Deacon: ‘It’s going to take a village to save our babies’

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dominican Father Tom Jackson and Opal Easter-Smith of Holy Name of Mary Parish listen to speakers at “A Call to Action,” a gathering to work against violence hosted by the Black Catholic Deacons of Chicago on May 20 at Hales Franciscan High School. Julie Jaidinger/Chicago Catholic

There is a role for everyone and everyone is needed to stem the violence in Chicago.

That was the message of "A Call to Action," a May 20 gathering hosted by the Black Catholic Deacons of Chicago at Hales Franciscan High School, 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

"It’s going to take a village to save our babies," said Deacon LeRoy Gill, one of the event’s organizers. "We are that village."

Gill, who serves as campus minister at the Academy of St. Benedict the African, 6020 S. Laflin St., said he recently asked eighth-graders on a class retreat if there are more good people or bad people in the world. Only three of the children said the good outnumber the bad.

"That’s a serious problem that we have when our children are losing hope," Gill said. "We have to save our babies."

The gathering was organized following Cardinal Cupich’s April 4 announcement that he would give $250,000 to help support anti-violence initiatives. That announcement came with a letter from Pope Francis offering his support for the effort and condolences for families who have lost loved ones to violence.

That announcement, along with the Good Friday March for Peace, inspired the black deacons, Gill said in an email announcing the event.

"As we pray over situations of violence in our city, we know full resolution may not be in our power, but that is not a reason to not act toward that goal," he wrote. "For, as the Body of Christ, we each have within our power the ability to mitigate some of the violence."

At the event, representatives of four organizations which attempt to prevent or respond to violence shared what they do and how they do it and appealed for help, or at the very least, awareness.

Redemptorist Father Tat Hoang, who works with the Life Directions peer-to-peer mentoring program at Bowen High School, 2710 E. 89th St., told the audience that anyone is welcome to call and come to visit and talk with the students. Just their presence would help the students know somebody cares about them, he said.

"Don’t plan for the big things," he said. "Plan for the small things, and go from there."

Precious Blood Father David Kelly of the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation spoke about his organization’s efforts to be present with families affected by violence, both those who lose children to death and those who lose children to the criminal justice system — and sometimes both. Active in Back of the Yards and Englewood, the ministry operates with the principals of "radical hospitality" and accompaniment.

Radical hospitality means making young people feel welcome as they are, Kelly said.

"A lot of this work is in your own community," he told the group, which included several priests and deacons. "You just have to open your doors and be radically hospitable, so a young person who is in North Lawndale or in Austin doesn’t have to come to us. They can stay in their own neighborhood."

Too often, Kelly said, young people, especially Latino and African-American boys, get the message that they are not wanted.

"They don’t feel like people really want them in their buildings," Kelly said.

Getting to know them, he said, takes "relentless engagement."

"Don’t wait until they’re ready," he said. "Let them know they’re one of us. Not a demon or a cancer to society."

Kelley said the ministry needs more adult mentors and tutors, both jobs that require the regular commitment of an hour to a few hours a week to develop a relationship, but he also could use some shorter-term volunteers.

Hoang agreed that accepting young people and listening to them is key.

"You don’t go in there and preach to them," he said. "That doesn’t work."

Teresa Pennix-Gill, executive director of Parenting 4 Non-Violence, said one of the best ways to reduce violence is to teach parents how to show their children a better way.

"Do you know violence is a learned behavior?" she said. "Parent- and family-based methods are among the most promising strategies for achieving long-term results. We have to begin early, and we have to begin with our families."

Parenting 4 Non-Violence is a non-profit organization that brings parenting workshops to parishes, schools, community centers and other sites for free. Pennix-Gill made a double appeal, both for the parishes and other groups represented to make use of the workshops, and for volunteers to do everything from facilitating workshops to helping with communications and promotion.

Elfriede Wedam, who teaches sociology at Loyola University Chicago, said she sees a need for a clearinghouse or database of all the anti-violence efforts that are already happening.

"Everybody enters the picture at a slightly different point," she said. "There has to be an overall strategy so that all the pieces can work together effectively."


  • gun violence
  • deacon
  • call to action
  • leroy gill

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