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Bears’ George McCaskey, Tarik Cohen visit anti-violence program

Bears chairman George McCaskey and running back Tarik Cohen visited North Lawndale on Monday. | Sun-Times media

When Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf formed the Chicago Sports Alliance in 2017, he presented the owners of the city’s five major professional sports teams with a challenge to impact the struggle against city violence.

“Jerry got us all together and said, ‘We gotta do what we can — we gotta do something,’ ” Bears chairman George McCaskey said Monday. “The second thing he told us is, ‘We gotta get educated.’ ”

The owners met with the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which steered them to charities around the city.

Another educational step took place Monday, when McCaskey and running back Tarik Cohen met with members of Heartland Alliance’s Rapid Employment and Development Initiative in North Lawndale.

The group, which connects people most impacted by gun violence to job training, therapy and other support services, received grant money from the owners.

“I wear a ‘C’ on my helmet every Sunday and every time I play a game,” Cohen said after the meeting at St. Agatha’s Church. “So I feel like it’s necessary for me to get inside the community and see what’s going on and to help any way I can.”

Cohen said meeting with members “gives me an insight on their lives.”

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Many of READI’s participants have never been downtown, said Heartland Alliance senior director Eddie Bocanegra. The alliance has brought downtown to them, he said — the Bears and Blackhawks both have visited the program this month.

McCaskey was asked what he learned after meeting with members Monday.

“How much there is to be done,” he said. “We saw it at a micro level.”

In addition to their work with READI, the Bears will give away $1 million — $100,000 for every preseason and regular-season home game — to 10 charities this year.

Fans can nominate charities through the team’s website and will be able to choose one of the $100,000 winners in October. A Bears committee will select the other nine, McCaskey said.