In response to racist fliers being distributed in the community for the third time in a year, 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea will host a “community conversation” featuring two South Side natives, one a former white supremacist.
They will share their ideas on how residents can oppose bigotry at “Strengthening Our Community Against Hate,” to be held on Monday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m., at St. Barnabas Church, 10134 S. Longwood Dr.
White supremacy fliers were found in West Beverly and Mt. Greenwood in mid-July, spurring a quick response from O’Shea.
“This is not the first time,” O’Shea said. “We’ve had several instances over the last several years of racist, white supremacist, anti-Semitic literature finding its way into our community.”
Similar fliers were found along the route of the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17, as well as last summer.
After each incident, O’Shea distributed signs reading, “Hate Has No Home in the 19th Ward.”
After the latest incident, he said, local residents were especially anxious to display them.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of requests for them,” O’Shea said. “Folks came by the office; folks downloaded them off the website or my emails; my staff went out and delivered hundreds of them. I’ve seen them all over in Beverly, Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood.”
O’Shea said that on the day the most-recent fliers were found, his office contacted the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center “trying to work on a community-wide response.”
The community conversation will feature advocates Christian Picciolini, a Blue Island native, and Nora Flanagan, a Morgan Park native.
Picciolini, 45, is a former white supremacist who founded the Free Radicals Project (FRP), which is described on its website as “a global disengagement platform that aids individuals and their families or communities in exiting hateful and violence-based radicalization through non-aggressive, community-led methods of individual resiliency-building, reconnection, cross-cultural immersion and making amends.” He also co-founded Life After Hate, a non-profit, in 2011.
The FRP website describes Picciolini as both “a former violent extremist” and someone who has been “working in the intervention and disengagement space for 20-plus years.”
His book, “Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism,” is scheduled to be released in February 2020.
Picciolini, who was in Australia at press time, said in an email that the St. Barnabas event is about creating awareness.
“We must make people aware of the racist culture that exists,” Picciolini said, “and repair the foundation for future generations to not follow that path.”
Flanagan, 43, now lives in the Edison Park neighborhood on the Northwest Side and has been a Chicago Public Schools teacher for over 20 years. She knew of Picciolini while growing up and saw her older brother’s friend become involved with white supremacists.
In recent years, she helped Picciolini with his memoir, “White American Youth,” and he helped her write a “toolkit” publication for dealing with racism, with topics ranging from graffiti to young people promoting white nationalist events or groups.
The two have spoken together on racism before, including at South by Southwest, a popular music festival in Austin, Texas, in 2016.
She said she wants the 19th Ward event to rally people toward peace.
“I don’t want people to feel helpless,” Flanagan said. “I don’t want people to feel that there’s nothing they can do about it. And for those that want to do something about it, I want to help start conversations about the best things to do about it.”
The fliers have also been in several other neighborhoods and suburbs, and after they were discovered again locally, O’Shea said of the community, “This isn’t who we are.”
Flanagan said she agrees with O’Shea’s comment, but people must “show that this isn’t who we are” and address the issue of why people target the community for distribution of such fliers.
Racism may always exist, but, O’Shea said, the neighborhood will not be silent in opposing hate.
“Our community will continue to work together to combat racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” O’Shea said. “That’s who we are; that’s what we’re about.
“Hate has no home in the 19th Ward.”
Refreshments will be served after the meeting.
To obtain a “Hate Has No Home in the 19th Ward” sign, call O’Shea at (773) 238-8766 or visit 19thward.com.