Summer Camp program is in its sixth and final week. Due to the COVID 19 crisis, we were forced to change the look and style of our Summer Camp. Social distancing, masks and continual hand washing and the absence of hugging did not diminish the love and care  shown to our campers by our camp directors Rita Carmona and Laura Phillips and the entire Summer Hope staff and volunteers. 

In our last week of camp alone, we hosted a variety of workshops and learning opportunities for our children:

  • Akira, a local boxer, came to the summer camp and performed routines with our campers. 
  • A volunteer entomologist came with live bugs for a nature demonstration for our youths. 
  • A muralist assisted our campers with painting the basketball fence, along with Cyd Smilie from Arts Alive Chicago, who helped create mural stencils with our young artists. 

These are just a few snippets of the resources and opportunities our children have because our neighbors, partners, and team committed to finding a safe way to host this in-person camp. Our founder Robbin Carroll states that this is probably the best Summer of Hope program that we have put on and I am inclined to agree.

This summer, we saw the critical importance of finding creative ways to engage our children. We are in the process of finalizing our fall hybrid learning program, Born to Thrive, to assist our children with their educational needs due to the fact that CPS will be utilizing remote learning for  the upcoming fall semester. I Grow Chicago will be offering learning programs and tutors to help our children to succeed and “grow.”

In addition, we know that in order to support the children, we must support the parents. Our mission statement at I Grow Chicago pledges to “grow Englewood from surviving to thriving through community connection, skill building, and opportunities.” The activities and accomplishments achieved this past week fully exemplify our mission’s goals and philosophy. In respect to job opportunity, several of our community members have been placed with jobs that offer sustainability and a definite potential for growth. One of our young men expressed his desire is to work, rather than be “out in the streets,” a sentiment echoed throughout our community. In this past week alone, we secured employment for a young woman with our partner in peace Girl and the Goat. She gained a position working in the kitchen and by all reports is a stellar employee. Another young man is now working at Five Guys burgers and flourishing in his employment opportunity.

The lack of jobs and places that will hire our community members are only part of the possible causes for the behavior exhibited by those that chose to loot downtown and the near north side last night. I just didn’t see Black and Brown youths tearing up stores and businesses, I saw in their faces all the things that have been denied to them by our society. 

The vandalizing in response to a police shooting that occurred in the Englewood Community (about 2 miles east of the Peace House campus) at 57th and Aberdeen became a rallying cry for protesters to descend on the heart of our city. A young Black man approximately 20 years of age was wounded after shooting 

at officers, while in possession of a handgun. When someone is hurt or injured, regardless of the primary cause, the community hurts. Of course, and as always, if something happens in another neighborhood it’s never said in the media, for example, “ A Belmont-Cragin man was involved in such and such”. The mere mention of “Englewood” brings its own meaning and sensationalism to any newsworthy event. 

The crushing weight of the COVID19 crisis, joblessness, poverty, the unsure nature of our educational system, racism and a culture bias that has existed in our society for many, many years are all possible causes. However, I have to look at this through a different lens. I have to look at this not from the perspective of my former profession with CPD, but as a part of the society that has brought this generation to this point. I have to express  some level of accountability, as do we all. 

I saw photos posted on Facebook showing the young man that had been shot, displaying gang signs, smoking some “leafy type” of substance and most egregious of all, brandishing several manners and types of handguns and rifles. I’m of the belief that these photos were not taken by chance. He posed for them. Then he or someone else posted them on social media for the world to see. I earlier spoke of seeing this matter in a different perspective. What I saw was a failure to support and raise this young man from a child, to where he found himself in an alley in Englewood last night by not just his parents, his teachers, family and associates. The failure lies within our society and the barriers and mechanisms that after twenty years brought him to this situation, in an alley, in Englewood. His facial expressions on the photos were not of arrogance, indifference, or defiance, but of someone that didn’t get the things he needed to flourish and grow. 

The barriers before us seem large and often times insurmountable. However, I believe that we, as a  community-based non for profit can do our best to make sure that we use all of our resources, funding, programs and community connections , love and compassion to help our children and young adults in any way we can. In order to keep them out of an alley, with a gun, with police officers chasing them and ending up shot. 

I recently started using a lyric from a Swahili folk song on my email signature. It says “If we were all here, all here together, we could do wonders.”

I really believe we could.