BACK OF THE YARDS — A 24-year-old Back of the Yards community organizer is running for alderman of the 15th Ward on the city’s South Side — a seat currently held by Ald. Raymond Lopez.
Back of the Yards native Berto Aguayo, a former community organizer for the Resurrection Project, announced Thursday he would be running for the 15th Ward seat in an effort to curb violence in the ward.
“We are tired of the sound of gunshots and sirens on a daily basis,” Aguayo said in a Facebook post. “We are tired of seeing parents bury their children, and we are tired of friends building memorials on street corners.”
“My work in the community has led me to the realization that not only do we need to take our work to the polls, but also have someone on the ballot that truly represents our community!”
Ald. Lopez confirmed to Block Club Chicago he would be seeking re-election. He kicked off his re-election campaign in May, he said.
Lopez said he will build on the public safety work and “foundation set in my first term,” but declined to discuss specifics regarding his campaign. “There is a time and a place for that conversation,” he said.
Lopez recently faced sharp criticism for accepting $2,750 from GEO Group, a company that owns a for-profit immigrant detention company. Following the criticism, the alderman said he would be donating $5,000 to a pro-immigrant group.
“Unfortunately, none of us knew at that time what detention centers were, but once it’s become more widely known what their business model is” he thought it best to give the money away, Lopez told the Tribune.
In his announcement, Aguayo said he denounced a disinvestment of resources in Back of the Yards that has allowed violence to flourish.
“We are tired of elected officials that spend millions on speed bumps yet do nothing to tackle the root causes of violence: education, employment, housing and mental health,” he wrote.
Aguayo, who is running for alderman full time, has been organizing around safety and non-violence in Back of the Yards and around the South and West sides. Aguayo has helped organize and train young leaders as part of the Resurrection Project’s Increase the Peace initiative for two years.
The program trains youth leaders to become civically engaged by hosting an overnight nonviolence campout, canvassing the neighborhood, registering voters, and holding public officials accountable to bring back “resources to tackle structural inequalities that create street violence in the first place,” Aguayo told Block Club Chicago in June.
Aguayo, a former gang member, credited Mikva Challenge, which aims to develop young people into informed and active citizens and community leaders, for changing his life, according to Chicago magazine.
“I often say the way I was able to transform my life is not the exception, it’s the norm. It’s what happens when you give young people an opportunity to do something positive,” he told the magazine in 2017.
In 2015, Lopez defeated Rafael Yanez to win the 15th Ward aldermanic seat.
The 15th Ward includes parts of the Back of the Yards, Brighton Park, Gage Park and West Englewood neighborhoods.
Aguayo will host a campaign kick off event at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, August 9 at St Michael Archangel Church, 4825 S. Damen Ave. in Back of the Yards.
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