Friday, May 30, 2014 || By Michael Romain
Maywood–Volunteers and workers with CeaseFire’s Maywood and Austin branches were out Friday evening serving residents free barbecue and a side of love. They setup in a parking lot on 17th and Maywood Drive, just north of the Prairie Path.
Sandra Harrison, the Executive Director of Youth Outreach Services, the organization that facilitates CeaseFire in Maywood, said that the event was planned to coordinate with Mayor Edwenna Perkins’s Safe Summer initiative. Safe Summer, the product of a partnership between the Mayor, Youth on the Move, and a variety of businesses and nonprofits such as CeaseFire, is designed to provide seasonal recreational and service activities for youth in Maywood.
“CeaseFire has a fund in its budget dedicated to community block building,” Harrison said. “We’re about collaboration, so we decided to double up with Safe Summer.”
Karl Bell, a program manager for both the Austin and Maywood CeaseFire branches, said that the day was about more than free food and posters.
“We need a shot of love in our communities,” he said. “We need to learn to respect and love each other. Black love has value.”
Mayor Perkins and Isiah Brandon, the Executive Director of Youth on the Move, hope that this event serves as a powerful marketing tool to get the word out about Safe Summer’s array of future programming–including field trips, community pool days and swimming lessons, volunteer activities and book clubs–all of which are free.
Left to right: Derrick Green, a CeaseFire employee, encourages passersby to stop and feast for free; community members and CeaseFire workers intermingle at the food table. (Photos by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).
While content to publicize CeaseFire’s current services and collaborations, Carl O’Neal doesn’t want people to forget what makes CeaseFire’s programming possible. O’Neal, a project manager for CeaseFire Maywood, focused attention on the enormous budget cuts that his organization has recently experienced.
“It’s not enough people,” he said. “We only have three outreach workers, one supervisor and one part-time manager.”
Last October, Frontline reported that Chicago had dropped CeaseFire from its anti-violence strategy, “deciding to focus instead on community policing and other strategies to combat the city’s high murder rate.”
O’Neal said that CeaseFire Maywood has also experienced deep budget cuts. The statewide organization has undergone rather intense scrutiny within the last year after the very public arrest of Tio Hardiman, its Illinois director. Hardiman, a Hillside resident and former gubernatorial candidate, was accused of assaulting his wife, but the charges were later dropped.
And the program may never shake its reputation for hiring people on whom society has largely given up. In the Frontline report, Hardiman had noted that six of the anti-violence organization’s workers had returned to lives of crime.
However, O’Neal believes that to associate CeaseFire exclusively with what are minor issues in the grand scheme of things is unfair both to the organization and the people it helps. He notes that the organization may be the last, best hope for some residents that just need a chance in a society that can be much too cruel in selecting whom it chooses to redeem.
“[A lot of] felons can’t get jobs anywhere else,” O’Neal said. “You need former gang members to convince other gang members that there’s another way out. How can they find their way back if they don’t have an opportunity?” VFP
Left to right: Isiah Brandon directs a youth; Sandra Harrison with husband Darryl Harrison (left) and Karl Bell; the back of Sandra Harrison’s t-shirt; Mayor Edwenna Perkins (center front), with Sandra Harrison, Debra Vaughn of The Answer, Inc., Carl O’Neal and Daryl Washington, a former CeaseFire employee; Larry Smith, a CeaseFire volunteer works the grill; a young woman sits on a car in the parking lot. (Photos by Michael Romain for The Village Free Press).