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‘Choose Hope’ Virtual Film Series Highlights 10 Community Groups Working For A Better Chicago

Ten films highlighting how community organizations battled gun violence, coronavirus and civic unrest will be screened and discussed Wednesday through the Gene Siskel Film Center.

A still from I Grow Chicago's film, "Choose Hope: LOVE," to be featured at Wednesday's film screening. The event will highlight ten community organizations fighting gun violence, providing community services and building relationships with Chicagoans.
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DOWNTOWN — Short films that tell stories of community groups providing services and outreach to Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods will be featured in a virtual screening and panel discussion through the Gene Siskel Film Center this week.

The Choose Hope film screening will take place 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are free, and registration is available through Eventive.

The event is organized by Strides for Peace, which funded the films to promote the organizations when its annual Race Against Gun Violence was held virtually due to the pandemic.

Brandi Reed of Lakeshorehy Media Production and Patrick Mulvey and Andrew Ramsay of 5 x 12 Films made the films.

The films highlight how the community organizations battled all year “on three fronts: addressing civic and racial unrest, addressing COVID and addressing escalating gun violence, all without any resources,” said Mary Stonor Saunders, executive director of Strides for Peace.

In addition to Wednesday’s film screening and discussion, the films will be showcased online until Dec. 31. Strides for Peace also wants to partner with other neighborhood institutions to host similar virtual panel discussions, Stonor Saunders said.

The groups being featured:

  • West Town Bikes, 2459 W. Division St. in Humboldt Park. Through bike clubs, internships and other programming, the organization uses bicycles as “a powerful tool to transform the lives of youth and their communities.”
  • Kids Off the Block, 11623 S. Michigan Ave. in Roseland. The youth empowerment organization trains young people as peer counselors, offers art programs and social services and builds job skills through on-site employment for participants.
  • BUILD, 5100 W. Harrison St. in Austin. The organization offers gang intervention, violence prevention and youth development programs to West Side residents. This summer, BUILD teens curated their own film festival showcasing eight short films from around the world.
  • The BASE Chicago, 230 N. Kolmar St. in West Garfield Park. Young baseball and softball players can train while receiving wraparound supports like homework help, life skills training and college tours through this West Side travel team.
  • I Grow Chicago, 6402 S. Honore St. in Englewood. Mentorship services, restorative justice programs, urban farming and more are offered out of the group’s Peace Campus. This school year, the organization launched a free program to support 40 Englewood-area students with technology and support for remote learning.
  • New Life Centers of Chicagoland, 4101 W. 51st St. in Archer Heights. The faith-based organization with sites in Humboldt Park and Little Village offers mentoring, education and street outreach programs through a Christian lens. The group was part of a Southwest Side coalition to promote Latino and Black unity.
  • M.A.S.S. in Englewood. Founder Dionne Frye created M.A.S.S., or Mothers Against Street Shooters, to organize mothers and use restorative practices to address gun violence after her daughter’s 16-year-old friend, Shaquise Buckner, was killed in 2014.
  • CHAMPS Mentoring, 7131 S. South Chicago Ave. in Greater Grand Crossing. This mentoring program for young men, based out of the Gary Comer Education Campus, holds weekly meetings and monthly “summits” to promote social-emotional learning. The group received a Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities grant this summer.
  • Paving the Way, 109 E. 53rd St. in Washington Park. The nonprofit violence prevention arm of the Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church holds educational forums and programs, and will hold a grab-and-go Breakfast with Santa 9 a.m.–noon Saturday.
  • Target Area Development Corporation, 1542 W. 79th St. in Auburn Gresham. The former economic development group has shifted gears in recent years to promoting community organizing, offering public safety programs such as conflict mediation, and connecting people returning from prison to resources and people that can support them during their transition.

The featured groups may use the films as high-quality promotional materials from now on, allowing them to better showcase the work they do for potential funders and supporters, she said.

As the community groups angle for more institutional support, filmmakers “have power with our lens” to draw attention to the work these organizations do, said Reed, the cinematographer.

While filmmakers themselves have struggled to maintain income and stability through the pandemic, it’s important they look for opportunities to donate time and skills in support of local organizations when they can, the Austin-based filmmaker said.

“Visual media is so important and so powerful,” Reed said. “Imagine, if everybody had that idea, how many people and how many organizations we would bring light to.”

The goal is to continue the Choose Hope film series next year and profile a new set of community leaders, Reed and Stonor Saunders said — and hopefully, that screening can be held in person.

Attendees should walk away understanding gun violence “isn’t an individual-level problem,” said Franklin Cosey-Gay, executive director of the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention. He’ll join Stonor Saunders in the panel discussion following the screening.

Violence in Chicago’s underresourced neighborhoods “isn’t about bad people making bad choices — the root of this is structural,” Cosey-Gay said.

To better address big-picture concerns like racism, mental health and generational trauma, organizations like the 10 profiled in Choose Hope need funding to sustain their work, he said.

“We need to begin to fund organizations in a more equitable way, and not simply look at violence as a policing problem,” Cosey-Gay said. “We need to … balance the scales in terms of where dollars are spent; not necessarily after the event, not necessarily [in] criminal justice, but what can we do before?”

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