Block club leaders and Austin residents are invited to participate in the annual block club convention taking place April 1 at Michele Clark High School, 5101 Harrison St., from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event is organized by the community policing body of the Chicago Police Department’s 15th district, local faith leaders and community organizations.
“Block club presidents are in dire need of support,” said Steve M. Epting, pastor of Hope Community Church, and member of the 15th district’s faith-based committee. The block club convention will offer the support and resources they need while fostering relationships between block clubs, he said.
This Saturday’s event is part of the police district’s strategy to increase public safety by engaging with community members, providing resources and promoting collaborative relationships between residents and local organizations.
“Community, including the faith-based community, come first, businesses come in to help improve the community, and the police is there to just be a connector,” said Sgt. Edgar Brown of the 15th District. “Community, business, police. That’s the order.”
Block clubs are key to preventing violence in the Austin community, especially in the summertime when crime tends to increase Brown and Epting said. For more than 10 years, the 15th District CAPS and faith leaders have held the 100 Blocks/100 Churches campaign as a way for residents, police officers and churches to unite for peace.
Epting said his experience working with the community policing office has helped him “look at police in a different light” and build collaborative relationships that benefit everybody and improve public safety.
“We say in the 15th District faith-based committee that the vision has to be large enough so that everyone can see their place in the work,” Epting said.
The block club convention will include a job fair with employers such as the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Park District offering permanent and summer job opportunities for people with a criminal record, young people and other residents.
“A busy body makes for a tired body,” Brown said. “If you feel good working, you may not have time to really focus on anything else, especially those who may be heading on a wrong path.”
Local nonprofit and faith organizations such as Build Chicago, Hope Community Church, Jehovah Jireh Ministries, Taproots and Chicago Public Schools Parent University will have booths to inform attendees about programs available to them. A youth symposium, workshops on domestic violence prevention, grant writing and resume writing will also take place.
Brown said the block club convention was created several years ago with the purpose of bringing block residents together to resolve issues that affect them. With as many as 200 residents attending in prior years, the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) office has found it a great space to share valuable information and services.
This year, the Cook County State’s Attorney office will host a “Know Your Rights” presentation to educate attendees about their rights. The Illinois Secretary of State will also have a mobile unit providing on-site services for people who need to obtain a state ID.
“When the summer comes, when we start talking about ‘it took a community to decrease the numbers in violence and crime’ it’s truly a community,” Brown said. “It’s block by block, it’s not just the police, it’s all of us as one.”