Austin residents and local leaders gathered Tuesday to listen to local activists voice their displeasure about the state of the West Side and urge their neighbors to invest in themselves and their community.
Several local groups, pastors and local elected officials held a press conference on the grounds of the vacant Emmet Elementary at 5500 W. Madison to introduce the “good neighbor initiative and safety action plan.”
It was developed by a group of local residents, clergy members, elected officials, businesses and others, and after surveying hundreds of residents about what should be done to improve the area.
The aim is to address violence and youth development in Austin through networking, community outreach and job opportunities teens and young adults.
“We are working with various community organizations in Austin, to come together and make life easier not only for all residents but primarily the youth,” said Pastor Percy Giles of Every Block A Village Christian Fellowship.
The initiative urges residents to come together and connect with one each other for the greater good of the community.
“Good Neighbor is all about knowing your community and helping seniors and youth,” Giles said. “We have churches that provide facilities for youth activities to get them off the street; we also have the resources to transport youth to their jobs.”
Traiveon Ballard, a 19-year-old student at Austin Career Academy High School, said it was a blessing to see people in Austin showing their support for young people.
“Things like this are beyond incredible to me,” he said. “Often we see in our communities no one is trying to build each other up. What the Good Neighbor Initiative is doing is so positive and great.”
LaFrance Lucas, another 19-year-old Austin resident, discussed the effect Chicago’s violence has had on him.
“It hurts me that every time I log onto Facebook I see one of my classmates has died,” he said. “It seems like it’s an every week occurrence that I have become numb to.”
Lucas said what this initiative is doing for Austin youth is amazing.
“Good Neighbors is providing opportunities for the youth in this area, allowing them to do something positive,” he said. “I am going to continue to spread the word, so my fellow peers will have the same opportunities I have been afforded.”
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford said he supports the initiative and called for an end to the violence in Austin.
“The addiction and violence that are killing our brothers and sisters must be stopped,” he said. “This campaign that is spreading hope and love is much needed. Too many people are forgetting about the West Side of Chicago, and we can’t let that happen.”
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) spoke about the disconnection found in African-American communities and what must be done to bridge the gap between the youth and adults.
“The problem is we are not working together, everyone wants to do things on their own without any unity,” Mitts said.
“The young people have become disconnected with the older people, and the adults have stopped disciplining their children. That’s why I am so grateful for Good Neighbors and what they are doing in the community.”
Mitts also spoke about social media, saying it’s to blame for much of the violence. Young people are using various social media platforms to post photos of guns and drugs, and something must be done about that, she said.
“Social media is the cause of a lot of the violence in our communities,” she said. “I went to the city council and said we have to find a way to regulate the content that is being put on these sites.”
Earlier this month, the West Side alderman introduced a resolution calling for a public hearing on images “glamorizing and encouraging the epidemic of gun violence” posted on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, according to DNAinfo.
Morris Reed, the head of the Good Neighbor Initiative and CEO of Westside Health Authority, wants this campaign to bring together people from across the city.
“This is an inclusive campaign,” he said. “Our goal is to connect; our young people want to connect to older generations, and our older generations want to connect to our young people.”
Reed said he wants to see organizations building connections with the communities around their facilities, reaching out to local residents, not just offering them with services.
“We want to support and build connections around our facilities,” he said. “I am pleading with our community organizations to not just provide for the people but connect and engage with the people in their communities.”