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Response to Violence: Build "Culture of Peace"

 At a recent symposium on safety, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said, "Investing in community development IS crime fighting."

Enlace Chicago employs many techniques and strategies to make the Little Village neighborhood safer and stronger, including community marches to heighten awareness of crime and violence.

Gordon Walek

But what do those seven words mean? And how do they apply here in Chicago, where nearly every weekend we see new headlines about gun violence and homicides? 

LISC Chicago and community partners, including Enlace Chicago in Little Village, approach violence as part of a comprehensive approach to community development. That means working on multiple fronts to help a neighborhood become safer, better educated, healthier and more resilient. 

Safety is among our toughest challenges, but we’ve learned a lot over the years. It takes time and effort, of course, but mostly it requires a conscious plan to build organizational capacity and expertise around safety: a culture of peace. 

Case study

Little Village is a densely populated, young, mostly Mexican-immigrant neighborhood with many strengths, but it faces major challenges around gang involvement and gun violence. Homicides are a brutal reality, claiming 113 lives since 2007. It’s discouraging, yes, but that number has to be balanced against the accomplishments made as local organizations work with police and each other to change the neighborhood’s future. 

More than 10 years ago, 23 different organizations, churches and youth groups formed the Little Village Violence Prevention Collaborative to engage residents on safety strategies. This breakthrough led to workshops that brought together Chicago Police and neighborhood leaders to talk about the nature of their work and to help participants understand one another. It led to partnerships with gang-outreach organizations, creation of a mental health collaborative, and a summer tradition called B-Ball on the Block, which takes over hotspot streets for Friday evenings filled with basketball, barbecued burgers, arts activities and fellowship among neighbors. 

All this work fostered even more community-building activities at schools, churches, youth centers and among police leaders, all aimed at “healing the hood.” The result is a network of networks promoting and building a culture of peace. Most recently, more than a dozen groups have been targeting recreational and mentoring resources to 300 at-risk youth in the 5th to 8th grades, when young people are most vulnerable to gang recruitment. 

For years, Enlace and other LISC neighborhood partners have used organized sports as a way to engage young people in constructive, rewarding activities that result in safer, more vibrant streets.

Eric Young Smith

Stream of activities

What Little Village and other neighborhoods in the LISC network have learned is that this stream of activities, over a period of years, creates something essential to eventually solving the crime problem, and other problems too. 

The essential element is continuity. By nurturing a large group of participants working on safety, talking about it regularly, and sharing tactics and data, Little Village has been able to maintain a culture of peace even when the leadership changed at local organizations, or when the police commander was reassigned, or when a supportive school principal was promoted. 

Our organizational infrastructure – this culture of violence prevention – meant that such transitions could be weathered. When a new commander comes into the police district, neighborhood leaders request a meeting, and the meeting takes place because that’s how it’s done in Little Village. Every year, the summer is filled with community-building activities, not always sponsored by the same groups, but always happening, because it’s part of the culture. 

New community gardens have been built; basketball and boxing continue; little league is a hit with younger kids; there are many arts programs; mothers have organized a church network called Padres Angeles (Parent Angels); the Chicago Police honored a neighborhood request for data that could help steer youth onto the right path; and community-police collaboration was recognized by a national foundation. 

It’s a process. You create shared tables where different types of people come together, voice their concerns, set priorities, and agree on actions. It takes time and money, yes, but most of all it requires continuity, so that a culture can be built. Because “investing in community development IS crime fighting.” 

Keri Blackwell is Deputy Director of LISC Chicago and Kathryn Bocanegra is Enlace Chicago’s Director of Violence Prevention.


Posted in Safety, Little Village


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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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