Local leaders say people must leave comfort zones to build peace

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Friday, September 22, 2017

The key to building peaceful communities, speakers at a Catholic Charities event suggested, is to actually live as though everyone in the Chicago area is part of one community.

Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center, spoke of the disparities in health care in Chicago. Ansell previously practiced at Cook County (now Stroger) Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital.

“On one street, on two miles of Ogden Avenue, we have two different worlds,” Ansell said.

In his 27 years at County and Mount Sinai, he said, patients were never turned away because they were unable to pay for services. But none of them ever received a lifesaving organ transplant because they were not accepted into transplant centers if they did not have insurance.

“Not one in 27 years,” he said. “And these are the communities that the organs for transplant are coming from. … In the neighborhood where we’re sitting (in Loyola University’s Schrieber Center, 16 E. Pearson St.) the life expectancy is 85 years. In Garfield Park, seven L stops away, it’s 69 years. That’s bigger than discrepancy in life expectancy between the United States and Haiti.”

Other participants in the Sept. 18 panel discussion included Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education and managing partner of the Emerson Collective; and Maria Vidal de Haymes, director of the Institute of Migration and Global Studies in Practice in Social Work.

Dart has won accolades for introducing mental health care at Cook County Jail, but he said there is a long way to go. He decried the use of cash bonds that keep non-violent offenders locked up because they can’t pay, noting that there are two jail inmates who have been held there awaiting trial for more than nine years, and said that many people who don’t come from the 15 ZIP codes where most of the jail inmates come from simply don’t understand the conditions there.

“It’s a lack of empathy that comes from ignorance,” he said. “We do not have any idea what’s going around us.”

The government, law enforcement and criminal justice systems could not be more thoughtless if they tried, he said, and it breeds “horrific distrust.”

Dart joined Duncan in calling on business leaders in the room to help people break the cycle of poverty and crime by being willing to offer jobs to people with criminal backgrounds, because if they can’t get jobs, they have little choice but engage in criminal activity to support themselves.

“They’re always looking for someone to sell dope,” Dart said.

The Emerson Collective, Duncan said, now employs cohorts of men from six communities in entry-level jobs and provides wraparound services to help them get on their feet. The idea is that after six to 12 months, they’ll be ready to move on to private sector employment.

The idea is to provide stability for the group of young men who are most likely to be involved in violence, whether as a victim or as a perpetrator. Many of them, Duncan said, are tired of the violence and want a way out. Asked how much it would take, in terms of a wage, to get them to stop the shooting, most answer $12 to $13 an hour.

“What is that, $25,000 a year?” he said. “How much does it cost to keep someone in jail?”

In July the Chicago Tribune reported that it costs about $21,000 to treat a gunshot wound — for just the first 35 minutes.

But finding employment for at-risk young men is not all that easy, because there many barriers between the men and keeping a steady job, from transportation and lingering gang conflicts to understanding that they must show up on time for each scheduled shift.

“These guys are not dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Duncan said. “It’s present trauma.”

Vidal said many immigrants, who come to the United States for a better life, experience benefits and bring benefits to their new communities, but they also carry the trauma that they experienced in their homeland, on their journey and in their new home.

That needs to be recognized, she said, so that they can heal.

The panelists touted programs they work with to try to build connections with people living in violent communities, but with Chicago already recording more than 500 murders in 2017, it’s clear that more needs to be done.

“We’re all working hard, we all care, but by any objective measure, we’re not close to getting this right,” Duncan said. “We’re failing. … But in every crisis there is an opportunity.”

Here, the opportunity might be that enough people — those in neighborhoods beset by violence and those that have the luxury of looking away — have been jolted out of complacency and want to change things, he said.

“I think we’re all a little bit paralyzed, we’re all a little bit scared,” Duncan said. “We all have to move outside our comfort zone.”


  • catholic charities
  • violence

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