Over 1,000 people packed St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church on April 11 for the third annual “You Are My Neighbor.”
This year’s theme was “Disrupting Violence.” The events are hosted by Southside Catholic Peace and Justice, a committee made up of members from local parishes that works to fight injustice, poverty and violence by raising awareness and acting upon the principles of Catholic social teaching.
The event is unique in that the group collaborated with other local faith groups, congregations and civic organizations. In the end, almost 50 local groups came together to co-host the evening. This collaboration is key to the event and the pressing need to work on age-old divisions of race, class and religion that exist in Beverly/Morgan Park.
Opportunities to connect came first in a series of popup book clubs and movie screenings held before the big night. From the Beverly Area Planning Association to Beverly Yoga Studio to several church basements, there were events for people to discuss the Rev. Greg Boyle’s books and a documentary about the founding of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.
Homeboy, now 30 years old, is the largest gang intervention program in the world with a $30-million annual budget. Boyle, the evening’s keynote speaker, has written New York Times bestsellers “Tattoos on the Hearth” and “Barking to the Choir,” which are both a collection of stories about his experiences working with gang members in L.A.
He brought two of those former gang members who shared their painful backgrounds and to set the scene for Boyle as he spoke about the healing that takes place at Homeboy Industries.
“It’s God’s dream come true when we stand in awe of what the poor have to carry instead of judge them for how they carry it,” he said, setting the tone for his message of unconditional love, radical kinship and the idea that people all belong to one another.
A major theme for Boyle and Homeboy Industries is that “There is no us and them, only us.” When people connect and “go to the margins” to help others, they aren’t saving someone but saving themselves.
His stories were painful, beautiful and at times hilarious. It was a mix of powerful emotions, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation before he could even finish speaking.
People inspired by Boyle to get involved don’t need to look far as Chicago activists doing incredible work also spoke at the event. Each spoke of the specific work they do to meet a need in the community, but a reoccurring theme emerged that people belong to one another and the solutions to the violence in the city aren’t as complicated as citizens would like to believe.
The Rev. David Kelly, from Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, spoke of a broken legal system and the power of healing through true reconciliation. Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers/Men Against Senseless Violence, said it’s as easy as grabbing a chair and sitting on a corner in Englewood to show people you care.
Boyle loved her use of the word “mom” as a verb as she stressed when working with teenagers.
“You just get out there,” she said, “and mom them!”
Jahmal Cole—founder of My Block, My Hood, My City—spoke of his program of taking at-risk youth on trips all over the city to experience life outside the neighborhood. This simple concept has been transformative, and Cole challenged the audience to think bigger about conditions they’ve accepted as “regular” for some in this city that they would never accept in their own lives.
“People say I work with at-risk youth,” Cole said, “and I say that the integrity of this city is at-risk!”
For more information on all speakers and their work, visit the website at youaremyneighbor.info.
For more information or to join Southside Catholic Peace and Justice, contact Maureen Gainer Reilly at email@example.com.