Members of the Speak Your Peace Team posing together at the event

Storytelling for Community Empowerment: 2023 Peace Fellows Hold Speak Your Peace Workshop

Storytelling serves as an important medium for many Chicago Peace Fellows to raise awareness and promote solutions to problems that they face in their community. On October 21, the 2023 Chicago Peace Fellows hosted the Speak Your Peace workshop, dedicated to building power and community through inter-generational mixed-media storytelling. The event was held at the Chicago Center for Arts and Technology (CHICAT) on the West Side of Chicago. Peace Fellows on the Speak Your Peace team included: Nachelle Pugh, Antwan McHenry, Kanesha Walker Amaro, Carlil Pittman, Devonta Boston, Alexandra Auguste, Zahra Glenda Baker, Diane Deaderick DeMarta, Ceola Henderson-Bryant, and Lauryn Collins.

Speak Your Peace was one of a series of Summer Projects organized and hosted by the 2023 Chicago Peace Fellows to apply lessons learned through the GATHER curriculum to build peace within their communities. Peace Fellows participate in GATHER, an online asset-based community engagement course, as well as in-person training, collaborative action projects, and networking experiences with civic leaders, academic researchers, and policy makers throughout the year. These lessons culminate in a series of planning workshops where Peace Fellows can apply their newly learned skills and connections to a summer project that builds on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their communities to make real and lasting change.

The Speak Your Peace Team posing at their storytelling event

 

Throughout their fellowship, the 2023 Peace Fellows had a series of planning meetings where they set the scope of their Summer Projects: determining which beneficiaries to target, choosing potential community partners, and drafting a program. After determining projects and team members, the Peace Fellows met on their own to plan. “We were all sitting at the table and picking these projects, and our group felt it was really important for people to tell their story".

"In our community there are so many different things that go on, some of which are great and some of which are harmful and violent. We wanted to give people an opportunity to think about those things so that we can build on their experiences and make changes.” -- Nachelle Pugh

 

Photograph at speak your peace event titled "God Help Me!". Shows a man screaming in the air with the words: anger, frustration, pain, hopelessness

 

The Speak Your Peace team sees storytelling as a way to show people from outside of their communities the challenges and triumphs of their neighborhoods. Nachelle elaborates, “Just looking [from outside] and trying to decipher what is going on is different from someone telling you what is going on. I think that’s what we were able to do with the storytelling at this event.” By providing a workshop and creative space for community members on the South and West side, Speak Your Peace aimed to center voices that are often ignored.

“To me it’s important to speak your piece, because if you don’t speak it, someone else will.” -- Kanesha Walker Amaro

By focusing on affirmative storytelling and highlighting the voices in the community, Speak Your Peace aimed to combat harmful narratives that are imposed from the outside.

Storytelling at the workshop showcased a variety of talents within the community with photography, art, poetry, music, and film working in unison to express a variety of voices. Hip hop artists, filmmakers, poets, and photographers from the community all had opportunities to present their talents. One of the featured artists was a filmmaker who started making films at the age of 17. At the event, the audience watched her documentary, filmed 7 years ago, which captures instances of police brutality that were spotlighted prior to the Black Lives Matter movement and shows the filmmaker’s view as an insider witnessing the violence. Another artist was a poet who used the space to share poems about her refusal to let any disabilities define her and allow her to center her experiences through poetry. The stories shared at Speak Your Peace were inter-generational and mixed-media, allowing for new connections to be generated between a range of communities.

speak your peace flyer

Many of the Peace Fellows involved also had an opportunity to showcase their own artistic talents, which often do not have a chance to take center stage in their community work. For instance, Antwan McHenry curated a photography exhibit that showcased a variety of artists as well as his own work, which included a series of self-portraits he took during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nachelle expressed admiration for his photographs, “Antwan, is an amazing photographer. […] Those pictures told a lot of stories of what was going on in his life, but probably also the lives of many others who were self-isolating. It was depression, it was confusion, it was chaos, it was sadness, it was the happiness at the end of the tunnel. All of those photos told the story of his experience.“ Kanesha, another 2023 Peace Fellow, also had the opportunity to share her poetry and bring in other local poets to perform.

Speak Your Peace allowed for new connections to be made between artists and community activists across the South and West Sides. Reflecting on Speak Your Peace, Nachelle said that the most important thing accomplished was: “Building relationships with the community that was there."

"Working with the folks in our group, we got a chance to know each other, for real." -- Nachelle Pugh

We had been doing different workshops and activities, but we never really had a chance to [...] do the work that we do together and watch each other shine, and to be able to make suggestions with our personal experiences to help each other and make this event amazing. I think that’s the most important part and what I loved the most. Once we were done, everyone was like ‘yeah we gotta do this again and make it into something we do regularly’”. After the event, artists continued to connect and plan collaborations that will continue to center lived experiences for the world to experience and reflect on.


The 21st Anniversary of the Goldin Institute: Celebrating Community-Driven Social Change

My memory of the Kosovo War in the late 1990s is somewhat blurry. Glimpses of paramilitary uniforms, burned houses, gray piles of debris, and crying children remain scattered in the back of my mind. This is where we put our most difficult memories to gather dust. However, the dust fails to erase their existence.

I was barely a kid and could not comprehend the wounds such cruel actions leave in the community. It is a lived history about which I am penning for the first time.

Flash forward to two decades later, I  am in Chicago, U.S., studying Media Literacy and Communication as a scholarship holder from the U.S. Department of State through the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program, where an acquaintance told me about the Goldin Institute.

It is undoubtedly not a coincidence that I am touching upon my vague war memories for the first time for a Goldin Institute piece.

I was particularly drawn to the Goldin Institute’s core belief that change should come from the bottom. I applied and was accepted for an internship at Goldin. I was honored and delighted to join the Institute’s efforts in orienting its mission and activities to make this a reality for as many people as possible.

Since its establishment 21 years ago, the Goldin Institute has believed that real and lasting social change requires those within the community who are closest to the issue to have leadership voices and decision-making power; only then can we see the creation of a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

This is where the Goldin Institute’s mission and my story, beliefs, and ideals cross paths.

People who lived through similar experiences of war and other realities that require social change deserve to tell the story and find a way to rebuild their communities for good. Building stronger communities requires listening to those impacted by social issues, and the Goldin Institute has, for the last 21 years, offered a global platform and a supportive community to facilitate this.

In honor of the Goldin Institute’s anniversary and my almost one-year journey with the organization, in this article, I touch upon three shaping experiences for me.

The Beginning of my Journey

I walked into the Goldin Institute office in Chicago for the first time on a cold Tuesday in February. What first caught my eye was the wall filled with smiling portraits of the Chicago Peace Fellows and the Goldin Global Fellows.

I had read about the Goldin Institute’s work and activities before joining them. However, only upon seeing the work firsthand did I gain a thorough understanding of the actual scope of its honest dedication and embodiment of equity and justice as the core values of community-driven social change.

From February to June 2023, I joined the team as a Communications Associate; I mainly worked on highlighting the Global Fellows’ and Chicago Peace Fellows’ success stories and assisted in various other daily tasks.

This was an inspiring journey, giving me a better insight into how the Institute’s Fellows programs impacted the Fellows and their communities. I interviewed a few incredible individuals from Chicago, South Africa, West Africa, Nepal, Philippines, and these are a few who inspire me:

Nicole “Coco” Davis, 2021 Chicago Peace Fellow and CEO/President of Talk2mefoundation: Coco took young Chicagoans on a trip to Camp Duncan to support kids whose parents and caregivers are incarcerated and need healing and peace. Thanks to the generous support of her peers in the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative, she made it possible for these young people to socialize, learn, exercise, and dance together.

“They say money cannot buy you happiness, but the Goldin Institute brought 25 smiles for youths at Camp Duncan.” – Coco Davis 

Dieudonne Allo, Global Fellow and CEO of Global Leading Light Initiatives, and Fatima Momoti, Program Coordinator: Marking International Women’s Day, Dieudonne and Fatima shared more about their success with Ibali Lam. This program provides women entrepreneurs with digital tools and innovative approaches to storytelling to connect them with existing and new customers and investors.

“The GATHER program of Goldin Institute inspired the model of Ibali Lam. Women, especially in this part of the world, do not have access to technology, so we give them access; we provide internet data so they can access the online platform. Women get tablets, too.” – Dieudonne Allo 

Andy Alegre, 2021 Goldin Global Fellow from the Philippines: among others, shared a few tips on working with people from diverse backgrounds while respecting their differences to solve issues affecting the community. Andy also emphasized the importance of being a Global Fellow and how it has offered him global perspectives obtained from his peers during the weekly discussions. While discussing influential resources, Andy mentioned the GATHER platform.

“The GATHER platform tremendously contributed to my learning as a professional and community activist. The platform was easy to navigate and use and facilitated intuitive and practical learning by providing useful concepts and examples for community leaders like me.”- Andy Alegre 

Evolving into a Fellow

Hearing directly from Fellows made me appreciate the organization’s approach. Upon returning to Kosovo after my internship, I was encouraged to apply for the 2023 Goldin Global Fellows program. This saw me evolve from being an intern for four months to one of the 20 chosen Goldin Global Fellows. I became the first Fellow representing Kosovo.

Although I already had a general picture of the Fellowship and its immense impact on community activists, it was only while being part of it that I fully understood its importance in uniting and bringing activists together to hold timely and important conversations.

We shared our backgrounds, passions, and motivations and set the terms for global cooperation, such as that of two remarkable peers, Jill Langhus-Griffin from Arizona and Tarun Masapeta from India, who have created a financial literacy program for trafficking survivors in the U.S.

It was at this point that two notable things happened for me: 1) I gained a fresh perspective on my community assets, and 2) I became part of the Gather Care team.

A Fresh View of My Neighborhood: One of the Fellows’ first assignments was to walk through our neighborhood and identify the existing assets within our community assets, rather than focusing on what is lacking.

Unlike how I was used to seeing community deficiencies most of my life, this approach was entirely authentic and fresh and impacted my long-term thinking, too. After this, I walk through my neighborhood differently. I reflect on the asset map I created, highlighting more of what we have rather than giving power to what we lack.

This approach gives Fellows a life-learning lesson and perspective on helping their communities by finding innovative solutions that are authentic to each community. For instance, I listed traditions and coffee shops as existing assets in my asset map. They serve as places and platforms for gatherings, sharing, and a place for community activities. Without this newly gained perspective, I would not recognize the potential in these everyday things.

GATHER Care Platform: Co-facilitating GATHER Care: Caring for those who care for others online forum was an amazing, fulfilling, and tangible outcome from my time as a Fellow. With our peers and people from other cohorts who joined us, we met and discussed the importance of mental health for community activists and came up with solutions to improve the situation.

One of the key outputs of this summit was the creation of a Buddy System. Through this system, Fellows who were keen to support each other were assigned voluntarily and matched with another Fellow for additional support, learning, and connection to help alleviate the anxiety that they may be feeling, acknowledging their mental health and well-being as a priority.

We have seven pairs of buddies and are considering extending this system to the next cohort, as it could hugely benefit their well-being.

“It became apparent there was a need and desire within the group to create deeper connections and to support one another.”- Jill Langhus-Griffin, Creator of Gather Care, 2023 Goldin Global Fellow.

A Global Perspective: From Chicago to Prishtina, Looking Forward

Now, I am back in Prishtina and working for the Goldin Institute as a Media Coordinator. The global nature of the Goldin Institute’s work fits my current remote engagement, offering me a say and participation in community work that, to date, touches over 100 cities in over 40 countries to build meaningful partnerships rooted in the needs and assets of local communities.

Coming from and living in a small country in the Western Balkans, with its socioeconomic struggles, makes my engagement with the Goldin Institute of unique significance and potential. Since joining the team, I evolved my perspective on my role in my country’s history and its community-driven solutions. I have adopted a more proactive approach to participating in socioeconomic narratives, community discussions, and initiatives.

As each day goes by, my interest and engagement in my community continue to grow, thanks to the supportive environment provided by the Goldin Institute, including its dedicated team and inspiring Fellows. In the five months I have been back from Chicago, this fellowship has greatly complimented my work and goals.

For me, being part of the Goldin Institute is meaningful because it lets me connect with peers from around the world who have been through destruction and social upheaval. It has been mighty for me to learn what other Fellows and community activists are contributing to their communities, and I know that they will be there for me in the future, too- just as I will be there for them.

Today, on behalf of the Goldin Institute, I extend our wholehearted thanks to our supporters, Fellows, and partners for believing in and standing with us as we look forward to entering a new decade and expanding our impact and global network.

As the Goldin Institute will open its doors in Colombia and Tanzania, establishing two new offices in these countries, we remain committed and optimistic for a future that facilitates community-driven social change through and with grassroots activists.


How the Island is Reactivating Their Public Spaces

This summer, the Island Civic Association worked with young people in the Island neighborhood of Austin to reactivate a playlot owned by G. R. Clark Elementary School as a public space. Nate Tubbs, a 2023 Chicago Peace Fellow and president of the Island Civic Association  (ICA), was heavily involved in organizing the project. The work of Nate and the ICA aims to create a more connected, inclusive, and thriving community in the Island. In an effort to activate public spaces, ICA has been working with G. R. Clark and young community members to host Playlot Nights at the G. R. Clark Playlot. These events aim to attract attention towards creating more public outdoor spaces and promoting a healthier and more cohesive neighborhood. 

The playlot provides a large open space for people of all ages to utilize.

Currently, the Island lacks outdoor spaces for young people and families to gather. The ICA has identified this as a problem that often causes people to have to leave the neighborhood for recreation. Nate comments, “The Island is a small pocket of the Southwest Austin community. It is a great little area, but it is kind of land-locked. This means a lot of people have to leave the neighborhood to go to a park or playground.” One way the ICA has worked to solve this problem is by activating existing areas to serve as public spaces in addition to their current uses. 

Young people playing on G. R. Elementary's playlot during Playlot nights.
Playlot Nights provided an opportunity for people to gather in a public space that was previously closed outside of school hours.

In the past, the neighbors within the Island community have worked together to activate vacant spaces through community partnerships, however the Playlot project seeks to activate existing space on a larger scale through partnership with G. R. Clark. Island residents previously created a Nature Play Garden as an intergenerational outdoor space on a vacant city lot. However, the ICA’s work on the G. R. Clark Playlot Project focuses on creating a larger public space where community members can gather for larger events or play sports and is dependent on working cooperatively with G. R. Clark. Up until this point, the G.R. Clark playground has been regularly locked outside of school hours. Many community members have asked whether it can be opened more regularly. In response ICA has been in discussion with the school about how they can activate the space for community events. 

To show community support for opening the Playlot to the public, the ICA and the G. R. Clark Local School Council have invested in its renovation alongside young people and community partners. The Playlot project has aimed to center the voices of the young people who plan to use the space in discussions about the Playlot’s future. Students provided their ideas for improving the playlot and one of their primary concerns was to renovate a fence outside of the school that had become an eyesore. Community members and students worked together to install garden beds, repaint the fence, and add new plants and benches. Their work was aided by partnering with the humanitarian organization Convoy of Hope, as well as John Burns Construction and Christy Webber Landscaping Company which both provided employee volunteers to help improve the space. This spring, students added new signage and lettering to the fence along the playlot. These efforts to beautify the space, showed ownership, and demonstrated that there are people who care and are working on the space. 

The playlot after renovations.
The renovated playlot space, with a repainted fence, new benches, garden beds, and plants.

Following the renovations, the Playlot Nights acted as a proof of concept that the community is invested in reactivating the space. Playlot Nights were held on first Fridays through the summer, in June, July, and August when kids of all ages came together to play. The events incorporated activities for all ages such as chalk drawing, kickball games, music, and cold drinks. Nate noted that each night attracted new crowds. “I think that’s the beauty of doing something outdoors. While some people came from getting flyers and emails, other people were just walking their dogs or riding their bikes and stopped by. Some people drove by and did a double take because they weren’t used to seeing people using the space. So it was really a positive thing with great energy.” 

Adults and young people gathered together at the playlot.
Playlot Nights provided an opportunity for both youth and adults in the community to gather together.

The input of young people is central to the community’s plans for the future of the Playlot project. Six young community members between the ages of 12 and 15 were commissioned by the ICA as Youth Ambassadors and helped organize the Playlot nights. Each Youth Ambassador lives within the Island neighborhood and worked alongside the community to plan the Playlot Nights in exchange for stipends. Youth Ambassadors planned events, distributed flyers, and administered games and activities. By showing that young people are capable of taking action to plan the future of the playlot and administer programs, ICA hopes to generate more community involvement and incrementally work towards a larger scale transformation of the space. 

The Playlot Nights brought the community together to have fun and opened the playlot to connect the community as a whole.

-Henry Ellis, ICA Youth Ambassador

The Playlot Project demonstrates the change that happens as a neighborhood explores their strengths. The Playlot is not something new to the Island neighborhood, but is an asset that is being reactivated through community involvement. Looking towards the future, the ICA aims to continue to maximize its impact in the community through collaboration and investment in existing resources. 


2023 Peace Fellows Host Healing Oasis in West Humboldt Park

On September 17, the 2023 Chicago Peace Fellows held their first summer project, Healing Oasis, at the Children’s Garden of Hope in West Humboldt Park. The event emphasized healing on both an individual and community level, bringing in artists, musicians, healers, and other vendors together with the West Humboldt Park community.

Peace Fellows on the Healing Oasis team included: Antwan McHenryBeria HamptonDiane Deaderick DeMartaErnest DawkinsJonathan JohnsonNate TubbsYaritza Guillen, and Zahra Glenda Baker. Healing Oasis was part of a series of Summer Projects organized and hosted by the 2023 Chicago Peace Fellows to apply lessons learned through the GATHER curriculum to build peace within their communities.

2023 Chicago Peace Fellows Diane Deaderick DeMartra and Nate Tubbs welcome guests to the Healing Oasis.
2023 Chicago Peace Fellows Diane Deaderick DeMartra and Nate Tubbs welcome guests to the Healing Oasis.

Throughout their fellowship, the 2023 Peace Fellows had a series of planning meetings where they set the scope of their Summer Projects: determining which beneficiaries to target, choosing potential community partners, and drafting a program. After determining projects and team members, the Peace Fellows met on their own to plan.

The eight-member Healing Oasis team met consistently leading up to their event, which Antwan says played a large role in the success of the project:

”One thing that worked well was that we decided a planning time and stuck to it. We met consistently on the same day and same time and that helped us.” — Antwan McHenry

In their planning meetings, the Healing Oasis team chose to use the Children’s Garden of Hope as the location of the event due to its existing connection to the West Humboldt Park community. The Children’s Garden of Hope has a long history in the West Humboldt Park community. The Garden was created by NeighborSpace and West Humboldt Park neighbors to be a place where children can learn gardening skills and come together as part of the community to appreciate the beauty of growing things. Antwan has been on the board of Nobel Neighbors for the last five years, which have seen a host of improvements to the Children’s Garden of Hope as NeighborSpace has revamped it. Since then it has become a nexus for activities hosted by Nobel Neighbors.

The Children’s Garden of Hope also acted as a place that intersected with many of the Peace Fellows’ interests. This is in part due to Peace Fellows’ connections with NeighborSpace gardens, with Antwan acting as a steward for the Children’s Garden of Hope, Nate being involved in the Island Oasis nature play garden, and Yaritza working as a Stewardship Coordinator for NeighborSpace. This combination of community connections and the idea of having an outdoor space of health and healing made the Children’s Garden of Hope an ideal setting for the event.

Healing Oasis featured live music and dance, spoken word poetry, a drum circle, food and drinks, and art and wellness activities. All of those programmatic elements were bound around creating a space of refuge and refreshment for members of the community. Healing Oasis provided a space of healing and refuge for both residents of West Humboldt Park and the greater Peace Fellows community. The Peace Fellows involved in planning the event were each able to tap into different assets within their community networks, bringing in drummers, jazz musicians, clay workshops, tea, and more.

“Everyone has lots of different skills, strengths, and connections. I liked how the whole event represented a collaboration between all of the people involved […] each of us was able to leverage relational connections to pull together the different pieces. It’s the kind of thing where no one of us could have pulled that event together.” — Nate Tubbs

The investment of the 2023 Peace Fellows into Healing Oasis led to the event being larger than any event the Children’s Garden of Hope has seen recently and brought about deeper connections in the community. While the Children’s Garden of Hope is a regular space for Nobel Neighbors to host events, the larger scale of Healing Oasis attracted even more attention.

Antwan noticed that neighbors who had never been to the space were attracted by the scale of the event:

“I saw people from the community and word starting to pass. Word passed along and folks came by, plugged in, and enjoyed the space. […] New neighbors came down and mentioned that they didn’t know what was going on, but wanted to see.” — Antwan McHenry

By tapping into existing assets, the 2023 Peace Fellows were able to activate a deeper sense of community in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood and provide members of the community with an opportunity to heal and rest.


Centro Sanar Team posing at Chicago Beyond headquarters

Chicago Peace Fellow partners with Chicago Beyond to provide Mental Health Services on the Southwest Side

By: Zeki Salah, Communications Associate

In August of 2023, Chicago Beyond, a philanthropic organization that invests in organizations working to ensure that young people and community members are free to live full lives, announced a $1.6 million investment in Centro Sanar.

Centro Sanar, co-founded by 2022 Chicago Peace Fellow, Edwin Martinez, provides free mental health services to the southwest communities of Gage Park, Brighton Park, South Lawndale "Little Village," and Back of the Yards. This funding will help support Centro Sanar’s mission of addressing nationwide mental health service gaps in Latinx communities through a replicable model that acts as an alternative to the current mental health industry. 

Chicago Beyond initially identified Edwin and the work Centro Sanar was doing through exploring the value of lived experience in community engagement and mental health services. A Growth Manager at Chicago Beyond found Edwin through an article in The Trace, a media outlet that reports on gun violence. As conversations between Chicago Beyond and Centro Sanar developed, it became clear that Centro Sanar had cultivated deep connections with both community members and organizations that serve the Southwest side. This ultimately resulted in a lasting partnership between the two organizations. Speaking to Chicago Beyond’s philanthropic philosophy, Lisa Caldeira,  Growth Manager at Chicago Beyond, notes:

As an organization, Chicago Beyond deeply values Centro Sanar’s founders’ lived experiences and believes that in consultation with their partners and with those that they serve. Centro Sanar is serving the community’s needs,  addressing systemic harms, and delivering a lasting impact. 

Centro Sanar is made up of social workers and therapists who have around 50 years of collective experience. When asked about the quick expansion of Centro Sanar, Edwin responded: “A lot of our success has been due to the community uplifting our work. We started off as volunteers in March of 2020 under the incubation of the Port Ministries. That provided us with a space to start the work and provide clinical services, which started to blow up in November of that same year when we started to receive funding. Fast forward to May of 2022, we were able to quickly launch a 501(c)(3) due to our relationships with stakeholders and community residents who were able to bring on state funding which let us meet the needs of folks in the community.”

By facilitating the development of lasting relationships between clinicians and community members, Centro Sanar has been able to expand its services rapidly and offer new forms of mental health services to an underserved population.

Centro Sanar takes a non-medicalized approach to mental health care, which the team credits with the success of its programs. Edwin has seen mental health programs that take a medicalized approach fail due to the way their systems were funded and their way of reporting services to the government: “Our clinicians don’t have a fifty patient caseload, they don’t have a specific productivity guideline like in a medicalized system. They don’t have to do thirty five hours of clinical work for billing purposes. They are able to do community-based presentations and different levels of engagement so that they meet with community members when they are not in a state of crisis. This also means word of mouth referrals increase.”

The majority of Centro Sanar’s patients enter their care through word of mouth referrals, which means that neighbors and family members are sharing and promoting mental health care resources and are trusting Centro Sanar’s model of care. Word of mouth referrals also reduce the stigma of seeking out mental health care as friends and family members in the community encourage individuals to seek out preventative care prior to a mental health emergency.

By functioning outside of a medicalized mental health care model, Centro Sanar is also able to extend its mental health services outside of times of crisis. Whereas many medicalized mental health services are designed to tackle mental health emergencies, Centro Sanar expands services to preventative forms of mental health care. When asked what separates Centro Sanar from traditional mental health services, Edwin replied,

Consistency and presence. We’re one of the few organizations that provide free long-term care, consistent care that is not just twelve to twenty four 30-minute sessions over the course of six weeks. We’re doing what community members want, which is consistent and quality care. Even as a small organization we are making sure that we are providing long term service at different clinical modalities that tend to be inaccessible to our population and providing them in the language that they speak. That’s something that is often inaccessible in the current mental health  landscape that we are in.

One way that Centro Sanar is tackling the problem of helping underserved populations is by working with other organizations that complement their mental health services.  For instance, their partnership with Port Minisites not only provides Centro Sanar with a space to operate from, but also allows for a co-location of services. Port Ministries, run by peer Chicago Peace Fellow Alumni David Gonzalez, offers services that complement Centro Sanar’s such as a free health clinic and an afterschool programs that can assist with child care. Centro Sanar has also been able to co-locate with PODER, an immigrant integration center that works primarily with Spanish-speaking adults. PODER provides a space for Centro Sanar to operate from and also allows for a co-location of services. PODER offers programs that complement Centro Sanar such as workforce development and immigrant integration services.  Offering behavioral health and workforce development with the same space increases the capacities of both organizations by streamlining referrals, access to care, and improving different areas of wellness.

There is no shortage of work for Centro Sanar, they currently have a 10 month waitlist for individual therapy with close to 300 people waiting to receive services. This need is largely amplified by a systemic disinvestment of mental health services for BIPOC communities. As a young organization, the investment from Chicago Beyond will allow Centro Sanar to sustain their work and establish themselves as an organization. The funding provides financial flexibility for Centro Sanar to focus on what they know to be most critical for their organization and their clients. Financial security also allows Centro Sanar independence in establishing itself as an organization and figuring out what is needed in their infrastructure. 

Both Chicago Beyond and Centro Sanar are especially excited at the prospect of serving as a blueprint for alternative mental health services in the future. Edwin in particular is hopeful that some aspects of Centro Sanar’s model of care can be extended into the public space, emphasizing that he would like Centro Sanar to, “give an example of an organization that is being creative, that is being innovative, and that is researching its work. This has always been a passion of mine, how can a public mental health clinic adapt this model to be implemented in its work.”  

Central to both Centro Sanar’s growth and to its future is its ability to weave in partners to its mission and strengthen the community fabric. Lisa of Chicago Beyond emphasizes: “The team at Centro Sanar have carefully crafted combinations of ways to engage community members toward healing, not just towards dealing with instances of loss and grief, but towards a deep intergenerational wellness. For communities that have experienced generational harms and systemic oppression, receiving care that is long-term, free of charge, and accessible — culturally, linguistically and physically — leads to individual and familial healing, which in turn leads to community healing.” 


Father's Day March Brings Community and Connectedness to Englewood

By: Zeki Salah, Communications Associate

On June 17, Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club held their fifth annual Father’s Day March in Ogden Park. Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club was founded in 2017 by Joseph Williams, a 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow, to get fathers and male-mentors actively involved in their childrens’ lives. Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club uses literacy and mentorship to nurture the social-emotional learning of Chicago youth so that they are better equipped to handle the world around them. This year, they held their fifth annual Father’s Day March, a family-friendly event filled with food, music, games, and giveaways.

Over the past five years, the Father’s Day March has grown in scale and has gained the attention of local businesses, community organizations, and political figures. All food, entertainment, and services at the parade were provided for free and local businesses donated meals, haircuts, and more. When asked about the development of the Father’s Day March, Joseph noted, “I will never forget when we started the event. We used to do it inside of the park and then we expanded out to the track field. We added dance teams, the Jesse White tumblers, face painters, and so on. Now it’s at the point where last year we had the mayor and superintendent come out, this year we had the superintendent come out again, so it has continued to expand.” As attention to the Father’s Day march has increased, the services provided have also grown in scale with more options for food and entertainment being delivered to the growing audience. In total, over 25 vendors came out to support the event and over 500 people attended.

We were really able to tie together businesses, nonprofits, elected officials under one event, for one cause. Every year we come to bring together peace and unity throughout the community… Each year I think the event might be more difficult to put on as it grows in scale, but it actually gets easier, because the more folks know about it, the more support we get.

With over 500 people attending this year’s Father’s Day March, it became a site where members of the Englewood community could receive free resources and services while also spending time with their families. This year, Josephine’s Southern Cooking and White Castle donated food, while Michael Airhart of Taste for the Homeless cooked free meals. The Father’s Day March also distributed 50,000 free diapers and provided 100 attendees with free haircuts. By providing free food and entertainment, the Father’s Day March allowed family members to focus on connecting with one another in a fun environment. Attendees were also happy with the resources that the event provided. Tabling organizations provided opportunities for individuals to apply for jobs on the spot, receive phones or tablets with service for free, and other similar services. 

A central goal of the Father’s Day March was to bring attention to fathers’ continued involvement in their children’s lives. The event provided an opportunity to fathers and their children to relax and enjoy free face painting, balloons, an ice cream truck, crafts, and more. At the event, fathers approached Joseph and mentioned how they enjoyed the opportunity to not only spend time with their children, but also to have fun and to have a space in their neighborhood to relax. 

For the future, Joseph imagines expanding the Father’s Day Parade to have themes, which would bring more attention to the event and complement the programming. He imagines bringing a carnival to the next Father’s Day March, providing rides, popcorn, ICEEs, and similar fare. As Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club continues to hold Father’s Day Marches for the Englewood community, they will continue to provide foods, services, and entertainment to the neighborhood. This celebration of community and family is the joint effort of community organizers, businesses, and other neighborhood organizations collaborating on a common goal. 


A picture of women posing at Purpose Over Pain's 2023 Mother's Day event.

A New Resource for Victims of Gun Violence

By: Zeki Salah, Communications Associate

A new resource for families of victims of gun violence was recently launched by 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow, Pamela Montgomery-Bosely. Her organization, Purpose Over Pain, recently launched a 24-hour crisis response hotline for people coping with the loss of a loved one from violence. The hotline is active from 7pm on Friday to 7pm on Sunday and can be reached by dialing 872-3CRISIS  or (872) 327-4747.

Since its inception in 2007, Purpose Over Pain has expanded from a small non-profit run by parents of victims of gun violence to an organization with full-time staff that work Monday through Friday. The organization provides positive development activities for children and youth, advocates for and promotes safer communities, and strengthens families by providing crisis support to parents or guardians whose children have been victims of gun violence. Most of Purpose Over Pain’s services are provided on weekdays, which up until now has left a gap in the services provided to families of victims of gun violence over the weekend.

The crisis response hotline is intended to serve families at any point during the weekend, which is when gun violence tends to peak. Prior to opening the hotline, Purpose Over Pain would receive messages and calls throughout the weekend from people needing support after friends or family members had become victims of gun violence. Pam explains:

 “Over the weekend, people struggle, because that's when the violence is extremely high. So, while we are available Monday through Friday, I wanted to be available on the weekends, but not my full time staff since they are survivors too.” 

Purpose Over Pain Staff pose for a group picture.

Purpose Over Pain hired four operators to work the gun violence prevention hotline over the weekend, so that Purpose Over Pain’s existing staff would not be overburdened. 

All of the operators have first hand experience with gun violence, having lost either children or relatives, and are trained to listen to and provide guidance to people dealing with a tragic loss. Pam describes the role of the responders:

We want to be there to support people and let them know that they’re not alone. Our staff is there to listen. Many parents have their children shot and killed in the middle of the night and might receive a call at 2 in the morning with the news. You can’t sleep after news like that, so we wanted to make sure that there is someone there to listen to them, to provide support, to provide guidance, and to provide resources.

Pam also works on the hotline covering for the other responders in case they are unavailable or if it is the anniversary date of their loved one being murdered. 

Purpose Over Pain held a mother's Day event in 2023 for mothers of gun violence victims.

Resources that the operators can link victims include support circles, counseling, financial resources, and job programs. Purpose Over Pain offers memorial services, support days, and mentoring sessions as part of its regular programming. Hotline operators can also link victims to outside resources. For instance, hotline operators often help victims fill out a Crime Victim Compensation Form. This form is part of the Illinois Attorney General’s Crime Victims Compensation Program which is intended to reduce the financial burden imposed on victims of violent crime and their families by providing up to $45,000 for expenses incurred by eligible victims as a result of a violent crime. Purpose Over Pain also has a full resource book that can link victims to programs that provide housing, food, clothes, and jobs. They network with other organizations, such as St. Sabina’s, so that they can connect victims with resources close to them and that are relevant to their needs. 

Purpose Over Pain’s hotline is the first of its kind in Chicago, previously there was no 24-hour crisis hotline for the friends and families of victims of gun violence. Now, victims can be supported by community members that have lived through similar experiences. Pam emphasizes, “When you call and they pick up the phone you’ll have a survivor, someone who understands what you’re going through. It’s not like you’re getting an automated message, you’re getting a live voice. I don’t want people to think they’re alone because they’re not, we’re here for them.” The Purpose Over Pain hotline has been created by community members for community members and will continue to provide pertinent and needed care to victims of gun violence.


Youth and coaches gathered at the boxing club.

West Garfield Park Boxing Club is a Haven for Youth

By: Zeki Salah, Communications Associate

Brothers Tony and Sylvester Raggs recently started a youth boxing club in West Garfield Park. The club, Boxing Off the Block, is intended to teach young people from ages 13-18 discipline and the skill set of boxing. The club is located in Bethel Lutheran Church & School, and training is held on weekdays from 4pm-8pm. It is the Raggs brothers’ goal to encourage good habits in young people through the club and provide a space in which they can feel safe and have positive role models in an area where gun violence is a serious problem. 

Boxing Off the Block serves as a haven for families in and around West Garfield Park. Tony, a 2021 Chicago Peace Fellow, has worked in violence prevention since 1981 and has served as a volunteer street outreach worker in West Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park. He and his brother Sylvester have worked alongside one another on projects working with youths and adults dealing with issues of violence and community outreach. They have used music and entertainment as a way to build community, with boxing later becoming an addition to that work. Over the course of the last two years they have found  funding, trainers, and a space for their youth boxing club. They have been holding the club in Bethel Lutheran Church since October of 2022. Though the club is intended for teens aged 13-18, mothers and younger children also come to workout, box, and watch the teens spar. 

The club is stocked with workout equipment and trainers that provide the necessary tools for young people to learn boxing. The space includes a 10’x10’ ring that the brothers built themselves, punching bags, weights, and stationary bikes. They have hired two boxing coaches as well as a conditioning coach to train the young people who attend and they provide dinner for them as well. Activities are split between two groups with ages 13-15 training from 4pm - 6pm and ages 16-18 training from 6pm - 8 pm. Each group has around 15-20 young people attend. 

The coaches at Boxing Off the Block are often teens’ first mentors in boxing, providing them with training regimes and encouraging them to keep up their routines. The strength and conditioning coach, Travis Whittington, mentioned that he uses the discipline of training as a way to encourage good behavior in the gym, “when kids act out I ask them to do push-ups or run a lap so that they know what we’re here to do.” Travis provides personal coaching for the teens, giving them regimens to do outside of the gym. This is often teens’ first structured workout regime, so it provides them with a structure for building a habit of exercising. 

The two boxing coaches, Shawn Boyd and Levelle Whittington, emphasize the technique of boxing and its demands for control of the emotions.  Shawn stresses that boxing acts as a form of stress relief and that a cool head is required to win rounds in the ring. He noted that the young people he sees excel at boxing are those who “are able to keep up a technique in a fight rather than resorting to street fighting.” Part of their hope in encouraging this kind of mindset in the youth through boxing is to help them deal with the possible threat of violence on the streets. They hope that by practicing the skill of emotional regulation in the ring, teens will be able to keep calm when confronted on the streets to know when they should back away or practice restraint.

Coach Levelle Whittington sees himself and the other boxing coaches as positive role models for the young people. He noted that many of the young people who attend the club have lost family members to gun violence and lack guidance. Boxing coaches can provide some direction and guidance by teaching the value of discipline, technique, and emotional regulation. Levelle also noted that boxing has the potential to distract from other more dangerous behaviors because it is something that can be framed as cool. Being cool allows boxing to compete with other interests, such as drugs or guns, and channels that energy into a positive direction. 

Boxing is not the only thing taught at Boxing off the Block, with a community of trainers, coaches, and students teaching the value of cooperation, self-control, and the study of technique. The club is quickly growing, with members from outside of West Garfield park also joining to learn the skill of boxing. It is the Raggs Brothers’ hope that the club will continue to gain both resources and members so that they can build community and encourage positive values in young people on the West Side. 


The Chicago Youth Boxing Club pose for a picture

Chicago Youth Boxing Club: Building Community, Character, and Togetherness

By: Sylvia Del Raso, 2022 Chicago Peace Fellow and Board Treasurer, Chicago Youth Boxing Club Inc

Almost 15 years ago, I was asked to join the Chicago Youth Boxing Club (CYBC) board, a nonprofit sports-based youth development program serving the North Lawndale and Little Village communities on the southwest side of Chicago. What I started as a six-month commitment, I am continuing to this day as a rewarding initiative where young people can resolve their difficulties, find community, and prosper in the sport and beyond. 

I remain, to this day, a volunteer and an avid supporter of the mission of this boxing club, which provides an outlet and safe space for youth and acts as a preventive measure to avert young people away from potential gang activities. I have experienced many fulfilling moments during this work. 

One of the best and earliest moments was around 12 years ago when one of our young people, then nine-year-old Felix Gonzalez, was apprehensive about getting up in the ring; then he won. His happy glow still stays with me.

I remember thinking: I am in it. It is helping them [young people], and I am helping the community. Felix grew up and recently came to thank us, this time under the uniform of a Chicago Paramedic. Seeing how he came back as a 22-year-old made me, once again, understand how crucial it is for the community to maintain our service to them, and how long-lasting our positive impact is. 

Now, we are serving approximately 140 young people. We offer them a boxing club and a place that listens to them. This platform helps them build discipline, character, and self-confidence and allows them to add value to their future. We talk to them about going to school, about possibilities to graduate and, to go to college. We offer scholarships and guide them. It is more than just a boxing club.

A Place of Many Benefits 

Regrettably, our neighborhood is not among the best in Chicago; however, there is a lot of hope and talent here. Our community needs something like this because we only have a few activities for youth. 

I see the commitment from the kids; they want to be better. Sure, there is a lot of work because some kids come with baggage, from broken homes, suffer from anger issues and anxiety, and have dealt with hard things in life.

Witnessing the meaningful impact of our club on young people, their families, and the community throughout all these years gave me all the encouragement and reasons to work and spread the word about how this place helps marginalized youth. 

I work the night shift at my full-time job with the U.S. Postal Service, so I can come to the boxing club during the day and do what is needed as a Board Treasurer.Still, this is not the hard part of the job. This has so much value for my community; I don’t see it as a job. The difficult part is convincing our funders and others that boxing is good for our community.

Some people still don’t see boxing as a good sport for kids. A lot of people still perceive boxing as violence.From my experience as an observer, boxing needs a lot of discipline – and this club creates and maintains the ties required for the betterment of our community. 

I have seen many kids coming in here with anxiety and anger. They think they can take on anyone. However, when we put them in a ring, they cannot take a round because it takes a lot of conditioning. At this point, they take it as a challenge that changes their attitude.

I see them grow; I see them engage for the better. Besides the youth themselves, I have seen firsthand how the community respects what happens in this church basement. In Mexican culture, boxing is very integral in our lives. This is a sport that Mexicans like a lot, so we see a lot of families coming here.

Looking Forward, While Cherishing our Progress 

Initially, people saw boxing as violence. But then they started to see that these kids were not fighting but boxing. They started to see that thanks to this club, these kids were staying out of street fights and were being more respectful.     

It was new for the community that these kids were also competing nationally. Our kids have gone to Utah, California, Missouri, and Texas. We had four Olympic contenders right before COVID-19 hit. The community started changing their perception when they started seeing the results of our work. We are constantly open to the community, and we engage them. 

We open the gym and we invite everyone to come and watch the kids. We learned that before kids go to compete, they get nervous and want to take a step back. So, we do sparring sessions here and invite family and friends so kids start familiarizing themselves with the competition. We also hold community gatherings that include food, entertaining games, and fun together.

Enhancing Brown and Black Cooperation

Little Village is separated into North Lawndale (mostly Black) and South Lawndale (primarily Mexican). We unite the kids from both sides. We promote unity and show them that brown and black can work together, engage, and love each other.

This aspect of our work brings me closer to Goldin Institute’s mission and its community-driven approach to social justice. Participating in the Goldin Institute’s Chicago Peace Fellows Program in 2022 taught me to speak my mind and be more open. I gained many friendships and networking from the Goldin Institute; it is ongoing. Just because I graduated, it doesn't mean that the connection ended. I see it as a valuable process and appreciate the process Goldin Institute put me through. They brought me into Chicago neighborhoods that I would not go otherwise.

***

For the symbolic amount of $25 a month, anyone aged eight and up can join our club and be a part of our growing community. 

Another way to be part of us and support us is by donating

Whichever form of contribution you choose, we will wholeheartedly appreciate it.


Students pose in front of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas

Students Visit Little Rock to Explore the Civil Rights Movement

By: Zeki Salah, Communications Associate

On March 28, the LUV Institute arranged for 60 middle and high school students to travel to Little Rock, Arkansas, to learn about the Little Rock Nine, the group of nine Black students who enrolled at the formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. The Love, Unity & Values (LUV) Institute has been working with underserved youth since 2012 to inspire hope and empower them with economic opportunities while building resiliency and social-emotional competencies. Cosette Nazon-Wilburn, Executive Director of the LUV Institute and a 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow, formed partnerships between the LUV Institute, local schools, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and a community of teachers to facilitate the trip.

Students at University of Chicago Charter School and Ariel Community Academy participated as a part of LUV Institute’s bi-weekly Media Empowerment Program. LUV was able to expand the program this year through funding from the ISBE’s Phillip Jackson Freedom Schools Grant.  The LUV Institute has held Journey to My Better Self programs for the past eight years, but this is the first year that the program has included an out of state trip. The programs prepare youth and young adults ages 16-24 to be job-ready for economically sustainable employment in high-growth industries and occupations. The Media Empowerment Program focuses on training students in journalism and storytelling.

The LUV Institute also hired teachers from University of Chicago Charter School and Ariel Community Academy with funding from theFreedom Schools Grant. The grant is intended to fund a Freedom Schools network, offering a research-based, multicultural curriculum during the summer and/or school year to improve outcomes for low-income students. This funding allowed the LUV Institute to pay particular attention to hiring teachers from neighborhood schools to take part in the program. Each teacher was paid $60 an hour, which is higher than what teachers are usually paid to work for afterschool programs. By hiring neighborhood teachers, the LUV Institute not only contributed to the community of teachers but also invested in the schools they teach in. Teachers, deans, and administrators also learned restorative practices, which provided them with tools to improve their classrooms. 

Leading up to the trip to Little Rock, the LUV Institute taught a six-week course on the Civil Rights Movement. The curriculum for the program aimed to teach students how to tell stories under the lens of racial healing and grasp the idea of looking at history as a way forward. The curriculum was provided by nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, and was designed to create a pathway for young people to explore Little Rock Nine narratives within their own lives. One of the books offered as part of the curriculum is ”Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine. “Warriors Don’t Cry” emphasizes the role media played in theLittle Rock Nine and the Civil Rights Movement as a whole, making it a strong tie-in to the program. Students were also provided with iPads to document their experiences and participate in the curriculum.

There was an additional layer of opportunity for high school students who took part in the program as they received leadership training and served as mentors for the middle school students. Both high school and middle school students took the course side-by-side to learn history and create their own narratives. All of the high school students who participated attend University of Chicago Charter School in Woodlawn. The next phase of their project is to create a mosaic that will be at the school and serve as a reminder of their experience.

When it came time to visit Little Rock, the students had a full day of activities, visiting Little Rock Central High, the Arkansas Capitol building, as well as various memorials. Central High is now a National Historic Site and students were able to visit  a memorial park, the historic Mobil/Magnolia gas station, and the visitor center. On their trip, students watched a documentary about the Little Rock Nine and also got a chance to see memorabilia and purchase souvenirs. The trip included a visit to the Arkansas Capitol Building, which features a statue of every member of the Little Rock Nine, as well as quotes from them.

The visit to Central High revealed the resources offered by the school's campus and how the diversity of the school has advanced since the integration of the Little Rock Nine. They met with two assistant principals from Central High who provided updates on the current status of the school. The assistant principals emphasized the diversity of Central High, which now accommodates students internationally who speak over 30 languages. Today, young people all over the world attend Central High, since it is a large school with the resources to support a diverse student body. 

As students visited Central High and other historical sites related to the Little Rock Nine, they reflected on their own experiences and the current opportunities they have to address social injustice.  Cosette emphasizes that the trip was intended to have the students ask, “What are the Little Rock Nine situations in my life? What have my parents and grandparents had to do? And when have I had to stand up to injustice?” 

Visiting Little Rock will hopefully inspire ongoing leadership within the students. By focusing on the Little Rock Nine, who were kids between the ages of 14-16 when they transferred schools, the curriculum focuses on young peoples’ capacity to be change makers. 

Opportunities for reflection were extended to the families of students. One of the adult chaperone’s is the grandmother of one of the children in the program. She stood on the street in front of Central High and provided testimony of what happened when the Little Rock Nine were escorted into the school by the National Guard. She noted how the neighborhood around Central High used to be an entirely white neighborhood and has now become a Black neighborhood. She also talked about how the Little Rock Nine saw Central High School as an opportunity for educational advancement. Central is a large high school close in size to a college campus, which was a stark contrast to the much smaller all-Black Horace Mann High School that was built during the same period.

Following their visit to Little Rock, the students’ experience of the trip will be used to tell their own stories. They used their iPads to create narratives about their trip. A documentarian accompanied them and will work with the students to combine their narratives and footage to create a documentary. Through connecting with history and actively applying it to their lived experiences, the students will see the importance of telling their own stories and engaging with their community.