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The crowd gathered early on Aug. 6 for the annual National Night Out celebration in the parking lot at Church Street and Dodge Avenue, although City Clerk Rodney Greene noted that a few residents were still on the periphery across the street “waiting for things to warm up.” They would not have to wait much longer, for by about 6:30 p.m., the barbecue grills were hot and music was about to begin.
As she has done for the past eight years, Carolyn Murray organized the evening’s event. This year was particularly difficult, because her son Justin was murdered in Evanston a few months ago. “I had a little breakdown earlier,” she said.
“Someone asked me if I thought [the evening would prevent crime, and I said, ‘No, it’s not meant to deter crime but to bring the community together.’ Especially we have to do things to make kids feel safe in their community,” Ms. Murray said. To do that, Ms. Murray said, “We have to present a united front – no finger-pointing. [At meetings] everyone has to be included – the police, the clergy, the community.”
City of Evanston Youth and Young Adult Program manager, Kevin Brown, said National Night Out is “a great example of community pride – a coming together for the development of one another as human beings.” Bob Dorneker, assistant director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service, echoed that, saying events like these allow residents “to get together with neighbors and to have a conversation about who your neighbors are.”
Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes said she feels events like this one, which attracted more than 150 persons, pull the community together. As darkness approaches, she said, there is a candlelight vigil at which the names of those in the community lost to violence are read. “This year we’re using pen-lights instead of candles.”
The area east and west of Dodge Avenue between Church and Emerson streets has been the epicenter of violence in the past year. Sixty-two names are on the list. “We had to add six this year. We count from August to August.” The names of the six persons lost to violence since National Night Out 2012 are Javar Bamberg, DaJae Arkel “Dae Dae” Coleman, Azim Hakeem, Mobeen Hakeem, Justin Michael Murray and Blake Jordan Ross.
“We lose too many of our kids to violence and crime,” Mr. Greene said.
Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone’s story is different, but each story builds on the other,” said Mr. Greene. “This type of evening … gives hope and prayer – hope for tomorrow,” he added.