Dozens of children smiled and joyfully screamed Sunday at the “Save The Babies and Stop The Violence BBQ” as they ran around a playground and jumped in bounce houses set up in a lot outside a shuttered elementary school in Auburn-Gresham.
The children stopped only to watch the Jesse White Tumblers perform gravity-defying tricks, leaping over a pyramid of people to the crowd’s amusement.
“These kids out here performing, able to play, [it’s] really heartwarming for me because each and every day they’re dodging bullets,” community activist Ja’Mal Green said.
At least 27 children 15 and younger have been shot this month, according to Sun-Times’ records. The staggering number of children wounded in shootings this summer has left many community members and activists, including Green, saying, “enough is enough.”
Green has been pushing to transform the closed Garrett Morgan Elementary School into an 80,000-square-foot state-of-the-art youth center, equipped with job training programs and a wellness center. The recreational center, which aims to help young people avoid becoming perpetrators of victims of gun violence, has received an overwhelming amount of community support, according to Green, who said thousands have signed a petition to back the proposal.
However, Green has repeatedly said the $15 million project has been stalled, in part, by the city and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“The city has not been as receptive as we would have liked them to be to this project,” Green said. “... It’s politics being played right now. Honestly, me and the mayor have not been on good terms for a while.”
Kevin Hobby said the fight to turn his former school into a youth center is a personal one for him. His 19-year-old son was fatally shot in February.
“We need something,” Hobby said. “We just can’t tell these young kids to get off this corner and not give them something to do or somewhere to go.”
Hobby believes a facility, like the one Green is proposing, could’ve helped his 19-year-old son avoid being a victim of gun violence.
“He’s a good kid. He didn’t deserve to be taken out of this world the way he was like many of these kids — they don’t deserve that,” Hobby said. “But I do believe if you change their environment and change the situation that these kids are in and give them a better chance at life — you know, as long as they are stuck in situations where there’s no hope, what should we expect?”