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What do we want? Peace!

The morning of June 2 seemed like any Saturday at Humboldt Park — peaceful, yet active, as familiar residents talked under a tree’s shade, older “seńoras” walked with their laundry and grocery carts, and of course, a serious game of baseball got underway.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Simple. Three-word. Message. captured the theme of the 12th annual Peace Walk in Humboldt Park. 

Older men, not equipped with sleek, brightly colored aerodynamic helmets and fitted spandex pants, biked on its paths. Joy riding seemed to be the priority over training or a serious workout -- they rode cruisers decorated with big Puerto Rican and U.S.A flags, banana seats, and pronounced handle bars.

In contrast -- but not competition -- was an organized and serious-looking group, dressed in white T-shirts that read “I A.L.S.O. walk for peace,” swelling at the corner of California and Division.

They were preparing for a demonstration and ceremony that would serve to publicly proclaim that this particular Saturday was dedicated to a critical cause — the collective resistance against community violence in all forms.

The 12th annual Peace Walk, organized by La Capilla del Barrio and the  Alliance of Local Service Organizations as part of the Humboldt Park and Logan Square CeaseFire programs, drew a mosaic group that assembled just east of the community gateway, “Paseo Boricua” located at California and Division to march and rally. 

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Pastor Onix blows the ceremonial shofar -- associated most closely with the Jewish high holidays -- to kick off the march. 

In place of the Peace Walk shirts, some residents wore shirts decorated with pictures of their deceased loved ones. Cindy, a lifelong resident of the Humboldt Park community, wore a picture of Victor (also known as “Duni”), her 23 year old son-in-law who had been killed while making repairs on his car in front of his house.

“He wasn’t even in a gang. He was a wrong target, and he left behind two children. His daughter was on the porch when it happened,” she shared, pausing to choke back tears.

Sitting next to Cindy was Joyce Love, a march participant and veteran with CeaseFire, which also has active efforts in cities including Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Newark, N.J.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

"The value of lives drives us in wanting to seek peace," said Pedro Windsor, senior pastor of La Capilla del Barrio (dressed in blue jeans and sneakers), who led the march along with other pastors. "It's a no-brainer." 

“CeaseFire is about eliminating violence in the country, but it also demonstrates that the community can stop the shootings and violence in the community.”

Personal and passionate conversations that extended beyond political slogans on gun control, and posters with emotional messages like “Never to be Forgotten,” prepared the hearts and minds of those participating in the day’s events.

Pastor Onix, founder of Messengers of God Global Street Ministry, began the march with the blowing of the shofar horn used in ancient Jewish religious ceremonies and festivals. He shared why he chose to give up a Saturday morning to participate in the Peace Walk.

“We need to change the vision of our community,” Onix said.  “I have been here for 49 years, all my life, and now I see that our kids cannot enjoy the park —they can’t do anything. God is calling us to respond. I blow the shofar as a call to peace. I used to gang-bang. I was in a killing, but a pastor took me under his wing and helped me to change my life."

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Two-foot wooden crosses represented lives lost in the 14th and 25th police districts during the past year. 

Pedro Windsor, senior pastor of La Capilla del Barrio, like Onix, believes that a proactive response to killings and violence is a spiritual and social responsibility.

“The value of lives drives us in wanting to seek peace,” Windsor said. “It’s a no-brainer. We been burying young people, and by participating, and joining in the campaign, we’re hoping to prevent shootings and killings. … Part of the healing process is that we don’t have to be held captive. God empowers us to respond in a responsible way.”

Even Chicagoans from other communities showed up to demonstrate support and to participate. Bucktown resident Lauren Wojtowicz said: “I believe that as a resident of a neighboring community, support is important. I don’t think communities should be cut off [from one another]. This is a problem that all communities share. This [violence] isn’t just a Humboldt Park problem.”

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Drivers blew their car horns in solidarity with the marchers as they shouted: "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" 

At about 11 o’clock, the bullhorn was sounded and the shofar blown to gather the approximately 150 participants to march, and eventually, meet another group of demonstrators coming south from Logan Square.

As the trademark red, black, and white “Stop. Killing. People.” CeaseFire posters were held high, children, youth, adults, women, and men, participated in a bilingual call and response marching cry.

“What do we want?”

“Peace!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

“Que queremos?”

“Paz!”

“Cuando?”

“Ahora!”

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Kelvyn Park High School JROTC kept the beat during the march, organized as part of the Humboldt Park and Logan Square CeaseFire programs by La Capilla del Barrio and the Alliance of Local Service Organizations.

Drivers blew their car horns in solidarity, and the crowd cheered back. As the throng moved down Division to head north on Humboldt, large white poster boards staked along the historic boulevard sobered onlookers with statistics on assault, child abuse, homicide, and the economic cost of violence.

The marchers heading north came to a halt in front of the Humboldt Park boathouse, to be greeted by the drumming of Kelvyn Park High School’s JROTC — leading the pack hailing from the north. Equipped with snare and bass drums, they prepared the group for the transition from energetic protest to solemn meditation.

The approximately 200 participants gathered on a grassy opening bordered by rows of erected two foot wooden white crosses which were “representing the lives that have been lost to violence between June 4, 2006 and June 1, 2007 in the 14th and 25th police districts.”

Once the group settled, local teen Crystal Rodriguez, an 8th grader, opened the memorial service led by children and teens, by calling names of residents and loved ones who had been lost to violence. Daniel Windsor, worship leader at La Capilla, sung as the chart topping “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton played softly in the background.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

A culminating celebration at the Humboldt Park boathouse featured the band Nuestro Tambo. The lively Puerto Rican bomba y plena music boosted spirits after a day of mourning and angry protest. 

Raul Echevarria, NCP projects coordinator for Bickerdike, said that the event was a culminating community victory. “Years ago Bickerdike worked to implement Humboldt Park CeaseFire, but when resistance from some community leaders came, Bickerdike stopped,” he said.

Echevarria returned to the drawing board and the Humboldt Park safety committee to come up with another effort. A year later when Humboldt Park was included in the state budget for a CeaseFire program, the committee decided to try to bring CeaseFire to the community once again, but this time, by supporting the YMCA’s Street Intervention program as the lead agency.

However, the partnership between La Capilla del Barrio and A.L.S.O. was selected to implement the Humboldt Park program. Nevertheless the committee was determined to work with the partnership for the good of the community. This collaborative effort helped result in Saturday’s CeaseFire march.

After prayers were offered up by a host of local religious leaders, the group headed over to the boathouse’s open plaza where a fair of organizational tables, food, and live music (including an appearance from Humboldt Parks own Nuestro Tambo and the Bronx-based Hip Hop artist Cuban Link) created an atmosphere that felt almost like a big family reunion. The culminating celebration seemed to encourage hope and strength for the weary and discouraged.

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