First the tough part…
Early last week I began getting emails of alarm and concern from some of my neighbors about the frequent shootings (thank God no one was getting hit) that were occurring on the block that I live on. The thing that made these emails particularly unique was that these shootings were not happening at night, they were happening during the afternoon.
Then Saturday night there was a shoot-out between two rival gangs on 61st St (a few blocks west of where I live), just off the corner from where the Sunshine building sits. Two bullets went through the windows of our tech center. Seven bullets went into the metal window shades in the salon across the street. Within minutes the police arrived on the scene and a shoot-out occurred between one of the gangs and the police.
The next evening (Sunday), a 25 year old young man was shot and killed on 62nd and Vernon. His name was Rodney. Please pray for the family that has been affected by this tragic death (and others that occurred around the city during the past weekend). These young men were somebody's sons, brothers, uncles, grandsons, friends, possibly fathers, etc.
God at work…
Monday morning we gathered as a staff to discuss the events of the previous week and weekend. Our discussion led us into a time of prayer. Our time of prayer led us into a “what are we gonna do about it?” - brainstorming session. We prayerfully and thoughtfully came up with the following action points:
1. Host a community leader meeting (which includes block club leaders, teachers, alderman, local beat police, and pastors)
2. Upped physical presence in the community by our staff - walking around, talking to people
3. Request prayer support from friends, family, & supporters
4. Contact well-known role models who may be willing to come speak with young men in the community.
5. Address the physical safety of the youth in our programs which means building a wood barrier in the classroom of our Community Technology Center, providing snacks so that students won't trek to the store during class breaks, and providing rides home in the evening.
On Monday evening 10-12 neighborhood residents (representing 5 different blocks and block clubs) along with three of us Sunshine staff gathered to share concerns and to come up with collective solutions. Joel (our executive director) wrote the following summary of our time together…
“We came up with an overall strategy to respond to what his happening in our neighborhood and I learned a lot like the importance of getting people to leave their front porch lights on, make sure their garage has the house number on it, and make lots of phone calls for every incident to the police. So when the city orders its resources to react, they don’t just look at actual incidents but they look at PHONE CALLS." (Drug deals, buildings broken into, domestic violence, and even shootings are currently getting far too few phone calls made to report them.) "So we discussed how part of our overall process has to create an atmosphere in which (a) lots of people make phone calls (think prayer chain on the phone to 911!!) and (b) they make calls about EVERYTHING and (C ) they they know what to say when they call. We also ended up talking about all the vacant buildings (like 10 on just one block!) that have been foreclosed on. They are routinely broken into and vandalized and used as dumps for garbage (attracting rats) and drug dealers and users. One elderly neighbor described waking up every night multiple times in fear that the drug users in the abandoned building physically attached to hers might burn down the entire block while doing drugs. Another spoke about having at least 3 kids shot and killed right in front of her house over the years. Yet you couldn't miss the resolve, the strength, the faith in the room. After dealing with this sort of thing for 20 years or more they were willing to believe again and try again! Wow!!! I was also really encouraged by the presence of several young professionals — one of whom described hitting the dirt in front of his condo when bullets fly. . . But undeterred to invest in the community. There was also a very real spiritual openness if not outright presence. I suggested we open in prayer to which everyone immediately said “YESS!!” and proceeded to hold hands in a circle. We also closed in prayer. . . . They were sure to ask that we do!" We all agreed that this "block club collaborative" would not be just a one time meeting. We will continue to meet together, pray together, work together, and reach out to one another as neighbors. Everyone agreed that we need to meet again soon.
This evening we had a community block club meeting on the 6100 block of Rhodes (1 block from Sunshine). We met together outside on the street. Local police came to show support. Young and old from the neighborhood gathered on the street together. We ate hot dogs and nachos together. We got to know one another better. Then Mrs. Clark, the block club president and long term neighborhood resident, gathered everyone into a circle. Everyone held a lit candle. She thanked everyone for coming, and encouraged everyone by saying, “things are rough right now, but they are going to get better.” Then she asked Joel to pray. In prayer Joel reminded us that God cares about each and everyone of us. God is concerned about what is going on in the neighborhood. He prayed for peace. He prayed for safety. He prayed for the young men that are acting out of desperation. He prayed that we would work well together and help meet each other’s needs as neighbors.