Over 400 people hopped on bikes in North Lawndale the evening of Aug. 15 as part of the Street Love ride for peace and unity in the community. The 9-mile ride kicked off outside of St. Agatha Church, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd., with a cookout and community expo for residents. The ride also ended outside the church with a dialogue on issues affecting the neighborhood. Derek Brown, the restorative justice coordinator at St. Agatha, conceived the idea for the ride after the pandemic forced members of his youth-outreach organization Boxing Out Negativity out of the gym and onto bikes for exercise. “Boxing Out Negativity is the neutral spot from all of the gangs in North Lawndale. We ride through all the gang territories and they just pump their fists and show us love. People come out of their houses and start recording us on their phones,” Brown said. “I thought, ‘You know what? We need to ride for the streets, a peace ride for the streets.’” With the Street Love ride, Brown wanted to bring organizations, churches and local government leaders out for a socially distanced community expo to promote working together and to connect residents with important resources like free mental health services, voter registration and an opportunity to complete the census. “We’re not at war with no gangbangers because those gangbangers are somebody’s children,” he said. “Our job is to show them that we love them, we care for them and we want to help them.” The event was about healing from within the community. “It’s like home taking care of home instead of letting someone else do it,” Brown said. Part of that home includes St. Agatha Parish. The parish, through its pastor Father Larry Dowling, helped Brown get Boxing Out Negativity off the ground 10 years ago. Brown said Dowling saw him and his group regularly running past the church on Douglas Boulevard and asked them what they were doing. “I was just getting off the streets. I had been a gang member and a high-ranking drug dealer and I had just started giving back. At this point I had suffered. I was homeless. Life was hell at this time,” Brown said. “Father Larry gave us $1,000 to get equipment.” Brown credits St. Agatha Parish with changing his life. “Me running to St. Agatha was me running to my purpose, honestly,” he said. Supporting the Street Love ride is part of the parish’s mission to be ambassadors of peace, Dowling said. “It’s a natural thing for us to connect with, not because Derek is an employee but because this is what we’re about as a church and have been for a long, long time, way before my time,” Dowling said. “We’re trying to find different ways to bring people together safely in community, get them out of the streets and hopefully cut down on the violence.” The Street Love ride was just one of the ways St. Agatha reaches out to its community. The parish regularly works with about 400 families outside of the parish. A survey of their needs related to their children returning to school in the fall, most doing remote learning through CPS, showed that many families needed computers, so the parish raised money for that. The parish has purchased more than 70 tablets for families so far. “I think it is important, as church, as Catholic churches, because we have the ability to bring people together. It is our mission,” Dowling said. There are 156 churches in North Lawndale, but St. Agatha is one of a handful that are open every day trying to make a difference in the community, he said. Many are only open on Sundays. “We’ve been one of those for a long, long time as a church. It’s essential to what we do,” he said. “We’re about body, mind and spirit. We’re an incarnational church as Catholics so we’ve got to pay attention to the whole being.” Lara Villano from Old St. Patrick’s Parish, 711 W. Monroe St., participated in the expo as a volunteer with a North Lawndale community organization. She is part of the parish’s Foundations teen ministry. Through its North Lawndale Kinship Initiative, parishioners regularly engage and volunteer with community organizations. “If you don’t give what you have to others then it’s hard to progress as a community and give everyone equal opportunities,” Villano said. “And we can spread awareness within our own community that is more fortunate, I guess you could say, and help other people realize what’s going on around us and find ways to reach out and help other communities,” Claire said.