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Opportunity Is Knocking for Community to Become “Community”

My belief as a Christian (Catholic) pastor is that opportunity is always presenting itself. No matter what difficult things life throws at us, I believe God always presents a way for us to follow to lead us to new opportunities to pursue and realize our dreams. We can either participate or we can get bogged down in negativity, hurt, anger, despair, and other emotions that prevent us from getting back up on our feet and moving ahead.

The North Lawndale community presents many opportunities for individuals to better themselves, many agencies that seek to offer their support and accompaniment as residents, returning citizens, single parents, and youth find ways to deal with immediate needs and then pursue positive steps toward a promising future. Yet opportunities for livable-wage employment, affordable and livable housing, and homeownership are still not enough to provide the basics that many families need, not just to survive, but to hopefully thrive.

One opportunity that is overlooked and so needed as a first step toward moving from surviving to thriving in a community like North Lawndale is for residents to seek out help to deal with the many levels of trauma that have impacted their lives. If individuals and families could heal from past trauma, then that would indeed open the doors of opportunity for a more fulfilling life. For example, St. Agatha offers monthly parent support groups for parents to share their joys and challenges, drawing on the wisdom and positive and negative life experiences that everyone has to bring to the conversation.

There are also a number of agencies that offer trauma and mental health counseling. St. Anthony Hospital has a mental health outreach in the heart of the neighborhood on 16th street in the MLK center, including support groups for women who have a loved one who was harmed or killed by gun violence. I Am Able at Roosevelt and Homan is working with communities one block at a time to build mutual self-sufficiency. And there will be a new Community Mental Health Center opening in 2019 to offer a variety of community-needed services as well.

The problem is that many people don’t realize they need help until they are hit by debilitating depression and/or anxiety. A significant number of area residents who have endured trauma anesthetize themselves from the trauma using alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling, or even by just sitting in front of the television or computer all day. And, for some, there is still the stigma attached to pursuing counseling, yet there is absolutely no one in our society who does not suffer mental illness at one time or another, from minor to extreme.

In a community that becomes more and more isolated within itself due to the violence on our streets, there is an opportunity if enough residents stepped out together and demanded our streets, our front yards, our parks and boulevards back from the few out there who are creating the daily carnage and the long-term traumatic effects on the human mind, body, and spirit.

St. Agatha is in the process of organizing a community parent-run Parent Support and Empowerment group. The goal is to set up opportunities for any parent to participate in monthly support, educational opportunities to assist parents in building stronger families, programs for whole families to come together to strengthen communication, and bi-monthly fun and educational family field trips outside the community. Those are the Support pieces.

The Empowerment piece is organizing and training a critical mass of parents and families to stand together to demand the resources parents need to offer the best education, recreation, housing and health care for their families.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” is very true, but “It also takes a village to raise up a village!” We need organized parents committed to the long-term battle, not just for their family but for all families. The opportunity is here. But it will take putting faith above fear, commitment to the community as ‘extended family,’ reshifting some priorities, and willingness to learn how to develop and unleash the gifts in you that are still waiting to be expressed, which could include leadership skills, organizing skills and learning how to speak truth to power.

Written by Father Larry Dowling

All Images Courtesy of Gricelda Chander – Used With Permission