Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Alderman Walter Burnett Advises Peace Fellows at City Hall

On July 16, the Peace Fellows met with one of Chicago’s most influential elected officials, Alderman Walter Burnett of the 27th Ward. Fellows Jacquelyn Moore, Pamela Butts, Jeanette Coleman, Gloria Smith and Adi Lerner as well as Goldin Institute Executive Director Travis Rejman and Coordinator Burrell Poe met with Ald. Burnett in his City Hall office.


The conversation began with an overview of the Chicago Peace Fellows program and then Travis set the context by asking how the Peace Fellows can enhance city-wide initiatives and, more generally, how grassroots leaders can connect and collaborate with their elected representatives.


Fellows Jackie Moore, Pam Butts and Adi Lerner all work with organizations that need additional space for programming, and asked Ald. Burnett if his office could assist them with accessing facilities owned by the city. The alderman explained that the city controlled mostly vacant tracks of land as well as distressed properties, which can be turned over to not-for-profit organizations if they have the resources to rehab, maintain and secure the buildings. The city prefers to sell former firehouses and empty school buildings to the highest bidder, while the county-controlled Land Bank has properties in their portfolio, the alderman added. Newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot is changing procedures to reduce aldermanic control, but may make the community’s input a more significant factor in determining the fate of the properties.


Responding to a request, Ald. Burnett offered to introduce Peace Fellow Gloria Smith of the Black Star Project to an official at the city’s Streets and Sanitation Department who might be able to help expand her group’s neighborhood clean-up program from a month-long to a year-around effort.

Ald. Burnett also discussed the city’s violence prevention efforts, noting that he was waiting for the new mayor to announce her administration’s strategy and reveal her priorities in the upcoming budget. He was personally motivated to see a reduction in the frequency of gun violence, noting that the son of one of his staff members was shot 3 times the previous weekend.


Burnett has a special perspective on the issue both as an elected official and as an ex-felon himself. At 17 years old, Burnett participated in a bank robbery and pled guilty to a charge of armed robbery, for which he was incarcerated for two years and three months. Today, he maintains relationships with many different neighborhood residents as well as with police officers.

[quote]I know people on the corners. I know the people coming home from prison. I know those guys, but I also know the police. The police ask me for help but they have a different perspective, a different job. -- Alderman Walter Burnett[/quote]

Burnett hopes that others who emerge from prison will be involved positively in peace-making. Often, these men fear that communicating with their former peers will leave them vulnerable to further criminal prosecution, but Burnett pointed out that Ceasefire and other programs have successfully employed these men to negotiate truces between rival factions and obviate violent incidents before they happen.

[quote]My way is to work behind the scenes to interrupt the cycle of violence. I'm an ex-offender, I know what this is like and what people can do. For me, it’s like a ministry.[/quote]


Peace Fellow Adi Lerner asked the alderman what the top priority should be for local government officials in this environment, noting, “For many people in our community, they don't see any help from the city.”

Ald. Burnett answered that jobs and economic opportunities were essential to reducing the incidence of violence in the short term, and that long-term plans would have to be implemented.

Several participants noted, however, that programming to reach younger teens was also necessary. Jackie Moore said employment was essential as part of a holistic package that includes education and social services for young men at risk of criminal behavior.

[quote]They want the things that jobs can give them. Responsibility and hope. They get criminalized so quickly and then the path to the future is closed. They can't get jobs if they have a record. We need to focus on teens that may have made a mistake to make sure they have a path forward outside the streets. -- Jacquelyn Moore[/quote]

Peace Fellow Pamela Butts noted that many of the young people in her programs are confined to certain areas because of gang boundaries: “We have programs for the kids that do well academically. We have things for athletes. We have things for kids that are in trouble. We don't have anything for the kids in the middle. How can we take better care of the kids that aren't already high achievers or at risk and tailor things to what they are actually interested in?”

Alderman Burnett quickly agreed, and said that even young people participating in programing in his office had to navigate gang lines: “The biggest challenge I see is that everyone feels invisible. We need to talk to people, especially kids. They want to hear from us. We need to adopt our kids and make them feel like kids, otherwise they try to act like adults when they need to be cared for.”

Peace Fellows Visit Telpochcalli in Little Village

On Friday, June 14, Chicago Peace Fellow Maria Velazquez invited her peers to the Telpochcalli Elementary School, an institution in the Little Village neighborhood that the community organization she leads, called the Telpochcalli Community Education Project, helped to create.

Maria hosted a street festival for members of the community to enjoy time together to start the weekend. The event featured a youth band and stoneware made by students of the school. The festival featured an all-youth band and food provided by local residents. The tortillas were hand-made and the aguas frescas (juice) were freshly squeezed. Around 100 members of the community sang and danced to enjoy the breezy spring evening.

According to their website, “Telpochcalli (Nahuatl for "house of youth") is a small school dedicated to integrating the Mexican arts and culture into an innovative academic and social experience and development of fully bilingual/biliterate students in English and Spanish. The school is comprised of students, teachers, parents and artists who aspire to nurture an understanding and appreciation of the self, family, community and world.”

Maria, a Chicago Peace Fellow, has been the executive director of the Telpochcalli Community Education Project for over three years. She started out as a volunteer at the school and when the position of executive director opened up, she was reluctant to apply at first. Maria can be shy but she is very loving and compassionate and works really hard to take care of the people she serves. She explained, “I do this work to help people. I really like to see people happy.”

Maria gave other Peace Fellows a tour of the school and their community space. She showed her “living” asset map where she encourages parents and volunteers to add what they see as assets in the community to the map. She noted that it helps people see the value of their community and people really like doing it. Maria talked about her summer program with teens that is completely led by the teens. This summer, they are focusing on health and how they can have an impact.

“It took some time to get them going [in reference to the teen council], but now they are leading it and we are now working to get younger people involved so that they can learn how to lead earlier".

The Telpochcalli Community Education Project’s roots go back to 1998, when a group of parents in the Little Village neighborhood got together to advocate for better educational facilities. Just as it is now, Little Village’s population was growing fast with new immigrants as well as many young families, and the parents were upset by the failure of the Chicago Public Schools to fulfill a promise to build a high school in the neighborhood.

Many parents participated in a sit-in and hunger strike that got public attention and ultimately, a new administration at CPS agreed to build the Little Village/Lawndale High School. Under Maria’s leadership, the Telpochcalli Community Education Project has continued to be a strong advocate for Little Village, recently stopping a merger of the Telpochcalli Elementary School, which is already overcrowded, with a high school in the area.

The Chicago Peace Fellows will be active all summer with events and knowledge sharing. Stay tuned for more articles and opportunities to join us.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Peace Fellow Spotlight: Robin Cline


How has Gather informed the work that you do? Have you made any meaningful connections between Gather and your work?

These past few weeks, I’ve been reading “Winners Take All,” by Anand Giridharadas. This book, a sort of “emperor's new clothes” take on how social innovation projects are packaged in the modern context of wealth, philanthropy, and big technology, is not an enjoyable read. The book presents person after person involved in social innovation projects that at first glance are projects touted for the greater good, but upon closer inspection are problematized by deep power imbalances.


While making my way through this good but troubling read, I was spending time with neighborhood leaders from parts of Chicago struggling with violence in their communities. The book didn’t talk about people like us. In “Winners Take All,” there was no mention of the urgent and sometimes invisible work of boots-on-the-ground work folks do, bringing people together, connecting with those in need, being a bright spot resource for communities, noticing and connecting community assets.

[quote]I am thankful for the Peace Fellows opportunity to brighten the light on the invisible work we do in our communities, but most importantly, for making us visible to each other. I’ve gotten a lot of tidbits of wisdom in these last few months simply by being in the presence of the other fellows, but also from literal things they have said. -- Robin Cline[/quote]

A recent new friend from the Peace Fellows, Diane Latiker, shared that she tells teens she works with, “We don’t do what we don’t want to do.” I understood what she meant right away. That as a culture, we are we excited to shop for the shoes we want, we know how to crave the food we want, we know how to want certain things. But we are less skilled in knowing how to want important things, like peace in our communities, and civic action. As part of the Chicago Peace Fellows, I appreciate the time to think about how to activate and steward civic desire. And on the other hand, another Peace Fellow, Jacquelyn Moore, when speaking of desire, said, “Passion is not a business plan.”


Identifying and activating the passion, then putting tools behind it, came up over and over again in our conversations. The biggest advice from all the Fellows that was more implicit than stated was, “Don’t stop. Keep doing. That’s what we do.”

As we embark on making decisions about our Chicago Peace Fellows summer projects, I gather the advice, the experience, and the new shared language we have about technical and sticky problems, and am eager to “Not stop. Keep doing, because that’s we do.” I look forward to discovering how we make the space and set the conditions for peacemaking in our neighborhoods. GATHER has given us the gift of time to attune ourselves to others in this city who are doing the vital work of acknowledging and lifting up both the pain and the peace that exist alongside each other in our city. GATHER has given us a chance to work together, nudge each other with new shared language, help each other, and make what we do stronger.

What are some important updates in your current work?

I am lucky to work for two organizations doing community cohesion work in Chicago. I work for NeighborSpace, a land trust in Chicago that supports community-managed leaders in many neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Summer is a particularly vibrant time for NeighborSpace, as you can imagine. Neighborhood leaders are gearing up to host community builds, garden celebrations, skill shares, and planting days all over the city. We are particularly excited about this summer as our community partners kick off both nature play/build projects and programming in Little Village, neighborhood farms in Bronzeville, and urban ag projects in Englewood. I also lead the organization Opera-Matic, a participatory arts group based in Humboldt Park. We are presenting a three-part summer series in three Chicago Park District parks entitled “Lost and Found.”


This project highlights for families and neighbors the ways in which we honor both the loss we experience as a community and the empowerment we mobilize as a group when we remember our shared places together. At “Lost and Found” events this summer, we will sing, remember, find things, and enjoy each other.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Peace Fellow Spotlight: Gloria Smith

What are some important updates in your current work?

The Black Star Project is a multifaceted initiative known for its actions with programs on education, culture, economic and workforce development, mentoring, tutoring and youth development, public policy and advocacy and violence prevention. Our programs encourage a holistic, intergenerational approach to community building.

Peace Fellows Gloria Smith (from left), Jeanette Coleman, coordinator Burrell Poe, Pamela Phoenix, Jacquelyn Moore and Robert Biekman pose for photo after meeting with Veterans for Peace.

Phillip Jackson, our founding director, passed away in November 2018. Phillip was a great inspiration to many and we have been challenged to determine how best to continue cultivating and sharing his wisdom with the world. While many of our supporters keep up with our work through the Black Star Project website and Facebook page, we also have a radio program on WVON on Saturdays at 6 p.m. and a periodic newsletter that is shared with a national and international audience.

Some of our recent projects include economic empowerment and non-profit management workshops, Saturday university academic programs, and Becoming Chicago’s Next CEO, a summer program for interns interested in learning investment skills. Most recently, we participated, along with our Young Black Men of Honor, in the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table event by sending a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot sharing their thoughts on addressing violence in the community.

Peace Fellows Gloria Smith (left) and Jacquelyn Moore practice Appreciative Inquiry during a workshop at Breakthrough Ministries.

As Phillip's sister, I along with my staff and a host of organizations and supporters remain very much engaged in “the good work” that Phillip left for us to do and to share with as wide a community as possible.

How has GATHER informed the work that you do? Have you made any meaningful connections between GATHER and your work?

“Gathering” is at the heart of our work at The Black Star Project. We know this: What has always strengthened and encouraged Black and Brown people is our histories of struggle, our creativity, our humanity in the face of trauma, our connection to elders and ancestors, and the love and encouragement we must pass along to our young people.

Peace Fellow Gloria Smith shares the Asset Map she created with her neighbors of the Bronzeville community.

We believe that we need to be together. To spend time with each other – in small gatherings and large, sharing the wisdoms we’ve learned from our experiences. Our programs share the resources of history, spirit and culture that have provided strength and renewal to people struggling for the expression of their humanity in Chicago and elsewhere in the world. This is work we’ve done since our founding in 1996, work we remain committed to, and work that is very similar to the peacemaking efforts of GATHER and the Goldin Institute.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Peace Fellow Spotlight: Pastor Robert Biekman

How has Gather informed the work that you do? Have you made any meaningful connections between Gather and your work?

I am grateful to the Chicago Peace Fellows for not only increasing my personal capacity as a leader but also increasing the Chicago Alternatives to Incarceration’s Collaborative organizational capacity as well. The skills I have learned and been reminded of through the Chicago Peace Fellows have been invaluable.

Advisor Gabe Gonzalez (right) and Chicago Peace Fellow Robert Biekman meet at the first workshop to discuss the principles and practices of shared learning.


The adage, “If I only knew then what I know now!” is so fitting for my experience as a Peace Fellow thus far.

It’s good to be at many tables but I have a deep desire to increase my effectiveness as a leader and that’s what being a CPF is allowing me to do. Chicago Peace Fellows has connected the dots on aspects, work and concepts of this that I had an intuitive knowledge of, but now I possess the language to do the kind of “code-switching” necessary to articulate and communicate it to others more effectively.

[quote]You had me at “community of practice.” This is one of the most profound concepts that I have embraced; especially since a goal of the Chicago ATI Collaborative is to have system/community stakeholders work together. We are creating a community of practice![/quote]


The people in the cohort are extremely gifted and tremendously passionate. I have learned the concept of mind-mapping from one CPF and received both direct and indirect affirmation from them all. I look forward to meeting with them at the “workshop watering hole” and being blessed as well as restored for the next leg of the journey.

Chicago Peace Fellow Robert Biekman (left) discusses the role of the arts in social change with noted photographer Cecil McDonald, Jr. during a tour of his exhibit In the Company of Black at the Chicago Cultural Center.

In their own way, each of them I have spoken to are “making bricks without straw.” I am blessed to have met them. Several of them will be working with the Chicago ATI Collaborative youth as a means of exposing the youth to the programs and services they offer.

Chicago Peace Fellows Robert Biekman (left) and Dawn Hodges discuss violence interruption strategies at the Univesity of Chicago Trauma Center.

What are some important updates in your current work?

  • Received grant from United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society
  • Received Safe and Peaceful Communities Grant
  • Met with Cook County Juvenile Probation to develop summer cohort Planning an orientation with youth and program service providers on June 6th or 10th for the Summer cohort.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

UNSUNG HEROES: Becoming a Chicago Peace Fellow

The part of the South Shore community that I represent has a large number of multi-unit apartment buildings with a very transient population. The need for family services was explored by our late pastor, Dr. Ronald J. Behm, who instituted day care services at both the church and our community center. With the increase in violence, our outreach initiative I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER UNITY DAY, founded by the Rev. Bailey M. Gant, sought to address this issue believing we could “change the culture, stop the violence.”

In other words, if we provide safe, positive alternatives for our youth, they will have more of a chance to be productive members of society.

Chicago Peace Fellows Jamila Trimuel (from left), Dr. Pamela Phoenix and Jackie Coleman discuss violence as an adaptive challenge in meeting with the Violence Recovery Team at the University of Chicago Trauma Center.


[quote]Becoming a Chicago Peace Fellow is a timely, refreshing opportunity in that it has helped me to learn more about myself and my leadership style, validated my life’s work, and connected me with passionate community leaders throughout the city who are dedicated to providing a unified approach to understanding and promoting positive initiatives to combat violence. Our collaborative efforts will surely make a difference.[/quote]

The Chicago Peace Fellows share their personal learning styles using the Leadership Compass approach: Dr. Sokoni Karanja (from left), Dawn Hodges, Maria Velazquez, Jeanette Coleman, Velvian Boswell joined by John Zeigler of DePaul University's Egan Center.

As we take the time to connect with our community peace partners through neighborhood walks, I have particularly embraced the theory of Asset Based Community Development. This paradigm shift encourages us to consider the assets in our community rather than the deficits. I immediately was drawn to this concept and explored ideas of how I can approach community members, civic leaders and businesses as we work toward our unified goals of peacemaking.

Chicago Peace Fellows Dawn Hodges (from left), Robin Cline, Jeanette Coleman, Pamela Butts, Johnny Coleman, staff member Oz Ozburn, Executive Director Travis Rejman, Velvian Boswell, Jamila Trimuel, Coordinator Burrell Poe, Jacquelyn Moore and Gloria Smith participate in the CrimeLab presentation at the City Club of Chicago.

I very much enjoyed attending University of Chicago Crime Lab Executive Director Jens Ludwig’s presentation at the City Club of Chicago with other Peace Fellows. Ludwig cited crime statistics and inferred that a stronger, more positive relationship with the police department could make a difference. After that, I had the opportunity to engage in several conversations with policemen in my district, resulting in my agreement to be more active in CAPS meetings to address the concerns and present ideas of how we can build a stronger presence in our community.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Chicago Peace Fellows Update from Dr. Sokoni Karanja

I have enjoyed my first few weeks as a GATHER Peace Fellow. There are many reasons for that statement! One, it provides such an opportunity for place making. By that, I mean our collective action could help define how Peace is achieved in a City so challenged by violence! The second reason is that I have had an opportunity to interview the other fellows:

Maria Velazquez, who is an organizer in Little Village, is a warm and gentle spirit but inside that exterior is a determined heart that shows up every day to take on whatever challenge she encounters. She has taught me about dealing with losing community as you organize. People get tired or get involved in their personal life struggles and must step back from the community effort.


Johnny Payton is about 6 foot 4, maybe taller, but managed to survive and thrive during his early years in the Cabrini-Green public housing development. He is and was an excellent athlete. He managed to walk through every gang in Cabrini and not join. He was of the community but kept his eyes on his goals. He works for the Chicago Park District and has for 22 years. He is committed to the youth of the community, succeeding in all the legitimate ways.

Gloria Smith is the sister to Phil Jackson, who taught my grandson Tai Chi Chuan and was the founder of the Black Star Project. After her brother’s passing, Gloria has come to fill his very large shoes!!! Phil was a bold human being. He picketed the MacArthur Foundation for their injustices to poor black and brown communities and turned around and received grants from them! Gloria and Phil were the niece and nephew of Vincent Harding, an icon of the Civil Rights movement. Just as importantly, Gloria has shared tapes of her uncle’s mentor, Howard Thurman, another icon of the African American community. She is another gentle spirit with a strong heart who is fearless. She works in three organizations, and she loves Bahia, Brazil.


And finally, the staff of GATHER are long suffering. They have endured my lack of understanding of this iPad machine they have told me is mine to keep!! It feels some days like my worst enemy. I am a turtle and they keep encouraging me. I have a space at their office where I practice with my tutors regularly. Thank you for the opportunity and for the many kindnesses.

Warm love,

PS: Our work is suffering from some loss of community!! As we have reduced the violence, created a successful garden, and formed positive relationships with other organizations, some of our participants have begun to step away from regular involvement in our activities. We are now revisiting our base through door-to-door canvassing to rebuild interest and attract new involvement. The garden at 5131 S. Calumet will be the focus of our effort to re-engage the community, and our first meeting around that target was on April 13, 2019, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Goldin Institute grassroots social change

Illuminating Perspectives: Art and Social Justice

When artist and educator Cecil McDonald Jr. began working with children in the Chicago Public Schools some years ago, he heard something that disturbed him. The children were enjoying themselves in the playground and appeared to be carefree, but when Cecil interviewed them, he heard them “repeating the grand narratives of violence and pain,” a narrative that was created by adults and taught to them through the media they consumed.

Cecil McDonald, Jr. offers a guided tour to the Chicago Peace Fellows, including Dawn Hodges (left), Alex Levesque, Robin Cline, Adi Lerner, Ethan Michaeli (staff), Maria Velazquez and Jeanette Coleman.

He resolved to do something about it by creating images that find dignity and beauty in the everyday activities of African American families, and by empowering the youths to document their own lives through photography.

“I made that my charge,” McDonald said. “You ask them: ‘What image do you see? How do you see those images?’ And then you give them the camera so they can go out and tell their own stories.”

Jane Saks of Project& (left), Cecil McDonald, Jr. and Chicago Peace Fellows Coordinator Burrell Poe discuss the role of the arts in social change movements.

McDonald recently hosted the Chicago Peace Fellows at his exhibit of photographs entitled “In the Company of Black” at the Chicago Cultural Center. Containing large, posed images of African American subjects performing quotidian activities inside their homes – reading, sleeping, playing, getting ready for the day – the exhibit was created by McDonald over seven years to represent what he described as the “extraordinarily ordinary.”

[quote]“Artists are in the business of creating truth, creating magic. I depend on my ability to create to make the everyday seem extreme.” -- Cecil McDonald, Jr.[/quote]

For McDonald as for the other artists, the work had a common purpose with teachers, organizers and others working to empower communities. While artists are usually “the last ones brought in,” McDonald said artists focus people’s energy, reconstitute their self-image, and define their purpose.

Chicago Peace Fellow Robert Biekman (left) listens to Chicago artist Tonika Johnson explain how her Folded Map project brings different parts of the city together with fellow panelist Jane Saks.

McDonald was one of several artists who spoke to the Peace Fellows in an April 2nd workshop hosted by the Chicago Cultural Center entitled "Illuminating Perspectives: The Role of the Arts in Social Change." Tonika Lewis Johnson presented her Folded Map Project while artistic director Jane Saks talked about the intersections between art and social justice and the work of Project&, and Rahmaan Statik Barnes discussed his work as a street artist and muralist.

Tonika’s Folded Map Project utilizes Chicago’s long north-south streets to make visual connections between residents who live at corresponding addresses on the North and South sides of the city. She began the project as a photographic study but it proved very popular with the residents themselves, who enjoyed meeting their ‘opposite,’ and quickly gained widespread attention from mainstream media outlets so that Tonika added video and a new web site. The Folded Map Project is an investigation of urban segregation and its impacts on the people’s everyday lives.

Chicago Peace Fellows Velvian Boswell (left), Maria Velazquez, Robert Biekman, and Dawn Hodges review the photography exhibit In the Company of Black by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

The founding president of the Chicago-based Project&, Jane Saks has participated and led many different kinds of collaborations between artists and activists such as “Working in America,” a traveling exhibition and web archive inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winner Studs Terkel’s 1974 book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do,” a gathering of photos and stories of working folk in 17 states.

Jane enthusiastically cited her experiences to aver that artistic collaborations are uniquely situated to function as an ‘ecology’ where issues of equality and equity can be defined and discussed.

[quote]“In an ecology, things are not equal. They’re equitable. We’re not born with equality, but we can work for equity.” -- Jane Saks[/quote]

Turning to the Peace Fellows, Jane pointed out the similarities between their work as grassroots organizers and artists.

“As community activists, as social justice leaders, what you’re working to do is what people in the arts do,” Jane said. “Social justice workers and artists are both envisioning a future and creating things into existence.”

The Peace Fellows also heard from Rahmaan Statik, a public artist, designer, fine artist, illustrator and art teacher, who described the inspirations he received growing up on the South Side surrounded by urban art and public murals. A co-founder of a graphic arts and mural collective called R.K Design, Statik has produced over 400 murals and earned commissions for Coca Cola, Toyota, the village of Rosemont, and Red Bull, among other corporate clients.