BRONZEVILLE — Residents who are part of Watch Guard, which patrols the South Side to prevent violence, are expanding their efforts with a program for young men.
The group’s We Got Us Young Men’s Development Program aims to train people 16-24 years old to be community stewards through economics, martial arts and cultural studies. Participants also learn the importance of self-discipline and self-care. The six-week program kicked off earlier this week, with the first cohort of 50 students participating through a partnership between Watch Guard and the Chicago Housing Authority.
As violence continues to plague Chicago, it’s “time to move past the finger-wagging and onto real solutions” to address the violence, said Khari B., Watch Guard member and We Got Us leader. The program is a continuation of Watch Guard’s work to prevent violence and build community in South Side neighborhoods.
“It’s about a lack of resources. And instead of talking down to these kids and telling them how bad they are, give them what they need to be better. It’s a simple solution,” B. said. “We’re training superheroes.”
With the first group of participating young men being so large, organizers have had to split the program in two, with participants meeting on alternate days.
So far, a fundraiser to defray costs for the virtual program has netted $1,605 of its $5,000 goal. The money will go toward paying participants and transportation costs for mentors, who meet three hours per day for four days a week.
B. hopes the program can be held in person next summer, but he is fine with the virtual arrangement for now. He prefers to err on the side of caution as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Marquinn McDonald, a Watch Guard member and martial arts trainer, is looking forward to helping shape young minds. He’s excited to expand the organization to include a program where young people can learn about deescalating potentially dangerous situations.
“This is a continuation of our work. We want these young people to know that we care about them, we want them to succeed,” McDonald said. “The community support has been great.”
Watch Guard began patrolling Bronzeville gas stations earlier this year in response to the increase of carjackings around the city. McDonald and B. said they’ve been encouraged by seeing residents in other areas form citizen groups of their own. Sharing knowledge and resources is the point of their work, B. said.
“This is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. We need everybody,” B. said. “It’s time to shut up and do the work.”
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