Youth Organizers in Chicago are fighting to #IncreaseThePeace

 Credit: Juan Ayala

Credit: Juan Ayala

 
alt text By Samuel González Kelly, Criminal Justice Reform Reporter, The Real Chi
 
 

In Chicago, there is a direct correlation between an increase in temperature and an increase in crime, according to data from the City of Chicago Data Portal and the Midwest Regional Climate Center. But for youth organizers with The Resurrection Project, summer temps and time off from school affords them a unique opportunity: this is the time of year that their #IncreaseThePeace campouts take over blocks across the city’s south and west sides for nightlong exercises in community-building.

The #IncreaseThePeace Summer Kick-Off, scheduled for Friday, July 6, is the first in a series of overnight campouts that youth organizers in neighborhoods from Pilsen to Englewood are holding in an effort to promote a culture of non-violence in their communities. The Summer Kick-Off will be hosted outside The Resurrection Project’s office in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, beginning with a peace rally before segueing into a celebration that includes free food, music, educational workshops, bonfires, and other activities.

 Berto Aguayo leads a demonstration in the Back of the Yards neighborhood  Credit: Juan Ayala

Berto Aguayo leads a demonstration in the Back of the Yards neighborhood

Credit: Juan Ayala

Now in its second summer, #IncreaseThePeace began as a response to a Oct. 2016 weekend in Back of the Yards that saw the death of 17-year-old Naome Zuber directly outside The Resurrection Project offices. “It was one of those times where the community was really looking for a response,” says Berto Aguayo, a Community Organizer at The Resurrection Project and co-founder of #IncreaseThePeace. “[Looking for] healing...but healing through a response.”

“We want to create those leaders that I might have needed growing up, and that other young people need right now.”

On Oct. 7, 2016, less than a week after Zuber’s death, Aguayo and The Resurrection Project hosted their first #IncreaseThePeace campout with community partners, elected officials, and Back of the Yards residents. Over 200 people attended the overnight protest.

The success of the first #IncreaseThePeace campout encouraged The Resurrection Project to host more of them. Soon they were teaching young people from other neighborhoods in the city how to organize their own.

Elizeth Arguelles, a college student who lives in Little Village, showed up at the first campout in 2016 because Zuber’s death hit so close to home. Now, she’s co-chief of the Little Village #IncreaseThePeace chapter. “It felt like family and I’ve been part of the movement ever since because I believe that it’s a great tool to empower the young people,” says Arguelles.

For Aguayo, the development of youth leaders like Arguelles is where #IncreaseThePeace finds its real strength. “Campouts are one of our biggest actions, but that’s only part of our overall strategy,” says Aguayo. “We’re employing 90 youth this summer to learn about organizing, to visit colleges and universities, to see that they could better themselves and go to college and do all these great things but not to forget to come back to the neighborhood and give back.”

“To a lot of us, this is what community policing looks like. It’s people that are most affected by the violence taking ownership over the public safety of the community, and giving them the tools to be able to do that.”

In neighborhoods struggling with violence, and where relationships with the police are often tenuous, initiatives like #IncreaseThePeace provide residents with a way to take things into their own hands, to “reclaim the neighborhood,” as Aguayo puts it.

“To a lot of us, this is what community policing looks like. It’s people that are most affected by the violence taking ownership over the public safety of the community, and giving them the tools to be able to do that.”

Taking ownership of the community doesn’t just mean camping out on the block overnight either. In the week leading up to the campouts, The Resurrection Project organizes voter registration drives, community clean-ups, and educational workshops. And unlike the campouts, which are generally reserved for the summer due to the weather, these are activities that #IncreaseThePeace hosts year-round.

Aguayo, who says he was involved with “negative things” when he was growing up, claims his life was changed by initiatives like #IncreaseThePeace and is determined to provide those same opportunities for young people across the city. “We want to create those leaders that I might have needed growing up, and that other young people need right now.”

The #IncreaseThePeace Summer Kick-Off is being held at 4600 S. Wood St. in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Friday, July 6, beginning at 5 p.m. and lasting through the night. A different campout will then be held every Friday henceforth in other neighborhoods throughout the city. More information can be found at the Summer Kick-Off’s Facebook page.