EXCLUSIVE: After Dan Ryan shutdown, ‘ChiStrong’ youth, Pfleger talk next steps
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They call themselves ChiStrong.
And they mean business.
They are black, white and Hispanic kids from Chicago’s North, West and South Sides — young people who helped shut down the Dan Ryan Expressway last week to protest the plague of gun violence in the city’s neighborhoods.
“They are unfiltered, impatient, tired of living in fear and seeing their friends and family members killed,” said activist priest the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who led the recent peace protest. “They are the face of a new movement.”
Inspired by the power of the students at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — who had to bury 17 schoolmates slaughtered by a gun-wielding student — ChiStrong is a new coalition of Chicago students “committed to being part of a solution.”
But their desire to effect the city’s new safety valve comes with a threat. They are targeting Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and all declared candidates running for their offices.
“We are coming for you,” said Trevon Bosley, a ChiStrong member, adding letters have been sent to top pols asking for a meeting to resolve the violence nightmare.
“They need to tell us how they are going to help or there will be another action,” said Bosley.
“It will be a significant action,” added Bosley, who traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year to speak and march with Parkland students.
“But it will be a a peaceful one,” interjected Anthony Lovelace, who is also a ChiStrong member.
“I have never lost anyone to gun violence personally, but I fell in love with the movement and changing people’s lives every day,” said ChiStrong member Rie’Onna Holmon. “I have never been a person to speak out and talk. . . . Getting involved and working for anti-violence really brought my voice out. I have a voice now.”
In a letter sent to Emanuel and Rauner by Bosley on behalf “of the BRAVE Youth Leaders of St. Sabina and a coalition of anti-violence youths groups,” both men were told “we will no longer vote for anyone just because they are Democrat or Republican.
“Instead, we will vote for those who will fight alongside us in our struggle against violence in Chicago and provide the resources that are owed to the communities of the South and West sides,” Bosley said.
Sneed is told both Rauner and Emanuel have agreed to meet with the group. “If you are not willing to do so, please understand that your time in office will come to an end,” the letter states. “We will vote you out. . . . Our goal is to unite our city, and to make it a safe and equitable place for all its residents.”
The three students spoke to Sneed at the Sun-Times on Wednesday. Here’s more of what they had to say.
“This is a road to change and how it all starts. . . . We have the privilege to be one of the smartest generations. We are not going to sit down and shut up. That is not going to happen anymore. The mayor has had eight years. The governor has had four years. The problem is still not solved. We are asking them to adopt points on how you are going to attack mental health, jobs in neighborhoods, schooling, the dangerous streets, resources, safety and health care.”
“I am only 15 and I am just trying to keep learning and keep moving with peace movement in any way I can. So many young people of different races, religions, ages and from all over Chicago were coming together for one common cause.
“When I was marching on the Dan Ryan I was not scared at all. I felt a sense of peace. I instantly felt at home. There were so many organizations and people I knew around me. I felt like I was marching on the street in my neighborhood. . . . Even to see the elderly being helped by young men . . . you felt a sense of love, happiness and joy coming from everyone who was there.”
“The day I decided to get involved and knew I wanted to stand up against violence was April 4, 2006. My older brother was shot and killed and I knew I wanted to create change and then met Father Mike. I was introduced to the safety network at that time and I wanted to be a part of that and I wanted to upgrade to something different. The Dan Ryan Expressway protest was such an incredible situation. The Dan Ryan was amazing and to see everyone from different backgrounds coming together and standing up for the same issues in Chicago . . . that was really something and goes right into what we want do next.”