It’s no secret that the risk of violence grows the minute the last CPS school bell rings. Last Friday, June 23rd, an estimated 3,000 youth, families and community member marched to Columbus Park to launch “Summer of Opportunity” – a full summer of positive activities for youth in Austin and other West Side neighborhoods.
Last week’s Summer of Opportunity kickoff was designed as both a community building celebration and a practical way to connect young people with positive activities, summer jobs, and resources for a safe and successful summer.
The event was spearheaded by BUILD, a 48-year-old, not-for-profit community-based organization focused on violence intervention and youth development on Chicago’s West and South sides.
Turnout was initially projected at 1,000 to 1,500, but quickly grew after more than a thousand people showed up for the peace march an hour before the celebration in Columbus Park, where 65 organizations had set up information tables and activities.
“Summer of Opportunity goes beyond ‘put the guns down.’ We also have to change the story about neighborhoods like Austin,” said Adam M. Alonso, BUILD’s executive director.
“What better way than to kick off the summer than for families and kids to enjoy spending time together and get plugged into summer opportunities. It shows the world that good things happen, even in communities that are struggling.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin said, “There is no more important goal than to make sure there is peace in all communities. This event and others like it are important as we work toward the crucial mission of keeping all people safe.”
The planning committee included: Ald. Chris Taliaferro, the American Red Cross, Austin Coming Together, Breakthru Beverage, BUILD, By the Hand Club, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Police Department, Commissioner Boykin, Illinois State Treasurer’s office, Institute for Non-Violence Chicago, KRA, Marillac St. Vincent, Pepsico, Project Exploration, St. Joseph Services, Westside Health Authority and Youth Outreach Services.
“From the moment we walked in the door, it was overwhelming how invested every stakeholder was in the future of these children,” said Danny Wirtz, vice chair of lead sponsor Breakthru Beverage, which provided funding, logistics and over 200 employee volunteers.
Organizers are now launching a full range of summer activities, and plans are in the works for next year’s Summer of Opportunity, which BUILD envisions growing into a major citywide event like the Bud Billiken Parade.
For more information, ccontact BUILD at (773) 227-2880.