BRONZEVILLE — Warding off violence over a holiday weekend can take many forms, few of them easy. On Sunday afternoon in Bronzeville, it looked like burgers sizzling on the grill and children stomping to a deejay.
Organized by the Friends of 51st Street block club, the buzzing outdoor party was one of more than a dozen events organized all over the city as part of a “community peace surge” urging residents to take over their own streets wherever police couldn’t stand watch.
Other “peace surge” events, spread out over all three days of Labor Day weekend, include an art festival in Humboldt Park and a gardening expo in Englewood. In total, 25 events were planned across eight neighborhoods on the South and West sides.
At 51st and Calumet, neighbors chatted over burgers and beers while their kids leapt in a bounce castle and drew four square courts in chalk on the pavement.
This corner of Bronzeville, like the city as a whole, has been reeling from an unusually high number of shootings in 2016, according to block club member Mary Creamer.
The four-block area hemmed in by Indiana Avenue, King Drive, 50th Street and 52nd Street has seen eight people shot so far this year, three of them fatally, Creamer said. That’s compared to six shootings during all of last year.
The block club led a “peace march” and community cleanup on July 30, and the Sunday block party was organized as a way of “keeping up the momentum,” Creamer said.
“It’s building relationships, and it’s just giving everyone a chance to relax and feel safe,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of people say they want to move away from here. This is our way of saying, ‘We’re here, this is our neighborhood and we’re not going anywhere.’ ”
Organizers reached out to their local CAPS sergeant to see if some beat officers could come get to know the community, Creamer said. They’d promised to show up periodically, despite it being a “busy weekend.”
An Engine Company from the Fire Department also made an appearance on the block, showing off their firefighting equipment and taking children up in the truck’s ladder.
The block club also collaborated with organizers of Black Lives Matter Chicago, who helped plan and promote the event as a way of starting “conversations around what safety looks like through the lens of empowerment,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
Especially during a weekend when police make it clear they can’t be everywhere at once, activists said community building was the only permanent response to gun violence.
“Violence is cyclical. Trauma is cyclical,” said Kofi Amedola, a lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago. “So if you don’t begin to see value in each other, to start thinking about cooperation versus competition, then you can’t be in that process of stopping violence.”
That’s why Black Lives Matter runs programs like “Our Story Chi,” which connects young people to local education programs and community service projects in Bronzeville, Amedola said.
Outdoor events and grassroots activism are all part of “challenging the narrative” that Chicagoans don’t protest violence in their own communities, he said.
“The issue we’re trying to address is young people not having love for themselves, coming from generation after generation of broken families,” Amedola said. “It’s what happens when you don’t have spaces to be safe and get to know each other. That’s why we’re here.”