A closed-off Englewood block filled with children playing among green trees under sunny skies was spotted with one essential color: orange.
The shade, representing gun violence awareness, colored T-shirts and tablecloths throughout the afternoon’s Peace Fest at 64th and Honore streets on Saturday, where dozens of community groups shared resources and celebrated with music, art and food to mark Wear Orange Weekend and honor victims of gun violence.
Throughout the “Peace Campus,” a block composed of over a dozen formerly abandoned buildings and vacant properties repurposed by neighborhood organizations to care for kids, create safe play spaces and support the community, early-summer joy swirled in every direction.
Boys played basketball. A group of men grilled as others sold tacos. Some kids jumped in a yellow bounce house, while some painted or rode bikes. Vendors shared plants and groceries and encouraged people to sign up to get consistent help or serve others themselves.
“We can stop the violence ourselves simply by shifting the culture of our communities,” said the festival stage’s host, Tanya Lozano, founder of Healthy Hood, a community group that hosted the event alongside Imagine Englewood If, We Grow Chicago, Think Outside Da Block and Moms Demand Action.
The peace fest is the first of a series of similar events nearly 70 community groups plan to host throughout Chicago this summer that are also aimed at preventing violence, Lozano said.
“We want to get to people before the problems start. We want to prevent it from happening. Not dealing with symptoms, but really getting to the root of what is actually happening,” she said.
The groups in Englewood were also hoping to show unity between Black and brown Chicago communities amid rising tensions over the city spending millions of dollars to support the thousands of arriving asylum-seekers, she added.
Mashaun Ali sold T-shirts at his booth calling for a summer “crime drought.” The entrepreneur, who runs streetwear company TRAP House Chicago, uses the sales’ proceeds to fund restorative justice work, like “peace circle” discussions that connect at-odds groups before conflict erupts, he said.
Activist and musician Heavy Crownz, who emceed the event’s stage as co-host, helped pass around the mic as a group ad-libbed raps to beats as festivalgoers watched. The crowd erupted as a preschooler took a turn and strung together a series of rhymes.
“We have the power here, and we’ve chosen to create spaces to empower us, to enlighten our own and grow,” said Crownz, who works as Imagine Englewood If’s campus director.
When artist Allen Washington took the block festival’s stage, he reflected in one song about stereotypes he said contributed to the death of Elijah McClain, the 23-year-old killed after police in Aurora, Colorado, restrained him in 2019 as he walked home from a convenience store.
Mainstream rap music doesn’t often reflect the reality of life in communities of color, said Washington, who directs art and culture projects for Healthy Hood. He tries to focus on “unity, positivity and solidarity” in his music, he added.
“I lost myself trying to find my people. I’ve been stuck between the good and the evil. I was told to keep my third eye open so I can see all the creatures. And we shouldn’t last long, at least that’s what they tell us. We moving down a path that’s so wrong. There’s no truth in what they sell us,” he sang.
The orange fabric ribbons tied to fences and around trees lining the block represented the 30,000 children killed by gun violence since the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, activist and artist Jacqueline von Edelberg said.
The ribbons had been previously displayed on the block, but were moved to Highland Park’s Art Center after the mass shooting last May at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The ribbons were already on display in Highland Park when the Chicago suburb experienced its own mass shooting on July 4.
Gun violence is a common thread, von Edelberg said.
“This is the literal fabric that connects us. It’s all the same: the South Side, the West Side, the North Side,” she said.
Michelle Rashad, executive director of the organization Imagine Englewood If, made an obvious observation at the festival: Summertime in Chicago is amazing.
“But summertime in Chicago also brings people a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, a lot of unknown because of the gun violence that does happen in our city,” Rashad added.
The shot and killed Black and brown people often represented in media by crime briefs and statistics are more than the short mentions they get, she said. She hoped the event flagging gun violence might challenge the numbness many people regularly affected by violence feel.
“We don’t accept the violence that happens in our neighborhoods and we have the resources to help people, to address some of their most basic needs,” Rashad said. More support from businesses and governments to urgently address violence are always needed, she said, “but our greatest resource is us.”
Rashad’s neighborhood group operates a litany of projects, including a lead poisoning prevention program, a seven-week summer camp for 50 kids staffed by teens, and a community garden.
People throughout Chicago and in Englewood are “very familiar” with the violence that afflicts communities during summers, she said. The city needs to be proactive to address what causes violence and not just react to the instances in which it flares up, she added.
Adrienne Swanigan and Temika Blackman manned a booth for Purpose Over Pain, an organization made up of mothers who have lost children to Chicago gun violence. They passed out sanitizer bottles marked with the groups’ hotline for parents whose kids have been shot and killed.
“On the weekend, if you don’t work, your mind can be all over the place,” Swanigan said.
Her 21-year-old son, Tremayne Henderson, was shot and killed at home in Roseland by a friend after an argument in 2017. He had just started working, cleaning machines at night. Swanigan witnessed the shooting, she said.
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On his birthdays and the anniversary of his death, Swanigan remembers her child with special events. She passed out toiletries to homeless people and held a memorial dinner this year, she said.
She comes to events like Saturday’s to stay positive, she said. It’s an opportunity to connect with other mothers who might be suffering the same loss she did and help them learn to heal, she said.
Tenika Blackman agreed that it helps to be around people who understand her loss. Her 22-year-old son, Lewis Funches, was shot and killed at a block party in the Douglas neighborhood in June 2020.
The young man had been waiting to get into the police academy, she said. He was a great dancer who regularly grooved in the Bud Billiken Parade and loved to joke around and stay up late with his mother, Blackman added.
His dance coach was also shot and killed two years ago, she said. She hoped that the resource-heavy and fun-filled event might prevent other kids from suffering the same fate as her son. There’s so much anger, and young people need healthier ways to express their feelings, she said.
“These kids are bored. They need things to do,” Blackman said. “Sometimes, the parents are not around or can’t afford to do certain things. So, things like this can bring them out.”