Students at the Academy of St. Benedict the African, 6020 S. Laflin Ave., gathered as one group for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic struck to pray for peace in their community on Oct. 21. The students participated in the annual “Prayer Walk for Peace,” a school tradition that began in 2015 and has continued every year except for 2020, when it wasn’t held because of COVID-19. “It was wonderful,” said Principal Jennifer Farrand in a telephone interview after the walk. “It was an event that brought us a little bit of normalcy, because it was something we had done before. Even wider than that, it was about the sense of community we were able to garner by being all together in one place. We haven’t done that in school yet. Outside, we can do that.” The day was made even more special with the participation of five St. Benedict the African alumni who now are students at Leo High School. They were posted on the corners of the block and read Scripture passages to the groups of students when they arrived at each corner. “That was really, really powerful,” said Deacon Leroy Gill, who celebrated Communion services at the school and works with the students. “All of them marched with us before. This was real to them. To see how mature they are, they are still praying ... it was good. It was really good.” Gill helped organize the first Prayer Walk for Peace six years ago, following what had been a violent summer in the school’s Englewood neighborhood. The past summer has also been violent, Gill said, and he knows the students are scared and are praying for peace. “My liturgy a couple of weeks ago was about praying without ceasing, and I gave them sheets to say what they pray for, prayers that have been answered, things like that,” Gill said. Many students wrote things like, “I pray me and my family will be OK and that we live,” and “I pray as I ride through the dangerous streets of Chicago,” Gill said. Others pray for family members who died or were affected by COVID-19, he said. While the walk, which was accompanied by police officers from the Chicago Police Department’s 7th District, was peaceful, violence continues to touch the neighborhood. On Oct. 25, the school had to go on lockdown after a young man was slain about 100 feet away from where children usually play outside at recess, killed by a barrage of 15 to 20 shots from an assault-style rifle at 10:40 a.m. “We thank God it was raining, so the kids were not outside,” Farrand said. “I thank God we have well prepared our children for a lockdown. We kept them very calm. I had kids ask me after if it was a drill.” Events like the Prayer Walk for Peace allow the students to feel like they are making a difference for the better in their neighborhood, she said. “It empowers them to realize that even as young people, there’s power in being in community,” Farrand said. “No matter what age you are, you can take steps to make change.” Neighbors also enjoy the march, Farrand said, coming onto front porches to watch the children, the smallest ones escorted by the oldest, carrying signs advocating for peace, praying and singing. “It probably saddens them that the children feel the need to do that, but also brings hope that there is another generation of kids who are growing and thriving and advocating for change,” she said.