Vernice “Mrs. Sully” Sullivan sat in a chair on Saturday morning and smiled as the she thought back on the ways the Grand Crossing neighborhood had changed in the 62 years she has lived there.
Sullivan, who moved to Chicago from Ohio in 1957, is full of optimism for her neighborhood and would like to see more young entrepreneurs choose Grand Crossing to open their businesses.
“I love where I live,” Sullivan said. “With all of its bumps, bruises or what have you.”
Sullivan was one of hundreds to gather on Saturday at 79th Street and Greenwood Avenue for the eighth annual Prayer on the 9 march.
Led by Pastor John Hannah of New Life Covenant Church Southeast, the annual march seeks to bring awareness to the scourge of gun violence in the city. But the event was also an opportunity for leaders to highlight new community developments and urge business owners to open shop in the area.
The pre-march events this year also featured a surprise appearance by recording artist and actor, Common, who spoke to the crowd about the new Art in Motion charter school, which is slated to open to students this fall in South Shore.
Common is a financial backer of the new school, which was proposed by New Life Covenant Church.
“We know this school can be something that can really enhance our community,” Common said from a stage before the march. “I’ve been blessed to have been able to go out and see things and I have to bring it back home to our children so that they can go farther than I have.”
Speaking to the crowd, Hannah said he was committed to improving the Grand Crossing neighborhood, starting with the anticipated grand opening of a newly constructed church building, which will be better able to serve its large congregation and the community, he said.
The new building, that is being built at 7700 S. Greenwood Ave., is expected to open later this year. Hannah said the new facility will be built like a theater, so that plays and concerts can be performed for the community.
“When we move into our new building, thousands of people will be hitting this community on a regular basis. We are not just building a church,” Hannah said.
Sullivan, who lives in the 7600 block of South Cottage Grove Avenue, said she was excited for the new building.
“I think [having the church] will help us hold on to our neighborhood,” she said.
New Life also used the march to announce four $1,000 awards to members of its congregation.
Sullivan was one of them, and received her award for having lived in the neighborhood for more than six decades. Another, Victoria Robinson, was awarded for being the member of the church who gave the most time in community service. Other winners included a recent high school graduate, who was given the money in the form of a college scholarship, and a single mother.
As the marchers made their way towards the Dan Ryan Saturday afternoon, they carried a banner with the names of young people who had lost their lives to gun violence.
As a show of solidarity, the two-mile stretch from Greenwood to the expressway was lined with community members offering prayers for the families affected by the violence.
One marcher, Maxi Simon, said she hopes the group’s presence on Saturday and the new church will deter violence in the neighborhood and lead to a new day for her community.
“We want to let our presence be known,” Simon said. “Our church is being built down the street and things around here are going to change. We want people to know that we are a part of this community and we are not leaving.”