The Rev. Ciera Bates-Chamberlain speaking during a press conference establishing a network of 13 community healing centers. Credit: LIVE FREE Illinois

AUSTIN — In an effort to address trauma related to gun violence, West Side church leaders are creating resource centers to get people the help they need.

LIVE FREE Illinois representatives met last week at Zoe Life International Ministry in Austin to announce the establishment of 13 “community healing” resource centers throughout the city to deal with the impact of gun violence in Chicago’s most affected areas. 

Located within churches and community centers, the centers will be funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

LIVE FREE Illinois is a state chapter of LIVE FREE USA, a nonprofit that mobilizes Black churches and faith leaders to “build a new system of public safety,” according to its website.

Rev. Ciera Bates-Chamberlain, the organization’s executive director, said the centers will provide faith-based violence intervention programs, services and resources such as therapy, medical support and case management.

The first center opened last week at Excel Community Development Corporation, 4821 W. Chicago Ave. LIVE FREE plans to launch the initiative at churches in Englewood, South Shore, Morgan Park, Garfield Park, North Lawndale, Austin and Humboldt Park as well.

“I’m super excited that this network has been established and proud to work with this group,” Bates-Chamberlain said. “This is another tool to begin healing from within. This is coming from congregations and community leaders taking responsibility for their healing.”

Rev. Dr. Rodney C. Walker, program manager for LIVE FREE Illinois, said the centers will offer programs ranging from music and art therapy to yoga and meditation in addition to traditional health resources.

“The centers will allow community members to determine the resources that are most needed in their community while also ensuring they have access to the health professionals and providers needed to support healing,” Walker said.

Bates-Chamberlain said the initiative was conceived after a young man was killed near a meeting the group was hosting. After speaking with people who knew the victim, they saw how frightened neighbors were for their safety, Bates-Chamberlain.

Others working for LIVE FREE Illinois have experienced personal loss from gun violence. Mayzell Sikes, who will be the coordinator for the Garfield Park center, said it has been challenging finding the support to move forward after her son, Calvin, was shot and killed.

“The loss of my son Calvin stripped us to the core. There are times I have to remind myself to breathe,” Sikes said. “Centers like these will make an incredible difference for my family and for families and communities across the state upended by gun violence.”

Providing mental health care to Black communities is important, said Bates-Chamberlain. Black people are far less likely to receive mental health care treatment despite feeling more emotional distress, such as sadness and hopelessness, than white people, according to a study conducted at McLean Hospital, the psychiatric teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

“We want to make sure people have these resources and know about ways they can get help,” Bates-Chamberlain said. “They have to know this is a safe space.”

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