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This year, as in the past several years, the celebration of National Night Out in the parking lot at Church Street and Dodge Avenue focused on young Evanston lives lost to gun violence. On Aug. 5, however, there appeared to be a greater sense of urgency and of pressure on the community to act.
Songs, prayers and dancing punctuated the evening, where about 150 persons socialized in small groups, enjoyed the free food and stopped at the information booths in the perimeter of the parking lot.
Speakers Alderman Delores Holmes and Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste, both nearly lifelong residents of Evanston, along with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, asked for the community’s help in stemming the violence that has occurred particularly among young black men over the past two years.
“It’s not so much what we say, but that we’re here together,” said Judge Jean-Baptiste. “We are here for a cause: to preserve the community. The place where we win or lose the battle is the home. … Parents, many of you give up on your kids. … You cannot go to sleep until your kids finish their homework. A lot of what is on television is demeaning and disrespectful. … It is very important that you intervene with your kids. … If you win the fight at home, that’s how you protect the community.”
“We have 75,000 people in this community. We have less than 100 people [who contribute to violence],” said Ald. Holmes, “and we’re not going to let them hold us hostage.”
Mayor Tisdahl said, “We have lots of things for teenagers to do now. We have jobs. What we don’t have is no shootings in town. What we need is cooperation. The excuses are over. We need the community to work with the police and work with me. We can have a community without violence.”
Joey Rodger, executive director of Peaceable Cities: Evanston, announced the awarding of two Stronger Safer Neighborhoods grants, funded by the Cherry Foundation. The grants of up to $500 are for new initiatives to reduce violence and bolster neighborhoods. Family Focus will implement an anti-bullying program, said Executive Director Dorothy Williams. The Dajae Coleman Foundation will conduct a friendly multiple-challenge competition during its second annual DaeDae World Weekend in September.
National Night Out, 2014, ended with a candlelight vigil while representatives of the faith community read aloud the 65 names of Evanston youth lost to gun violence in the last few decades.