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The Mechanics
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Social Issues Wed Nov 25 2009

Thanksgiving for a Thousand on South Michigan Avenue

Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Chris Gray, an independent journalist in Chicago.

The north end of Michigan Avenue boasts the Magnificent Mile, where on Friday shoppers will clog the sidewalks aside the gilded skyscrapers as they seek the perfect gifts.

At the south end of Michigan Avenue, the Kids Off The Block will be happy just to have a warm turkey dinner for Thanksgiving on a normally somber, city-owned lot.

Dozens of plaques like headstones are stacked in a pyramid across from the Kids Off The Block youth center. The plaques start with Blair Holt, shot to death when a gangbanger aimlessly opened fire on the 103 bus in Roseland in May 2007.

The Kids stacked plaque after plaque for every Chicago teenager who died by violence since. The forlorn plaque stones continue through the name of Derrion Albert, who was beat to death in Roseland this September, about a mile from where Blair was shot.

This Thanksgiving, in the tradition of that very first holiday in Massachusetts, when the pilgrims and the Indians laid down their arms to celebrate the harvest, Kids Off The Block plans to use that empty lot behind the memorial to feed a thousand teens from across the South Side.

Coming just weeks after the brawl that killed Derrion, Kids director Diane Latiker expects a high turnout and an urgency among the youth to come together in a safe setting. She hopes to have teens from both sides of the divide that produced the September brawl.

"We're bringing together the youth of the Ville, and the youth from the Gardens to eat together," Latiker said.

Two of the teens charged with Derrion's death are from the Altgeld Gardens housing project, while Derrion Albert was from "the Ville," a name some of the youth give to the Roseland and West Pullman neighborhoods on the Far South Side.

Latiker said they will have 100 donated turkeys to offer the youth. Side dishes include macaroni and cheese, dressing, candied yams and string beans. Tents will be set up, along with tables.

The event was first held two years ago. It drew 600 youth last year, but Latiker has prepared for more this year, with security help from the Chicago Police's 5th District.

"The young people will come out because they know it'll be a safe place to go out and eat," Latiker said. The meal will be free and runs Thursday from noon to 6pm at 116th & Michigan, with musical entertainment provided by hip-hop artists J. Noize and Malik Yusef and local R&B group 3 Piece.

"When I heard about it, I could not but want to help," said Reese G., a member of 3 Piece. "It's especially important in the Roseland community. It's like those kids are begging for help, but nobody is listening."

Kids Off The Block has an incredible track record of non-violence. In six years of providing after-school tutoring and extra-curricular activities to South Side youth, the organization has not had one violent incidence.

This in spite of a membership that is 80 percent male and teens who are affiliated with six different gangs. Many come to participate in a successful basketball program.

"[The meal] brings a lot of people together. It brings a lot of families," said Pierre Williams, 22, a student at Olive Harvey College and an original member of Kids Off The Block. "It's going to be really peaceful because she has a lot of police officers here."

The weather forecast calls for snow on Thursday, but Latiker said they'll have heaters.

"Last year, it was snowing when we went outside," she said.

The cold will no more deter the people at the south end of Michigan Avenue from the holiday spirit than those shoppers at the north end.

Christopher Gray

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LaShawn Williams / November 26, 2009 3:08 PM

GREAT story! This is SO good to hear--good stuff!!!

Zack Isaacs / November 28, 2009 10:03 AM

Great job, Christopher. This is what true journalism is about- not "Black Friday" but what black people go through Friday through Friday. I wanted to attend the event, but had to attend to out of town relatives. Thanks for sharing.

Harold Lucas / November 28, 2009 2:05 PM

Great press coverage of the ongoing suffering in the lower income African American communites of Chicago. Please call me about a story we are working on regarding planning for the south lakefront region of Chicago.


Harold L. Lucas

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