Last week, a brand new organization called “Stand Up for Something” hosted a town hall meeting to address the concerns of violence and community safety in the cities of North Chicago, Waukegan, and Zion. This awareness/activism group was founded in August by Zion resident Ciera McNeal (daughter of two Chicago police officers) in response to an alarming upsurge of violence in these under-resourced communities. Mayors, police chiefs, state elected officials, political candidates, and community members – including several current and former Trinity students and Faith Alive participants – gathered together. For two hours, those in attendance presented and listened to several official statements, a brief homily, a commemoration of loved ones who had been murdered, along with many fervent comments and incisive questions.
Those who spoke touched on many themes. Some dealt with the importance of not being afraid to speak up and report crimes to the police. Others addressed the destructive enmeshment of gangs, guns, and drugs. Multiple people repeatedly emphasized the necessity of raising, disciplining, educating, and caring for children so that they don’t get involved in the street life. In general, people spoke respectfully and gave great honor to the civic leaders present, although the loudest corporate applause and affirmation was reserved for a young woman who passionately called them to task with these words: “You’re our elected officials! So make the right decisions and talk with the people who make the decisions!” Other memorable quotes from the evening included: “This isn’t a black and white thing, it’s a green thing”; “Parents should be the ones to whup their kids, because the police might not know when to stop”; and “Slow and steady pressure will change things in the neighborhood.”
And throughout the evening, a composite picture of brokenness emerged, with each person offering another brushstroke that brought to painful clarity the complex interconnectedness of multiple issues – historic racism and discrimination, falling levels of income and property values, unemployment, inequity in standards of education, the breakdown of the family, gangs, and spiritual principalities and powers. The general tone was a poignant mix of hopeful optimism (that so many people and organizations were ready to unite for the common purpose to combat violence), vibrant faith (that God is on our side and ready to help us when we turn to him), deep frustration (that justice isn’t being served because people aren’t reporting the information that they know about crime, and that elected officials have not yet discovered the effective means to stop it), and some strong hints of despair – the unspoken questions of “Is this ever going to end? Will our children have a future? When will God act on our behalf?” could be felt.
As we debriefed our time afterwards, several different emotions surfaced – excitement that this meeting was held and that the cathartic expression of perspectives transpired; sobriety at the multifaceted issues that have converged on these beloved communities; and deep sadness at the pain and brokenness that people continue to experience, with no relief in sight. I was struck by the desperate need that we have for God’s Spirit to move – in our lives, our churches, and our communities – in order for there to be lasting transformation and renewal. The problems that North Chicago, Waukegan, and Zion face are spiritual, structural, and social; therefore any solutions must address all of these aspects, with God as the primary actor. But I was also deeply moved by the remembrance of 1 Corinthians 12:26 (If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it). I cannot ignore violence, substandard education, poverty, and discrimination simply because they are not part of my background and typical experience. I must concern myself with these issues because they affect my fellow Christians. Many of the people who gathered at last week’s meeting were believers, part of the body of Christ. This part of the body is suffering; am I willing to suffer with it?
By Joshua Beckett