CHICAGO—Wanda Davis has fond memories of growing up in the neighborhood surrounding St. Sabina Church on the city’s South Side. “We knew our neighbors, had block parties and everyone worked together to make sure the neighborhood was a safe place for their children,” she told The Final Call.
Times have changed. With the increase in gun violence, Ms. Davis stays home more and when she does come out, it’s to the store and back. She’s careful about where she goes. Her neighborhood has been plagued with senseless killings, shootings and car jackings.
“I avoid crowds and stay home most weekends. The city has become a bad place to live. I rarely drive. This was a great place to live for families. Those days are over. The seniors still in the neighborhood are scared,” she said.
That fear is what the Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina church, believes his Friday evening “peace walks” can change.
“I believe that we have become absentee landlords of our communities and it’s time for us to take ownership,” he told The Final Call. “This is taking back ownership, accountability and being the landlord to our neighbors. It’s a beautiful thing, a wonderful thing. We’ve got to come back out of our houses and doors so we can work with each other,” explained the longtime activist priest.
“We are also doing this to have a constant presence. This year our theme is ‘invasion.’ I tell my congregation every place we go, we should invade with the presence, the power and the love of God. From our workplaces to our homes and our blocks, our streets meeting strangers, or with friends anytime they see anything racist, anything sexist, anything in our presence that’s wrong, invade that with righteousness. We want to invade our neighborhoods with the presence of God; we’re doing this with our faith walk,” said Father Pfleger.
The first faith walk of the summer, themed “Invading our community with peace,” was held June 25, and began with a rally in front of St. Sabina. Speakers included the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Chicago fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt. Father Pfleger concluded with prayer and the growing group of neighbors, St. Sabina congregants and supporters began walking in the neighborhood.
“We followed Father Pfleger into a housing complex,” Stanley Muhammad told The Final Call. “That was a very powerful piece because the residents came out. They wanted to know what was going on. Father Pfleger knocked on a family’s door and Raniyah Manuel, a 10 year old who was shot last year when she was nine, came out with her mom. Father Pfleger had a moment of prayer for this family. It was very powerful, a very moving moment,” said Mr. Muhammad.
“This march was about stopping the violence, coming together in solidarity, regardless of religion, race, creed, no matter what your background is. Father Pfleger believes it’s everybody’s responsibility to come out here and be a part of what’s going on. Either you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem,” he added.
The crowd grew with each block participants walked. Residents, some surprised to see this show of community support, came out of their homes to join the peace walk. Many of the walkers held pictures of loved ones that were victims of gun violence.
For Crystal Jackson, the walk was about bringing the community out of their homes and working together. She’s anticipating a big impact with the walks. “This is about races, cultures, and various religious backgrounds coming together. We will do this every Friday. It’s a peace walk every Friday in a different neighborhood. We want to change things for the better,” said Ms. Jackson.
Father Pfleger is committed to taking back the neighborhood. His message to the community is “faith over fear.”
“This is not just nice people doing nice things. We are out here because this is who we are. We also want to give hope to people,” said Father Pfleger. We’re here to give hope to people. We’re asking the community to join us, be with us. We’ll be out here every Friday. The next Friday, we’re going to have a big block party. We’ll be out here next week, feeding over a thousand people, we’ll have rides, gifts, all kinds of things for the people,” he added.
“We’re just here to be present in the community. Our people don’t even have block parties anymore. People are afraid of shootings. We’re offering faith over fear. The way you attack fear is not by having it bind you up,” said Father Pfleger.
“We come back out in the streets and do what we have to do. That’s why we are here. We’re here to represent Christ in the world. Christ did almost little or nothing in the temple or synagogue. He did everything in the streets.”