Celebrating the Chicago Day of the Girl

by Zeki Salah, Mutual Aid Collaborative Facilitator

On October 11, the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. hosted the 11th annual Chicago Day of the Girl at the South Shore Cultural Center. The event coincides with the International Day of the Girl, which is an international observance day established by the United Nation on October 11, 2012 to increase awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide and to support more opportunities for them. The Chicago Day of the Girl focuses on recognizing and providing opportunities for Black girls ages 13 to 18 years old in the City of Chicago.

This year, the theme of the Chicago Day of the Girl was “I Belong” and the programming was aimed towards reclaiming spaces for Black girls that often feel inaccessible. La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, a 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow and the Executive Director of the Girls Like Me Project spoke to the importance of reinforcing the girls’ right to spaces throughout the city: “Many girls feel like they only belong in certain spaces and that they are confined to their neighborhoods. So we wanted to build a sense of belonging: they belong to this city and that this city belongs to them.” The Chicago Day of the Girl worked to address the way the city is segregated by race, class, and income by showcasing how different organizations and resources can be utilized to celebrate and center the voices of Black girls. The South Shore Cultural Center also made for a significant venue because it gave the girls an opportunity to be in an establishment that is seen as exclusive.

Chicago Public Schools across the city participated in the Chicago Day of the Girl, with 253 girls attending in total. The University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn, Gary Comer Charter School, and Nicholson STEM Academy were some of the schools that were connected to the Chicago Day of the Girl through partnerships with the Girls Like Me Project, Inc. The event was held from 10am - 3pm, allowing the girls to leave the classroom and receive educational enrichment outside of their schools.

As an educational enrichment opportunity outside of the classroom, the Chicago Day of the Girl was able to address issues that receive limited attention in schools, allowing programming to be gender responsive and internationally oriented. The day’s activities aimed to make the girls in attendance feel like they belong and are included in a global empowerment conversation. The Chicago Day of the Girl originally grew out of the Girls Like Me Project’s Global Connections program, which aimed to show girls in Chicago what girlhood looks like in other spaces around the world. This has influenced programming to have an international reach, that aims to not only bring the voices and perspectives of Black girls into international conversations, but also to provide resources that help them travel internationally.

Girls who attended the Chicago Day of the Girl were provided with connections to the global community and opportunities for international travel by local international organizations. WorldChicago, an internationally-oriented nonprofit focused on citizen diplomacy, presented their Youth Diplomat program to the girls in attendance. This program admits students to engage in cross-cultural conversations with international peers and attend lectures and workshops with global and Chicago area academics, government officials, and community leaders. Tiffany Smith, a travel writer from Bronzeville, also shared her experience traveling outside of the country and the barriers to travel she faced as a Black girl. The Global Strategists Association addressed some of the challenges girls might face by sharing information about passports. The Girls Like Me Project will also sponsor passports for three girls who attended the Day of the Girl, as well as African ancestry tests. Collectively the organizations involved provided tools for Black girls to engage with girlhood internationally while also showing that their voices are needed in an international space.

Organizations across the city of Chicago also collaborated to show their commitment towards supporting, celebrating, and amplifying the voices of Black girls. Damon Reed, a local Chicago artist, came and showcased murals that girls involved in the Girls Like Me Project painted with his support. The murals depict missing Black girls whose stories have not received significant media coverage. Dr. Ruby Mendenhall of UIC Champaign-Urbana also created an exhibit which was featured at the Day of the Girl by working with the mothers and daughters of the Girls Like Me Project. Their exhibit featured portraits of what brings them joy and healing. These projects showed the girls in attendance the importance of their experiences and how their stories can be told in a powerful and influential way.

The Chicago Day of the Girl provided Black girls from Chicago with a sense of belonging within both local and global communities and emphasized their capacity to enact change. The girls who attended were given tools for advocacy by the participating organization and a platform for self-expression. Local talent was also showcased, with dance performances from the Girls Like Me Project, music, a teen talk show, and a performance from Dee Dee Davis of the Bernie Mac Show. Reflecting on the day’s events La’Keisha Gray-Sewell said, “this day was all about Chicago girls and uplifting them and providing them with a platform to celebrate themselves.”

Mutual Aid Collaborative Discusses How Violence Spreads with Dr. Andrew Papachristos

By Zeki Salah, Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

On Tuesday, August 23rd, the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative met with Dr. Andrew Papachristos, Director of the Northwestern Neighborhood & Network Initiative. The meeting was part of the Mutual Aid Collaborative Civic Partners Series, which aims to create connections between individuals and organizations that work to build peace and prevent violence.

Dr. Papachristos studies social networks and how they can help activists understand and predict who is at the highest risk of becoming a victim of gun violence. He met with members of the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative, a network of 60 Black and Brown leaders and activists who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides. Fellows came in person and online to strategize with Dr. Papachristos about how they could act to prevent the spread of violence.

Dr. Papachristos’s research around gun violence gave Fellows insight into how the spread of gun violence can be predicted and preemptively addressed. As he presented his research, he made it clear that gun violence primarily spreads through a concentrated segment of the population. This finding suggests that most victims of gun violence either know each other or are linked together by only a few degrees of separation.

To illustrate how gun violence concentrates within particular communities, one section of Dr. Papachristos's presentation focused on how most gun violence injuries within cities affect a small proportion of the overall population. Data collected in Chicago between 2012-2016 showed that more than 70% of all subjects of gun violence are within social networks containing less than 5% of the city population, with 89% of those shootings occurring within a singular network. This insight is particularly pertinent to community activists and local organizations because it allows them to concentrate their efforts in violence prevention on the most vulnerable community members.

The social networks that Dr. Papachristos studies show that people affected by gun violence often share close social ties that have lasting consequences. When members of these networks face exposure to gun violence, it affects measurable aspects of their health, such as stress, sleep, and heart health. Additionally, people within these networks have a higher chance of becoming shot. While the probability of sustaining a gun injury is considerably higher for Black and Hispanic men in Chicago, the likelihood of becoming a victim rises exponentially when those men are in a social network where violence has previously occurred. Dr. Papachristos noted that a Black or Hispanic man between the ages of 14-24 within one of these networks has a higher chance of being shot than someone playing a game of Russian Roulette, in which the odds would be one in six. These figures helped frame the importance of understanding how social networks operate to the Fellows and how Fellows could utilize this information to reach members of the population facing the highest risk of becoming victims of violence.

Dr. Papachristos’s research also illustrated that violence is contagious and that interrupting a potential shooting could have a cascading effect, preventing further instances of violence. He showed how he uses network science to track shootings that chain together within a social network. In Chicago, around 63% of shootings studied occurred within these chains of violence, with an average of 83-120 days between each instance. Each of the moments between these instances represents an opportunity for intervention, when victim services, trauma response teams, or outreach workers could coordinate efforts to stop the further spread of violence. When the number of responders is limited, this information is especially valuable because it helps them make the best use of their time.

As the Mutual Aid Collaborative network entered into discussion with Dr. Papachristos, many Fellows were interested in the root causes that might catalyze a cascade of community violence. Their conversation centered around the effectiveness of poverty abatement, after-school programs, and job programs in preventing future violence. Dr. Papachristos spoke to the need for community activists to take the time to understand root causes while simultaneously engaging in an immediate response to gun violence. He asked Fellows to consider that the average age of a victim of gun violence in Chicago is 27 years old. Examining a root issue such as schooling and primary education would not be doing much for the 27-year-old linked to a network in which gun violence has previously occurred. Systemic problems, such as poverty and education, demand attention, but solutions take time to implement and typically work to benefit future generations. Immediate answers to violence, such as street outreach work, are also needed for prevention.

The conversation between Dr. Papachristos and the Mutual Aid Collaborative network also touched on the importance of narrative when framing incidents of gun violence. Peace Fellows told powerful anecdotes about their work around gun violence and its impact on individual people. For instance, Lisa Daniels, a 2019 Chicago Peace Fellow, spoke about the importance of rewriting the narrative about "offenders" of gun violence. Addressing these narratives allows the "offenders" to understand themselves as victims before their offense rather than viewing themselves as intrinsically violent people. What she claimed is critical in conversations about trauma and healing is that we "remind the individual that they are not the worst thing they have ever done" and consider the “stories victims tell themselves about who they are and what they have experienced." Dr. Papachristos expressed that he tries to capture a similar sentiment in his presentations, referring only to "victims" of gun violence:

Nothing else should matter when you’re trying to save a life.

The meeting between Dr. Papachristos and the Mutual Aid Collaborative network linked rigorous empirical research into the structure of gun violence with the lived experiences of those who work in violence prevention. As community leaders reflected on the data Dr. Papachristos shared and its implications, they also envisioned its potential uses in their own violence prevention projects. A recurring theme throughout the presentation was that there is not a unilateral solution to the epidemic of gun violence, but that different people find different solutions which lift them and members of their communities outside of the cycle of violence. This insight stresses the importance of collaborative action amongst community activists, which the Mutual Aid Collaborative aims to facilitate. It is critical for grassroots partnerships to be created to provide individuals caught within networks of violence with a range of resources that can suit their diversity of needs.

Building a Community of Practice for First Call Pastors

2019 Chicago Peace Fellow, Pastor Robert Biekman, is piloting a Community of Practice with communities of faith. Pastor Biekman, or Pastor B., is utilizing the GATHER platform to foster peer-to-peer learning amongst newly ordained pastors and church planters. The majority of these pastors have been serving their congregations for less than three years and are gaining practical experience and building relationships through this cohort. This cohort represents an investment in the future of the church.


The GATHER mobile platform effectively facilitates shared learning and a curriculum for faith community leaders with a desire to build on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their community.

Fifteen (15) pastors are using the GATHER platform to look beyond the walls of their congregations’ and engage their communities. GATHER’s mobile classroom and toolkit for building individual and community leadership capacity has allowed these active pastors to integrate the learning journey into their schedules.

The inaugural cohort of pastors began meeting in March of 2022 and will complete their 9-month program in December. Reverend Colin Cranmer who serves as pastor at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois shared,

"I have been engaged in this community of practice cohort for the last year and have truly enjoyed engaging with colleagues, asking critical questions about the community in which our church sits, and thinking from a 10,000-foot perspective of how God has specifically designed our church to engage...it's so comforting to know I'm not the only one struggling to understand the context of my church's culture and the community around me...Through this leadership community, I have received support and ideas to keep me going at each stage of the game. I highly recommend it!”
Reverend Colin Cranmer

When Pastor Biekman was in the Peace Fellows program, he found value in the GATHER curriculum’s emphasis on collaboration and experience-based learning that he hopes to share with not only Lutheran but with faith leaders of other traditions. Creating a Community of Practice can potentially equip these pastors with practical knowledge of ministry and connect them with practitioner-experts.

As the first call pastors progress through the GATHER curriculum, they have two touchpoints with their Community of Practice each month: a roundtable, and a deeper dive into a subject such as asset mapping with an experienced practitioner. Through these regular meetings, the pastors discuss what work they will engage their communities in with one another.


During “touchpoint” meetings, pastors have shared successes and challenges as they work to connect with people outside their church walls. As pastors shared their experiences, they spoke to the successes of meeting their communities where they are, rather than just engaging them within the church itself.

The Reverend Maria Rojas Banda, who serves a predominantly LGBTQ+ Latinx congregation in Berwyn, Illinois spoke to the success of creating a walking group called caminando juntos—Spanish for “walking together.” Reflecting on the cohort, she said,

"The Workshops with different community leaders have been an excellent opportunity to see how other processes work in different contexts. The opportunity to read about my peers and connect with them is a great way to build up knowledge and relationships."

The GATHER program is customizable and can be accessed remotely as a self-paced curriculum. Pastor Biekman modified GATHER by crafting the opening reflection to approach each step of the “learning journey” through a theological lens. This has provided a common frame of reference for the pastors engaging with the material.

Additionally, the self-paced learning of the GATHER platform delivered in a hybrid format is accommodating for people’s various needs considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Combining custom material for first call pastors with a self-paced learning environment has created an inclusive Community of Practice that accommodates differences in capacity, while also uniting individuals around a common platform.

Pastor Pam Voves serves the people of Evanston, Illinois as pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, thinking about her participation with the cohort she says,

“I am grateful for the Community of Practice learning experience...the balance of expertise by veteran practitioners in the field of ministry and the cohort support from other pastors in my geographic area were most helpful...GATHER provided an easy-to-use platform...(and) also helped me connect with my pastoral colleagues outside the online sessions. The new ideas and relationships will stay with me as I continue pastoral ministry.”
Pastor Pam Voves

What has been essential to this Community of Practice is cooperation and partnership with the various expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Creating an accessible environment for grassroots leaders to partner with one another facilitates new partnerships and a broader community to be reached.


This pilot Community of Practice for Lutheran pastors and church planters is made possible through a Holy Innovation Grant awarded by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Community & Leadership Home Area.

Mutual Aid Collaborative Builds Connections with UChicago Medicine Violence Recovery Program

By Zeki Salah, Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

On Tuesday, July 19th, Peace Fellows and members of the community met with University of Chicago Medicine’s Violence Recovery Program (VRP). The event was held as part of the Mutual Aid Collaborative’s Civic Leader series, which aims to build connections between individuals and organizations that work to build peace and prevent violence. At their meeting, Peace Fellows spoke with Dr. Franklin Cosey-Gay, the Director of the VRP as well as Carlos Roble, a Clinical Lead/Social Worker in the VRP. Fellows learned about what the hospital does for victims of intentional violence as well as some of the root causes of violence that the Violence Recovery team hope to address.

Dr. Cosey-Gay walked Peace Fellows through the history of the Violence Recovery Program at the University of Chicago Medical Center and began by discussing the structural issues that the Program was designed to address. The VRP was started in 2018, with only two violence recovery specialists involved. The trauma center was created to provide more equitable access to high-quality health care and trauma treatment services on Chicago's South Side, specifically neighborhoods impacted by systemic violence. The VRP team views violence through a public health lens, which aims to address structural causes of violence, rather than blaming the individual. Because of this, the VRP seeks to make adjustments to the medical system that provide services to individuals affected by violence to promote equity and reduce the outbreak of further violence.

The Violence Recovery Team stressed that their framework of understanding violence through a public health framework goes beyond understanding treatment and rehabilitation on an individual level but also aims to prevent violence through examining relational, communal, and societal factors. Their presentation focused on why there are higher risk factors of violence on the Southside and particularly in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Chicago has a history of racial tensions that developed over time through restrictive covenants, redlining, urban renewal projects, and policing. These structural forces have deeply impacted South Side communities and the VRP is hoping to rebuild trust in public health institutions by gaining credibility and working with community based organizations. Meeting with Peace Fellows and members of the community acted as a way for the VRP to continue building credibility with organizations that work in violence prevention so that they can collaborate to address violence as a public health concern.

The Violence Recovery Program also operates on an individual level, acting to protect victims of violence and their families from disruptions that can be physically or emotionally harmful.

"Violence Recovery is about public health. We don't focus on fault or blame, we focus on prevention." -- Dr. Cosey-Gay

Dr. Cosey-Gay emphasized since the role of the Violence Recovery team is to act as public health professionals, they “neither determine fault nor place blame, but focus on prevention.” Oftentimes, social workers in the VRP act to keep police away from victims of violence so that they have time and space to heal and are given time to recover before questioning. Carlos Robles, a social worker in the VRP noted:

“We don't want to treat victims of violence as criminals, but as experts in their own lives.”

Today the Violence Recovery Program at University of Chicago Medicine has 15 full-time employees and offers 24-hour care to victims of intentional violence. Their care extends outside of the hospital as they also help patients and families navigate external health care and social services. As Peace Fellows and community members got to know the services of the VRP, they were surprised at the amount the program has grown in the last four years. Many of the attendees shared their own experiences navigating hospitals alongside victims of intentional violence and welcomed the new approach to violence recovery offered by the program. One attendee told a story about how she was not offered an opportunity to see her son’s body after he was the victim of violence and emphasized how traumatic this experience was for her. If a violence recovery program had been in place, some of the trauma of this experience could have been avoided and more trust could have been built between the hospital and the community.

Getting to know the services and history of the Violence Prevention Program helped Peace Fellows and community members build a mutually beneficial relationship with the hospital. By gaining connections to community-based organizations the VRP builds credibility and gains new resources to direct victims of violence to with the aim of preventing further violence. Members of the community similarly benefited from learning about how approaches to treating intentional violence have improved over time and from gaining a better understanding of how the trauma center could treat members of their communities. Through this meeting, Peace Fellows gained new opportunities for collaborations that have the potential to bring lasting peace to their communities.

Moonset Sunrise Promotes Social Justice Through Theater

By Zeki Salah, Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

From June 8-18, Chicago Peace Fellow, Pilar Audain, acted as a guide for Moonset Sunrise, a theatrical experience rooted in healing, self-care and collective growth through song, storytelling, dance and ritual. Pilar co-created the program alongside the theater company Collaboraction as the inaugural event for Beat Kitchen's new restaurant/lounge and event space: Bar Sol.

Moonset Sunrise was conceptualized by Collaboraction, a social justice theater that builds knowledge, empathy, dialogue and action around oppression and inequity through live theater, film and online interactive programs. Pilar was approached by Carla Stillwell and Anthony Mosely of Collaboraction because they wanted to produce something that would promote healing and connection in the community and had heard of her experience doing ritual healing work. Pilar’s healing work on the Southside, as well as her use of ancient indigenous art forms as healing modalities attracted a lot of attention to her work and the team at Collaboraction asked her to be a priest in their latest production, Moonset Sunrise.

While the team at Collaboraction provided set design, musicians, dancers, and other artists, Pilar was tasked with creating a release experience for members of the audience. Pilar relied on audience participation to create a feeling of freedom and emotional release. For instance, at one point in the play, members of the audience were given a paper and pencil and asked to write down their emotions. They were then told to give the paper to a Goddess statue before the paper was burned by Pilar. By allowing space for emotional vulnerability and reflection, Moonset Sunrise aimed to provide audience members with an acceptance of who they are.

One of the goals of Moonset Sunrise was to make members of the audience feel as though they were entering a safe space and leaving their ordinary lives behind. Pilar and the team at Collaboraction aimed to create an atmosphere where people viewed different forms of art that elicited different emotions. Pilar’s vision of the set and performance were delivered by Collaboration “in the most organic and beautiful way.”

The set of the event included a mock sanctuary with running water that visitors encountered when they came into the auditorium. As audience members watched libations and sacred dances, they were encouraged to relax and focus on their breathing. By creating an immersive experience with different art forms, Moonset Sunrise provided audience members with a variety of modalities through which they could experience healing and release.

One of the outcomes of Moonset Sunrise was that people expected one thing and received what they did not know they needed. -- Pilar Audain Reed

She encouraged members of the audience to focus on the events that led them to their current positions, so that they could better understand themselves. During performances, many members of the audience expressed difficult relationships with loved ones and allowed for a breakdown of the emotional boundaries that are raised in everyday life. This freedom allowed them to focus on how they suffer in many of the same ways and helped them find a common humanity amongst themselves. By the time Moonset Sunrise concluded, many members of the audience were provided with a transformative experience that left them feeling a bit lighter and freer.

Safety Net Launches Blood Drive

By Zeki Salah, Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

Chicago Peace Fellows are working to address an increased demand for blood from Black and Brown donors through holding a Mutual Aid Collaborative Blood Drive. The Blood Drive is part of an ongoing Safety Net project by the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative, a group of 60 Black and Brown leaders and committed allies who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides. Fellows working on the Safety Net project seek to address multiple pandemics that ail the South and West Sides of Chicago, including COVID-19 and community violence.

The Safety Net campaign is accepting donation pledges until June 28th, but you can donate at any time after making the pledge. You can sign up for the Safety Net team’s blood drive here: https://sleevesup.redcrossblood.org/campaign/give-from-the-heart/

You can also promote the blood drive by using the hashtag: #OurBloodMatters

The Safety Net project started at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic by creating a distributed network of PPE providers throughout a grassroots network, but has since expanded its scope to include broader public health issues. Since its inception, the Safety Net project has also held COVID vaccine clinics to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown communities. The Chicago Peace Fellows Blood Drive is the latest project by the Safety Net team and seeks to address a shortage of Black and Brown blood donors.

More Black and Brown donors are needed in the United States because of a rise in demand for some rare blood types that are more common in people of Black heritage. Certain subtypes of blood need to be matched to treat blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia. Blood donors are screened to see if they might possess certain rare blood types, which can also help match plasma and bone marrow donors. The demand for blood that the Safety Net team seeks to address is expected to increase even more during the summer, due to the increase of accidents such as car crashes and fireworks, as well as spikes in cycles of gun violence. This can put patients who need blood in consistent quantities at risk as these sorts of incidents risk depleting the blood reservoir that their treatments draw from.

The Safety Net wanted to bring attention to the need for a more diverse blood bank after learning that the director of the Chicago Peace Fellows, Burrell Poe, was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Treatment for aplastic anemia requires bone marrow transplants, which can only be performed if the donor and recipient have matching subtypes of blood. In solidarity with Burrell, the Safety Net team scheduled their Blood Drive around his birthday, so that members of the community could be made aware of the importance of blood donations and their potential to transform the lives of other people.

Jacquelyn Moore of the Safety Net team donated blood in response to the blood drive and found the experience to be fulfilling as an altruistic act, while also gaining new insights into her own health. Jackie was touched by the campaign on a personal level because a blood drive saved her husband’s life after it connected him with a match for a stem cell transplant. She stated “giving blood provides a way to directly help the community and provides people with an opportunity to act, to improve the lives of people around them.” Additionally, Jackie noted the pragmatic benefits donors receive when giving blood. After giving blood, she was contacted by the Red Cross and given a report of her COVID-19 antibodies. She noted that the Red Cross also provides other reports on other aspects of the health of its donors and can act as a free health screening. At the screening, vital signs are checked and problems such as high blood pressure, arrhythmia, or low hemoglobin levels can be detected.

The Safety Net team’s blood drive campaign also seeks to dismiss myths about giving blood. They assert that giving blood is not painful, and can even be relaxing as it gives the donor an opportunity to sit back and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the day. Additionally, the Safety Net encourages members of the LGBTQ+ community to explore the possibility of giving blood, because many of the previous restrictions against donors within this community have been lifted. Lastly, the Safety Net team emphasizes the safety of giving blood, donation centers undergo strict COVID precautions and there is a low risk of contracting COVID while giving blood.

Second Annual Chicago Peace Fellows Music Festival

By Zeki Salah, Mutual Aid Collaborative Facilitator

The Chicago Peace Fellows held a Concert for Peace on June 4th, celebrating the artistic accomplishments of their communities and a shared commitment to improving their neighborhoods. The Second Annual Chicago Peace Fellows Music Festival was held at the Hatchery in Garfield Park with Peace Fellows gathering performers from across the city to play music, sing songs, read poetry, and dance. The Music Festival was organized by a committee within the Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative, a group of 60 Black and Brown leaders and committed allies who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides.

The event was made streamed live on the Goldin Institute’s Facebook page where you can watch the recording.

The Music Festival Committee is made up of musicians and educators that have first hand experience with the transformative power of music and its positive impact on communities. The committee pooled their connections to create a lineup with a diversity of talents that represented neighborhoods across the city. The Peace Fellows Music Committee is made up of Peace Fellow Alumni from across the cohorts of 2019, 2020 and 2021: Gloria Smith of the Black Star Project, Angelina Zayas of the GAP Center, Juliet Jones of the Original 64th Street Beach Drummers, Margaret Murphy-Webb of the South Side Jazz Coalition, Marvinetta Penn of Global Girls, Inc., Rashada Dawan of B.Fli Productions, and Robin Cline of Neighborspace.

As musicians, artists, and educators, members of the committee had an eye for both talent and opportunity, bringing together talented members from their communities to perform. Many of the performers at the Peace Fellows Music Festival were young people for whom the festival provided an opportunity to gain experience performing, show off their talents, and be compensated for their time and effort. Additionally, by bringing together artists from across the city, the Peace Fellows Festival allowed for them to network with each other and collaborate in their artistic ventures.

The Peace Fellows Music Festival featured an eclectic range of performances, including jazz, hip hop, and classical music, as well as spoken word poetry and choreographed dances. Finding talent for the Festival was a collaborative effort, with multiple organizations spreading the word and connecting talent to the festival.

Performers included:

  • Guru Tonic
  • Heart Cry
  • Kenya Braitwaite
  • Mara Mitchell
  • Global Girl Youth Company
  • Phoenix
  • The Original 64th Street Drummers
  • Margaret Murphy-Webb
  • MC Skool
  • Ethan Clay

The Festival was held at the Hatchery, a non-profit food and beverage incubator which provided the space for free. While the Hatchery primarily serves to provide professional development to people in the food services industry, both the Hatchery and the Peace Fellows involved in the Festival have a common goal of connecting underserved communities with access to education, opportunity, and community resources.

The theme of peace was emphasized throughout the Festival as performers and organizers spoke to the importance of arts education, mutual aid, and community activism. Peace Fellows and their organizations were invited to set up tables and share information about their organizations for the first hour of the festival. This allowed for Fellows representing neighborhoods throughout Chicago to share resources with each other and network.

As the concert came to a close, 2020 Chicago Peace Fellow, Maragret Murphy-Webb, spoke to the importance of investing in arts education. She emphasized that the arts have the capacity to improve communities and combat violence: “If you put an instrument in a child’s hands, you can keep a gun out of their hands.” She encouraged audience members to engage with the City of Chicago and request more funding for arts and education in the South and West Sides so that underserved neighborhoods might have greater access to educational opportunities.

Through bringing together community members, providing them with opportunities, and affirming a collective commitment to peace through music and art, the Peace Fellows Music Festival sought to improve the communities represented by the Chicago Peace Fellows. Fellows’ commitment towards representing and improving their neighborhoods was pivotal to the Festival’s success.

Connecting Community Members with the Research of the University of Chicago Crime Lab

By Zeki Salah, Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

Chicago Peace Fellows hosted a conversation at the Firehouse Community Arts Center on June 3, 2022 to discuss community safety and crime data with the University of Chicago Crime Lab. The event was held as part of the Mutual Aid Collaborative’s Civic Leaders series, which is designed to connect alumni of the Chicago Peace Fellows with policy makers, academics, and community activists that are leading innovative work to promote community safety and prevent violence in their neighborhoods.

At this event, the Peace Fellows met with Kim Smith, the Crime Lab’s Director of Programs, to learn about data that the Crime Lab collects and how it has been used to shape policy decisions. Members of the Lawndale community also came to attend the presentation and learn about how they can engage with the Crime Lab’s research.

The Crime Lab’s presentation focused on the disproportionately high rate of gun violence in Chicago as well as the disproportionate impact of this violence on communities of color. In 2020, there was an increase in violence crimes, and homicides in particular, in Chicago. While other large cities such as Los Angeles and New York have lowered their homicide rates, Chicago’s rate of homicides has increased from 2010-2020. This violence also affects men of color more so than any other group: 80% of shooting victims in 2020 were Black and 86% were male. Black men also carry a dual burden of incarceration alongside gun violence victimization, with the percentage of Black men aged 20-24 being over five times greater than the percentage of white men of the same age group.

Peace Fellows, the Crime Lab, and other members of the community spent much of their time together talking about the causes of this disproportionate violence and potential solutions. The Crime Lab noted that the majority of homicides were not motivated by money, gang interests, or other instrumental purposes, but were spurred by personal altercations between individuals. Members of the community attributed some of the causes of the increase in violence to the way incarcerated people are rehabilitated and to increased absences in schools after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Community members and Kim Smith of the Crime Lab mutually agreed that street outreach workers who work at personal level with community members are often successful in addressing these kinds of personal altercations and that there is a need for funding in this area.

Meeting together helped Peace Fellows build connections between their own experiences and the data captured by the Crime Lab. In their presentation, the Crime Lab showed that 16,000 children became disengaged during the pandemic. Pamela Montgomery-Bosley began working as a violence prevention manager with youth after her son was shot and killed and spoke to her experience working with children in unstable homes. She spoke to her experience seeing children struggle with their home lives while finding some stability at school, but noted that schools are now having difficulty keeping children in classrooms. Kim supported this argument by citing Crime Lab data that over one in nine children in options schools, which are largely composed of students who were previously disengaged from school, have been involved in violent incidents. She also noted the increased rate of victimization and arrests amongst option schools students.

Meeting with the Crime Lab showcased to Peace Fellows how data can give deeper insight into the disproportionate levels of violence in communities of color. Data can support personal experiences around issues such as violence and disengagement in school, giving them greater weight. This can enhance communications, donation campaigns, and grant proposals for grassroots organizations in need of resources. Kim encouraged Peace Fellows to request data from the Crime Lab to supplement their own work, noting that even if the Crime Lab does not have data around specific issues, a request could help direct future research.

The meeting between Peace Fellows and the Crime Lab worked to bridge the gap between the research of the Crime Lab and the members of the communities they study. Kim Smith noted that the Crime Lab often has difficulty connecting with grassroots leaders and sharing its data and that they are looking for ways to engage more with local communities. By connecting with the Peace Fellows, the Crime Lab will be able to better share its research and direct its focus towards interests that are guided by community input. This in turn will help the Crime Lab provide community members with a deeper understanding of the problems they are facing and offer potential solutions to the spread of violence.

Peace Flowers Bloom in Chicago

By Zeki Salah, Facilitator, Mutual Aid Collaborative

On Sunday May 1st and Friday May 6th, a group of Chicago Peace Fellows supplied 300 Mother's Day bouquets to mothers who have lost their children to violence in Chicago. Now in its third year, the Peace Flowers campaign was first launched in 2020, when over $5,000 were raised to deliver flowers to grieving mothers.

The Peace Flowers Campaign was first created by the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative, a group of 60 Black and Brown leaders and committed allies who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides. The project was developed by the Mutual Aid Collaborative with the twin goals of bringing comfort to mothers who had lost their children to gun violence and to raise funds for peace building projects in Chicago to prevent these tragedies in the future.

The flowers were obtained and distributed by the Greening Collective, a project formed under the Mutual Aid Collaborative. Peace Fellows from a range of communities across Chicago are involved in the Greening Collective. Their joint efforts supported the project, Peace Fellows involved include: Annamaria Leon of Homan Grown, L3C, Reshorna Fitzpatrick of the Historic Stone Temple, Pamela Montgomery-Bosley of Purpose Over Pain, and Bertha Purnell of Mothers on a Mission 28.

The Peace Flowers campaign was a collaborative effort that showcased the impact of having community-based organizations from across Chicago pool resources and ideas. Three organizations with ties to the Mutual Aid Collaborative partnered to deliver the flowers to mothers in their network: Purpose Over Pain, Mothers On a Mission 28, and Stone Temple Baptist Church. The collaborative nature of the project not only helped with finding funding and flowers, but also connected these resources to a community of mothers who had lost their children.

300 bouquets were distributed over the course of two days by the Peace Fellows. On May 1st, 150 bouquets were brought to Stone Temple Baptist Church and Mothers on a Mission 28 to be delivered to mothers across the South Side. Bouquets were also delivered to Purpose Over Pain on May 6th for their annual Mother’s Day Spa Day.

Pamela Bosley, Co-founder of Purpose Over Pain, connects mothers to build a community of support and has been involved in the Peace Flowers project for the last three years:

“Mother's Day is a very difficult day for mothers who lost their children to violence, but a simple beautiful bouquet of flowers brings gentle smiles to moms, helping them push through this painful day.”

Bittersweet emotions characterized the Peace Flowers campaign as mothers faced grief alongside a supportive community. Despite ongoing concerns surrounding violence, the work of community-based organizations on projects like the Peace Flowers campaign makes Chicago a more peaceful and beautiful place to live. Through supporting these grassroots organizations with connections and funding, the Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative has had a sustainable social impact.

2022 Chicago Peace Fellows Launched

On April 28, the 2022 cohort of the Chicago Peace Fellows met for the first time at the DePaul Center. The 2022 Peace Fellows cohort consists of activists, artists, social workers, and community leaders representing 14 community areas on the South and West sides of Chicago. Founded in 2019 in collaboration with the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, the Chicago Peace Fellows program is the only leadership development program that is built by and for grassroots community leaders on the South and West sides of Chicago.

from left: senior advisor John Zeigler with 2022 Chicago Peace Fellows Sylvia, Jacquelyn and Xochitl

The 2022 Peace Fellow Cohort will be the fourth group of Chicago Peace Fellows, following in the footsteps of over 60 alumni and joining a global network of Alumni featuring more than 100 grassroots leaders in over 30 countries. Pastor Reshorna, a 2021 Peace Fellow, spoke at the launch event and emphasized the value of the skills the Peace Fellows curriculum taught her. She spoke to the importance of learning an asset-based approach to community engagement:

"We had the opportunity to do asset mapping, to go out into our communities and see what was already there. Because most often, when we talk about our communities, people talk about what we don’t have. Well this approach says, ‘what do you already have in your community, what can you use to build on that, and how can you work with people to improve on that."

The 2022 Peace Fellows were also welcomed by Guillermo Vásquez de Velasco of DePaul University and Deborah Bennett of the Polk Bros. Foundation. Both Velasco and Bennett spoke to the lasting influence of the Peace Fellows program and its ability to provide tools and connections for grassroots leaders.

Peace Fellows were given a preview of the GATHER curriculum that they would be participating in over the course of their Fellowship. GATHER is both a mobile platform for shared learning and a curriculum for people who want to build on the talents of their neighbors and the assets of their communities to make real and lasting change. Members of the Goldin Institute emphasized that the Peace Fellows curriculum is not like a typical high school or college class, but is for Peace Fellows to gain new tools and networks for their efforts at community engagement.

Through the GATHER platform, the 2022 Peace Fellows will engage in a 22-week course of intensive shared learning as well as group projects, culminating in a graduation event in September 2022. The curriculum has been designed in collaboration with grassroots leaders, based on their practical knowledge and hard earned wisdom.

At their first meeting, the new Peace Fellows also had time to get to know one another and explore the diverse interests, skill sets, and leadership styles of their peers. The 2022 cohort consists of leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including street outreach, pastoral work, violence prevention, and the arts. The launch provided opportunities for Peace Fellows to speak with one another about their interests and work as well as explore their different leadership styles. Peace Fellows explored their strengths and needs as leaders through a leadership compass activity, where they grouped themselves categories derived from the cardinal directions. Many Fellows understood themselves as being in the Southern or Western parts of the compass, having empathetic or analytical leadership styles. However, as they discussed their strengths as leaders, the Peace Fellows explored how they often fell into different styles to suit their circumstances, sometimes falling into the Eastern “idea-oriented” or Southern “action-oriented” sides of the compass.

As the 2022 Peace Fellows progress through their curriculum, they will continue to build on the strength of their diversity through a series of collaborative projects. The 2022 cohort is made up of motivated problem-solvers and community-builders and their strengths will be shared as they take on community-oriented projects. After a series of GATHER based workshops, the Peace Fellows will have the opportunity to use the new techniques and concepts they’ve learned in collaborative projects. The diverse skills of the Peace Fellows will go on to form projects that aim to have a continuing impact preventing violence and remediating its consequences.