Black Men United’s Juneteenth giveaway in Hyde Park aims to rewrite negative narratives

“All we’re trying to do is paint a different picture, tell a different story and share a different narrative about Black men in America as positive and productive and progressive, while building bridges and not walls,” the group’s leader said Monday.

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Volunteers prepare to give away items at the Juneteenth Peace Rally on Monday at Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park.

Volunteers prepare to give away items at the Juneteenth Peace Rally on Monday at Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park.

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

The Juneteenth Peace Rally, on Monday at Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park, featured a giveaway by an anti-violence group whose goal is to change negative narratives about the Black community.

Black Men United, a primarily West and South side organization dedicated to stopping violence, brought new furniture and other necessities like diapers, dining room sets and appliances to share with the community at the event.

Rev. John Harrell, president of Black Men United, spoke at the event commemorating the date — June 19, 1865 — those enslaved in Texas were notified of their freedom two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Now in its second year, Black Men United was created by several Chicago-area men — Anthony Prince, Terry Young and Johnny Jackson — who combined have served 25 years in prison. After getting out, they noticed the need for change in their community, and the men joined with Harrell to create the organization.

“All we’re trying to do is paint a different picture, tell a different story and share a different narrative about Black men in America as positive and productive and progressive, while building bridges and not walls,” Harrell said.

Harrell, who is the pastor of New Hope Baptist church on the West side along with a church in Maywood, said the organization believes in building relationships with those who may be involved in the violence in the community.

“We believe that if you can feed me, you can lead me,” Harrell said. “How can you talk to those who are doing the shooting unless you have a relationship with them?”

Following talks from various area politicians, a line of people snaked around the high school’s parking lot, aimed toward tents overflowing with goods, waiting for the giveaway to begin.

The group is looking for more funding to do workforce development, food security and violence reduction.

“It’s really hard to meet the needs of the community when you have no funds,” Harrell said.

Supplying community members with basic necessities like food, furniture, clothes and stable housing could help bring down violence, the group believes, and Juneteenth is another opportunity to continue this work.

“When you look at things from a Black perspective, every day is a pandemic,” Harrell said of the holiday. “Every day is Juneteenth. We don’t just celebrate the days; we try to live them.”

Donyell Wynn, a designer with Black Men United, said it’s crucial for Black women to support the cause that aims to change the narrative of Black men.

“We’re all going towards the same goal — to stop the violence and help build a community,” Wynn said. “Us as Black women, we’re here to encourage and also to help motivate and pull up our sleeves too… Behind every man is always a strong Black woman.”

Each guest waiting in line for the giveaway gets at least two items during an initial pass through the inventory; then anyone still in need can come through the line again, Wynn said.

Some of the new furniture given away by Black Men United, an organization focused on bolstering the Black community.

Some of the new furniture given away by Black Men United, an organization focused on bolstering the Black community.

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., spent time at the Juneteenth Peace Rally on Monday. Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, and Dennis Deer, a South Side commissioner, took the stage during the event to speak about initiatives to bolster the community.

Deer and Brandon Johnson, a West Side commissioner, called for not just equality, but equity and justice for the Black community.

“The way we actually address the inequality that exists within our communities — our budgets have to speak to our values,” Johnson said. “And until we are committed to investing billions and billions of dollars to all of our communities that have suffered too long, our words are coming up short … Our words are just short, until every single person has an opportunity to earn a decent wage and can afford to live in Cook County.”

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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