Youth Activists Are Camping Out On Troubled 'Hot Spot' Blocks Starting Friday

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 7, 2017 8:36PM

As headlines about the South Side tend to be dominated by shootings (especially this past weekend), a youth-led campaign is standing up against not only gang violence in their community, but the media narrative that perpetuates around many neighborhoods in the region. They're doing it by transforming certain "Hot Spots"—blocks known to have been scenes of violent gang activity—into literal campgrounds of civic engagement.

Led by the Resurrection Project, a group of young people will stage a series of overnight campouts in South Side neighborhoods, starting on Friday. The campouts are scheduled to coincide with the very times when gang violence might otherwise be likely to happen (Fridays after 5 p.m.). Their grassroots counter-programming? First a peace march through the area, followed by free food, music, sports, bonfires, workshops for employment, financial literacy, and peacemaking, and much more.

The first campout of the year kicks off Friday, July 7, at 4821 S. Hermitage, outside of St. Joseph Church, in Back of the Yards. It runs from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. As in events past, police will be on hand to monitor safety, and Resurrection Project encourages members of the general public to come out and take part.

"We have a great group of kids leading this, that feel passionate they can change the way people view their community," Jose M. Muñoz, Vice President of Community Ownership at the Resurrection Project, told Chicagoist. "The vast majority of people living in these communities are not criminals, yet what gets reported often are the shootings and violence going on. These kids want to make sure that everybody knows there are other youths who are catalysts for change there."

The project, dubbed #IncreaseThePeace, started last year after a shooting in Back of the Yards galvanized neighbors to start a peace march. That outpouring of youth and community support prompted five more similar actions last year; and the group is carrying on its campout activism in 2017, too. Past events would see roughly 100 participants, but as the march progressed, the crowd would often swell to 150 to 200 strong, Muñoz said.

Following tonight's campout, the rest of the campaign includes overnight and solidarity events at the following dates and locations—in Little Village/South Lawndale, Pilsen, Englewood, and again in Back of the Yards:

Campout: Friday, July 14 (5 p.m. to 5 a.m.) at New Life Church (4106 W. 28th St.)
Campout: Friday, July 21 - TBD
Campout: Friday, July 28 (Time TBD) at St. Ann's Church (1840 S. Leavitt St.)
Black and Brown Solidarity Event: Tuesday, Aug. 8 (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) at Hamilton Park (513 W. 72nd St.)
Campout: Friday, Aug. 11 (5 p.m. to 5 a.m.) at St. Michael's Church (4825 S. Damen Ave.)

Before each Friday event, youth leaders from The Resurrection project spend a week in each community canvassing the neighborhood, sharing resources and "cleaning up the streets—literally," Muñoz said. When the campout does arrive, don't expect a lot of literal camping, though.

"Once the adrenaline starts pumping, and people start talking about the issues and get engaged in the activities, they get going and stay out all night," Muñoz said.