Building peace in Chicago

By Past District Governor Patricia Merryweather, District Foundation Chair of District 6450 (Illinois, USA); Rotary Club of Naperville

As District Governor-elect at the 2012 International Assembly, I remember tears streamed down my face when President-elect Tanaka announced the 2012-13 Rotary theme Peace Through Service.

Fast forward to our District’s Conference in May 2012 as I wondered how we could bring peace to the streets of Chicago. A few weeks later, our district sprang into action when Heaven, a seven year old girl in Chicago was shot and killed by stray gunfire while she was out selling candy to raise money for a trip to Disney World.  A group of our District Rotarians started to talk about what we could do to create peace in Chicago. With Chicago averaging seven people shot each day and at least 10 people killed each week by gun fire, inaction was no longer an option.

That summer, we formed a Peace Partner Committee consisting of Rotarians and non-Rotary peace-focused organizations to work together and learn more about peace building by participating in each other’s peace programs.  We also participated in local initiatives such as peace building and dialogue efforts with the Chicago Police Department and various religious and community organizations.

Since 2012, we’ve held our Annual Chicagoland Peace Summits every year in communities most affected by violence.  The Peace Summits are for both youth and adults and offer breakout sessions led by our Peace Partner Committee members.  In addition to the Peace Summit, this year we added a program for youth between 10 and 16 years old at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The program will feature inspirational speakers and leaders who, like many of the youth at the center, have had trouble with the law.

Pam Brockman from the Chicago Little Village Rotary Club is leading a Rotary Global Peace Grant project for youth in Chicago.   The project involves several of our Peace Partners whose programs have a strong history of reducing violence among youth and increasing conflict resolution.  We knew that the programs individually were very good and offered useful tools, but we also recognized an integrated approach can help the programs reach many more people.

Approved in 2015, the global grant is being implemented at two Chicago Public Schools:  Theodore Roosevelt High School and Joyce Kilmer Elementary School.  Both schools serve low income, multi-cultural populations in which 31 languages are spoken. The project will impact nearly 2000 students and 200 teachers. We hope to train youth and teachers in practical skills to manage their stress, resolve conflict, increase cooperation, compassion and understanding, and reduce violence through the programs listed below:

  • The Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) will teach students how to manage their mind, negative emotions and reduce impulsivity and stress.
  • Alternatives, Inc. will teach restorative justice, peace circles and conflict resolution.
  • Play for Peace will teach noncompetitive games to increase cultural understanding, cooperation and leadership.
  • The Peace School organizes an annual International Peace Day Celebration in Chicago. We will work with them to organize 3 events to celebrate the beginning, middle and end of the project.

For the sake of all of our children and our communities, doing nothing is no longer an option.  While we know we are not the only solution to bringing peace to Chicago, we can bring many parties together and must be part of the solution.



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