On the first full day of summer, some 200 community leaders, clergy and concerned residents turned out for a prayer service and peace march to focus on the spate of shootings in Evanston. Many of those who attended were mothers of young men killed, in most cases by other Evanston youth.
During the hour before the march began, speakers offered prayers or addressed the crowd but their targeted listeners – Evanston youth who have been part of the violence of the past several months – were largely unseen.
Carolyn Murray, whose son Justin was shot and killed in December of last year, organized the rally and march to take place in the area where many of those shootings have occurred: between Emerson and Church streets and a few blocks both east and west of Dodge Avenue.
“This is community,” Ms. Murray said. “Wait, pray, march. We’re going to pray it right up to where it belongs so we can say, ‘These are our babies.’ I never saw my son after I dropped him off at the airport to go to college. … When you change a diaper and then you have to pick up clothes for a casket, it changes you.”
Ms. Murray thanked Police Chief Richard Eddington for insisting that the march be along Dodge Avenue. “The Chief was very adamant: ‘You have to be very visible. You have to let the community know we don’t have to take it any more.’”
The June 22 march began at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 1932 Dewey Ave., and the rally took place at Evanston Township High School’s Lazier Field on Church Street just west of the high school.
Most of the messages took the form of prayer or exhortation. Pastors, ministers and others commented on the strength of those present and the need to continue shining the light on violence. Some admonished the community for having allowed the violence.
Minister Sherry Walker, whose son Ronald was shot and killed more than a decade ago, said in a prayer that parents be given “the strength to discipline their children – not to beat them but to correct them.”
Kenneth Westbrooks of Rogers Park, who said he grew up in Evanston, said, “We’ve become afraid of the children we have produced. They mock us because they know we are afraid of them. … There are more women here than men, and that’s [the lack of male leaders] why our children are able to do what they do.”
Pastor Monté L.G. Dillard, Sr. of the First Church of God Christian Life Center, 1524 Simpson St., said, “We need consistency. We need our children to know that we love them – even the ones who [commit violence].” He added, though, “It is time to start telling – time to start cooperating with law enforcement.”
The Fellowship of Afro-American Men, FAAM, cofounder Gene Bell, retired Police Chief William Logan and Father Robert Oldershaw – all lifelong Evanstonians who have been active in the community for decades – have seen Evanston grapple with serious problems. Although interviewed separately, they each said a united front and collaboration among all aspects of the community will be key in stopping the violence among youth here.
Mr. Logan said there is still a long way to go to solve the issue of violence in Evanston. “The key is the community getting together. The clergy can’t do it, the police can’t do it, the residents can’t do it. We have to come together as a team. That’s the only way it’s going to work.”
“We will pull ourselves together with the people coming together on a steady basis,” said Father Oldershaw. “I think it’s keeping the attention of people and focusing them to get out and walk the streets. We can’t sit idly by. We will not sit idly by,” he said.
Mr. Bell said, “With FAAM this year, one of our things is to talk to our young people about making the right decisions. We’re showing them that when they hurt someone, a lot of people get hurt – the ‘other side’ gets hurt, too. I feel we can really make a difference if we try.”
Most of the violence has taken place in the Second and Fifth Wards, whose borders meet at Church Street and Dodge Avenue. Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes said, “We need to keep the focus on violence.” She praised Ms. Murray, who she said had been active in promoting anti-violence measures even before her son was killed.
Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite acknowledged the organizers of the event and said he hoped “this will be a springboard to continue to poke the issue what we’re dealing with. We have residents, the faith-based community, local and federal government representatives and law enforcement – all working to make our streets safe.”
Longtime Evanston civic leaders Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky spoke at Saturday’s event.
Now presiding in family court, Judge Jean-Baptiste said “I came out of this community and I’m in this community. … The difficulties that parents have with one another translate into active harm on children. … The problem that we are having is inside the nest. If you’re not attending your children’s events, you’re letting someone else influence your children. … If your child speaks against getting a good education or talking properly; if your child is watching television and listening to everything… you’re doing something wrong.”
Taking the issue to the national level, Judge Jean-Baptiste said, “We’ve got to raise our voices to President [Barack] Obama. He’s got to take that money out of Afghanistan and invest it in the community.”
Congresswoman Schakowsky told the RoundTable, “What I’m happy to see is the grass-roots movement against violence. I wish I could say that in Washington we’re on the verge of passing sensible gun legislation. We’ve got to stop assault-style weapons.” Let’ set a pledge with the Evanston community [to end gun violence]. I am so proud to be an Evanstonian.”
Walking down Dodge Avenue, a reporter who was the last person in the march to Lazier Field noted friendly faces and encouragement by some observers along the route. For most enjoying the summer afternoon, though, it seemed to be business as usual.