Pfleger:â€˜Transforming minds means giving youth optionsâ€
By Chinta Strausberg
In announcing the historic upcoming second Peace Basketball Tournament, Father Michael L. Pfleger and several former gang members urged all to attend this event and explained how the gang truce struck by Pfleger a year ago has not only changed many lives but is a blueprint to reducing violence all around the world.
At a press conference held Thursday at Saint Sabinaâ€™s ARK, 7800 South Racine, Pfleger told reporters â€œa year ago we started what was every body called a family that wouldnâ€™t work. I was reaching out to brothers and sisters respecting them, loving them, challenging them, demanding them to end the shooting and that we would see what we could do to help themâ€ in securing jobs and education.
â€œHere we are coming up a year later getting readyâ€¦having had three Peace Leagues now, having hundreds in GED classes, get jobs. We are getting ready for the second historic Peace Basketball Tournament with more NBA players than last year,â€ said Pfleger referring to the upcoming 12 noon Saturday, September 21, 2013, 2ndannual tournament being held at the ARK.
â€œWeâ€™re not saying this is the way to do it, but we are saying this is a way that is proving success and statistics show and the lives of these guys are changing shows this is working. We want to present this not only to Chicago but also to the world saying it is a model that is working.
â€œWeâ€™re going to continue to love these brothers. If we want to have peace that sustains, ultimately we have to transform lives and transform communities,â€Pfleger said. â€œWhen we do that, then we donâ€™t just bring statistics down, then we donâ€™t just bring statistics down but then we have peace that becomes a norm rather than a good month.â€
Reminded that this canâ€™t be achieve unless you transforms their minds, Pfleger said, â€œTransforming the minds will come when you offer options, opportunities and positive things to get involved in.â€
He vowed to continue to offer the youth more GED classes, internship jobs, as long as we continue to get job opportunities, and we will continue to have the Peace Tournaments throughout the year.
Asked if his program should be a model for Chicago, Father Pfleger said, â€œThey donâ€™t have to necessarily replicate this, but we could do throughout the city in every neighborhood stop demonizing these brothers as gang members, start seeing them as our sons, our daughters, as our brothers and sisters, reach out tothem, support them, challenge them but give them options.â€ And, agreeing are several former gang members who said Pflegerâ€™s program has been the lifeline they needed to let go of a life of crime and the revolving door of jail and prison.
Shot six times once in the head, Curtis, 36, a former gang leader in the Auburn Gresham community since the sixth grade, said he joined the gang becauseit was the â€œnormâ€ and that you are either a member â€œby affiliation or by association.â€
â€œI can really relate to these brothers,â€ Curtis said having found his mother dead in the garage when he was 17-years-old. â€œMy step-father had killed her,â€ he said looking back at he origin of his anger and hatred.Â At the time, Curtis made good grades, played football and had a few scholarships.
As of result of his motherâ€™s death, 17-year-old Curtis soon became the parent raising his younger brother and his sister by himself. Curtis said he had a grandmother and an uncle â€œwho always instilled in me to do the right thing, but chose to do something else. I was dealt a bad hand, but I am the one who played that hand. I had so much pain and anger deep down inside of me. I needed help,â€but he said counseling was not available to him at that time.
â€œI dealt with the death of my mom the way many youth dealt with it todayâ€¦violence. What I cared about hurting somebody else was nothing. Somebody elseâ€™s life meant nothing to me. When I thought about it, I either wanted to die or go to jail to harm the person who killed my mom, my stepfather,â€ Curtis said.
Saying it is a myth that young men join the gangs for protection, Curtis explained youth joined the gangs based on demographics. â€œAt that age, you really donâ€™t decide. Itâ€™s peer pressureâ€¦.â€
A father of four, Curtis, who has been in prison three times, said he quit the gangs when he was 29-years-old. â€œReligion played a part in my ending a life of crime and looking at black history. Just looking at what my ancestors went through and what I was doing, it was like a slap in the face.
â€œI believe everyone has that part in the soul which is very good and when something touches your soul, you can really relate to it and I think African American history is what really did it,â€ Curtis said. With the birth of his son, Curtis said, â€œI figured he was coming to take my placeâ€ and he wanted a better life for his first-born.
But the real transformation came for Curtis when he attended his sonâ€™s graduation and heard the song, â€˜Youâ€™re the Inspiration” by Chicago. His son was singing it. Â â€œAt that time, I thought the law enforcement was out to get me. I figured I was about to go to jail once again; so I made that foxhole prayer again. Lord, if you just let me out of this one more time, I wonâ€™t do it anymore. This time, I was sincere. I really meant it.â€ It turns out he was not arrested.
Living in the community, Curtis said he never really gave Father Pfleger a chance. â€œI was likeâ€¦now this is somebody who is like a blood sucker trying to suck up to our community. That was what the older guys were telling meâ€¦that he was the policeâ€¦but some of the young guys involved with Father Mike told me to give him a chance.â€ Curtis decided to give it a try.
After meeting with Pfleger last year, Curtis said, â€œItâ€™s been a hit ever since then. â€Asked what would he tell the youth today, Curtis said, â€œThey should inspire and aspire to do somethingâ€¦. Life is precious and you only get one life unlike some of the video games that you play where you get killed but you can come back to life, but thatâ€™s not the way it is in real life.
â€œThere is no price on life,â€ said Curtis. â€œLife is precious.â€ He urged youth to â€œenjoy your youth the right way. Be productive and to get an education,â€ he said announcing he is working on his masterâ€™s degree in social anthropology in Westmar University. â€œFather Pfleger helped me to get a job.â€
Charles â€œJuanâ€, a former gang member since the age of 12 who gave up a life of crime when he left the penitentiary at the age of 25, is now a Peacemaker for Saint Sabina. He served 14-years in prison for attempted murder.
What turned his life around is an amazing story because while in prison, Charles wanted to come home and apologize to the youth he shot. That happened and he said his apology was accepted and they are friends today. â€œI appreciate that,â€ Charles said of the former gang member he shot.
While volunteering for Saint Sabinaâ€™s Peacemaker program for three-months, last June Charles officially became a Peacemaker for Saint Sabina. â€œFather Pflegerâ€™s program helped me to help talk to the youth on the street. The opportunity Father Mike gave me, I am trying to give to other youth,â€ Charles said.
Brandon is a Peacemaker in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood who is working with Saint Sabinaâ€™s Father Michael L. Pfleger. In announcing the upcoming game, Â Brandon said of the numerous NBA players who are slated to attend, said, â€œThey are blessing us with their presence showing us love and support to the guys from the neighborhood.â€
Saying when he was growing up there were no NBA players in his life, Brandon said what transformed his mind was going to jail â€œand doing the wrong thingâ€ so many times and realizing he had made the wrong choices in life.
In working with Pfleger, Jackson, a 25-year old father of 2 who has been incarcerated five times, said, â€œIt has helped me. I probably would not be employed now. I had already made my mind made upâ€ to end a life of crime. â€œThis has helped me a lot. Father Mike helped me and now I can bless other people.â€
To the youth, Brandon’s message is for them to stay positive and to choose a better life. â€œJust come to me, talk to me,â€ he challenged the youth.
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.