AUSTIN — Memorial Day weekend is often accompanied by a wave of violence on the West Side. But an Austin neighborhood group is trying to change that narrative and promote peace with a three-day event focused on strengthening community bonds.
In Living Color: The Vibrancy of Our Communities is a summit of conversations, art and relationship-building activities. The event is organized by BUILD Chicago, a violence prevention and youth development organization rooted in restorative justice.
Whereas some restorative justice focuses on healing after a crime, BUILD Chicago is applying some of those same principles to help prevent crime from occurring.
“Restorative justice is a way of life. It’s all about reconnecting and rebuilding relationships that were done harm,” said Catherine Stapleton, a community ambassador for BUILD. “Having a summit will be a way for the community to see they have somewhere in Austin to come and get the help they need to build those relationships and connect them to the resources they need.”
The summit launched Thursday with activities incorporated into the school day for students at Michele Clark Magnet High School.
A virtual panel starting 6 p.m. Thursday will feature Michele Clark’s Principal Charles Anderson, Dr. Margaret Beale-Spencer from the University of Chicago, Principal Tiffany Tillman from Melody School, DJ Nephets and Deputy Chief Ernest Cato III from Chicago Police. Register online to attend the virtual panel on Zoom.
Intergenerational restorative justice community circles will be hosted 5-7 p.m. Friday at two adjacent community gardens in Austin: God of Love, Hope and Unity Garden at 624 N. Lorel Ave., and Where Pillars Come Together at 623 N. Lorel Ave.
On Saturday, the summit will be hosted at BUILD’s headquarters at 5100 W. Harrison St. from 10 a.m – 2 p.m. The program will include an exhibit using photography to explore the experiences of love, joy and strength felt by Austin residents in the community. “Through Our Lens: Vibrancy of Color, Strength, and Resilience” was built as a participatory community research project by the Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma program.
“We’re highlighting how we feel our community is strong, how we see our community is caring,” Stapleton said.
Another art project, the Hallway Display, will showcase the lives of people lost to gun violence, police killings and street crime.
“We don’t want to leave them as a hashtag. We want people to see that they did have a life. They had a family,” Stapleton said.
Participants who visit the exhibits can also join community circles to share their feelings about the projects, which carry deeply emotional themes. The circles are a major part of restorative justice since they allow people to voice their emotions and speak on their needs and desires, Stapleton said.
“It allows for that person to be heard,” Stapleton said. “Being in the circle, you get the chance to be heard and seen. But you also get the chance to unpack what you’ve experienced.”
The final events of the summit will be Sunday sessions hosted by Pastor Mac called Community, Connections and Culture. The first session will be 3-5 p.m. Sunday at 1333 N. Laramie, and a second session will be held 5-7 p.m. at 624 N. Lorel Ave.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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