A Concern for Violence
Hyde Park Union Church’s concern for violence began in the 1990s. In response to rising murder rates, Senior Minister Rev. Susan Johnson called upon community leaders and residents to join in a monthly Vigil Against Violence at a prominent corner in Bronzeville. These vigils lasted six years, and such prominent figures as Rev. Michael Pfleger, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Police Superintendent Rodriquez joined in the reading of names.
The teardown of public housing on one side of the street and the construction of the new police headquarters on the other brought an end to the monthly vigils. The city also enjoyed a declining homicide rate for several years. Looking at the statistics, however, Rev. Johnson became aware that the rate of youth violence remained appallingly high, and the Vigils – this time on the front lawn of her own church – began again in September 2008. Since that time, over 270 children and youth have died in violence across our city.
Getting at Root Causes
The loss of children is more than tragic. It is a scandal that 270 children could be killed and the city as a whole barely notice. Indeed, were these youth not children of color – Hispanic and African American – and were they not from low income neighborhoods, this crisis would surely have been addressed. While there are many good and courageous community efforts to address violence, they are invariably small, underfunded, and disconnected. Public policy often fails to pay attention to even the best research on the root causes of poverty, poor education, and the social and psychological effects of unchecked violence on children and families.
Urban Dolorosa began with the conviction that we must first call our city to notice, to care, to understand this violence. We must move beyond apathy, prejudice, and urban myths, and we must come together to overcome the root causes of racism and poverty until all of our children are safe.
We must begin with a proper response to this mounting tragedy. We must begin with a citywide call to mourn. And it is this conviction that inspired our Memorial Events.