteers visited the site of the Madison Street drive-through store that would be shortly transformed into the scene of a bloody massacre. 

They took some refreshments to distribute to help them mix and mingle with people and talk a little about faith. One of the church’s newest volunteers, an older man of about 50, had been released only three weeks from a years’ long incarceration. Older and wiser, he engaged a young man in his early 20s about the better paths of life. When the young man heard the name of the church mentioned in the conversation, he perked up, and said he had heard of “MAAFA”. He said to be sure to thank the people at the church “for what they are doing for the brothers in the community.”

That was around noon. Two-and-a-half hours later, he was dead on that corner. Our church member showed me a picture of the young man later that afternoon laying in a pool of blood. 

“That’s the one who told me to tell you thanks,” the church member said. 

It’s a tough neighborhood. We never got to say, ‘You’re welcome.’ 

Pastor Marshall Hatch,Sr. of New Mount Pilgrim Church and Minister Marshall Hatch, Jr. co-founded the MAAFA Redemption Project in West Garfield Park with support from Chicago CRED and the Emerson Collective. 

The term “MAAFA” is Kiswahili for “The Great Calamity”. It describes the transatlantic slave trade in human terms from the African American perspective. Pastor and Minister Hatch both support “Invest In Peace,” a proposed Chicago City Council ordinance to fund anti-violence programs annually.