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‘This skinny guy’

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal visits Chicago’s Roseland community, where Barack Obama worked as an organizer 20 years ago.

“‘I woke up and felt better the day after he was elected, said Crystal Bell, 20, who carefully wraps a blanket around 1-year-old daughter Chiyah. ‘We made history. It felt like a new world.’

“But the old world remains. Bell said she works two part-time jobs, running a cash register at a Wendy’s and doing home child care. She struggles financially.

“Bell said her neighborhood is plagued with violence. In the last year, she said, two of her friends were shot and killed.

“‘He (Obama) can’t stop someone from shooting,’ she said. ‘But he can help make it better with gun laws. I hope he helps this unemployment, too, keeps his word.’…

“In Altgelt Gardens, longtime resident Dorian Gray smiles at the memory of Obama.

“‘He was this skinny guy, talked too much,’ he said.

“Now the ‘skinny guy’ is headed to the White House.

“‘What it changes is the way these younger black men look at things now,’ Gray said. ‘People 20 to 30 years old believed this would happen. I never thought in my lifetime that a black man would become president.'”

Roseland CeaseFire awaits funding

Bob Jackson has kept CeaseFire’s Roseland office open since August of 2007, when he and his staff of 15 outreach workers were laid off after Governor Blagojevich vetoed $6.5 million in state funds for the violence prevention program.

He’s paid rent and utilities, mainly out of his pocket, running a one-person office on West 111th Street, with assistance from some former CeaseFire workers and community members who volunteer when they can. But it’s a far cry from working with a full staff — and he’s watched violence rates go back up with frustration.

Now he says the office is too far in debt, the landlord has given his final extension, and they’re going to have to close down.

Meanwhile state funding was restored in July — it just hasn’t been released to the organization yet, said Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire Chicago. He said he couldn’t account for the four-month holdup, but hopes the funding will be forthcoming soon.

In 2004 a major new state appropriation allowed CeaseFire to triple the number of communities it served with public education campaigns, intensive work with the most at-risk youth, and street workers intervening to prevent violence.

A Northwestern University study (pdf) found decreases in shootings and homicides as high as 24 percent in areas served by CeaseFire compared to comparable communities without the group’s presence. Blagojevich’s veto forced the closing of 16 CeaseFire sites in the city and others from East St. Louis to Waukegan.

But Jackson wouldn’t quit. The Roseland office was one of the most successful, he says. Home to the two police beats with the highest rates of shootings and homicides in the city, the staff started bringing those numbers down in the nine months they operated before the layoffs, Jackson said. Since the loss of full-scale operations, the number of shootings has gone up by 68 percent in those two beats, he said.

“They were able to get [violence] down when nobody else could,” Hardiman said of the Roseland office. There are other agencies, but when they go home at night, “we’re working with these guys on the street at two in the morning….

“We were working with a hundred high-risk youth in that community regularly — I mean every day,” he said. “That’s how you get shootings and homicides down.”

Jackson still gets calls from principals and relatives of victims of violence. “How can you tell them no?” he said. He keeps the office open and talks to kids on the street and in schools. Family members asked him to help mobilize an anti-violence rally next Wednesday at 63rd and Laflin, where the shooting death of two teens on November 6 pushed the city’s homicide rate over last year’s.

“It’s very frustrating because we were making a difference,” he said. “This is bigger than politics. Lives are more important than politics.”

Roseland rallies youth against violence

Kids Off The Block will hold a youth march against violence followed by a video shoot and Spring Break Jam on Friday, March 21 in Roseland.

“Last year Roseland was a hotbed of youth violence, and we need to step forward before it gets hot again,” said KOB founder Diane Latiker.

“The only way is if we have an open door for [young people] and talk to them,” she said.

She envisions a coalition of youth and parents with community leaders, law enforcement, and churches, to give young people a voice and get them resources. “The bottom line is these are the youth who live the real life, and there’s nothing in the community for them to do — to stimulate them in a positive direction.”

KOB is reaching out “to the gangbangers and the dropouts and the youth who are in and out of the juvenile system, to get these youth to save themselves,” she said.

The march begins at noon at 111th and Michigan and proceeds to 116th Street, where young people will participate in a video shoot for an anti-violence song composed by Latiker. The Spring Break Jam, with pizza and music, is scheduled for 6 to 10 p.m.

A Thousand Teens for Thanksgiving

Kids Off the Block expects 1,000 teens from across Chicago for its first annual “Feed A Teen” Thanksgiving Dinner, Thursday November 22 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) at KOB headquarters, 11621 S. Michigan.

Community Assistance Programs, a Southside nonprofit employment agency, is providing a heated tent, caterers are donating dinners, and police officers and other volunteers will serve youth.

[Correction; earlier version misidentified CAP.]

Twenty buses from churches and community organizations in twenty communities will be bringing kids.

The idea for the dinner came from the same place as the idea for KOB, said organization founder Diane Latiker — young people in the neighborhood who are looking for alternatives.

“Every Thanksgiving I have teens coming to my house and asking, Did you cook Thanksgiving dinner?” she explains. They come from families that aren’t able to provide a traditional meal, and holidays invoke a desire for stability and tradition.

Latiker is known to neighborhood youth because she reaches out to them in the belief that “no child should be deprived of his or her dreams.”

She founded KOB when her own daughter and friends “started to tear up the block” and she decided to open her home to informal gatherings and try to engage young people in constructive activity.

“They wanted to sing,” she said. “They wanted to be doctors. They wanted to play sports. But what amazed me was that they all wanted to do something. They didn’t want to want to be out there tearing up the streets.”

Now KOB runs a youth center providing tutoring and mentoring as well as music, drama, and sports programs. KOB also sponsors trips to other cities, where young people work with youth there to develop constructive alternatives.

A small group is leaving for Birmingham, Alabama, on November 23. It’s the 16th city KOB participants have visited.

For more: Diane Latiker, Kids Off the Block, 773-995-9077,

Group Charges CTA Discriminates in Fare Card Outlets

The CTA plan to raise cash fares to $2 and eliminate cash transfers will hit minority and low-income riders hardest — especially because the CTA has provided very few outlets for fare card sales in communities of color, according to the Campaign for Better Transit.

Fare card users will continue to pay $1.75 for fares and 25 cents for transfers. But “the CTA provides a very limited number of fare card sales outlets in communities of color,” according to a CBT analysis to be released at the group’s Community Transit Summit this Saturday.

“It’s not a sensible or equitable way to balance the budget,” said Jacqueline Leavy of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which sponsors the CBT. The price increase limited to cash fares will hit those with the least financial resources hardest, while “every other transit system in the country is trying to figure out how to make transfers easier,” she said.

She added that the agency has offered no analysis of how increased revenues or operational efficiencies from greater fare card use will add up to a projected $17 million budget savings.

The transit summit will bring together transit users, community groups, labor unions, environmentalists and elected officials to demand greater accountability and more equitable allocation of resources by the CTA.

One major issue is the long-delayed extension of the Red Line to serve the city’s Far South Side — the only section of the city without rapid transit service. While money is allocated for a Loop superstation — in an area which is one of the most transit-rich in the nation — the CTA has yet to release a feasibility study for the Red Line extension, said Rev. Mike Evans of the Developing Communities Project, a faith-based community organization in Roseland.

The Red Line extension meets all the criteria for prioritizing transit projects — reaching underserved areas, increasing ridership, reducing congestion, and serving low- and moderate-income communities; the Loop project meets none of these, Evans said.

DCP is working to increase political support for prioritizing the Red Line Extension, he said, and the group is participating in the transit summit.

Along with advancing the transit priorities of neighborhoods, the summit will scrutinize privatization at the CTA, evaluate transfer of capital budget dollars to balance operating budgets, and monitor the transfer of paratransit services to PACE.

“We want to push for more sustainable transit funding from the General Assembly, but it has to be on the basis of greater accountability from the CTA,” said Leavy.

The Community Transit Summit takes place Saturday, November 12 from 9 a.m. to noon at Plumbers Hall, 1340 W. Washington.

Support for Red Line Extension Builds

Two hundred South Side residents are expected for a July 9 walkathon to raise funds to promote a Red Line extension — and to raise visibility for what organizers call Chicago’s best-kept development secret.

Sponsoring the walkathon is the Red Line Oversight Committee of the Developing Communities Project of Roseland, whose two-year organizing campaign succeeded in getting the extension listed as a New Start project in the RTA’s new 2030 regional transportation plan.

Of five major projects fast-tracked under the New Start program, the Red Line extension most clearly meets program criteria of addressing underserved, low-income communities, said Lou Turner of DCP.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has contracted for a feasibility study of the extension, looking at three possible routes as well as the option of increased bus service.

The DCP committee is supporting a route with stops at 103rd and State, 111th and State, the depressed commercial crossroad of 115th and Michigan, and 130th and Stony Island, where residents of Altgeld Gardens, workers at Ford and related plants, and students at Carver Military Academy would be served. Other proposals follow the Bishop Ford Expressway and I-57.

“Our route goes through the heart of the community, causes no displacement, and uses existing rail right-of-ways,” said Turner. He said it was projected to attract 28,000 riders a day.

The walkathon will raise funds to support a drive to build political support for funding the $700 million capital project in Springfield and Washington. The walkathon starts at 9 a.m. at 95th and Indiana on Saturday, July 9.

After 30 Years, Red Line Extension”Needs Study”

Extending the Red Line past its 95th Street terminus has been discussed and included in plans for thirty years, but funding has never materialized.

This year the Developing Communities Project in Roseland is pushing inclusion of the project in the Chicago Area Transit Study’s 2030 Regional Transportation Plan, which determines planning priorities for a projected $60 billion in transportation investments over the next three decades.

The 95th Street Red Line station, serving 50,000 riders a day, is the busiest hub in the CTA system, according to Lou Turner of DCP, and residents have signed petitions and turned out in large numbers at community meetings to show their on-going support for an extension. But in its final draft, issued in April, CATS listed the Red Line extension as a proposal needing more study.

Existing communities get short-changed in the CATS draft, said Jan Metzgar of the Chicagoland Transportation and Air Quality Commission (CTAQC): the majority of new project miles are in areas with under 2000 people per square mile, promoting sprawl rather than “investing in places where people already live.”

DCP and others are turning out to support the Red Line extension at a public hearing on the 2030 plan to be held by the Northeast Illinois Planning Commission on Tuesday, September 2, 4 p.m., at Lilydale Progressive MB Church, 10706 S. Michigan.

CTAQC holds its second annual regional congress on Saturday, September 20, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at the Egan Center, DePaul University, 243 S. Wabash.

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