Stop The Violence

by Cenabeth Cross 

In an effort to save our youth, Diane Latiker, a young mother and founder of Kids Off the Block (KOB), decided that the kids in the Roseland area needed a way to fulfill their dreams without resorting to the violence that has been spreading citywide.

Diane Latiker founded the Kids Off the Block program in July 2003 to create positive change for the children in her community.
Photo by Cenabeth Cross

I had been looking for anyone willing to help stop the violence, so I went to meet Diane in her office at 11621 S. Michigan Ave. A fairly young woman opened the door and invited me in. She told me that she was the mother of 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls, all of whom were over 18 except for her 17-year-old daughter.

The Kids off the Block memorial for school-aged kids killed in the community and in schools in neighborhoods in and around Chicago in 2007.
Photo by Cenabeth Cross

Diane began telling me how she manages her remaining child and what she did to keep her other children from gang influences and the like when they were younger.

She said she would escort her 17-year-old daughter to social events, and then Diane would just “hang out” with the kids living in her area.

After a while, Diane said she got to know all the kids in the neighborhood and would spend time with them. She asked them questions like what they wanted to be when they grew up and listened to them as they expressed their aspirations and ambitions.

Because Diane was so good at handling and inspiring some of the children, her mother, evangelist Ruth Jackson, suggested that she start an organization to stop the kids from just hanging out and tearing up the neighborhood.

In July of 2003 ‘Ms. Diane’, as she is called by the children, took her mother’s advice and started KOB. It was meant to give the kids a chance to create positive change. When the organization started, 10 kids were enrolled. Now, 225 kids are enrolled and there are 100 more on the waiting list. The kids find out about the organization by word of mouth; kids telling other kids.

The organization’s main focus is on high school youth. The staff has always reached out to people who seem the hardest to reach by interacting with them in positive ways and enrolling them in programs and activities that hold their interest. While the youth can act as an organized group, they still need social support from adults to help them overcome their current circumstances. KOB normally helps kids from 12 – to -16 years old, but they will accept children as young as 6.

Their youth programs include music, drama and sports programs as well as the After-school Matters (ASM) program and the Hip Hop Light Plate program. KOB also offers tutoring and mentoring programs. Some of the programs allow the children to travel locally and out of town and the children are always engaged in doing community service.

In May 2007 KOB “village leaders” hosted a “Speak Up, Speak Out” rally against the ongoing violence in their neighborhoods. At the event, the youths voiced their concerns and opinions about the latest killings in their communities and at the schools in all the neighborhoods in and around Chicago. The kids also set up a memorial right across the street for the school-aged children who had been killed.

So far this year, I have counted 30 names of kids who have been killed. Diane said that they add a name for any child who had been killed, regardless of whether they were in school or not.

This past March, KOB had an anti-violence youth march, which started at 111th Street and ended at 116th Street on Michigan Avenue. The “Save a Teen/Do Something” youth anti-violence campaign organized the march to break the cycle of youth violence in 2008. After the march, they had video shoots and a “Juke Jam.” The party was sponsored by WGCI, with Lil’ John as their DJ. The citywide campaign “Save A Teen/Do Something,” will continue to address the violence that face the youth of Chicago and young people nationwide.

One of Diane’s success stories is Abdullah Brewer, a kid who joined KOB in 2003. At that time, 15-year-old Abdullah was in a gang, sold drugs, and had dropped out of school. His mother could not handle him.

He was interested in music, and KOB provided him with a creative outlet through its Music Entrepreneurship program. Since then, Abdullah has been honored with the “Heroes in the Hood” Award at the DuSable Museum, and was designated one of “The Young Movers and Shakers” on local radio station WVON.

Abdullah went back to school and received two perfect attendance awards. He has been a panelist on the Illinois Youth Violence Prevention Forum/Development Community Project (DCP) several times. He also received a letter from the National Honors Society announcing his membership. Now a youth advisor for Kids Off the Block, Abdullah has performed in many talent shows and has taken home awards for 1st place. He performs as a rap and spoken word artist.

KOB has sparked a citywide movement as our children continually face the kind of violence that occurred in the past year. The Roseland-based organization has inspired other communities to find a way to stop the violence in their own neighborhoods.

Addressing the Surge in Violence
The Virginia Tech massacre happened just over a year ago but here in Chicago, children are being killed on a daily basis. My son, Benjamin David Cross, was killed on Nov.19, 1991. He was shot in the back with a handgun by a gang member. He had just left the home of relatives in the Dearborn Homes Chicago public housing development.

We did not live in public housing at the time. Nothing was done about it because, as I was told by the police, “no one would lay a finger on the youth.”

My son was 23 years old when he was killed. He went to Olive-Harvey College in the daytime and worked at the White Castle hamburger joint on 103rd Street at night. He could walk to work from where we lived. He didn’t have time to be in a gang.

I attended the Million Mom March to advocate for more gun control. The National Rifle Association won that battle. My fight is still trying to get guns off the street. In Diane’s case, one person made a difference but I can’t fight the gun laws alone.

On April 1st, 2008, Mayor Richard M. Daley held the first of many rallies to get guns off the street and out of the hands of our children. He wants the Illinois General Assembly to approve “common sense” laws to end childrens’ easy access to guns. The rally was the first of several planned by Community Assistance Programs (CAPS) in a year-long violence prevention initiative that will be held in the city and the suburbs.

At the rally, people from various parts of the community, including Steve Young from the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence, Dr. Michelle Gittler of the Schwab Medical Center, and Ron Holt, the father of Blair Holt, a public school kid killed last year saving another youth from getting killed on a bus, spoke and exchanged ideas on how to best stop gun violence.

“Reasonable gun laws, laws that balance the need to protect the rights of gun owners with the necessity of reducing the threat of gun violence, are the right thing for us to do. Gun violence in America is a national disgrace and we will never give up or give in to the gun extremists,” Daley was quoted in a press release as saying.

“I know some people wonder why I continue to pursue the passage of gun reform legislation in the face of strong opposition from the NRA and other gun extremists,” he went on. “It’s very simple. Reasonable laws are the thing for us to do,” he said.

Daley also reminded people that 40 years ago Martin Luther King was killed by a gun.

“Non-violence defined Dr. King. What would he think of us today, with our homes and our neighborhoods under the violent assault of gangs, guns and drugs? Let’s stand together and continue to speak out against whatever threatens the safety of our children our families and our people. Working together, we can solve these problems. And working together, we will keep our neighborhoods safe, stable and strong,” he said.

In the spring, CAPS and the city’s Department of Children and Youth Services, in partnership with Clear Channel Communications, sponsored a teen violence summit. Teenagers came together from all around the city to share their thoughts on what the city and its people can do, according to a Chicago Police Department press release.

The rest of the year, CAPS plans to conduct the “Voices Against Violence” campaign, where they will spread the message through the children themselves. They will sing, create art, tape videos and films to get the message across in their own way.

We are losing an entire generation of children. Something has got to be done. Diane’s mission is to provide low-income youth with an alternative to truancy, drugs, and gang violence. This is a way to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system. This is a way to keep our kids alive. I think it’s going to take more than talking to solve these problems.

KOB is in partnership with the city of Chicago, CAPS, the Chicago Police Department, the Roseland Youth Safety Network Coalition, Park National Bank, and St. John’s Baptist Church.

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