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Street outreach worker puts his advice into action

Two days before Christmas, Bilaal Evans was driving through Englewood with his wife and kids when a car pulled alongside and someone started shooting. Evans was hit in the back of the head but only grazed.

The intersection of Morgan Street and Marquette Road.
The intersection of Morgan Street and Marquette Road is where a street outreach worker said he was grazed by a bullet on Dec. 23.
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As an “outreach worker” for an anti-violence group, Bilaal Evans counsels young men at risk of being victims or perpetrators of violent crime to put down the guns. Don’t let petty squabbles turn into blood feuds.

On Dec. 23, Evans got a chance to take his own advice.

The man who spent 15 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit was driving through Englewood with his wife and kids when a car pulled up alongside them near the 6700 block of South Morgan Street.

Evans was hit in the back of the head but only grazed.

The car bearing the shooters then circled the block, presumably to return for another round. That’s when Evans’ cool-headed wife jumped out of the car with their baby in her arms to show the shooters they had the wrong car.

Evans had been talking to rivals of the shooters as part of his street outreach work, and they incorrectly assumed Evans was part of that faction.

With his own life threatened and his family’s security in jeopardy, Evans easily could have chosen to retaliate. After all, retaliation is the root cause of so many Chicago shootings.

Instead, Evans took the high road. He’s attempting to negotiate a truce between the two warring factions.

On Thursday, Evans told the harrowing yet uplifting story of that shooting and its aftermath, which occurred after he loaded his family into the car to deliver some cash to “one of my participants who needed money.”

“I’m always aware that there’s always a conflict with different factions in the street. They were already going back and forth with different people on social media,” he said.

“When I pulled up on the block, I went up to the door, gave the guy the money and left,” Evans said. The shooters, he said, must have thought I was one of the young guys, and they followed my car.

When they opened fire, “they shot at me like 20 times ... thanks to God, the bullet hit me at an angle and exited without it doing any serious damage. I left out of the hospital about three hours later.”

Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who accompanied Evans to the Sun-Times interview, has been Evans’ mentor of sorts. He called the graze wound a “Christmas miracle.”

“The only reason Bilaal survived is, he leaned forward to get a piece of chicken. Had he not leaned forward, he would have been killed. … That’s why it went through the back of his head and not through his head,” Duncan said.

“The car turns around to come back and finish the job. Bilaal’s trying to cover up his son. And his wife gets out with their little baby, holds the baby up to show folks, ‘This is the wrong car. You have the wrong people.’ And thank goodness, the shooters turn away and don’t come back.”

A former Chicago Public Schools CEO, Duncan runs a non-profit for at-risk youth, known as Chicago CRED, which, which stands for Creating Real Economic Destiny.

The group operates in 15 of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods, targeting roughly 500 young men, ages 17 to 24, who are disconnected from work and school and at the greatest risk of being victims or perpetrators of gun violence.

Even though Evans survived, Duncan said the shooting of his protégé shook him to the core.

“When I went to see him afterwards. … I sort of asked him, ‘What do you want to see happen here? Do you want revenge? Do you want retaliation?’ And he said, ‘No, I want to use this as leverage to create more peace in the community,’” Duncan said.

“Within a couple hours, Bilaal knew who had done it. They apologized. And rather than seeking revenge — rather than doing whatever — he’s working with that group to create peace. They knew they had done the wrong thing.”

And the lesson learned?

“You can’t seek reconciliation and redemption if you can’t give it,” Duncan said.

Evans was asked about the unrelenting gun violence that prompted Chicago to end the year with 836 homicides.

“There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. But when the village sees the children as invisible, they’ll burn it down. That’s exactly what’s happening today,” he said.

“There’s a great appalling apathy and silence that’s been brewing for years. This is the result. ... It’s been festering for decades. And the fix is gonna take decades. ... It’s gonna take a reparations-style investment from kindergarten to the juvenile justice system to the prison system to the education system.”