Youth Stay Up ’til Dawn in the Name of Peace

Local teens drum while marching for peace during the #IncreaseThePeace All-Niter (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Local teens drum while marching for peace during the #IncreaseThePeace All-Niter (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Youth and volunteers listen in on guest speakers in the Port Ministries' side yard.

Youth and volunteers listen in on guest speakers in the Port Ministries’ side yard. (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

With hair all over the floor, two barbers and a little more than 200 teens, walking into the Port Ministries cafeteria was a humbling sight to see. Kae, from Rockstar Barbershop in Pilsen spoke to teens as they huddled around him and his business partner Jon. He spoke to them about the recent experience he had cutting Chance the Rapper’s hair at the Grammys in February. “I’m just a kid from the South Side, people saw me different[ly], they assumed I charged an arm and a leg for a haircut,” said Kae. He continued to talk to the teens about his life, working hard towards reaching their goals and not giving in to violence or gangs. “You have to believe in yourself, but you also have to work hard. I never imagined traveling to be Chance’s barber, but there I was.”

On Friday, April 7, youth from Back of the Yards and surrounding neighborhoods participated in the Increase the Peace All Niter, which kicked off at 5 p.m. and went on through the night until 5 a.m.

Neighbors were welcomed with radiant smiles, laughter and house music by DJ Greedy as children enjoyed arts and crafts.  “[This event has brought together] many diverse ethnic groups of all ages working and playing together for a universal cause. I was honored to be part of it,” said DJ Greedy.

Meanwhile, Anthony Brown, who leads the Bread Truck program for The Port, grilled hot dogs and other goodies for the community.

Inside the building, was business, as usual, featuring art-making workshops that run every Friday after homework help. Several local organizations set up information tables on the first floor, including the Chicago Public Library, The Resurrection Project, After School Matters, and The Plant Chicago.

As coordinators prepped their activity stations, the teens led a march from The Port to 51st Street around to Damen Avenue and back across 50th Street. Teens chanted “no justice, no peace!” and “se ve, se siente el pueblo está presente!” throughout the march. They carried signs demanding peace in their neighborhood.

Zorian Flowers shares a few words during the #IncreaseThePeace All-Niter (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Youth leaders took over the microphone to share a few words with their peers and community. With a guitar in one hand and a microphone in the other, 18-year-old Matthew Flores read Ecclesiastes Chapter 8:12-13 followed by a song he played on his guitar- “Como han de Creer”- words that for him explain “why the world [is] the way it is, why it is that no matter how much we want to promote peace, we always seem to go the opposite direction,” Flores said.

Zorian Flowers, who was recently accepted to the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point also had the opportunity to share a few words. His acceptance to West Point has empowered him to tell his story, one of many that help shape neighborhoods like Back of the Yards.

Flowers wants to encourage people to do more for the neighborhood. “I grew up right around the corner,” he said. “It’s a three bedroom home and just to give you some perspective my mother had eight kids,” continued Flowers. “My mom tried to move out and get better homes with more rooms, but we always ended up back at my grandmother’s house. Stuff like that just encourages me to do more and make sure that I encourage other people who come from this neighborhood to do more for themselves and do more for this neighborhood,” Flowers said.

The Increase the Peace All-Niter, was followed by hours of fun activities throughout the night and early hours of the morning.

The teens had a chance to meet with staff from the Legal Assistance Foundation to assist with juvenile record expungement while other activities took place. Later in the night, a group of young adults surrounded a bonfire to have a book club meeting and talk literature.

Meanwhile, teens participated in a culinary cook-off where they learned a new recipe and cooked community chili that was served at 4 a.m. The first-floor cafeteria held a bracelet making workshop where youth made friendship bracelets for themselves and each other.

One Summer Chicago job application help was on site to get 14-24-year-olds signed up for summer jobs. Throughout the night the young people participated in a meditation workshop, tea and dance parties, soccer and basketball tournaments, and a volleyball team building circle across the gym. Other played video games and some watched movies.

Teens take turns reflecting on the #IncreaseThePeace All-Niter

Teens take turns reflecting on the #IncreaseThePeace All-Niter at 4:30 a.m. (The Gate/Gloria Talamantes)

Many of the service/workshop leaders and volunteers stayed throughout the whole night but not without the help of coffee from Back of the Yards Coffee Company, which will be announcing its grand opening soon.

The roosters crowing signaled that dawn was near and the festivities were coming to an end. The youth and volunteers gathered and reflected on the day-long event with an open circle. Many were inspired and happy to have been a part of something as unique as an All-Nighter that was focused and shaped by young people of the community.

“It was a good experience. It’s a great way to build the community and make it better. You have to start somewhere, and this is a great way to start,” said Timothy Alexander, 18, a senior at Richards Career Academy. “I’ve been to the Port for Open Gym, but this was different. I had the chance to connect more with others and learn about each other’s lives, basically like building a family.”

Back of the Yards College Prep Freshman Andres Guzman, 14, said he was able to stay up all night, had fun and made new friends in the process. “I think it was a good opportunity because we really showed people that teenage kids [could] make a change in their community.”

The Increase the Peace All-Niter, was hosted at the Port Ministries’ family resource center at 5017 S. Hermitage in partnership with The Resurrection Project.  The #IncreaseThePeace event series was developed by The Resurrection Project as a response to the gun violence Back of the Yards experienced last fall.