State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, left, leads a peace march through Maywood on Saturday. The march started in Bellwood on the corner of 22nd Avenue and St. Charles and ended behind the Maywood Police station. | Photos courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
Sunday, June 25, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 6/26/17
A crowd of at least 200 people converged on the streets in Bellwood and Maywood on June 24 during a peace march coordinated by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the nation’s oldest black intercollegiate Greek fraternity, and state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) — who is a member of the Alpha organization.
The march is just the latest in a series of peace marches that the venerable fraternity has coordinated in Chicago since at least 2015. Saturday’s march, however, is likely the first one that the fraternity has held in the western suburbs.
The marchers — at least 75 of whom were Alpha men, most of them donning the fraternity’s trademark gold and black colors — walked down St. Charles Road from 22nd Avenue in Bellwood to 5th Avenue in Maywood, before crowding into the park behind the Maywood Police Station, 125 S. 5th Ave., for a brief rally.
Alpha member Byron Stewart, a Maywood native who was the village’s first African American treasurer, said that the suburbs of Bellwood and Maywood experience some of the same issues, such as gun violence, affecting Chicago.
A march, he said, is an appropriate counterweight to the problems plaguing some areas of the city and surrounding suburbs.
Members of the Proviso East High School marching band during Saturday’s peace march organized by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch. | Courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
“This is something for everybody to see and something for everyone in Maywood to understand,” Stewart said. “The struggle continues and there’s much work to do wherever we are as a people.”
Maywood Police Chief Valdimir Talley and Willie Norfleet, Jr. both lauded the event, which they said has an immediate positive impact on the community. The march featured the Proviso East marching band as two food trucks were parked along Oak Street.
“You have a positive organization involved in a positive activity,” Talley said. “You have a congressman out there, a state representative out here, village officials out here, saying that we’re not tolerating violent behavior.”
At least 200 people took to the streets during Saturday’s march, which was followed by a rally. | Courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
“This is a great concept,” said Norfleet. “It sows that you don’t have to live in a place or know a people to care about a people.”
Some of the elected officials present for the march, including Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) and Welch, used the rally to mobilize support around state and federal problems that Welch said exacerbate the violence in communities like Bellwood and Maywood.
Illinois has been without a budget since July 2015, which has put the state on track to possibly have its credit rating downgraded to “junk” status. If that happens, Illinois would be the first state in the country to receive a “junk” rating.
The state’s fiscal troubles, Welch said, has translated into a lack of support and resources, such as the anti-violence program CeaseFire, for areas struggling with high rates of crime. Maywood’s CeaseFire program was eliminated several years ago due to a lack of funding and the village, along with virtually every municipality in the country, would be hurt by President Donald Trump’s series of proposed budget cuts and defunding initiatives.
“When Congressman Davis goes back to Washington, we need to make sure Trump knows that we have [Davis’s] back! When I go back to Springfield after this rally, we need to make sure Gov. Bruce Rauner knows that I have your support!” Welch said.
Saturday’s march was organized by the Rho Zeta Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. | Courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
“Rauner is trying to kill communities like Maywood by holding our budget hostage,” Welch said. “He’s trying to hold it hostage not to help people like me and you, but to help wealthy people like him! We need to make sure he knows he needs to fund our budget. Getting a budget will help us decrease violence.
“It’s no coincidence that since Rauner has taken office and since we haven’t had a budget, violence has increased. That budget is a moral document that funds our schools and gives kids who aren’t working during the summer jobs,” Welch said. “If kids aren’t working during the summer, what are they going to do? They’re going to do crazy, stupid things because that’s what they do when their minds are idle.”
“I’m going to say it to Welch, any bill that you put forward it will pass,” said Perkins. “To each one of you that have marched here this morning, you don’t know what you did. Not only did you put it on the map, you put it on God’s agenda.”
Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins and Rep. Welch during Saturday’s peace march. | Courtesy Rep. Welch/Facebook
Referencing Alpha Phi Alpha’s rich history, which dates back to 1906, Davis, who is also an Alpha, said that Saturday’s march was an echo of the struggle that necessitated the fraternity’s founding Cornell University in New York.
“When times like these existed back in the early 1900s, a group of fellas got together and decided they needed to form a brotherhood,” Davis said. “They needed to get together so they could protect each other. Things were happening then just like they’re going on now.” VFP