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John Fountain: Finding hope on a West Side corner

The BreakThrough Urban Ministries FamilyPlex, at 3330 W. Carroll Ave., is a 42,500-square-foot facility with classrooms, two gymnasiums and a medical clinic. Breakthrough's leaders call the center "a holistic, integrated solution to a variety of inter-connected and long-lasting urban problems." Provided photo

What we need is not another house of hope but a Breakthrough . . .

Chicago — West Side. East Garfield Park. 1968. In the dark. Angry red flames against a pale night sky. As a little boy, I saw “community” die. Embers and charred brick. Giant green soldiers with shooting sticks atop Army jeeps, by the golden sunlight of morning, rolling down singed West Side streets. Past the smog of smoldering ash.

Past dreams deferred. Past the last glimmers of hope clinging to life support. Barely ringing. Beeping. Life seeping. Ask for whom the bell tolled? It was for me. It was for us. In the dark.


In darkness exists the void of disconnection. Of disaffection. Humiliation. The dissonant chords of chaos. Stagnation. Isolation. Societal excommunication. In darkness, the stale stench of poverty runs. Dreams dry up like a raisin in the sun. Brokenness and ugliness ripple, like waves in the sea. Darkness cripples. Hope is choked of possibility.

But when light comes, it rises like a soft lingering melody. Sings honey sweet like angels on a morning wind. Brings hope again. Whispers in rhapsodies sublime. Of remedies divine. Of the restoration of harmony over time by human hand, by work and a plan.

When light comes, it resurrects dreams and visions. Unearths fallow ground with rhythmic incisions. Ushers us from chaos to re-creation. Metamorphosis. True Transformation. Breakthrough. When light comes . . .

So, just the other evening, as I was headed home. I decided to stop by an old dark familiar corner, where the weeds once were overgrown. I had heard about the changes. But I needed to see with my own eyes. Anticipation. Expectation. Like a little boy’s Cracker Jacks surprise.

It was a West Side corner in a place I know. Too often filled with pain. Where it’s been said, “There are no children here.” Mostly the poor, the halt and maimed.

A world where “life” just passes by, where dreams become unhinged, like a squeaky heavy screen door that no one ever mends. Where children too often skate on ice that is razor thin. Where a fallen man could use a friend. And a hurting mother could use a hand. And a fractured family yearns to be whole again.

And as I neared that corner, I felt my heart beating fast. Anticipation. Expectation. Like Christmases past. Then suddenly I saw it glistening. Aglow. Brighter than a thousand stars. Lighting a pathway to an open door. A remedy to catastrophe. A bridge between divides. A fence around community. A preserver of life.

Empowerment for those drowning in deep and swirling waters. A steady ship anchored against winds and storm for the desperate and downtrodden. For the young and old — and the unborn.

There is a light on West Carroll street. A beacon of hope for the world to see. A resting place for lost and wearied souls. A faithful work. So many made whole. Doers — not just hearers. Compassionate through the years. Restoring community. Independence and self-sufficiency. Conquering all fear. One life at a time. One day at a time. With one purpose.

One heart. One hope. One mind.

Through the darkness it shines: Breakthrough Urban Ministries.

When light comes, a vacant lot becomes a FamilyPlex. The scourge of human hunger is met. By dignity and sufficiency. With steady progression toward restoration and a “new” normalcy.

It is a light that has molded, even from the dormant ashes of East Garfield Park: Beauty that now resounds like chords of harmony. Like rapturous, never-ending melodies.

That has convinced me that what we need is not another religious house of hope but a Breakthrough — true ministry.


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