Pastor Phil Jackson at the Firehouse Community Arts Center. (Pascal Sabino / Block Club Chicago)
Jaslyn Adams (Provided)

After 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams was murdered, West Side leaders are taking a stand against surging street violence, hoping to stop shootings before they start.

Firehouse Community Arts Center is organizing hyper-local groups to reclaim blocks and get young people off the streets. The initiative, called Project Presence, was launched in response to the uptick of gang shootings, including one that recently claimed the life of Jaslyn Adams, a 7-year-old girl who was shot along with her father in the drive-thru of a North Lawndale McDonald’s on April 18. 

The arts center will give local churches, groups, leaders and residents the resources they need to host pop-up events on blocks that experience violence to engage at-risk young people and keep crime at bay, said Pastor Phil Jackson, founder of the Firehouse Community Arts Center. Events can be anything from sports games to cookouts that will get young people involved and “take the neighborhood back just by posting up,” he said.

Weekly planning meetings for Project Presence will be held at 5 p.m. Thursdays at the Firehouse Community Arts Center, 2111 S. Hamlin Ave. At the meetings, partners will map out where and when they’ll host pop-up events on target blocks. Any resident or group in the area is welcome to join, Jackson said.

Jackson hopes the volunteer groups can eventually establish a constant seven-day-a-week presence on blocks that struggle with violence so there are more eyes on the streets and more neighbors helping at-risk young people get involved with more productive activities.

 “Let’s provide what we can provide. Let’s be present in the community with people who care. Then those caring people can create conversations with cats who may not know where they’re trying to go or what they’re trying to do,” Jackson said.

Project Presence partners can also get support from outreach workers — credible messengers who share similar experiences and backgrounds with young people who are vulnerable to gangs and violence.

“I just try to be that bridge between the hood and our community and try to get these young guys on to something new,” said Jabari Ellis, an outreach advocate at Firehouse Community Arts Center. “I experienced it. I lived it. So I try to be that model.”

The project will allow residents to decide what kinds of events can best reach at-risk youth, Jackson said. Local partners are already embedded in their communities and have established relationships in targeted hotspots, so they already know what resources they need to make an impact, he said.

Partners will be equipped with the resources to host barbecues, open mics, basketball games, arts events, freestyling contests and performances. Firehouse Community Arts will also connect partners with resources, programs and opportunities to share with troubled young people to give them the support they need to get off the streets, Jackson said.

“The more presence, the more power for impact,” Jackson said. “It’s about opening a conversation that can spark that level of hope.”

18-year-old charged in murder of Adams 

An 18-year-old man was charged Saturday in the murder of Jaslyn Adams, the 7-year-old slain while with her father in a McDonald’s drive-thru.

Marion Lewis was charged with one count of first degree murder along with 16 other felonies including vehicular hijacking, attempted murder, aggravated assault of a peace officer and several gun charges, officials said.

Speaking at a press conference Saturday, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said Lewis “was being charged in connection of the murder” but would not specify if he was the person who pulled the trigger. He did say the investigation is ongoing and that police believe others were involved.

“We’re limited in what we can say because we have other offenders to bring in on this horrific crime,” Brown said. 

“We’re not done, there’s more offenders to bring to justice,” he said. “You can run, but you can’t hide. We are going to bring you to justice for this crime. The Adams family deserves nothing less.”

At about 4 p.m. Thursday, Lewis, who was under surveillance by Chicago Police, drove from a western suburb onto the Eisenhower Expressway.

Lewis is scheduled to appear in Bond Court on Sunday.