Chicago Peace Fellows Update from Dr. Sokoni Karanja
I have enjoyed my first few weeks as a GATHER Peace Fellow. There are many reasons for that statement! One, it provides such an opportunity for place making. By that, I mean our collective action could help define how Peace is achieved in a City so challenged by violence! The second reason is that I have had an opportunity to interview the other fellows:
Maria Velazquez, who is an organizer in Little Village, is a warm and gentle spirit but inside that exterior is a determined heart that shows up every day to take on whatever challenge she encounters. She has taught me about dealing with losing community as you organize. People get tired or get involved in their personal life struggles and must step back from the community effort.
Johnny Payton is about 6 foot 4, maybe taller, but managed to survive and thrive during his early years in the Cabrini-Green public housing development. He is and was an excellent athlete. He managed to walk through every gang in Cabrini and not join. He was of the community but kept his eyes on his goals. He works for the Chicago Park District and has for 22 years. He is committed to the youth of the community, succeeding in all the legitimate ways.
Gloria Smith is the sister to Phil Jackson, who taught my grandson Tai Chi Chuan and was the founder of the Black Star Project. After her brother’s passing, Gloria has come to fill his very large shoes!!! Phil was a bold human being. He picketed the MacArthur Foundation for their injustices to poor black and brown communities and turned around and received grants from them! Gloria and Phil were the niece and nephew of Vincent Harding, an icon of the Civil Rights movement. Just as importantly, Gloria has shared tapes of her uncle’s mentor, Howard Thurman, another icon of the African American community. She is another gentle spirit with a strong heart who is fearless. She works in three organizations, and she loves Bahia, Brazil.
And finally, the staff of GATHER are long suffering. They have endured my lack of understanding of this iPad machine they have told me is mine to keep!! It feels some days like my worst enemy. I am a turtle and they keep encouraging me. I have a space at their office where I practice with my tutors regularly. Thank you for the opportunity and for the many kindnesses.
PS: Our work is suffering from some loss of community!! As we have reduced the violence, created a successful garden, and formed positive relationships with other organizations, some of our participants have begun to step away from regular involvement in our activities. We are now revisiting our base through door-to-door canvassing to rebuild interest and attract new involvement. The garden at 5131 S. Calumet will be the focus of our effort to re-engage the community, and our first meeting around that target was on April 13, 2019, from 10 a.m. to noon.