Father Pfleger gets OK for 1-day gang peace
By Chinta Strausberg
From the moment hundreds prayed at Saint Sabina Church and began marching throughout the Auburn/Gresham community calling for peace, Saint Sabinaâ€™s Fridayâ€™s special guest, former NBA star Isiah Thomas, quickly became a magnet drawing the attention of youth he told to â€œstop the genocide and stop the killing.â€
Thomas was a guest of Father Michael L. Pfleger, who was joined by Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), John W. Rogers, Jr., CEO of Ariel Investments, CeaseFireâ€™s Ameena Matthews, Muslim leader Rami Mashashibi, executive director of the Inner City Muslim Action Network, Marilyn Velez, lead coordinator for the Neighborhood Recovery Initiatives, Rev. Autry Phillips, the Purpose Over Pain group headed by Pam and Tommy Bosley who lost their son to gun violence, Jafar Carllouet from the Al-Hafeez Initiative and other groups.
The broad support included Matthews, the daughter of Jeff Fort and a volunteer for the Violence Interrupters, who said, â€œWeâ€™re here to show support. Weâ€™re taking back our streets and educating our young guys and changing their mindsets about how they feel about violenceâ€¦. Repetition is the key of learning.â€ She teaches youth that â€œitâ€™s unacceptable to hurt themselves by doing 100-years in jail for hurting another person. Itâ€™s going to take a miracle with prayer, meditation and word works of deeds. That is how things change,â€ she said.
There were several small miracles that happened along 79th Street where violence is usually the norm and a log of hugs from Thomas and Pfleger of young black men who in previous marches usually ran at the sight of Pfleger who only wanted to offer them an alternative to crime and jail.
District 6th Commander Eric M. Carter said, â€œCrime has lessen. We are at 10 percent overall decrease in crime throughout the entire district.â€ He attributed this reduction to â€œa lot of hard work, partnerships with the community you are seeing here tonight.â€ Carter said there is not one factor that is causing the violence in the Auburn-Gresham community.
Wearing a T-shirt that said, â€œI am a Peacemaker,â€ Pfleger marched into the turfs of three factions of one gangâ€”factions that are responsible for the shootings some of which have been fatal and in each area he challenged the youth to a basketball matchâ€”peace for at least one day.
â€œWe are calling it a day of truce,â€ said Pfleger. Heâ€™s bringing two of the three warring gangs together picking up each faction in a bus and bringing them to Saint Sabinaâ€™s ARK for a basketball match.
Pfleger told them, â€œimagine the day where everybody plays ball together to keep peace.â€ Saying he had spoken to all three factions, Pfleger said, â€œItâ€™s not about who shot who. Itâ€™s the best ball player that day.â€ .
â€œYou think we can do it? Are you onâ€? Pfleger asked, â€œWill you commit to it?â€ The youth said â€˜yes.â€™ Â â€œOK. Youâ€™re on. I believe we all can stop this,â€ Pfleger told several young men promising to get a date for the tournament. â€œI promise you. By the time you leave here, the safety is on me. I promise you. Weâ€™ll get the three of you and play ball,â€ said Pfleger. Thomas vowed to return for this super game.
Thomas asked, â€œWhat ever happened to the beat downâ€? referring to the days when youth fought with their fists.Â Pfleger added, â€œThe gun manufacturers are making a whole lot of money and none of their kids are getting shot.â€
Talking to the youth, Thomas said, â€œThis is genocide.â€ â€œYou have to stop the killing.â€ â€œThe revolution is always with the young, not the old but first thing you have to do is to stop killing each other.â€
Looking at Mr. Thomas, Pfleger said, â€œIt will be a day of peace in the name of basketball, and I believe this man here can make it happen. Heâ€™s going to come back, and weâ€™re going to reach out to some other ball players. We will have one day where the gangs will come together and have a basketball tournament at Saint Sabina,â€ Pfleger said.
Mr. Boseley said he would get trophies for the winners of this historic one-day peace basketball tournament.Â Pfleger said he would put up cash for the team that wins. Thomas shook hands with the youth telling them to â€œStay aliveâ€ and â€œyouâ€™ve got a shot. You can make a difference.â€
Pfleger and Thomas went into several businesses including a barbershop where Thomas pretended to cut Venus McCreeâ€™s hair. He posed for several pictures with the customers.
Rogers said, â€œIsiah Thomas has been extraordinary today working with Father Mike on this important issue on such a critical issue for our city and for our country and for Isiah to come and be here and the spirit and leadership Father Mike Pfleger has around this extraordinary important issue. I get emotional just thinking about it. His leadership is something. There is no one like him. Iâ€™m honored just to have a chance to help and support him,â€ said Rogers.
Thomas said while growing up he used to go over Rogerâ€™s home and his parents shared their food with him. He thanked Rogers for that love.
Thanking the crowd for their support, Thomas said, â€œYou never know who youâ€™re really touching. You never know that person is going to grow up to be given the opportunity to grow up.
â€œI was one of those little kids from the West Side,â€ said Thomas. â€œI was one of those kids that was walking down the street and people were ashamed to look at. I felt ashamed of myself sometimes because I didnâ€™t have enough food, didnâ€™t have the right clothes to wear, but somebody took the time to tell me it was alright. Someone took the time to say to me that you got a chance to grow up and be something. Someone said they cared about me when I really didnâ€™t care about myself. What you did does matter because there is someone out there that you will touch and when you touch him or her you will make a difference in their life and give everybody a chance to live, love, laugh, forgive and be happy,â€ Thomas told a cheering crowd.
In praying, Pfleger said, â€œI thank you for touching Isiahâ€™s heart.Â I thank you for the genuine, authentic heart that he showed. I thank you for his love for these young brothers who told them he valued them enough to come out here tonight.
â€œI thank you for the seeds that were planted. Â I know that some kid no matter how hard or cold he may be to lay in his bed tonight and say Isiah Thomas came on my block. God, that makes all of that worth it,â€ said Pfleger.
â€œWhat we do on Sunday makes no sense if we donâ€™t live it out on the streets,â€ he said.
They stopped at 79th and Ashland at the Phillips 66 Gas station and thanked the owner for agreeing to work with Saint Sabinaâ€™s anti-violence program.
And, that is what they did for more than three hoursâ€”marching, handing out anti-violence flyers and a lot of hugs and picture taking of Thomas and youth who welcomed him with open arms.
Another miracle took place a block from Saint Sabina when wheelchair-bound Ondelee Perteet, 17, who was shot in 2009 and has been paralyzed since, pulled himself up from his wheelchair to greet Thomas. Pfleger â€˜s eyes glistened as Perteet proudly stood by himself. â€œMan, Iâ€™m so proud of you. Love you,â€ said Pfleger.
â€œThatâ€™s the beginning,â€ he told Perteet. Pfleger has said many times that one day Perteet will walk down the aisle of Saint Sabina where he and his mother are members. Perteet said Thomas being there â€œis a big help because if they see heâ€™s out here marching around with the rest of us theyâ€™ll probably want to join to. Heâ€™s a super star marching out here.â€
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.