Dante Wilson (right) holds hands as the family of Felon Smith and Akeelah Addison bless the meal at Sunday's Peace Over East gathering. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH SHORE — Dante “Wolf” Wilson knows there are those out there who think he’ll always be the same.

A gang member. A thug. A threat to his neighbors’ safety.

He acknowledges that’s who he used to be, but he wishes his current pursuit — trying to stop young people from killing each other — mattered more to local leaders and fellow activists.

“Sometimes people can’t forgive you for your past; they allow your past to precede you,” Wilson said. “I used to take from the community. Now I’m giving back to the community.”

Wilson and longtime friend Alfred Jackson, partners in the South Shore nonprofit Notarized, Inc., have taken their message of non-violence to the neighborhood’s softball fields through their Peace Over East Softball Sundays.

Their message isn’t for gang members to drop their guns right away. That’s unrealistic because “the more you tell someone to stop, the more they do it,” Jackson said.

The organization’s approach is instead to preach peace and love, and since softball is “the most non-violent sport there is,” it’s a perfect match, Wilson said.

Being on teams humanizes each player to each other, and the competition takes focus away from frustrations that might otherwise come out as violence.

“If I’m loving my brother, there’s no way I’d even think about picking up a gun or committing violent acts against him,” Jackson said.

Rapper Prince Egypt chases a fly ball during the July 28 Peace Over East Softball Sunday. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Older attendees instill in younger ones the importance of community while serving as living examples.

One man, who asked to be called Too Short, said he learned there was more to life than rivalries after serving 21 years in prison in his violent past.

He’s friends with Wilson and Jackson but not an official Notarized organizer. He said he’s more likely to call out young guys for their violence, using his story as an example of the types of “football numbers” they’ll face if they don’t change their ways.

“You’ve never been to prison before. Are you ready to do 25, 35 years when it goes down?” he said.

The event’s non-violent message is timely. The most recent game was also part of a celebration of life for Felon Smith and Akeelah Addison.

Addison, 22, was shot in the head at a party in Fuller Park a week after Smith was hit by a Red Line “L” train.

Sunday’s Rainbow Beach gathering tripled as a birthday celebration for Smith, who would have turned 38.

The event “means a lot to me,” said Jorgetta Martin, Smith’s mother and Addison’s grandmother. “It’s showing the love and sharing the love.”

Kevin Davis, Jr. shows his son Trey how to hold the bat. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

By keeping an eye out for families like Martin’s in the community, Notarized works to be a positive force in South Shore.

With local partners like The Quarry and the New Nazareth Baptist Church, the group also organizes holiday dinners and back-to-school drives throughout the year.

But it’s hard to have an impact without financial and political support, Wilson said. Local leaders are hesitant to associate with ex-gang members, and fundraising is non-existent.

Jackson said assumptions about the group’s intentions will continue, but “the proof is in the pudding” when it comes to Softball Sundays.

He and Wilson have organized 25 games in three years; none have resulted in violence despite the presence of active — and sometimes opposing — gang members.

Former enemies see each other on Softball Sundays and reminisce about, “‘You shot me before, I shot you,’ or, ‘You hit me in the mouth, I hit you in the mouth,'” Too Short said.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” because at least they’re alive and mature enough to let bygones be bygones, he said.

“We used to war together,” he said. “Now we’re playing softball together.”

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