Mass shooting turns attention to violence at Lightfoot’s Black History Month celebration

Mayor Lori Lightfoot hosted the city’s annual Black History Month reception Tuesday night at South Shore Cultural Center, but a mass shooting in Avalon Park during the event turned the focus to Chicago’s violence, and poverty.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at the city’s Black History Month reception she hosted Tuesday night at South Shore Cultural Center.

Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

It was the Black History Month reception annually hosted by the mayor, where politicos, civic and community leaders are invited to reflect on the tribulations and accomplishments of a people.

But against the backdrop of a mass shooting in Avalon Park on Tuesday night, just as the celebration was beginning, a somber Mayor Lori Lightfoot devoted most of her speech to the need for all hands on deck to reclaim lost youth and stem the violence.

The remainder of her talk before a predominantly African American audience of 300 invited leaders was pushing her historic newly set agenda to end poverty in Chicago within a generation.

“I walked in here and just heard about a shooting, where somebody walked into a store and fired on the store where there were teenagers, and shot them. So that was heavy on my mind as I was standing there,” Lightfoot said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Chicago Fire officials said one person was killed and four others wounded in the South Side shooting that occurred at 79th Street and Avalon Avenue just before 5:30 p.m., when the mayor’s reception was kicking off.

The four victims were hospitalized in serious-to-critical condition, with gunshot wounds. Detectives were investigating near a convenience store.

“You know, our past is our present. It’s important that our children know our history, because I fear that we are not doing enough to make sure that our history is taught, that it is known, that it is present among our young people. But as a city, we are facing a critical juncture,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times about why her talk was far from a celebration.

“I think as the Black community, we’re facing a critical juncture,” she said.

“And I just want to make sure that we are mindful of that, and that we are stepping up, that we are being our better selves and modeling behavior for our young people to emulate. I think too many of our young people don’t feel loved. That’s what I hear over and over again, when I talk to them,” she said.

“From neighborhood to neighborhood, black and brown kids are feeling like the adults in their lives are not standing up and fighting for and being an advocate for them. Our young people are feeling like something is missing. And we have to heed that cry.”

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City of Chicago Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore leads a primarily African-American audience of some 300 political, civic and community leaders in singing “The Black National Anthem,” verses of which Mayor Lightfoot recited in her speech.

Maudlyne Ihejirika/Chicago Sun-Times

The reception was billed as hosted by Lightfoot and first lady Amy Eshleman, with soul food, musical performances, a welcome by Ald. Jason Ervin, chair of the City Council Black Caucus, and the city’s Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore as emcee.

Lightfoot began her speech with verses from the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” considered “The Black National Anthem,” but history ended there.

“I’m reminded of the words of the incredible poem and song of James Weldon Johnson. And I think it really captures the moment that we’re in in this city, and particularly the moment that we’re in as black folks in this city,” Lightfoot said.

“I wanna highlight a couple of the verses: Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us. Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us. Facing the rising sun of a new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.”

Lightfoot spoke of her visit to meet with youth at Wendell Phillips Academy in Bronzeville last week, in a continued quest to understand the violence from the perspective of the city’s youth.

“We went there because, this year, we have seen way too many young people be both victims of violence and perpetrators, and my concern is that we are normalizing young people using handguns. That can never, ever be a thing that we accept,” the mayor said.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot was en route to host the city’s Black History Month reception Tuesday night when a mass shooting occurred in Avalon Park. The mayor devoted much of her speech at the South Shore Cultural Center to the city’s issues of violence and poverty.

Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“Now there’s lots of reasons why our young people feel compelled to pick up a gun, but when they do that, we are failing as a city, as a community, as a society. And what I will say is this: The consistent theme that we heard from these young people who gave us raw emotional testimonials from their lived experience, is they just want to be heard. They just want to be seen. They just want to be loved,” she said.

“So we’ve gotta step up and do better for them. But what I also said to those young people is when you pick up a gun, it’s a question of when, not if — a ticking time bomb. So while we need to wrap our arms much more closely around our young people, we must also make sure we preach a set of values of accountability, sanctity of life, in everything that we do.”

Lightfoot said afterward that she chooses not to dwell on her own place in history this month.

“I am very aware of the historic nature of my election. I feel it’s a gift. But for me, what I need to do is deliver,” she said.

“Bottom line is if we don’t put a stake in the ground in saying that the people who are entrenched in deep generational poverty, they matter, their lives matter, if we don’t think about them in our grand vision of what Chicago will look like in 10, 20, 30 years, we’ll be lost.”

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