Village Leaders Joint Block Club organizers at the Block Club Convention held April 1 | Francia Garcia Hernandez

“Help us put the neighbor back in hood,” read a table sign at the block club convention held at Michele Clark High School on April 1, inviting neighbors of the 5000 blocks of Quincy Street and Jackson Boulevard to share suggestions on how they’d like to improve  their blocks. Neighbors who submitted their ideas entered a drawing where they could win a $50 gift card. 

It was one of the efforts by the Village Leaders Joint Block Club, a block club in Austin, that wants to bring neighbors together to improve the area where they live. Community activist Arewa Karen Winters, who won her April 4 bid for the newly created Police District Council positions, said it has been more than 50 years since the area had an active block club. Now she is co-leading the efforts to bring it back, an extension of her community work. 

Winters is no stranger to bringing community members together for a shared purpose. In 2016, she founded the 411 Movement for Pierre Loury, after her great nephew lost his life in a police-involved shooting. She then went on to push for police oversight and reform, becoming a leading organizer for the Chicago Consent Decree Coalition. One of the main achievements of the Consent Decree was requiring the Chicago Police Department to “meaningfully engage the community in revisiting its use of force policies.” 

As the first-ever co-chair of Chicago’s Use of Force Community Working Group, Winters helped lead 31 Chicagoans who worked on proposing fundamental changes to the Chicago Police Department policies on the use of force and identified ongoing deficiencies, compiled in a 2022 report. One of of the policy changes it achieved required CPD officers “to verbally and physically intervene” to stop another officer’s use of excessive force. At the time, Winters said the recommendations showed what can be achieved when institutions like CPD engage, or are forced to engage, with the people they impact. 

Now, as the Village Leaders Joint Block Club seeks to bring neighbors together, Winters is collaborating with the Chicago Jesuit Academy, 5058 W. Jackson Blvd. and will engage with other institutions in the area. Moore (Maurice) Park, seating between Adams Street and Quincy Street, is also in the coverage area of the block club, providing opportunities for block club members to share ideas on how they could better utilize this public space.

While Winters is always involved with community projects, she is hopeful that now that the election for district council is over, she will have more time to devote to uniting her block.