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West Garfield Park group focusing on uplifting young ‘at-risk’ men receives $300,000 grant

The grant from We Raise Foundation and the MIGMIR Fund will help support the MAAFA Redemption Project’s programs for the next three years.

MAAFA co-founder Marshall Hatch Jr. speaks about the program and a $300,000 to MAAFA Redemption Project from the We Raise Foundationo outside the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church at 22 N. Kildare Ave in West Garfield Park Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
MAAFA co-founder Marshall Hatch Jr. speaks about the program and a $300,000 grant to MAAFA Redemption Project from the We Raise Foundation.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Quentin Harris admits he was headed down the wrong path.

He was selling drugs and unsure of his future. But then he was introduced to the MAAFA Redemption Project.

The West Garfield Park faith-based organization, which targets young “at-risk men,” helped him grow and through its programming, he was able to earn his high school diploma.

“I am happy to be a part of the solution and not the problem,” said Harris, who now works for the MAAFA Redemption Project, which was named the recipient of a three-year $300,000 grant by the We Raise Foundation and the MIGMIR Fund Monday.

“We got these young men here, great young men, they are doing the best they can right now and we are helping each other. Iron sharpening iron.”

MAAFA, a Kiswahili word that means “great disaster or terrible occurrence,” is commonly used to refer to transatlantic slave trade, and its long term effects on those of African descent, according to the group’s website.

Men who are recruited to the organization live at New Mount Pilgrim Church, at 4301 W. Washington Blvd., for nine months. During this period, they take courses on financial literacy and identity-purpose development and work as construction and trade apprentices by rehabbing abandoned buildings on the West Side.

MAAFA member Quentin Harris speaks about his experience in the program during a presentation of a $300,000 grant to MAAFA Redemption Project from the We Raise Foundation outside the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church at 22 N. Kildare Ave in West Garfield Park Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
MAAFA member Quentin Harris speaks about his experience in the program during a presentation of a $300,000 grant to MAAFA Redemption Project from the We Raise Foundation outside the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church at 22 N. Kildare Ave in West Garfield Park Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The grant money from We Raise Foundation and the MIGMIR Fund — groups that support Christian organizations working to eliminate poverty, violence and inequities — will go toward outreach and programing at the MAAFA Redemption Project, officials said.

We Raise Foundation President Paul Miles said his organization was impressed by MAAFA Redemption Project’s “solutions to really restore the greatness of West Garfield Park.”

“We believe that the ideas and the leaders to solve the problems in any community exist in that community itself, and so we are here to invest in these leaders,” Miles said.

Robert Ervin, MAAFA Redemption Project’s program manager and life coach, was grateful for the grant money “because we need help, we can’t do it by ourselves.”

The former gang member said the MAAFA Redemption Project has given him a chance to give back.

“Now...I get a chance to help someone get out of that lifestyle that I was once in,” Ervin said.

President of We Raise Foundation, Paul C Miles presents a $300,000 grant to MAAFA Redemption Project from the We Raise Foundation outside the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church at 22 N. Kildare Ave in West Garfield Park Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
We Raise Foundation President Paul C. Miles presents a $300,000 grant to MAAFA Redemption Project outside the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.